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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Just Thinking 09/29/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "The Physics of the Antichrist, a Theory of Everything, I of VI: The Reality and Necessity of Soul." This is the first essay in a six-part response to Frank Tipler's book, The Physics of Immortality.

Tipler's theory helped me to pull together several disparate ideas that I've been carrying around for years, and when they started to fall together, they did so in what felt like a revelatory way. It may very well be that the ideas are crazy. It may very well be that I've tripped over a heresy or two. Conversely, it may be considered convenient, indeed, that I ultimately conclude that the science that Tipler describes proves Catholicism correct in every measure.

Well, I don't think I'm crazy, and I believe that the truth of Catholicism is what drew me to the faith, even though I couldn't express the reasons at the time. Nonetheless, I would very much welcome feedback, even if adversarial in nature. I would also like to hear of any possibilities that I am, in fact, perpetuating heresies.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:17 PM EST


Dust in the Light Welcomes Rush Limbaugh

It's okay, Rush, you can admit that you're a reader...

Well, maybe he's not, but I wanted to note a bit of Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy effective communication. I've been frustrated that nobody in the major media, particularly among conservatives, has noticed that Joe Wilson used his wife's maiden name in all of his online bios. This is something that bloggers — including me — noticed within a week of Novak's column in July.

So, when I turned on Rush, as per custom, while I made my lunch yesterday and heard him addressing the spin of the WaPo that it was release of the maiden name that made for a controversy, I had to email him. Well, just now, during execution of the same custom, I heard Rush declare the factum to his audience. ("You didn't know that, did you?" he said.)

I've emailed others at the pro-pundit level, so hopefully some fresh air will clean the room of this particular political stink bomb. And hopefully, too, the pros will start to realize that there's a whole intelligence organ at their disposal for the price (if they're inclined to be so generous) of a link and/or reference.

(Note: of course, it's entirely possible that Rush came across this info elsewhere, either by email or through other online channels... but I can fantasize, can't I?)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:58 PM EST


Monday, September 29, 2003

A Novak Clarification and the Bush Administration's Dream

In case it disappears, here's a significant quotation from Bob Novak that currently appears on Drudge:

Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. In July I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador Wilson's report when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction. Another senior official told me the same thing. As a professional journalist with 46 years experience in Washington I do not reveal confidential sources. When I called the CIA in July to confirm Mrs. Wilson's involvement in the mission for her husband -- he is a former Clinton administration official -- they asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else. According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operator, and not in charge of undercover operatives...

Looking over all of the background material as well as today's WaPo article, I've noticed a few things. First of all, apart from Novak the only sources suggesting that the White House "leaked" the information (however much they leaked) are Wilson and anonymous "officials." Specifically, note this:

Wilson said that in the week after the Novak column appeared, several journalists told him that the White House was trying to call attention to his wife, apparently hoping to undermine his credibility by implying he had received the Niger assignment only because his wife had suggested the mission and recommended him for the job.

"Each of the reporters quoted the White House official as using some variation on, 'The real story isn't the 16 words. The real story is Wilson and his wife,' " Wilson said. "The time frame led me to deduce that the White House was continuing to try to push this story."

Wilson identified one of the reporters as Andrea Mitchell of NBC News. Mitchell did not respond to requests for comment.

So it's starting to look like the reporters about whom Wilson has been talking for months as proof that the administration was intent on breaking is wife's cover (however much she had a cover) called him a week later. But assuming that the calls to these reporters really happened, were they before or after the Novak column? If after, then they weren't "leaking" anything, but pointing out Novak's piece. If before, then the language is such that no leak was necessary: they merely suggested that Wilson's wife was significant, leaving the reporters to dig up the facts, which ranged from readily available to somewhat secretive. Hardball? Maybe, but not criminal. Depending what Plame actually did/does for the CIA, it might not have even risked lives or even intelligence links.

What makes me think that any administration calls to reporters were subsequent to Novak's piece is that Wilson spoke with Andrea Mitchell (who has conveniently declined to comment) on July 21 (here's a Google cache; here's a reprint if the cache disappears). Wouldn't it have merited mention if Mitchell, herself, had been contacted with the same information as Novak had disclosed a week earlier?

So here's what might just be the administration's fantasy hypothesis: Wilson has been lying and spinning the truth to make it sound as if there's a conspiracy to discredit him, and it turns out that nobody in the administration "leaked" anything that they shouldn't have. We already have seen him back off from the statement that he has "sources" who fingered Karl Rove.

But it gets better.

Note this from the Andrea Mitchell article:

Wilson reached his judgment [about the Niger uranium claim] without ever seeing the forged documents that led to the charge. We showed him the documents for the first time Monday: I asked, "This is the first you are seeing the documents?" Wilson answered, "Yes. This was never a legitimate piece of information."

So here we have a central figure of the 16-words controversy admitting that he hadn't seen the documents that he was supposedly debunking as forgeries. Of course, there's more to the controversy than that, most of it in the Bush administration's favor, but this is enough to offer this "what if": What if Wilson also lied and spun the truth about his report to the CIA about the Niger uranium?

Sure, I'm applying the conjecture with a heavy hand here, but the surprising thing is that it is entirely possible that this could prove to have been the case.

Well, Daniel Drezner confirms at least one of my suspicions: that Mitchell was contacted after the Novak column. It's also interesting to note that major media reportage is gradually sinking into increasingly vague descriptions of the "leakers" (e.g., from "senior administration officials" to "administration officials").

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:31 PM EST


Blame the Plame Game

I've laid off the Plame Affair because I haven't seen anything new since I first addressed it, and I think my characterization still stands: "a whole lot of speculation presented as evidence for a lynching."

But a Washington Post article on the subject bothers me because it seems to be setting up a big-time spin. Here are the offending passages:

But the aides said Bush has no plans to ask his staff members whether they played a role in revealing the name of an undercover officer who is married to former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, one of the most visible critics of Bush's handling of intelligence about Iraq. ...

The controversy erupted over the weekend, when administration officials reported that Tenet sent the Justice Department a letter raising questions about whether federal law was broken when the operative, Valerie Plame, was exposed. She was named in a column by Robert D. Novak that ran July 14 in The Post and other newspapers. ...

More specific details about the controversy emerged yesterday. Wilson said in a telephone interview that four reporters from three television networks called him in July and told him that White House officials had contacted them to encourage stories that would include his wife's identity. ...

Novak published her maiden name, Plame, which she had used overseas and has not been using publicly. Intelligence sources said top officials at the agency were very concerned about the disclosure because it could allow foreign intelligence services to track down some of her former contacts and lead to the exposure of agents. ...

Wilson said that in the week after the Novak column appeared, several journalists told him that the White House was trying to call attention to his wife, apparently hoping to undermine his credibility by implying he had received the Niger assignment only because his wife had suggested the mission and recommended him for the job.

The common theme is that the offense is the release of Plame's name. However, as I noted last time, every bio that I found of Wilson on the Internet (example) identifies him as "married to the former Valerie Plame." If Cliff May is correct that Plame's career in the CIA was common "insider" knowledge, the scenario that sparked the controversy begins to take shape. Let's look at the relevant paragraph from the infamous Robert Novak column:

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. "I will not answer any question about my wife," Wilson told me.

There are two pieces of information that constitute the breach: Plame's occupation and her name. Her name was readily available to anybody smart enough to use Google. Her career is another matter, one that justifies investigation into who moved it beyond "insider" common knowledge. I don't intend to spin for anybody who's broken the law and risked the cover of agents; nothing excuses that. Nonetheless, the question that's bugging me is why the administration's foes are emphasizing the name aspect.

Suppose the two administration officials did no more than say what Novak has attributed to them: "Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report." Where does that fit into the controversy? Cliff May implies that Novak could easily have already known that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, and if necessary, he could have Googled for Wilson's biography and gotten "Valerie Plame." If Novak didn't know that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, perhaps somebody at the Agency told him when he asked why she would have any influence over Wilson's trip. And that raises another question: if the matter was so sensitive, did the CIA ask Novak not to put all the pieces together for the public?

Here's my current take: somebody from the administration called Novak (and others) to mention the curious datum that Wilson's wife fingered him for the Africa trip, perhaps with some innuendo about who his wife was (although it didn't have to go even that far). Novak called the CIA, and the official there, fearing controversy over the appearance of impropriety, clarified Plame's role in that affair. Over the next couple of weeks, dismissing the importance of Wilson and Plame's relationship (because the result was the 16-words controversy), open enemies of the administration began to make noises about their take on the implications of Novak's piece. Writing just two days after Novak's column appeared, the always reliable David Corn was first to market with accusations of foul play, but note this:

His wife's role--if she had one--has nothing but anecdotal value. And Novak's sources could have mentioned it without providing her name. Instead, they were quite generous.

Of course, Wilson himself was "quite generous" with his wife's name. And Paul Krugman illustrates that the question of who, exactly, "identified [Plame] as a CIA operative" disappeared almost immediately, even though it remained (and remains) a valid question.

I'm willing to wait for more, and I'll condemn anybody who broke the law, especially if it undermined intelligence work. But I still find something fishy in the forward march against the White House. And I still think that if the White House is "attempting various smear campaigns, the administration is doing so in about as bumbling a manner as possible, something that it can ill afford in a nation with a hostile press."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:22 PM EST


Sunday, September 28, 2003

A Correction from One of the Blackballed

Glenn Reynolds notes David Brooks's informing of the New York Times readership that conservatives don't have an easy, welcoming road in the American academy. He's right, of course, but he says something that makes me think that older, established conservative thinkers don't completely understand what their younger counterparts face:

Conservative professors emphasize that most discrimination is not conscious. A person who voted for President Bush may be viewed as an oddity, but the main problem in finding a job is that the sorts of subjects a conservative is likely to investigate — say, diplomatic or military history — do not excite hiring committees. Professors are interested in the subjects they are already pursuing, and in a horrible job market it is easy to toss out applications from people who are doing something different.

The suggestion about subject matter isn't as limited as this suggests. Within the field of literary studies, for example, a conservative might investigate — just to pick a topic out of nowhere — the ways in which racialist/liberal methods of analysis distort such books as Huck Finn and the implications of this error for the larger society. The "subject" is obviously one in which even liberal lit profs are interested, even "excited," so the problem can only be that, holding the opinions that they do, they come to the conclusion that the conservative applicant is not an effective or clear thinker about the topic. Given this assumption, which may very well be subconscious, the more coherent and extensive the conservative's argument, the more the professors must see some indefinable problem in the writer's thinking and method.

Of course, I'm an extreme example because I chose to put my controversial ideas front and center in my application by way of my writing sample. However, given my perspective, I have to tweak Mr. Levy's suggestion here:

And Jacob T. Levy, a libertarian also at Chicago, says some conservatives exaggerate the level of hostility they face. Some politicized humanities departments may be closed to them, he concedes, but professors in other fields are open to argument.

I'll agree that I didn't face "hostility" in the classroom. In fact, the professors generally seemed to enjoy having their intellectual volleys parried. However, as Robert George implies elsewhere in Brooks's piece, the problem is most defined at competitive junctures: admission, job placement, tenure, and so on. Top grad schools in literature accept maybe 20 out of hundreds of applicants, so if admissions boards see particular opinions as indications of incorrect thinking, they'll reject the hopeful student, even if they would be open to argument on a given topic.

There was a whole lot more that I thought of writing in this post, but my mind is heading in too many directions as it is.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:34 PM EST


A Third Way on the FMA

Andrew Sullivan has blogged against the Federal Marriage Amendment again:

My reading is that the FMA would ban all types of domestic partnerships, civil unions, or any arrangements that can strengthen gay relationhips far short of marriage rights - even if they are the democratic consensus of a state, and reached through legislative means. The spin from most of the best FMA advocates (such as Stanley Kurtz) is that it would narrowly affect only court-imposed benefits and if a state wanted to create civil unions through its legislature, fine. Here's the money sentence in the Washington Times op-ed [by Michael J. McManus]:

Most experts believe the amendment would invalidate Vermont and California laws that are virtually equivalent of marriage.

Now remember that California's law is not court-imposed but passed by a duly elected legislature. The point of the FMA is clear: to prevent individual states passing any benefits to gay couples by whatever means. It's time the supporters of the FMA came clean about this.

The piece that Sullivan is missing becomes apparent when one looks at the text of the Vermont civil unions law, particularly this clause:

Parties to a civil union shall have all the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under law, whether they derive from statute, administrative or court rule, policy, common law or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a marriage.

As McManus points out in the Washington Times, the Vermont law would clearly be contrary to the FMA. However, the relevant factor is the method through which the rights accruing to civil unions are enumerated. This is in complete correlation to what I argued last time Sullivan tried to paint the FMA as undermining the rights of state legislatures and popular referenda:

The range of possible laws and consequent litigation would be as broad as from legislation enacting civil unions that track exactly with marriage all the way to legislation that specifies every contract and capability that would thereafter extend to civil unions. The process of solidifying public policy within this spectrum is exactly the debate and discussion that supporters of the FMA wish to require.

The Vermont law is an example of "legislation enacting civil unions that track exactly with marriage" and would, therefore, be invalidated not because of the specific rights that it grants, but because, using the language of the FMA, it explicitly grants those rights in their capacity as "legal incidents" of marriage. (I assume there is a similar problem with the California law.)

In this context, I'm a little puzzled by Ramesh Ponnuru's response to Sullivan:

A benefit that had previously been reserved to married couples could be legislatively granted more widely--to any two people who share a household, for example. The FMA does, however, bar governmental benefits to unmarried persons premised on a sexual relationship between (or among) them. It would not bar legislatively enacted civil unions that, say, opened various benefits to any two people living together--whether they were two brothers, two guys who sleep together, widows who had set up house, or whatever. It would bar civil unions that were limited to gay couples.

I'm curious from what source or with what logic Ponnuru derives this reading, because the sexual intentions of a couple strike me as one of many arbitrarily important factors that can define a relationship. For example, if a relationship is built on the basis of a business partnership, both partners can sign company checks. However, their spouses could not do so, nor could their brothers. In other words, the business relationship is defined as such, and the shared rights and obligations correspond to that definition. The Vermont civil union law defines civil unions thus:

For a civil union to be established in Vermont, it shall be necessary that the parties to a civil union satisfy all of the following criteria:
(1) Not be a party to another civil union or a marriage.
(2) Be of the same sex and therefore excluded from the marriage laws of this state.
(3) Meet the criteria and obligations set forth in 18 V.S.A. chapter 106.

(a) A woman shall not enter a civil union with her mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, brother's daughter, sister's daughter, father's sister or mother's sister.
(b) A man shall not enter a civil union with his father, grandfather, son, grandson, brother, brother's son, sister's son, father's brother or mother's brother.
(c) A civil union between persons prohibited from entering a civil union in subsection (a) or (b) of this section is void.

I see nothing in the FMA that conflicts with this language because it does not attribute marital rights to the relationship. All it does is define the arrangement that would invoke a newly itemized collection of rights.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:42 PM EST


Saturday, September 27, 2003

Just So's You Know My State of Mind

It never fails: my intellectual life is a pendulum of clarity and confusion. For a couple of weeks, I've felt "on," with holes and connections jumping out at me. Beginning yesterday, my brain has swung, and I've been feeling a bit less self-assured.

Maybe I'm just sleep deprived.

Good night.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:39 AM EST


What Happens When Marriage Dies...

I'd wanted to comment on this essay by Boston University's Peter Wood more extensively than I've the time or energy for right now. Go read it. It's interesting stuff, offering anthropological arguments against gay marriage, polgamy/polyamory, and, indeed, the further degradation of our traditional views of marriage and sex:

The anthropological evidence is overwhelmingly on the side of those who argue that large social consequences follow from a society's decisions about which sexual practices are legitimate. The rules that govern marriage and sexual relations are, directly and indirectly, the basis of family life and have enormous influence over the formation of good (or bad) character in children. Marriage channels the primary relations between the sexes and the generations, and it is the template for most other relations in society. This is true not just in the United States. It is true everywhere. Alter the rules of marriage, and society will reshape itself around the new situation. But it doesn't necessarily reshape itself in the ways that the reformers hoped.

The sexual privatizers imagine a society in which adults can seek their pleasures without interference and somehow children will get born and properly raised. It is a sheer illusion. A society that doesn't restrict human sexual relations in effective ways is a society that doesn't have much interest in reproducing itself. People left to their own sexual whims will sometimes form stable families, but that is the exception, not the rule. The more we treat sex as merely recreational, the less important we make procreation. De-mystifying procreation—making it just another event that may or may not require heterosexual married parents in a long-term relationship—leads to both low procreation and badly raised children. A society that abandons the effort to restrict and channel human sexual urges into approved forms loses control of the strongest emotional/biological force known to our species and invites a progressive dissolution into unconnected or randomly connected individuals.

This is must-read stuff.

(Note: I've been holding on to this for a few days and have forgotten where I got it from. Apologies to the person to whom I should be giving credit.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:35 AM EST


Is the Media Tide Turning

Hey, check this out:

Peter McPherson, the man who headed the U.S. economic reform effort in Iraq, said Friday that he believed the economic situation in Iraq has now stabilized but he conceded that it will be some time before the country can resume significant levels of economic growth. ...

McPherson said the 20-person U.S. economic team had been able to put policies in place to bolster Iraq's currency, get the nations' banks reopened and establish a trade bank to support critically needed imports.

In addition, he said, the U.S. occupation forces are having success in restoring electrical production and oil production has increased to around 1.9 million barrels per day, the highest it has been since before the U.S.-led invasion earlier this year.

Between this and the somewhat tempered news about that Census poverty report, I'm starting to feel a bit like the sun is rising after a long, dark media night. (Hope it's not just a truck coming over the hill.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:29 AM EST


Bias Is the Story That They Try to Dig Up

With the "true stories" — which is to say, those presenting hopeful news along with realistic handling of the bad — making their way, inevitable in these days, to the American people, I've noticed the media types starting to make the usual exculpatory noises. "Oh, well it's not bias," they say. "It's just that we, by our nature, tend to seek out the shocking and, yes, often negative stories."

Somewhere or other, I recently heard or read somebody suggesting that what is happening with coverage of Iraq is akin to what one sees in the local newspaper: mostly death and controversy. Give that some thought — not theoretically, but to your own experience. I've been in local and not-so-local papers a handful of times in my life, and I'm neither dead nor the subject of controversy (at least not controversy that I'm important enough to make newsworthy). The truth is that local and not-so-local newspapers are full of good stories of achievements, and many stories that are about controversy present at least one side as doing something good.

No, I'm convinced that there's a bias, whether subconscious or not, that wants the storyline of the current war to be one that conveniently aligns with a political viewpoint. To simplify: if reporters liked the President, The Iraq Story would be one of perseverance in the face of fanaticism, of modernism sparking in the nation despite the hard, sand-streaked wind of the desert. But the storyline that we are getting — that people are saying is to the detriment of the truth — is quite different.

Let's take Iraq out of the question. Some of the statements articles about a Census report that was just released inspire head shakes and perhaps even spit-up beverages. Here's the opening paragraph of the Reuters piece, titled "34.6 Million U.S. People in Poverty in 2002 - Report," that appeared in the Washington Post:

More than 1.7 million people in the United States slid into poverty in 2002 and incomes slipped for the second year in a row, the U.S. government said on Friday in a report sure to provide new ammunition for Democrats trying to unseat President Bush.

Since Reuters doesn't offer any indication about whether the report ought to "provide new ammunition," I think it reasonable to give the newswire a pop quiz: What year is it, today? Why, it's 2003 — almost 2004 — and the economic news has been improving for months. In fact, the only mention in the entire piece about the current state of the economy is in the context of the Bush administration's spin of the report.

Elsewhere in the article, Reuters earns my vote for most biased single word choice:

A sluggish recovery has failed to create new jobs for the 3.3 million private sector employees who have been thrown out of work since Bush took office in January 2001.

Note the imagery — certain to call up images of the administration forcibly ripping people from their desks. Like a secret police tossing people into the street and "throwing" them into jail.

The AP article that appeared in the Providence Journal, although its title, "Poverty Rate Rises for Second Year in Row," leaves out that the "second year" is long over, offered more information, including statements that poverty and unemployment generally continue to worsen in the year after recovery begins. However, it also offered more "explanation" about why the problem is current:

Bill Spriggs, director of research and public policy at the National Urban League, said the numbers were frightening. "This may become one of the worst downturns in income in 30 years," he said. "We see that people are digging themselves deeper into poverty because the economy is not generating jobs."

We are also informed that "the numbers were fodder for President Bush's aides to call for enactment of virtually his entire domestic and economic agenda." And the Democrats are given yet another blind swing for a controversy:

Even before the data was made public, House Democrats charged the Bush administration was trying to hide bad economic news by releasing the numbers on a Friday when people are paying more attention to the upcoming weekend. In previous years, the estimates were released on a Tuesday or Thursday.

"Sounds like they're trying to bury the numbers where people won't find them," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. "This is another clear example of political manipulation of data by the Bush administration to avoid the glare of public scrutiny about the country's worsening economy."

At least the report ends with the rebuttal from Census Bureau spokesman Larry Neal that, because these numbers will be "rehashed" for the entire year to come, "The notion that we should, could or would suppress these numbers doesn't pass the laugh test."

All in all, I'm seeing reasons for hope that change is possible, at least for the AP; the news services are businesses, after all. (It seems as if the headline writers will be the last to turn.) But it'll take a long time and much balanced coverage before I'll believe the "media likes bad news" line again. And I've permanently written off Reuters; check out this subsequent headline: "Poverty Up Second Year on Bush's Watch."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:25 AM EST


Friday, September 26, 2003

I Just Can't Pretend Liberalism

I'm reluctant to admit this, but I sometimes hate being conservative. I hate having to bite my lip in just about every group with which I interact based on non-political interests, listening to the anti-Bush slights and left-wing pieties, stated almost unaware. I hate feeling left out of the forming community of New England bloggers, or (at best) included in discussion as an interloper. I hate that I didn't get into grad school because of what I believe, that the local media ignores me no matter what I do, that I have to find ways to form local friendships almost explicitly in spite of my convictions.

And so sometimes, when I'm tired of living in a shack, when I'm tired of contemplating my debts, when I lose the energy to assert a difference between disliking a social policy and hating a class of people, when I shy away from arranging events and promotions because I realize that nobody would come, when liberal James at Aces Full of Links introduces me to a fantastic beer, I think that perhaps I'll open my mind to hearing their arguments. Take a look. See if maybe I could blend into my overwhelmingly blue state by forcing my writing and conversation into some shade or other of purple.

I can't do it.

It's probably an unfair place to start, but Barbara Streisand's "The Myth of 'Big Government'" online statement points to the reason:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agency Bush extolled in the Southeast this week, is designed to help Americans in crises - be they victims of natural disasters, or victims of extreme poverty. Agencies such as FEMA are what make our country able to bounce back from tragedy and unforeseen events, just as schools educate our children, firefighters fight fires, police officers keep our streets orderly, a decent highway system allows us to move freely, national parks maintain our incredible natural resources, our military protects us from outside threats, the Center for Disease Control protects us from epidemics, and Social Security and Medicare programs insure that our seniors aren't thrust into poverty after so many years of hard work. These are just some of the basics of government. These are not entitlement programs. These are not excesses. These are not "special interests." This is what the government is supposed to do for you, the people. ...

We also have to understand the connection between taxes and spending. It is our taxes that pay for these services, so Bush's two big tax cuts for the wealthy will, eventually, result in a cut in the services that all Americans depend on everyday, unless the tax cuts are repealed. So far, Bush has been more or less coasting on a policy of tax cuts and spending increases, such as the additional $87 billion he now is asking Americans to shoulder for Iraq. Meanwhile, he has cut spending for state-administered programs - plunging state governments into crisis, and has created unfunded mandates with catchy titles, such as the No Child Left Behind Act. Bush is dangerously betting against the future... turning an enormous surplus into an enormous deficit that future generations will have to grapple with. Eventually, we will be forced to have a national discussion about either repealing the cuts or asking the question: What everyday government spending programs are we really ready to do without?

How does one even begin to fairly and amicably address such mind-numbing asininity? The government is good — necessary, even — for emergencies and self defense, and this means it must be good for everything, even services at which it has proven inefficient in the U.S. and elsewhere? There is no distance, for Ms. Streisand, between believing that the government should offer some services and should offer all services. I couldn't help laughing at the way that she added Social Security and Medicare to that list; if I were parodying such people I couldn't have done so more effectively. And for whom are untouchable national parks protecting natural resources (e.g., oil, coal, timber, fur)? (Of course, by "natural resources" Ms. B.S. doesn't mean to imply utility, but scenery.)

Moving on to "the point," Babs doesn't even deign to address the suggestion that — historically — cut taxes lead to increased revenue. I'll agree with her that the spending increases are out of control, but then I wonder how that point can be made if we're seeing Big Government as a myth. I also wonder if I'm the only one who remembers that "deficit for future generations" from a little over a decade ago — you know, back before an economic boom erased that deficit with which my great grandchildren were supposedly saddled.

Apparently, also, part of what the federal government "is supposed to do" is to run the state governments, because Bush's tax cuts, not profligate spending throughout the '90s, are responsible for "plunging state governments into crisis." And then I recalled that this sounded familiar. Oh yeah. The aforementioned liberal James recently linked to a map of the "red states" showing that 22 of the 29 states that went to Mr. Bush in the 2000 election receive more from the federal government than they contribute (the map doesn't bother showing the same for Gore). So, here we have the President responsible for a state-level fiscal crisis because he's giving them too much money... huh?

It hardly matters, in this strange leftward world, that the legislature has control of the purse strings and that the Democrat to Republican ratio of the Senators among the top 10 "taker" states is 12 to 8. How could such a thing be relevant when the title of the post in which James introduced that map is "Conservatives Against Bush" and begins thus: "Say it with me now: Bush is only conservative when it comes to his use of honest communication." (That's sarcasm) Am I to believe that James, self avowed fan of Michael Moore and credulous quoter of Al Franken, would prefer that the President were more conservative?

Sorry. I don't believe such things. It's all too clear that it is only an unreasoned political calculus that has Barbara Streisand criticizing Big Government educational programs. As comfortable as I might find it to switch teams, I would have no lip left for all the biting.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:22 PM EST


By Way of Explanation

In the interest of fair dealing, I wanted to mention something that I posted yesterday and then took down after a few hours. It was an essay in response to Maureen Mullarkey's latest Notes & Commentary piece, and the reason I took it down was that I used racial issues as an example, and I don't think I wrote it unambiguously enough that it wouldn't be treated as more than an example.

What I hadn't made sufficiently explicit was that it actually is a major theme in literary and artistic studies to create all sorts of racial subtext where there is none and then apply the racism to whoever is politically convenient. Without the time or, really, interest in reworking that essay to be absolutely clear, while preserving as much of the emotional impact as possible, I thought it best just to remove the thing from the blog.

So, if you caught the essay yesterday, now you know where it went.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:57 AM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Granda," by Christine L. Mullen.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:51 AM EST


Thursday, September 25, 2003

Two War on Terrorism Must-Reads

The predictable response, and one that I've received, from the anti-war, anti-Bush crowd to statements from Democrat congressman from Georgia Jim Marshall that things in Iraq aren't as bad as they are being made to seem is to point to Marshall's Vietnam comparison. Well, in an interview with Brit Hume, Marshall modifies that somewhat, limiting the comparison simply to the similarity that they are both guerrilla-type wars that domestic public opinion can affect.

I don't imagine that this applies to many people who read this blog regularly, but if you are among the naysayers, I think you should give some real hard, soul-searching thought to what Marshall says here:

Well, it is a guerrilla war. And if we don't appear to have resolve, then Iraqis are going to be a lot less likely to cooperate with us, a lot less likely to be willingly in the Army and willingly out there, going after the guerrillas.

We can't force freedom on the Iraqis. The Iraqis have to take it for themselves. They can distinguish one from another. We can't do that. We can't read the street signs. We don't know the language. They do. They can go in there and deal with this guerrilla situation.

It's not like Vietnam. In Vietnam, you had the Chinese and Russians...

The ability to call on our leaders to explain their actions is absolutely crucial to our nation. However, in a situation such as that which we currently face in Iraq, it isn't "chilling dissent" to suggest that we really can transform morbid perception of loss into an actual loss. Some people seem to have difficulty with this, but we really do have to trust our leaders to some extent, and all of the carping, while emotionally satisfying in its way, can and does have an effect.

And for those who need reasons to switch from unanswerable skepticism of our President toward some acceptance of what we face, check out — bookmark — Richard Miniter's compilation of some of the evidence of cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda. There are those out there who would refuse to accept any evidence, right down to signed confessions delivered with a treasure map to an underground stadium full of WMDs. ("How convenient," they would say.)

For those who feel themselves drifting: remember, first, what the evidence and history actually are and, second, the possible outcome of a change of direction in our national policy.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:09 PM EST


The Downside of Productivity

I'm pretty wiped out. I don't know what it is, really, but the hours are just drifting by, and I'm not sure where they're going or what I've accomplished during them.

In part, it's that I've been working more. To an extent, it's also that a few big moments and events have passed this week and last, and I haven't seen any results sufficient to give me a feeling of progress.

I could really use a break — whether of the vacation sort or of the opportunity sort. In the meantime, blogging will continue about as usual. However, I apologize if you've been coming 'round only to find no additions.

Here are two things that I've been meaning to pass along, but for which I don't have anything specific and original to say:

Jay Nordlinger's latest Impromptus.

Michelle Malkin notes some institutional pedophilia... in the movie industry, giving a model of how the ideas of truly sick people become translated into mainstream culture.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:45 PM EST


Studio Matters Notes & Commentary: Making Art and Faking It

Maureen Mullarkey's latest Notes & Commentary piece is "Making Art and Faking It."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:40 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "The Rider," by Gary Bolstridge.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:12 AM EST


Wednesday, September 24, 2003

One-Sided Zero Tolerance for Intelligence Failure

This hasn't yet become a big deal, so I don't want to act as if it has, but considering war critics' zero-tolerance for pre-war intelligence mistakes from the Bush administration — whereby it is almost irrelevant that nobody really questioned whether Hussein had WMDs — this is worthy of note:

A key claim that undermined the case for war against Saddam Hussein was dropped from the Government's Iraq dossier at the last minute after the intervention of Tony Blair's chief of staff.

John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, today admitted that he had made the crucial change on the "prompting" of Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's most senior aide.

The claim, that Iraq was more likely to use chemical and biological weapons defensively rather than offensively, was cut out of the dossier the day before it was sent to the printers, the Hutton Inquiry heard.

Put aside the fact that this "key claim" was mentioned once on page 19 of the dossier. The fact of the matter is that the claim proved incorrect: Saddam didn't use WMDs defensively (perhaps because they were all hidden or dispersed).

Of course, deception is wrong even if it turns out to have had post facto justification. However, this ought to work both ways so that (possibly) being wrong isn't presented, post facto, as deception.

(For the record, the above doesn't sound like deception to me. Assertions notwithstanding, this wasn't a "key claim that undermined the case for war," and therefore removing it doesn't rise above the level of a judgment call — one that turned out to have been correct.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:58 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

The Redwood Review poem of the week is "Life Grows Richer Still," by Ingrid Mathews.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:47 AM EST


Songs You Should Know 09/23/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Do You Believe?" by me.

"Do You Believe?" Justin Katz, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Singing my song to painted walls

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:41 AM EST


Just Thinking 09/22/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Frankenphilosophy," in which I take Al Franken's "The Gospel of Supply Side Jesus" cartoon seriously enough to analyze it. (Yeah, that's probably too seriously.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:44 AM EST


Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Teddy and Patrick, Like Father Like Son... In Some Ways

WPRO 630 afternoon talk host Dan Yorke was livid today over some comments that Congressman Patrick Kennedy made to Yorke's morning colleague, Ron St. Pierre. It seems that one of Rhode Island's voices in the federal government believes that President Bush "doctored" evidence about Saddam Hussein and ought to be investigated (click here for mp3 audio):

WPRO's Ron St. Pierre: Now, do you agree with your father? He's been very critical over the past week or so of the President. He said that there appears to be absolutely no postwar plan in Iraq.

Congressman Patrick Kennedy: Well, I think my father and I have analyzed the case for war and come to different conclusions. I think that while the President did seem to doctor the evidence — and I think that's worthy of an investigation — I think that the overwhelming evidence was that we knew that Saddam had some weapons of mass destruction, even Hans Blix had acknowledged that. Whether he destroyed them or not is another question. I think part of the intelligence failure that my father did acknowledge was the fact that, where are they? And why don't we know where they are? I mean, we were quicker to secure a contract with Halliburton before we were able to secure these weapons of mass destruction.

St. Pierre: No, we haven't turned up any weapons of mass destruction. Flat out, let me just ask you: Do you think the American people were lied to?

Kennedy: I think America — it depends [laughs] on how much of a lie — what kind of lie you're talking about. Certainly there are white lies and then there are outright lies. Clearly there was an effort to, I think, bolster and manipulate — clearly manipulate — the evidence to bolster their case. Overall, however, I would say that, obviously, post-9/11, it's better off not to be in a world where Saddam Hussein is ruling a country, and it's better that we have addressed this issue. I mean Hans Blix, as I said, underscored the fact that we knew he had weapons of mass destruction, and at what point did he destroy them. And if he had destroyed them, why did he play such a cat and mouse game with our inspectors over so many years?


The President's prepared to take on the whole financial burden of postwar Iraq while not sharing that with the international community. I think today he really needs to check his arrogance at the door and ask the international community to play a role in the humanitarian/political reconstruction of Iraq.

Presumably, the congressman has some evidence to support his allegations. Otherwise, I'll expect him to retract his statement, preferably with a humble apology to our "arrogant" President. Also presumably, the Rhode Island media will be all over this, particularly considering that the state doesn't have any alternative news outlets to speak of.

On second thought, Kennedy's a member of the federal government and regularly receives better than 80% of his campaign cash from out of state sources. So, the national alternative media would be justified in demanding evidence or a retraction.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:13 PM EST


Today's Time Wasters

I'm swamped, today, but if you've got some spare time, you might enjoy these cute Flash games, Cat Bowling and LepreKong.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:45 AM EST


The Unsurprising and the Bizarre

I don't find it surprising that STDs are on the rise in the United Kingdom. These are the perfectly foreseeable fruits of the combination of eroticized and accelerated sex education and an ever-decreasing age of acceptability and accessibility for birth control and abortion that I've been noting here and there for longer than I've been blogging. However, this ending paragraph (from the first link) caught my attention because it looks a little as if somebody, somewhere, might be trying to pry an opening through which the real causes of the problem may slip in order to avoid detection:

Mr Parkianthan said that five years ago 20,000 people attended his clinic suffering from sexually transmitted infections but last year this figure doubled.

He revealed one new pattern to emerge among teenagers - some as young as 12 - is that of "sex texters", who use their mobile phones to call up partners to arrange casual encounters.

Yeah. It's the method the kiddies use to arrange the rendezvous that's the culprit, not that which fosters the intention in the first place.

But then my jaw dropped when I turned to the Providence Journal and saw this report about a registered Rhode Island sex offender's accosting a 14-year-old girl:

The girl was walking on a wooded path near Narragansett High School when Eugene C. Texter, a registered sex offender, allegedly grabbed her from behind and sprayed her with a "noxious substance," the police said.


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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:39 AM EST


Monday, September 22, 2003

A Lie or "Pre-emptive"? Make Up Your Minds.

In a post that he was kind enough to update to mention my blog post on the broader topic, Bill Hobbs makes a great point about whether President Bush ever linked Hussein directly to September 11:

It is weird to see the same Democrats and media who criticized the policy of pre-emption now try to imply that Bush had in the past said there was direct involvement of Saddam in the 9/11 attack. Weird, because if Bush had claimed Saddam was involved in 9/11, the war wouldn't have been pre-emptive.

Remember all those complaints that the administration's argument for war wouldn't "sit still" and changed from day to day? Well, I'd say the shoe is on the other foot... with one crucial difference: the administration's argument never did actually change, it was just multifaceted.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:02 PM EST


Southern Politicians These Days

Steve at Absit Invidia juxtaposes two quotations:

"All the sniping we've been hearing on TV about the president and how he's handling the situation ... plays into the hands of the enemy."

-- Rep. Ed Schrock (R-Virginia)

"I tolerate with the utmost latitude the right of others to differ from me in opinion without imputing to them criminality."

--Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams, 1804

I'd love to know what the ellipsis cut out, but Reuters offers very little more by way of context for the Schrock quotation:

Rep. Ed Schrock of Virginia charged that "all the sniping we've been hearing on TV about the president and how he's handling the situation ... plays into the hands of the enemy."

He said the nine Democrats running for president were "trying to make this look like the worst thing that's ever happened. Frankly this administration has done a magnificent job and more people need to come out and say that."

Steve opines that Schrock "didn't get [Jefferson's] memo." Somebody less inclined to find fault with supporters of the President, the war, and the U.S.'s subsequent efforts in Iraq might suggest that perhaps the congressman wasn't "imputing... criminality" and/or believes that the bounds of "utmost latitude" have nearly been reached.

Whatever the case, it looks as if some Southern Democrats haven't gotten the memo either. For example, upon returning from a trip to Iraq to assess the situation for himself, Georgia Congressman Jim Marshall wrote:

On Sept. 14, I flew from Baghdad to Kuwait with Sgt. Trevor A. Blumberg from Dearborn, Mich. He was in a body bag. He'd been ambushed and killed that afternoon. Sitting in the cargo bay of a C 130E, I found myself wondering whether the news media were somehow complicit in his death.

Huh. Maybe Schrock isn't just a budding fascist.

(Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for noting the must-read essay from Marshall.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:46 PM EST


Swallow That Milk First

This thread of Photoshopped parodies of the cover of Al Franken's book had me laughing myself to tears. This one is my favorite.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:16 PM EST


The Irony Is Lost on Dems

While I'm on the topic of political persons whom I dislike, I thought I'd mention the Providence Journal's report about Hillary Clinton's attendance at a fundraiser for Providence Mayor David Cicilline. Apparently, Senator Clinton thinks that the central reason to support the mayor of Rhode Island's capital city is that President Bush is evil.

"This the first generation of American leadership that is on a course to leave our country worse off than when they found it and that is absolutely unforgivable," said the wife of a President who left the nation with an economy that was beginning to tank and a world full of frothing Islamic radicals with the wherewithal to carry out an attack that made Pearl Harbor look like the bombing of the USS Cole.

Aside from rewriting history, Hillary spent the evening mingling, patting children on the head, and signing copies of a ghost-writing team's book about her. Meanwhile, outside, members of the Providence firefighters' union protested their treatment at the mayor's hands.

Curiouser and curiouser.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:14 PM EST


Ensuring That I'm Never Blogrolled by New England Bloggers

I've noticed that my little blog is conspicuously absent from New England's blogrolls. Let's see if I can keep the record going by expressing my belief that anybody who supports Howard Dean is living in a dangerous fantasy world.

A while ago, when Dean was just beginning to be mentioned in the same sentence as the word "president," Oliver Willis directed my attention (either on his blog or in a comment box somewhere... I don't remember) to a C-SPAN video of a Dean speech. I tried to watch it; I really did. But within the first few paragraphs, Dean hadn't managed to piece together a single straightforward, undistorted (or "undeceptive") sentence.

Since then, I haven't paid much attention to the candidate. I would prefer that otherwise likable, intelligent people hop out of the runaway ski-lift to insanity that the ex-Vermont governor represents, but I'm not convinced that he or his following are worth devoting too much thought to.

However, I thought it worthwhile to bring Dean up to pass along a marvelous line from John Pitney in a piece about Dean's anti-fundamentalist bigotry: "Dean rallies are whiter than the Stockholm chapter of the Barry Manilow Fan Club."

And Pitney ain't talking snow.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:02 PM EST


Sunday, September 21, 2003

Not Connecting on Israel/Palestine

I devoted a fair bit of time, this past week, to researching and discussing the Israeli-Palestinian situation in various places. Frankly, I'm burned out on it. For one thing, I can't get anybody to tell me specifically how they view the Israeli settlements within historical context and to lay out for me what is so horrible about them. This is one of those topics about which I'm very willing to carry the discussion all the way through with people with whom I disagree. It also happens to be a topic into which people are apparently reluctant to dig sufficiently far to risk undermining their equivalence of the sides.

But, if you're interested, I've commented extensively to this post at Absit Invidia, and less extensively to this one by Mark Shea. My statements in the latter case were made in partial response to an opinion piece by Knesset member Avraham Burg, who raises an interesting point about the apparent impossibility of Israel's remaining both democratic and explicitly Jewish.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:45 PM EST


Interview with God

Feeling a little down... or even just uninspired? Well, Lane Core has directed his readers' attention to a must-see Flash movie, "The Interview with God."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:31 PM EST


While I'm on Education

John Hawkins completely undermines the argument for shoveling more money into the educational system of the United States as it is currently constituted.

In a nutshell, America spends more money per student than any nation on earth, yet we are at the top of the global list for neither teachers' salaries nor test scores.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:29 PM EST


Speaking of Racialist Censorship

Here's a jaw-nearly-dropped assertion.

Erin O'Connor relates the tale of a college student newspaper that used the word "scalps" in a sports headline. The predictable campus American Indian outrage boiled over, and the editors submitted themselves to the obligatory self-mortification at the alter of political correctness, and now everybody can move on, feeling as if they've participated in campus radicalism.

The episode is remarkable for one thing, however, and that is a comment from the paper's faculty advisor, Morris Brown:

Brown cited his status as the only black professor on campus as reason for the club members to believe his apology.

"If I were white, yeah, you could be skeptical, but as a black man and a brother, I know how you feel," Brown said. "If I were Caucasian, I wouldn't expect you to listen."

As O'Connor says, "Professor Brown has just taught everyone who works at the paper, and everyone who attends the school, that not only are white people inherently racially insensitive, but that they are also inherently insincere."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:25 PM EST


It's All You Political Types Who're to Blame

Providence Journal education writer Julia Steiny comments today on the hollow, uninspiring nature of the texts that are currently being used to teach American children English. On the whole, Steiny's column is worth reading, and she's certainly touching on an important topic. Why should children ever pick up the habit of reading if they're never allowed to read anything moving? I remember being profoundly disturbed by Of Mice and Men when I read that in my youth, but the experience solidified my belief that there was something to this words on paper thing.

However, Steiny shoves in one bit of political equivalence that jarred against the rest of the piece:

Ravitch explains, ". . . the content of today's textbooks and tests reflect a remarkable convergence of the interest of feminists and multiculturalists on one side and the religious Right on the other. No words or illustrations may be used that might offend the former groups, and no topics can be introduced that might offend those on the other side of the ideological divide. The Left gets censorship of language usage and pictures, and the Right gets censorship of topics."

Saying so will surely open me up to accusations that I believe my side to be without blame, but I just don't see the truth in Ravitch's accusations when it comes to the Right. Specifically, every single example offered in Steiny's piece is Left- or secularist-driven: feminism, anti-racism, cutting references to God, "white boys [being] portrayed as weak and dependent."

Of course, censorship from the right is one of those "common knowledge" cultural clichés, but in our times, it hardly holds. In fact, even what was once true in the cliché — I'm thinking of the speech given by Amy Madigan's character in the movie Field of Dreams in favor of controversial school readings — tends to skip over legitimate points in order to present backwards censorship. A Clockwork Orange, for example, would clearly be inappropriate for ten year olds even if the language were at their level.

Most of the "censorship from the Right" these days comes from objections to the selectively applied censorship from the Left. Material that moves students or encourages passionate debate is critical to their education. However, when the material becomes indoctrination and the "debate" merely the inculcation of liberal dogma, I'd suggest that the religious Right's objections actually align with educational interests.

What is unfortunate is that, rather than allow the teaching of Christian literature (for example), the educational establishment opts to cut all texts that might highlight the double standard.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:15 PM EST


Good Signs in Iraq

Well, I'll wait to hear more along these lines before I lower my skepticism, but it's great if true:

SADDAM Hussein has been in secret negotiations with US forces in Iraq for the past nine days, we can reveal.

The Iraqi dictator is demanding safe passage to the former Soviet republic of Belarus. In exchange, he has vowed to provide information on weapons of mass destruction and disclose bank accounts where he siphoned off tens of millions of dollars in plundered cash.

The reconstruction effort could use the additional funds, to be sure, and tips on WMDs would be welcome. I wonder if the full-speed-backwards tone of the Western media around WMDs helped lead Saddam to believe evidence of them to be a marketable promise.

Of those media "reports," I particularly like the idiotic headline of an MSNBC/AP piece: "U.S. team finds no smallpox in Iraq." How does one "find no"? Maybe by finding evidence that there is no smallpox, but I don't think "not finding evidence of smallpox" is quite the same as "finding no smallpox." As habitual, the reporter places all of the information that might help to define this distinction toward the end:

Those involved described missed opportunities caused by bureaucratic obstacles hampering the search effort.

In several instances, the team couldn't follow up tips because of transportation problems. The violence plaguing Iraq means such teams can operate only under military guidelines and travel only with military escort. So their mobility is dictated by the military's schedule and availability to move from them from one location to another.

Some Iraqi scientists interviewed clearly had the know-how and expertise to produce smallpox, honed through years of work with similar viruses.

But none of the Iraqi scientists — many questioned at their offices at Iraqi universities — said they had done work on smallpox or other viruses that could be used in biological weapons programs.

U.N. inspectors suspected Iraq could have been working on smallpox or already had it. There was an outbreak of smallpox in the country in 1972, and Iraq admitted it had been producing the vaccine into the 1980s.

"From the onset the evidence was strictly circumstantial," said Jonathan Tucker, a former U.N. inspector and the author of a recent book on smallpox. "There was a lot of smoke but not much fire there."

Tests on Iraqi soldiers captured during the 1991 Gulf War found that some had been vaccinated for smallpox.

And Iraq admitted to U.N. inspectors in the 1990s that its biological weapons scientists worked with camelpox, a close relative of the smallpox virus. Working with camelpox would give Iraq a way to perfect techniques for making smallpox without endangering the researchers.

It seems a bit premature to place smallpox firmly in the "no" pile. Former weapons inspector chief Richard Butler would probably agree:

"Don't believe those who say they aren't there just because we haven't found them. Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction," Butler told the crowd. "Iraq certainly did have weapons of mass destruction. Trust me. I held some in my own hands."

But then, considering the lack of coverage of Butler's suggestion, I'd say he's beat Saddam to discovering just how unmarketable suggestions that there might actually be WMDs to find are in the West.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:50 PM EST


That Lie About Our Misleading President

I'd offer a link, but I really shouldn't have to: you've seen all of the hints and allegations in the mainstream media — sometimes utilizing the weasely "some critics charge" trick — that the Bush administration somehow subliminally inserted the idea that Saddam Hussein was "personally involved" in September 11 into the public's belief system. Whispers among liberal pundits and online commentators have begun to call it The Big Lie. "Oh, yes," they say, "technically Bush has never declared a direct link, but how do you explain that 69% of the American people believe one to exist if not by the administration's rhetoric?"

Perhaps it's been a hypnotic suggestion conveyed in W.'s slight lisp. MSNBC, under the heading "DID BUSH ENCOURAGE MISCONCEPTION?," offers a more deceptively plausible explanation:

Bush's opponents say he encouraged this misconception by linking al Qaeda to Hussein in almost every speech on Iraq. Indeed, administration officials began to hint about a Sept. 11-Hussein link began soon after the attacks. In late 2001, Vice President Cheney said it was "pretty well confirmed" that attack mastermind Mohamed Atta met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official.

I want to make sure that we all understand the proposed scenario in all its sublety: the American people were predisposed, based on history and a need for a "bad guy," to see Hussein's hand in the attack; by hinting with abandon at links between Hussein and al Qaeda, the administration encouraged the misconception that Hussein was linked to September 11.

Well, responses to a couple of posts in which John Cole took a look at some of what is being cited as "Bush's lies" broke my lethargy and inspired me to take a few minutes to find the actual Washington Post poll data. All I was looking for was a little wiggle room with the question's language and options. On this count, I did not come up empty handed: 37% of that 69% thought the 9-11 link only "somewhat likely," and the next choice down is "not very likely." I'd guess that an option somewhere between the two (perhaps "possibly") would have bled a portion of the "likely" votes.

But that wasn't all I found. The WaPo is good enough to supply data for this question dating back to September 13, 2001:

Y'know, it's a strange pathology that afflicts Bush Haters: they apparently believe that the President is so clever that he's manipulating people to believe lies, but that he's so inept that he somehow manages to make them believe the lies even less than they previously had. Or does that just indicate that he's even more clever... so much so, in fact, that he realized beforehand that the press would conveniently overlook the trend that 69% actually represents.

In a September 13, 2003, opinion column in the Washington Post titled "Sacrilegious Spinning," Ellen Goodman writes, "The emotional link -- bad guys do bad things, Saddam is bad, 9/11 is bad -- has become a successful political link." She subsequently asks:

When does the small, repeated exploitation of this belief become the big lie?

I'm wondering something similar myself.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:29 AM EST


Saturday, September 20, 2003

As the Left Sinks Toward the Fetal Position

Can you imagine the uproar if a Rutgers student did this to a comparable Arab leader?

Abe Greenhouse, a University College student, accosted Sharansky on Thursday night as he was about to address a crowd of about 500 people on "a Jewish perspective of the road to peace."

As Sharansky approached the podium at Scott Hall, Greenhouse threw a cream pie directly in his face. Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident, serves as Israel's minister for Jerusalem and diaspora affairs.

It certainly wouldn't be the minor story that this local NBC report represents. Of course, Sharansky has multiple strikes against him in the eyes of the Left, being a Soviet dissident in addition to an Israeli cabinet member directly involved with the processes of Zionism.

The impotence and immaturity of those who oppose him contrasts severely with the sense of humor and poise his heroism has engendered:

After cleaning up, Sharansky returned a few moments later and gave his speech, remarking that New Jersey possesses a warm community that "cooks very good cakes."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:55 AM EST


Friday, September 19, 2003

You Got Your Science in My Religion!

Mark Shea summarizes his view of intelligent design's significance in a world of evolutionary science:

Intelligent Design is a pin aimed at that ideological balloon. It doesn't claim to account for human or biological origins. What it does is point out the difficulties in the naturalist dogma that insists "Nature is all there is. Intelligence is a product of, rather than the antecedent to, nature." It is, as I said yesterday, a sort of scientific version of Statler and Waldorf, sitting in the balcony and heckling Naturalism's confident proclamations that "the Cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be" and its assertions that "biology is the study of complex systems that look designed, but really are the product of purposeless processes." In that role as Heckler and Elucidator of Inconvenient Facts, it provides an invaluable service to ordinary people who are often intimidated by naturalists into swallowing philosophical bullshit masquerading as "SCIENCE".

Mark offers a few "at the same time" statements of balance, but the above is what made me think of the Antichristic consequence that I'm still picking up as I (slowly) work my way through Frank Tipler's The Physics of Immortality. As I'll be exploring in writing when I've finished the book, I'm willing to accept Tipler's science without technical objection (mostly because I've not the background to do otherwise). However, he misses something significant, something spiritual, within his assumptions, and it is that basic something that makes the difference between Omega Point = God and Omega Point = Satan.

(As a coincidence of the order in which I've posted these things, it occurs to me that Bat Yeor is describing a sort of Antichrist, as well. Evil will seek any opening, I suppose.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:57 PM EST


Dhimmi Your Nation

It isn't the sort of thing about which one can make short-yet-astute observations, but Bat Yeor's latest on NRO is an interesting read:

Palestinist theology shores up the Euro-Arab policy of Christian-Muslim and European-Arab fusion: the modern state of Israel — considered a temporary accident of history — is bypassed and Europe's Christian origins are anchored in an Islamic-Christian Palestine. Having fulfilled its historical role of uniting the two enemies — Christianity and Islam — opposed to its very existence, Israel can now disappear, sealing the fusion between Europe and the Arabs. The unifying role devolves on Islamic-Christian Palestine; the reconciliation of Islam and Christianity can finally be consummated on the ashes of Israel and its negation. This is why the European Union — and especially France — designates Israeli "injustice" and "occupation" as the unique sources of conflict between Europe and the Arab/Muslim world, and the cause of international, anti-Western Islamist terrorism.

Incidentally, I've noticed that Israel is popping up in conversation around the Internet for no apparently unified reason. Wonder what's going on...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:47 PM EST


No Consequences... Except for un-PC Conservatism

I've intended to note John Derbyshire's meditation on the Age of No Consequences through which we're living. It's a flowing, somewhat artistic piece, so no part lends itself to quoting, but the whole is relatively short and certainly worth reading.

However, having waited a day to post on it, I am able to stir in some controversy with the link. In his piece, Derb writes:

At the time of the robbery, Ms. Boudin had been a fugitive for several years, since her known involvement in a 1970 terrorist bomb-making operation in New York City. She occupied herself in jail by getting a master's degree in adult education, assisting other inmates to get degrees, and ministering to inmates with AIDS (a fashionable venereal disease).

This morning, Mark Shea noted Andrew Sullivan's objection:

This "fashionable venereal disease" is killing millions across the planet - young, old, men, women, children. In prisons, it's often a result of rape, and a growing crisis that needs to be addressed out of simple compassion. It can be transmitted by non-sexual means. To trivialize the suffering of people with such a disease by calling it "fashionable" is to spit in the face of the sick - yes, the sick. There are plenty of reasons to dislike what Kathy Boudin has done in the past. But that she is now helping some of the most marginalized and needy people in our society is surely a good thing, and something no sane or right-minded person would seek to belittle. Some of the editors at [National Review] call themselves Christians. Yet they gladly publish a smug, sickening bigot like this. This isn't funny. It isn't even pertinent to any broader point. It's despicable.

Mark responds:

What Derbyshire did not was not mock the sick. He mocked the pieties of gay sanctimony which tend to decree AIDS victims automatic saints merely for contracting a highly avoidable disease. And, of course, he mocked ridiculous over-budgeting of money and societial angst for this disease that affects a much smaller proportion of the population than, say cardio-vascular illness but happens to effect the people who manufacture pop culture and media-received wisdom.

And here was my comment:

I think I might have some sympathy for anger at the phrase "fashionable disease" if Andy S. hadn't written the following during the whole bug-chaser debacle:

I've been HIV-positive for ten years now, and my immune system is healthier now than when I got infected. I look better than I did when I was negative, have experienced deep spiritual and emotional growth as a result of my HIV experience, and live every day now with a vigor and gratitude I never felt before. I'm just one of thousands of productive, healthy people with HIV who are daily - albeit unconsciously - transmitting the message that an HIV diagnosis is no calamity.

But there goes Derbyshire, "trivializ[ing] the suffering of people with such a disease by calling it 'fashionable.'"

Derb might've done well to withhold that parenthetical. Sullivan makes a good point about the types of people with AIDS in prison and in countries where it is still not manageable, but Boudin's new career won't be devoted to them. "Developing programs for HIV-positive women" sounds like a cushy job to me...

The reason I suggested that Derb could have withdrawn the parenthetical was that he makes the same point adequately subsequently, and with mitigating context:

Ms. Boudin won't be working the produce aisle at Safeway like your average parolee. She has a very nice desk job lined up at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City, "developing programs for HIV-positive women." What her salary will be, and why women suffering from less-chic diseases — multiple sclerosis, say, or cancer of the spine — are not to be favored with the attentions of this saintly woman and her "programs," I have not been able to discover.

Since reading of the controversy, I've noticed that we in the National Review Online audience haven't heard from Derbyshire since that column went up, and I find myself hoping that he won't go the way of Ann Coulter. But if he were to do so, wouldn't it be somehow fitting, sadly so, that through a column about consequence-free culture, Derb would have illustrated one of the few remaining behaviors that has consequences?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:04 PM EST


The Counter-Offensive

Well, here comes the conservative counter offensive in response to media, liberal, and Democrat efforts to discredit the President and the war in Iraq. Our platform isn't as broad, to be sure, but we have the advantage of being right.

Cheif Wiggles reports from Iraq:

I recall as a boy on a scout camping trip coming upon a herd of sheep. Thinking it would be fun, we started pushing them in one direction and then another, just by running around screaming from side to side. At one point, without knowing it, we spooked them directly into a wooded fence. One sheep after another attempted to run through the fence, hitting their head on the wooden slats, until the entire herd had banged their head into the fence.

At times reading the news I feel like one of those sheep, being forced or influenced to see the path ahead the way the media might desire me to. I for one refuse to take part in this media frenzy, based on nothing but negative perceptions, at times contrived facts, purposely selected to sway or influence my mind or view of our path. I do not need a steady diet of sensationalism, now gorged by the media's constant flow of such. Enough already.

He relates some anecdotes from his experience in the recovering nation that are well worth reading even apart from his condemnation of the media.

U.S. Congressman from Arizona J. D. Hayworth addresses the ever-changing rationales of Bush Haters who seek to "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory simply because they want George W. Bush to fail, which coincidently won't happen unless America also fails":

... there was never a single reason cited by the president to act against Saddam, but several, including human rights, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, regime change, and democratization. Still, the New York Times continues to distort the truth, and in the process contradicts itself.

On September 15, the paper wrote that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were "the main rationale cited for war earlier this year." But earlier this year, just before the war started, the very same New York Times wrote that, "Many liberals have criticized the president's ever-changing rationales for war.…" What both have in common, of course, is that they are negative about the president.

Meanwhile, James Robbins compiles some evidence of the nigh incontrovertible "cooperative relationship — that is, a strategic alliance —" between Iraq and al Qaeda, cementing the war's relationship to the larger War on Terror:

As I have noted before, Saddam Hussein had means, motive, and opportunity to be involved with global terrorism, and al Qaeda in particular. Much remains to be revealed, and one hopes the administration is compiling a dossier to make the case in detail and beyond doubt. The president has stated that there is no question these ties existed, and it is frustrating that something unquestionable keeps being questioned so persistently.

I've wondered out loud before, and I'm sure I'll do it again: will anything ever be enough for people who are determined to see the war in Iraq as immoral and unjustified?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:42 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from A Whispering Through the Branches," by me.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:50 AM EST


Thursday, September 18, 2003

Layer upon Layer of Lies

I'd say the Washington Post was more than a little strong in its language when it declared today that President Bush "disavow[ed] a link [between Hussein and September 11] that had been hinted at previously by his administration." One might go so far as to call it disingenuous. Here's the full paragraph from the actual transcript:

We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11th. What the Vice President said was, is that he has been involved with al Qaeda. And al Zarqawi, al Qaeda operative, was in Baghdad. He's the guy that ordered the killing of a U.S. diplomat. He's a man who is still running loose, involved with the poisons network, involved with Ansar al-Islam. There's no question that Saddam Hussein had al Qaeda ties.

The Post did note that last line later in the piece, but by separating "no evidence" from "no question," writer Dana Milbank is perpetuating this bizarre parsing of language to suggest that the administration has "hinted at" a September 11 connection, but that insisting that Hussein has had ties with the perpetrators of that attack for a decade carries no "hint" at all. The next step in this little twist of reality is to suggest that, because there's no evidence that Hussein helped out with September 11, the war in Iraq can't properly be called part of the War on Terrorism.

That's nonsense, but it's the sort of dissembling nonsense that certain segments of society have become well practiced at passing off as legitimate thought. As it happens, the very same article offers another piece of Lying Liars Initiative that has gone on to the next level of deception, the mischaracterizing paraphrase:

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday said he had no reason to believe that Hussein had a hand in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Unless Rumsfeld made remarks that I haven't seen, Milbank's statement is not true. How could people who can parse "hints" from "ties" from "links" not distinguish between having "no reason to believe that Hussein had a hand in" the attacks and having "not seen any indication that would lead me to believe that I could say that" Hussein "was involved in the September 11 attacks"? The administration has consistently asserted links between Iraq and al Qaeda, referring to cooperation between key figures from each. On top of the evidence that Iraq trained terrorists to hijack planes, it seems likely that the only "evidence" that's missing is a direct and specific instance of cooperation having to do explicitly with the Sept. 11 attack. As Lileks points out (in his inimitable fashion), with reference to a Weekly Standard must-read, the link is about as clear as is reasonable to expect in these shady matters.

That there was direct involvement is certainly a possibility. But — and this is to be stressed — there doesn't have to be for the link between Iraq and al Qaeda to have justified the regime change.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:34 PM EST


Left, Liberal, and Liar All Start with the Letter "L"

In the comments section of a post by John Cole of Balloon Juice that mentions the education of David Corn, Gary Farber comments thus:

Yes, quite true. No ethics, no morals, no brains. That's one half of the country for you. Fortunately, the other half is moral, just, and wise. Thank goodness for the good guys! Down with the stupid bad guys!

Let me state, outright, that it is absolutely correct that stupidity, avarice, dishonesty, and any other politico-philosophical sin that might come to mind is not the exclusive property of any political party or ideology. But it is a question, isn't it, whether at a given time in history a particular group dominates the market, so to speak?

To get right to the point, my experience is — and many of those items about which I write confirm — that the liberal, Left, Democrat side is currently that particular group. However, modern America is structured such that saying so doesn't require a belief that there is something about people who are liberal that makes them "the bad guys." The impulse to take shortcuts to reach self-interested goals is in each one of us, and organized groups of people seem particularly susceptible to the inclination's pull. However, in our modern society, those social and cultural institutions that are meant to keep this tendency in check have, themselves, been appropriated into the liberal movement.

With an overwhelmingly liberal arts & entertainment establishment, particular philosophies, policies, religions, occupations, or even ethnic qualities become associated with good and evil along political lines. With the information media partial to one side of the perennial public debate, that side will not be forced to curb its excesses, while the other will have to learn to tiptoe through and around issues masterfully. Perhaps the educational establishment, higher education especially, is the most dangerous in its tilt; it is here that society settles on appropriate worldviews based on abstract principles, where the rest of society will look for ultimate secular authority to justify or censure their desires.

Of course, much (most) of society sees "secular" as the more significant adjective, but the reason that academic political bias is so dangerous is that relatively recent trends in thinking have seized on "ultimate," both to dismiss its possibility and to grant it to intellectual elites. Deriding ultimate Truth, these intellectuals have declared Power to be the unseen force acting within society and insisted that its use be guided by abstract theory.

If Power is all that matters, if there is no objective Truth, and if the highest goal is to ensure that Power is held by those with the most reverence for theoretical truth, then deception to secure power for one's own "good guys" can only be seen as righteous. Thus, the height of philosophy on the liberal end of society simultaneously devalues truth by making it relative and elevates dishonesty in the name of a cause to the level of virtue.

To be sure, neither conservatism nor religion is absolute proof against temptation. In the sense that there is no "pure" versus "impure," there is no "good guy" versus "bad guy." However, that doesn't mean that it is incorrect to state, at any given point in history, that one side is more apt to deceive. And at this given point in history, not only are there fewer obstacles to the failing among liberals, but liberalism (broadly speaking) has become entangled with a worldview that goes so far as to encourage it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:11 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Review: The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression," by Len DeAngelis.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:55 AM EST


Wednesday, September 17, 2003

(Re)discovering the Wisdom of the Ages

I'll probably take this topic up again at a later date, but I wanted to mention a study out by Of course, the leanings of the organization don't do anything to emphasize the objectivity of the piece, but its findings oughtn't be shocking:

* The mechanisms by which we become and stay attached to others have a biological basis and are increasingly discernible in the basic structure of the brain.
* Nurturing environments, or the lack of them, influence the development of brain circuitry and the way genes affect behavior.
* The old "nature versus nurture" debate — focusing on whether heredity or environment is the main determinant of human conduct — is no longer relevant to serious discussions of child well-being and youth programming. New scientific findings are teaching us to marvel at how nature and nurture interact. These findings suggest that strong nurturing can reduce or eliminate the harmful effects of genes that are associated with aggression, anxiety, depression or substance abuse.
* Primary nurturing relationships influence early spiritual development, and spiritual development can influence us biologically in the same ways that primary nurturing relationships do. For instance, spirituality and religiosity can be associated with lower levels of stress hormone (cortisol), more optimism, and commitment to helping others.
* Religiosity and spirituality significantly influence well-being.
* The human brain appears to be organized to ask ultimate questions and seek ultimate answers.

Actually, let me amend my statement: the findings will only be shocking to that segment of society that has devoted time, resources, and emotion to denying that traditional society wasn't just some arbitrary arrangement to ensure perpetual phallic dominion.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:04 PM EST


A Pattern of Deception

For no particular reason, I went back over that WorldNetDaily article by Paul Sperry listing the various "lies" and "overstatements" of folks in the Bush administration. Essentially, the article has culled four statements that have been corrected from three administration officials in the past six months. These aren't in the order that WND presents them.

One: Cheney and Iraqi nukes.
I addressed this one earlier. In short, there was obviously no deception intended; it was merely a single instance of misspeaking during an interview.

Two: Rumsfeld and the Uranium Controversy.
This one is ground that WND covered in July but saw fit to dredge up again:

In congressional testimony in July, Rumsfeld swore repeatedly that he'd just "days" earlier learned that the uranium charge Bush made against Iraq six months earlier was based at least in part on fabricated reports.

A few days later, however, he had to correct the record twice, finally admitting he knew the allegation was false as early as March – less than two months after Bush trumpeted it in his State of the Union speech and just before the Iraq war started.

Reading the transcript of the question session of that testimony, it's obvious that Rumsfeld is perturbed. Furthermore, the "swore repeatedly" is a bit heavy handed. Rumsfeld said "within recent days" once, and when the Senator pressed, he gave this clarification:

SEN. PRYOR: You're trying to say that in no briefing, in no documents that you had or that you were exposed to, that was never communicated to you in any way?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I didn't say that. I see hundreds and hundreds of pieces of paper a day. And is it conceivable that something was in a document? It's conceivable. Do I recall hearing anything or reading anything like that? The answer is as I've given it. No.

At any rate, even the furthest-back point that Rumsfeld has had to place his "knowledge" of the questionable nature of the documents, with the IEAE's statement in March, comes months after the President's State of the Union in which the controversial line appears.

Three: Rumsfeld and WMDs.
This is a new "revelation." Here's Sperry:

Eleven days after the U.S. invasion, Rumsfeld claimed to know exactly where Saddam was hiding alleged banned weapons. ...

Lytle: "On March 30th you said, referring to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, quote, 'We know where they are.' Do you know where they are now? Will they be found?"

Rumsfeld: "In that instance, we had been in the country for about 15 seconds; sometimes I overstate for emphasis .... I should have said, 'I believe they're in that area'" around Tikrit and Baghdad.

That "overstate for emphasis" thing sounds pretty bad, huh? Of course, it's important to remember that Rumsfeld was reacting to a quotation drawn from one of the many interviews that he has done since the war. As it turns out, he didn't have to offer a "should have said," because that's exactly what he did say:

... the area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is substantial. It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat. ...

I would also add, we saw from the air that there were dozens of trucks that went into that facility after the existence of it became public in the press and they moved things out. They dispersed them and took them away. So there may be nothing left. I don't know that. But it's way too soon to know. The exploitation is just starting.

So much for Rumsfeld's having "to correct an inaccurate statement he made on national TV about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." He actually had to correct a quoted statement that mischaracterized what he'd said by removing all content.

Four: Wolfowitz on al Qaeda & Ba'athists Post-War.
This one is the only one that is exactly as Sperry presents it:

The Pentagon's No. 2 official also backtracked from a recent nationally televised claim that "a great many of [Osama] bin Laden's key lieutenants are now trying to organize in cooperation with old loyalists from the Saddam regime to attack in Iraq." Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz made the remark Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Challenged the next day by a news wire to provide evidence to back the shocking revelation, Wolfowitz said he had misspoken.

He said he was actually referring only to bin Laden supporter Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is alleged to have set up a training camp in far northern Iraq, an area outside Saddam's control, after being flushed out of Afghanistan last year.

But really, how big a deal is this? Reading the transcript, it is obvious that Wolfowitz was only on the show very briefly, and within the context of talking about the anniversary of September 11; right after making this statement, he moves the conversation to that. Furthermore, who knows what he was thinking? Perhaps he revealed more than he was supposed to. Perhaps as he quickly thought of what to say he piled a few bits of related information erroneously under one heading of "key lieutenants." Perhaps he just overstated as he extemporized on a topic distracting from the points that he wanted to convey in the brief interview. But again, how big a deal is this? He didn't push the point when checked; he clarified it.

The bottom line is that looking further at these four incidents confirms — at least to me — that the "lying liars" initiative is built on a framework of stretched connections papered with flimsy innuendo.

For more on the Lying Liar Initiative, see the following:
Lying Liars About Other People's Lies
More Corn Between Bloggers' Teeth
Washington Post: "Black Is White, Up Is Down"
Headline: Washington Post Misquotes Cheney

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:24 PM EST


More Corn Between Bloggers' Teeth

I meant to post this yesterday, but I'm behind on just about everything. Steve Verdon has done more analysis of David Corn's slippery rhetoric. Steve even found a PDF of a table that shows from where Corn got his Elementary and Secondary Education numbers.

Poke around on the Internet, and you'll find that people have actually been taken in by Corn's sleight of hand to make Bush's "26% increase" line seem like a lie. Here's my comment on that point:

I got the 26% using the new PDF that you provide.

It seems like the actual error on the part of the speechwriters was the phrase "Elementary and Secondary," because the data all aligns with total ed. budgets, suggesting that it was the total that Bush meant to tout. Comparing the $53.1 billion in the 2004 proposed budget with the 2001 total appropriations ($42.2 billion) yields an increase of 25.8%.

As I said in my own (much too time-consuming) post on the topic, nobody should disparage Corn's proofreading ability, nor his ability to generate propaganda. His honesty? Well, that's another question.

I'm afraid, however, that this liberal lie is already out there as common knowledge for anybody who wants to see it as such. (Who's going to spend all this time with a calculator when they want to agree with the error anyway?)

Of course, my preference would have been for Bush to cut the budget and brag about that...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:59 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:10 PM EST


Sometimes "I Misspoke" Is the Truth

I've probably gone too far in disregarding every report of "backtracking" among Bush administration officials, but it's been over a year now that every single one of these innuendo-rich accusations has proven, upon thorough consideration, to have been much less condemnatory than the media et al. make them out to be. Consider this one from WorldNetDaily:

Vice President Dick Cheney over the weekend withdrew an alarming assertion he made on national television, on the eve of war, about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

"We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons," Cheney said March 16 on NBC's "Meet the Press."

This sounded familiar, so I did some rifling through my usual sources and found a thorough debunking of this very accusation against the VP by Eugene Volokh:

If people actually looked at the entire transcript — or even searched for the word "nuclear" — they'd see that throughout the interview, Cheney was acknowledging that Saddam didn't yet have nuclear weapons ("Done absolutely everything he could to try to acquire that capability," "trying once again to produce nuclear weapons," "his pursuit of nuclear weapons," and especially "only a matter of time until he acquires nuclear weapons.")

What's more, the quote about "pursuit of nuclear weapons" comes immediately before the question in reply to which Cheney mentioned "reconstituted nuclear weapons." The one quote that people seize on must surely be Cheney misspeaking, not trying "to mislead the American public" or "reckless[ly] exaggerat[ing]."

Cheney hasn't "withdrawn an assertion"; he's corrected a minor conversational typo.

I haven't been paying attention to the political arena for long, but I've never seen anything in my life approximating the media treatment of the Bush administration. They can't even misspeak by one word throughout their entire careers without it being permanently affixed to the "mountain of evidence" of deceit. The people who are intent on keeping these things alive (some, apparently, on a repeated cycle to allow folks to forget the immediate context) ought to take their obsessiveness to be a red flag for themselves.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:12 PM EST


Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Good Enough for Me; Good Enough for You?

John Hawkins caught an interesting comment from Dick Cheney on Meet the Press:

We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s, that it involved training, for example, on BW and CW, that al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved. The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaeda organization.

We know, for example, in connection with the original World Trade Center bombing in '93 that one of the bombers was Iraqi, returned to Iraq after the attack of '93. And we’ve learned subsequent to that, since we went into Baghdad and got into the intelligence files, that this individual probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven.

This information has been floating around for quite awhile, and it is, particularly the second tidbit, evidence that highlights the divisions in this country. I look at the above and believe it to be about as clear an indication of shady, ominous collusion between Iraq and al Qaeda as we're likely to get. Others look at it and scoff that it hardly applies (that's if they don't dismiss it as spin or lies). I really don't know whether there are many people in the United States who hold positions that can possibly shift from one side to the other barring some huge discovery or admission with close to zero ambiguity.

At any rate, I've really made an attempt to stop arguing the point once it's clear that something like the connections that Cheney references aren't sufficient. If that's not clear enough — on top of all the other bits of information that so many pro-war bloggers have collected — then nothing will be, short of a signed letter from Saddam Hussein addressed to the skeptic.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:45 PM EST


Headline: Washington Post Misquotes Cheney

As Lane Core points out, the Washington Post has printed a correction of its egregious misquoting of Vice President Cheney, which I noted yesterday. It is, of course, an admirable thing that the Post made any correction at all in this day of media dishonesty, but I wonder how many people outside of pundit and politics-and-media-buff circles actually look at corrections.

Wouldn't it say a whole lot about a newspaper if it was in the habit of correcting itself in roughly the same level of the paper in which it made the mistake? Wouldn't it seem reasonable for a dramatically incorrect front-page story to be corrected on the front page?

Yeah, I know: keep dreaming. Well, it's what I would do if I weren't just some blogging schmoe.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:35 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 09/16/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Jonathon Livingston Seagull" by You, which seemed a good song with which to say goodbye to summer.

"Jonathon Livingston Seagull" You, Alternative Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:06 PM EST


Just Thinking 09/15/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Through Changes, I Remember," about my changing perspective on the seasons.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:18 PM EST


Lying Liars About Other People's Lies

The latest annoying undercurrent that I'm beginning to note in the media is an aggregation of mischaracterizations of minute details to contribute to the broad accusation that the President is a liar. Here's how it works:

1. Some pundit or Democrat operative finds something — anything — that can be twisted to reflect poorly on the administration and exploits that "discovery."
2. Factions of the media pick up the ball and run with it.
3. Conservative (and moderate) pundits and interested parties refute the point.
4. The very same factions of the media ignore or downplay the refutation.
5. Repeat.
6. Liberal pundits and Democrat operatives begin announcing the litany of "lies," a litany thoroughly distorted, yet as extensive as the loose network of cooperating media and political figures. It therefore cannot be sufficiently refuted by individual conservatives, or even small groups of conservatives. And besides, most of those who have been falsely persuaded prefer keeping the "lies" as common knowledge.

I came across an instance of step 1 tonight, and even though I'm short on time — and short on interest in figuring out the complexity of federal budgetary processes — even though I disagree with what the President is doing and would much prefer if the facts (apart from the supposed lying) behind this specific liberal claim were true (cutting spending), I thought I'd take apart a paragraph from David Corn, the liberal liar in this particular case. Corn writes:

September is back-to-school time, and Bush hit the road to promote his education policies. During a speech at a Nashville elementary school, he hailed his education record by noting that "the budget for next year boosts funding for elementary and secondary education to $53.1 billion. That's a 26-percent increase since I took office. In other words, we understand that resources need to flow to help solve the problems." A few things were untrue in these remarks. Bush's proposed elementary and secondary education budget for next year is $34.9 billion, not $53.1 billion, according to his own Department of Education. It's his total proposed education budget that is $53.1 billion. More importantly, there is no next-year "boost" in this budget. Elementary and secondary education received $35.8 billion in 2003. Bush's 2004 budget cuts that back nearly a billion dollars, and the overall education spending in his budget is the same as the 2003 level.

Let's get one thing out of the way: the Bush speechwriting team apparently let a mistake get through into this minor speech delivered at an elementary school in Tennessee; $53.1 billion is indeed the total proposed education budget. Let no one dispute David Corn's abilities as a proofreader. However, I have no idea where Corn gets his $34.9 billion from. Adding up the particulars listed under Elementary and Secondary Education (go to the last page of the PDF), I get a 2004 budget of $29.542 billion, as compared to a 2003 budget of $28.019 billion, a 5.44% increase, year over year. Since I can't confirm Corn's numbers, let's assume that the reason for the discrepancy relates to his distortion of the relative total figures. (Part of it might involve the $10,093,623,000 "mandatory funds" for the total budget, which I have excluded from the following analysis because they've remained the same. However, while this may account for the difference in magnitude of our numbers, it probably doesn't cover the relative increase versus decrease claims.)

Corn claims that the overall education spending "in [Bush's] budget" is the same as "the 2003 level." I put those words in quotation marks because Corn is slippery in his language. This is apparent in the way he shifts from Bush's claim of a 26% increase since he took office to the assertion that there is no next-year boost. More egregiously, in handling the Elementary and Secondary Education data, Corn compares the 2004 budget to what was "received" in 2003. The fact that these are not really comparable numbers requires Corn to carefully word his statement that "overall education spending in his budget is the same as the 2003 level."

Looking at the last page of a comprehensive chart of the education budget, we do indeed see that 2003 total allocation for discretionary spending was $53,112,759,000 while the 2004 "President's Request" calls for $53,139,203,000 (we'll call these "the same"... what's $26 million between countrymen?). But then there's this other column that says that the 2003 "President's Request" was $50,309,879,000. In terms of proposed budgets, 2004 does indeed bring a 5.6% "boost." (And who believes that there won't be further appropriations and supplements?)

Realizing that the federal government brought the 2003 budget almost up to the 2004 level a number of months early leads to another discovery. In that same chart, the next row of data is for "Budget Authority," which a note at the bottom of the page tells us represents the money that was actually available in the year, with the difference applying to the next fiscal year, beginning October 1. Looking closely at the data and the footnotes, we see that $15 billion is apparently applied from every budget to the following year, which doesn't affect the numbers (the money from last year cancels out the money paid in advance to next year). However, in 2003, the money devoted to 2004 was $2.4 billion more than usual. In other words, the "Budget Authority" for 2003 was $50,868,759,000 versus $55,383,203,000, for a difference of 8.87% — not including the additional appropriations that are sure to find their way into the hands of the Education Department sometime next year.

In summary, it is only through a combination of selective data and careful parsing of words that David Corn is able to exploit the habitual budgetary tricks of the federal government to call the President of the United States a liar. And his faulty conclusion has probably already caught on sufficiently that careful analysis of boring numbers will not prevent it from becoming "common knowledge." I came across the suggestion of a "lie" on Absit Invidia who linked to CalPundit as well as to the opposing side by Steve Verdan, and it has surely spread elsewhere.

Mind you, I think the increases are a mistake and will not ultimately improve American education, I think the government is already much too big, and I think the President would do well to remember his base before guys like me stop debunking liberal deception. Nonetheless, as has become my constant refrain: could we at least have an honest debate about why he's wrong instead of polemical number flinging?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:53 AM EST


Monday, September 15, 2003

The Waiting Legions

Ramesh Ponnuru is apparently on a media bias hunt today. He posts about some awful commentary on NPR about two recently deceased figures from the previous century, one associated with the H-bomb and the other associated with Hitler. My jaw dropped here:

From the intentional standpoint, there is no equivalency between them. Edward Teller's H-bomb was created as a deterrent to evil such as Hitler, though his name happened to be Stalin. . . . On the other hand, the H-bomb still has the potential to annihilate us, as do neo-Nazis just waiting to be unleashed by the right movie. The passing of Teller and Riefenstahl marks the true end of the twentieth century. My guess is that Edward and Leni are together in the next world. They have eternity to work out the implications of their work.

Do Andre Codrescu and others of his ilk really believe that there are legions of neo-Nazis "waiting to be unleashed" (by Mel Gibson's The Passion perhaps)? What a world these people must live in! I'd say this goes a long way toward explaining why listening to NPR every day during an hour-and-a-half commute nearly drove me crazy a few years ago.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:55 PM EST


Washington Post: "Black Is White, Up Is Down"

Ramesh Ponnuru exposes blatant, very significant deception at the Washington Post:

My eyes just about popped out of my head when I read this passage from a front-page story in the Washington Post today: "Cheney was less forthcoming when asked about Saudi Arabia's ties to al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 hijackers. 'I don't want to speculate,' he said, adding that Sept. 11 is 'over with now, it's done, it's history and we can put it behind us.'"

I was going to write an attack on Cheney for Corner readers, but I figured I should check the transcript of Cheney's remarks to make sure he hadn't been taken out of context--especially after I saw that Dana Milbank was one of the authors of the Post article.

Good thing I did.

Apparently, Cheney's meaning was exactly the opposite from what the Post claimed it to be. Y'know, I've been very frustrated lately, reading around the Internet, at a common view of goings on in the War on Terror and the war/reconstruction in Iraq and at the conclusions that people have drawn from what they believe to be reality. Reading the arguments from my perspective, it feels as if every single line would have to be addressed to handle the slight taint that each piles onto the mound of errant thinking. But these distortions in the mainstream media help to explain a good portion of the problem.

Has anybody set up a blog or Web site yet that collects and analyzes the "correction" statements of the major papers each day? I know I've been tempted to undertake the project of fact-checking an entire newspaper, just to see what percentage of stories cannot be taken at face value. But who has that much time? (Some might suggest that obviating the need to spend that time is what we pay the newspapers for in the first place.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:46 PM EST


Our Voice with the Hierarchy

It would be too difficult to find an individual passage to quote from Peggy Noonan's account of her speech to the powers that be in the American Catholic Church, so just go read the whole thing.

One comment that I would offer is tangential: I was surprised as I went about the process of familiarizing myself with and joining the Church at how liberal many within it are. It shouldn't be surprising, given that Christians and Progressives shared multiple causes for over a century. However, looking only at the country post-sixties, when the Progressives went too far as well as too far off track, it is easy to understand why the "non-Catholic public would probably assume that bishops and cardinals frequently talk with conservatives in the church." Think of who the famous political Catholics are — not conservatives, that's for sure.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:34 PM EST


Inhibiting Good Being Done by the "Enemy"

It all fits just a bit too well to presume that the full story isn't more complex, but it certainly seems a generally applicable description of those on the socialist side of the political middle line is that they prefer that no good be done except when it offers their side a political victory. I'm thinking of Democrats who were all for attacking Iraq in the pre–September 11 days of President Clinton, yet who warned of the perception of imperialist intentions last year.

And I'm thinking of NGOs that give the impression that, for them, political predilections have a comparable weight to charitable intentions. Consider this from Martin Peretz:

Many of the NGOs that are on their way out of Iraq from fear--if we believe them--maintain elaborate operations in Liberia, where their employees were until recently probably more at risk than in Iraq. After all, Liberia has been plagued by wanton, random killing. And yet the relief workers soldiered on. Meanwhile, in Iraq--where whatever mistakes have been made by the occupying authorities and however vexing the internal struggles, there can be no doubt that the U.S. wants to leave the country in a better way than it found it--the NGOs are leaving in droves.

I seem to recall some famous line about "breaking a few eggs." In this case, since the United States is the originating point of all that is wrong with the world, allowing the people of Iraq to suffer through a social collapse and extended crisis is justified if it will make it more difficult for the Americans to adventure elsewhere in the future.

Complex story or not, at some point, it must be presumed that all who fail to acknowledge such moral hypocrisy are complicit.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:49 PM EST


The Battle over Taxes

In his NRO "diary," David Frum summarizes the struggle between the parties over taxing, spending, and funding the war and reconstruction in Iraq. Of course, being an encapsulation, the brief essay is broad-brushed, concluding the following:

So when the Democrats today uncork their whines about the Iraq money, understand that the issue is not Iraq — the issue is their still uncontrollable fury at President Bush for snatching all that lovely surplus money away from them in 2001 and sending it back home beyond their reach. And their fondest dream since 9/11 has been to use the war on terror as a justification for rescinding the tax cut and grabbing the money back so they can spend it — not on the war (for which no tax increase is needed), but on their domestic spending agenda.

To be sure, the Democrats currently in the public eye have multiple pathologies that could underly their whining.

(Umm. That was written with a smile... a big one.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:23 PM EST


Balancing Pictures Worth Thousands of Words

John of White Sky Diary reacts to my "Personal Nature of the Fall" post with some considered and balanced thoughts on the practice of showing pictures of the dead and the implications of a decision not to do so (this is just a sample):

A daily diet of these kinds of pictures is morally debilitating, though. Death piled on death eats away at you.

There's a question about whether showing photos or videos like this is "fair" or "moral". I think it's a good question. And I'm not sure of the answer.

They're definitely part of the true story; they are real and they happened. To hide a truth seems dishonest. But I think there's a problem in terms of objectivity. Only one side of the story dominates the coverage. This isn't because of perfidy, but by the fact that the other side has very different ideas about the "use" to which the dead can be put. If the pictures were there, they would be shown in the Middle East, but they're not. And they are nowhere to be seen in the US.

We, as Americans, are missing a very large part of the story, largely because we're too squeamish when it comes to death.

I guess the approach to showing such pictures is important — the difference between propaganda and remembrance. Regarding the September 11 pictures, I see the pictures as just a reminder of what happened and that it is too important that it be prevented from happening again for us to talk ourselves into doing nothing. Pictures of dead Palestinians and other Middle Easterners could be approached in the same way — hopefully leading to the conclusion that their society requires some reform, to say the least — if it weren't so consistently accompanied by a message of broad blame.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:20 PM EST


Sunday, September 14, 2003

The Conceit of the Secular

Andrew Stuttaford opines, "One of the more grimly entertaining spectacles of recent years is the way that many on the left, usually so skeptical of religious and cultural tradition, have, in their self-loathing, seemingly turned into such enthusiasts for the religions and cultural traditions of the non-Western world." With this, I can agree. However, he makes this statement with reference to a brief essay by Mathew Leeming with which I not only disagree, but also take umbrage:

Afghanistan is a good place to ponder one's good fortune in being born in the modern West and not in a culture where malaria is treated by yelling, or the best cuts of meat are reserved for the dead, or it is believed that the motions of the stars are controlled from the liver of a rogue elephant, or divine honours paid to shallow depressions in the ground. We have the Enlightenment to thank for this, the moment when the West achieved intellectual maturity (or rediscovered that of the classical world) and reduced religion to a matter of opinion and turned the mullahs into comic turns like Rowan Williams. The Orientalist witch-smellers and postmodernists at Oxford have the Enlightenment in their sights. It is a sobering thought that whole cultures and educated elites can commit intellectual suicide.

May I be so bold as to suggest that this is an instance of simplistic secular intellectualism? Well, since Leeming feels no compunction about avowing himself to be among those "who think that religious belief is a mental illness," I think I may. That the Enlightenment is particularly responsible for the gulf between Western society and Islamic society as he portrays it is nonsense. I'm a Biblical novice, but even I could find this: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." (Matthew 25:35-36)

But there is a corresponding blindspot on the opposite side of Leeming's vision. From whence does he believe relativism and postmodernism to derive? Certainly not from religion — no matter the semantic relationship he's able to conjure in his writing with the reference to "witch-smellers." I daresay many postmodern relativists would hold the Enlightenment up as the "the moment when the West achieved intellectual maturity," themselves, reducing "religion to a matter of opinion." It is only a short step from there to do the same to age of consent, something that Leeming holds as self-evidently above fourteen.

I'd suggest that Leeming — and Stuttaford, too — consider the implications of branding religious people as mentally ill. For those driven by science, sociology, psychology, this is the equivalent of being possessed, deserving of exorcism when the illnesses of the superstitious impede the intentions of the enlightened. No, relativism is not the only intellectual conceit that can lead to dangerous ideology. The haughty, broad-brushed ease with which Mr. Lemming [sic] equates all Western religious thinkers with Rowan Williams attests to that.

Some of the most insufferable people I've ever met have been those in the thrall of their "intellectual maturity." Such was I, once, fresh out of college and for a while beyond, and I likely would have snickered, then, right along with Mr. Leeming. Now, I'm inclined to wonder if there isn't something significant in the fact that, in avoiding the relation of postmodernism with intellectualism, he has no intellectual corollary with which to balance his example of religion applied beyond its boundaries (indeed, for ulterior ends). The postmodernists, pretty explicitly, have Judeo-Christian society in their sights. This is the swivel whereby they've come to side with fundamentalists who claim absolute truth, not the Enlightenment. How does Leeming miss this?

For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. (Corinthians 1:19-25)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:53 PM EST


Saturday, September 13, 2003

The Ethics of "Professional Journalists"

Craig of Lead and Gold is "shocked" at this:

Lieutenant Commander Beidler, 32, on his way to Iraq in January, was walking with his family toward the end of Naval Station Pier 2 when the Times's Charlie LeDuff asked him for his general view of war protesters. Mr. Beidler recalls stating, "Protesters have a right to protest, and our job is to defend those rights. But in protesting, they shouldn't protest blindly; instead, they should provide reasonable solutions to the problem."

The LeDuff version had Mr. Beidler criticizing Los Angeles protesters but turning his guns at a complacent United States: "It's war, Commander Beidler said, and the nation is fat. 'No one is screaming for battery-powered cars,' he added." The journalist then turned to Commander Beidler wife's Christal: "'I'm just numb,' she said as she patted down his collar. 'I'll cry myself to sleep, I'm sure.'"

Taking the soldier's word over the journalists (which, experience dictates, is the prudent thing to do), LeDuff's version was created through a combination of leading questions and complete fabrication. (A leading question: "Is anyone screaming for battery-powered cars?" "No.")

That got me thinking, today, why anybody at all trusts the Times more than, say, a blogger. I suppose that, as long as we stay on the legal side of libel, we don't have to be, but it has seemed to me that most bloggers a scrupulously honest. For one thing, our careers don't require our coverage to be "compelling," because blogging is not a career (yet). For another, when folks disagree, they can respond in kind, usually finding another blogger to pass the criticism on, whereas the major news organs represent closed podiums. Moreover, when bloggers are dishonest, it shows more immediately, partly because their bias is front and center.

Not long after my mind had wandered on to other things, I discovered that Don Sensing had been pondering the broader topic, as well:

* Journalism is a job, not a profession. I have no small amount of formal journalism training, and I can tell you that there is no particular skill to it that is particularly difficult or unobtainable by average people.
* There is no "accountability" of journalists in any meaningful sense. There is no equivalent of a bar exam for journalists. There is no licensing procedure for journalists. There is no minimum education level required, nor any particular special kind of training at all. Fill out an employment application, get hired at minimum wage or better, and presto, you're a journalist. Or just take a pad and pencil, call some folks on the phone and do some interviews, and you're a journalist, too. Think not? Read on.

Some will scoff at this, but I'm certainly getting the largest percentage of news via blogs. Of course, most of it isn't first hand reportage, linking instead to "authoritative" coverage, but blogs will generally offer links to links to links so that readers can acquire all relevant information relatively quickly. What a service!

Maybe we need a professional society... oh, and some paychecks.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:22 PM EST


Friday, September 12, 2003

When Didn't They Hate Us?

I'm not going to make assertions, but two posts by fellow Southern New England bloggers seemed somehow related. Here's Steve from Absit Invidia:

[After September 11, 2001,] I remember being genuinely moved by the outpouring of support and symbolic gestures of solidarity from our friends abroad. ...

- The three minute silence observed across Europe in our honor. Just prior to the silence, the proceedings of the British Parliament were being broadcast on one of the American networks. In the middle of debate, the Speaker stood and said, "Stand to observe the three minutes silence for the people of America" and every last one of those curmudgeons stood silently and respectfully. ...

It was a remarkable time. And drifting perilously close to breaking my promise not to add any political commentary to the mix, I often wonder: If we were attacked today, would the people of the world still be empathetic and generous? Or would they say, "Well, that's what you get."?

And then there's Sara from Cornsmut, who was in Europe at the time:

When we hear that people in Europe were in support of us after Sept. 11, I am not sure that it is really true. Though there was some sympathy, it very fast became a type of glee. I don't want to get into it too much because it is still stressful, but people told me some of the most awful and offensive things I have ever heard during this period. I certainly don't support Bush, and I disagree vehemently with his supporters, but I still think that people in the US are human beings worthy of respect as such. I had people yell at me the first time I met them and threaten me and blame me personally for things that happened in Vietnam (I'm 29 years old). I never ever blamed an individual on first meeting for things that happened during World War 2, but yet that attitude seemed perfectly acceptable to them when invoked in the reverse.

It's possible that both views of that time are true. However, I can't help but get the feeling that certain Americans are seeking to rewrite the history of the world's opinion of the United States in order to condemn recent events for squandering a good will that never really existed.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:51 PM EST


Are They Children When They Smile?

The detail that they're beginning to get with ultrasound is amazing. Of course, it's no surprise to me that babies smile in the womb. Here's the first picture that I sent around of my daughter:

I really truly feel for those women who see these pictures that so clearly show what it is that they've done if they've had abortions... but for the grace of God, as they say. It must be faced, though, for the sake of society, for the sake of the women's souls, and for the sake of children who've yet to smile.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:42 PM EST


The Military Remembers

This picture choked me up. Particularly the way in which they wrought the "9-11."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:11 PM EST


Follow the Feline

Hey! Ferry Halim's got a new Flash game up on Having begun to learn Flash, I can attest that the execution of this sort of thing, while challenging, isn't but so difficult. But the imagination put into the entire Orisinal series is amazing.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:09 PM EST


Like an Angel Moving On from Redeemed Life

Well, you've surely heard that Johnny Cash has died. I came late to appreciation of Cash — within the past couple of years, coinciding with my conversion. I acquired his CD American Recordings as a promotional item when I was a record-store clerk in 1994. Back then, I didn't pay much attention to the disc except for the first song, "Delia's Gone," which I liked mostly for its dark, anti-PC humor ("If I hadn't a shot poor Delia, I'd a had her for my wife.")

However, as I began to come around to religious truth, the CD became a regular feature in my CD player because it is so steeped in Christianity and so focused on inexplicable redemption. Several of the songs pull the unnecessary sorrow, which I still unwisely treasure deep down inside me, out for viewing, and others inspire me to cast it back. Herewith, the lyrics to my favorite Johnny Cash song, "Like a Soldier":

With the twilight colors falling
And the evening laying shadows
Hidden memories come stealing from my mind
And I feel my own heart beating out
The simple joy of living
And I wonder how I ever was that kind

But the wild road I was rambling
Was always out there calling
And you said a hundred times I should have died
Then you reached down and touched me
And lifted me up with you
So I believe it was a road I was meant to ride

I'm like a soldier getting over the war
I'm like a young man getting over his crazy days
Like a bandit getting over his lawless ways
I don't have to do that anymore
I'm like a soldier getting over the war

There are nights I don't remember
And pain that's been forgotten
And a lot of things I choose not to recall
There are faces that come to me
In my darkest secret memories
Faces that I wish would not come back at all
But in my dreams parade of lovers
From the other times and places
There's not one that matters now, no matter who
I'm just thankful for the journey
And that I've survived the battles
And that my spoils of victory is you

I'm like a soldier getting over the war
I'm like a young man getting over his crazy days
Like a bandit getting over his lawless ways
Every day gets better than the day before
I'm like a soldier getting over the war

Rest in peace ol' dark soldier.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:07 PM EST


Commenting on Other People's Blogs

For some reason, the exchange that I'm about to discuss has really bothered me. However, it is sufficiently off the topic of the relevant thread that I don't want to interject it there. And hey, this is why I started my own Web site.

Amy Welborn did Mark Shea the favor of posting a question that he's been handing around. In response, TheAmericanist addressed the question in the way that made sense to him. Here's what Mark then wrote:

Your question "Which direction?" is a perfectly good one. It's just not my question at the moment. Why not get your own blog and ask it if you like? It's a free country.

Now, I've had conflicts with both of these men, although my feelings are compensated in dealing with Mark by significant good will (hopefully mutual). But this rejoinder of Mark's, one that he trots out often on his own blog, strikes me as more than a little arrogant when made on a third-party's blog. Shouldn't it have been Ms. Welborn's prerogative to redirect TheAmericanist's rhetoric?

The sneer that commenters are perfectly capable of starting their own blogs is perfectly justified on one's own site. However, that Mark would make use of it elsewhere — without reference to the owner — evokes the impression that he considers himself among a sort of dominant class of participants. I've gotten that "closed circle" feeling from the more-professional Catholic writers before (although it could just be closed to me), but I prefer not to believe that it's accurate.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:03 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "An Existential Wish," by Gary Bolstridge.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:40 AM EST


Thursday, September 11, 2003

"What Hateful, Petty People These Atheists Are."

I made a point of being in front of a television tuned to Fox News in order to see Rod Dreher take on an atheist who wanted the WTC rubble cross removed. Unfortunately, Donald Rumsfeld chose that time to make a speech that preempted Rod. However, Rod has offered a taste of what we might have seen:

The way to handle this is invite all religions to place a memorial at the rebuilt site. Invite the atheists too. Let them put up a mayonnaise jar full of nothing, or a bowl of fresh lemons to suck.

Somehow, I think activistic atheists are beginning to drift beyond the leeway, enabled by abstraction and legalisms, that the rest of society will accept.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:50 PM EST


September 11, 2003, Must Reads

Cox & Forkum illustrate the deterioration of expression and the adulteration of intention as the years have passed since 2001 and captures my thoughts.

Michelle Malkin nails the two-faced bums in the public sphere:

Across the nation, public officials will strike somber poses and shed television-friendly tears and bow their blow-dried heads in memory of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

They'll hold hands, light candles, and pass around a plateful of platitudes: "Never forget," they'll intone. "Let's roll," they'll thunder. "God bless America," they'll warble in perfect harmony.

John Derbyshire correctly extends some of the criticism to all of us:

John F. Kennedy spoke of the Cold War as "a long, twilight struggle." That particular struggle is over with now. Human evil did not disappear from the earth in 1989, though. It will never disappear, as long as there are human beings. The struggle is an eternal one; when one phase comes to an end, another opens up elsewhere. Do we understand this, in our hedonism and comfort? I worry about that.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:45 PM EST


A Blindspot and a Swing

Some writers have topics about which they seem disinclined to consider their own biases or to ensure that those biases do not disrupt a written argument to the extent of invalidating it. For Andrew Sullivan, the topic is homosexuality. For Mark Shea, it is the war in Iraq, a topic that it has become utterly futile to argue with him.

Today, Mark links to an unoriginal expression of leftist dribble, but notes the following as somehow poignant:

In the latest Washington Post poll this week, 69 percent of Americans -- roughly seven in 10 -- said they thought it was likely that Saddam Hussein had a role in the 9/11 attacks. This belief went firmly across party lines, despite the irrefutable fact, brought out in hundreds of newspaper articles, congressional hearings and even by members of the administration itself, that there is no proof whatsoever that Saddam had anything to do with 9/11.

Yes, of course the writer, Georgie Anne Geyer, is wrong, as Laurie Mylroie tells Kathryn Jean Lopez today on NRO. But note that, despite the "irrefutable fact" clause, Geyer still tempers her sentence by making the point that "there is no proof." But Geyer doesn't stop there (and neither does Mark's quotation of her):

Thus, we approach the second anniversary of the heinous attacks with a majority of the American people having a totally false idea about the causes of our problems. Experts say this is because we can deal better with one all-purpose monster such as Saddam to blame; and the Saddam connection, now completely discredited, was the first reason (of so many) provided by the administration for going to war against Iraq.

Now her position is that, not only have we seen "no proof," but the very idea of possibility is "totally false," "completely discredited," as if some evidence has been shown that Hussein could not, under any circumstances, have had anything to do with September 11. Actually, the discrediting case has diminished significantly since the war (see here, for one thing that I was able to dig up quickly).

What bothers me about Mark Shea's treatment of the above quotation is that I can't help but wonder how many times he's had to explain to the atheists with whom he argues that the fact that proof of God's existence is not strong enough for them hardly means that there is no evidence, let alone proof that He does not exist. It's the same principle here, and I'm very disappointed in some of the people who are failing to apply it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:06 PM EST


To Leaven the Day

As you go about your day, read the comments on this tread at Amy Welborns. Even if you read it one story at a time.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:17 PM EST


The Personal Nature of the Fall

This Esquire piece by Tom Junod, constructed around the search for the identity of one of the WTC "jumpers," is moving, and although it's rather long, I recommend at least a quick read if you've the time. This part, I found particularly significant (as opposed to "moving"):

In fact, they did [show images of the Holocaust immediately after the war], at least in photographic form, and the pictures that came out of the death camps of Europe were treated as essential acts of witness, without particular regard to the sensitivities of those who appeared in them or the surviving families of the dead. They were shown, as Richard Drew's photographs of the freshly assassinated Robert Kennedy were shown. They were shown, as the photographs of Ethel Kennedy pleading with photographers not to take photographs were shown. They were shown as the photograph of the little Vietnamese girl running naked after a napalm attack was shown. They were shown as the photograph of Father Mychal Judge, graphically and unmistakably dead, was shown, and accepted as a kind of testament. They were shown as everything is shown, for, like the lens of a camera, history is a force that does not discriminate. What distinguishes the pictures of the jumpers from the pictures that have come before is that we—we Americans—are being asked to discriminate on their behalf. What distinguishes them, historically, is that we, as patriotic Americans, have agreed not to look at them. Dozens, scores, maybe hundreds of people died by leaping from a burning building, and we have somehow taken it upon ourselves to deem their deaths unworthy of witness—because we have somehow deemed the act of witness, in this one regard, unworthy of us.

I don't agree with Junod's "what distinguishes them" assessment. We patriotic Americans have not agreed not to look at the pictures; the media has agreed not to show them to us. Many of the most patriotic people I know make a point of looking at those pictures periodically in order to keep the memory of the people in them alive. For my part, the photographs that I find most compelling aren't those of people actually falling, but of people leaning out of the windows, facing their deaths... deciding. I think of all those times throughout my life that I've looked out of high windows and the child in me wondered if I could climb down. Look carefully at some of the pictures from that horrible day, and you'll see that some people tried.

The distinguishing factor is, I believe, that people of previous eras wanted to know what had actually happened, not a blurred, more-acceptable version of events. The proper attitude to take, post–September 11, is not that we ought to allow the victims' families and our entire nation to "move on," but that we ought not become so complacent that we allow those deaths to have been for naught. We ought not allow other families to have to face similar horrors, and therefore, we all have to face the one that we can already do nothing to take back.

(via Lane Core)

September 11 second anniversary–related posts:
September 11 Writings
The Personal Nature of the Fall
September 11, 2003, Must Reads

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:16 PM EST


September 11 Writings

I confess that I haven't written anything of substance to commemorate September 11 this year, but I thought I'd put up the two more-formal pieces that I'd previously written. The first, my poem "Safe at Home: September 11, 2001," has been published in the Redwood Review, for which I also designed the apple logo to the left.

The second piece, an essay that I wrote about a year ago, addressed the idea of monuments, and I presented it with reference to the two alumni from my high school who died at the WTC that day. Rereading it, I feel badly that it isn't more explicitly a tribute to those two students, but I very much don't want to gratuitously overstate my relationship with them, because that would shift the emphasis from where it ought to be: on them.

Occasionally, people searching for their names have come to the Just Thinking page of that essay. Unfortunately, two columns ago, it slipped into the "promotion zone" for Just Thinking: Volume I. Well, I don't want in any way to exploit that day or those fellow River Dell alums, and I do want to continue to pay tribute, in my little way, to them, so I've reprinted the entire column here:

The Heart Is Always More
by Justin Katz

Todd Ouida was born on my first birthday. I didn't know him then. I went to a different elementary school, so I didn't know him when he was forced to stop attending as a regular student to grapple with panic attacks for three years. I didn't even really know him when he returned and our two elementary schools fed us both into the River Dell Regional junior and senior high schools, where he became a 5'6" starting defensive back on the varsity football team. I knew of him, of course, because we shared a birthday and it was a small school.

Even our small school has had a number of brushes with history. As I recall, there was a plaque by the auditorium with the names and portraits of alumni who had died in Vietnam. I think there were three. The usual understanding of that war being what it has been throughout my entire life, such memorials have always seemed to ask, "See what they did to our community in order to fight their war?" I think it was one of my high school history teachers who related to me that every town lost some of its children.

Of course, memorials ought to be kept as tributes, and I don't mean to dishonor those young men when I suggest that the motivation for etching their names in metal and stone seems to be to make a statement about unnecessary loss rather than about accomplishment. They were heroes all, but the Vietnam War Memorial's emphasis on names rather than representations confirms that, in the words of the National Park Service's official Web site, "The purpose of this memorial is to separate the issue of the sacrifices of the veterans from the U.S. policy in the war."

Sacrifices. It seems that the quickness with which we commemorate the deaths of our citizens corresponds to the degree to which they were sacrifices — victims. The memorial for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing has already been completed, each name etched in its own symbolic chair. The Vietnam Wall predated the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and both came before the World War II Memorial, which isn't slated to be dedicated until 2004, about sixty years after that war ended.

If this trend continues, the September 11 memorial might be finished long before time has granted its designers much historical perspective. Hopefully, it will nonetheless capture the mood of our times. Just as the Vietnam War era marked a tremendous shift in citizens' conception of the United States of America, the Vietnam Memorial's lack of iconography makes quite a different statement than the statues and proclamations of grandeur and confidence that had come before. I think the September 11 memorial ought to make a statement of internal, national reconciliation. Sacrifice and confidence. Compassion and strength. Personal loss and triumph.

I envision a field of stone pillars recalling the World Trade Center towers in a pentagon formation, each about ten feet in height and bearing the names and portraits of those who died. Interspersed, for the visitor to come across while walking among these pillars, would be statues of the various heroes of that day — firemen, policemen, emergency and medical workers, and regular citizens — all in poses corresponding to their activities, helping others. At the center of the field would be a statue of the three firemen raising the U.S. flag, above which a giant sculpture of an eagle would hang, wings spread, from some type of supporting structure.

As for my high school, I don't recall any plaques devoted to alumni casualties of other wars that occurred before I walked the halls, and as far as I know, alumnus Marie Rossi, who died in a post-ceasefire accident in the Gulf War, has gone without such a tribute. But I think Todd Ouida and Scott Rohner, class of '97, ought to have one. They both worked on the 105th floor of One World Trade Center, which American Airlines Flight 11 hit between the 95th and 103rd floors.

Todd and Scott's memorial ought not be placed with the Vietnam one by the "official" entrance, near the auditorium and administrative offices, but by the common entrance, near the gym and the cafeteria. The two ought to be a reminder that the world is not separate from our lives. Every student at River Dell High School will play a part in history. It is unavoidable. They don't have to go in search of it; they don't even have to be drafted into it. History will come to them, and the implication should be that they ought to live their daily lives heroically and triumphantly, no matter how profound or mundane the sacrifices that they are called upon to make.

(For more information about Todd Ouida, visit The Todd Joseph Ouida Memorial Children's Fund at

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:27 AM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "from Dishonorable Intentions [now Ambushed]," by Anne DuBose Joslin.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:02 AM EST


Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Call & Response to Impromptus

Make sure to read Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus, today. I would recommend it even just for the Jeff Jacoby tale, but a couple of other snippets caught my eye, including this one:

Which brings us to Kathy Boudin, the popular Brinks murderess who has now been sprung from prison. She and her gang killed three people, and planned on killing many more. But hey: They were progressives, doing it for the people, man. The friends who arranged to house Boudin after her release hung a "Welcome Home" sign, featuring the symbol of peace. Yep, that was the Weathermen and all those other idealists: lovers of peace. Tell it to the families of Waverly Brown, Edward O'Grady, and Peter Paige.

This brought to mind the 1988 movie Running on Empty. I don't know if it was just that it happened to be on cable a lot during a formative time of my life, or if it was that I shared an interest in piano with the character played by River Phoenix, whom I was periodically said to look like, but this movie made an impression on me. The conflict of the movie evolved around the fact that River's parents had been on the run ever since blowing up a napalm factory (or something) and accidentally killing somebody, but River wanted to settle down enough to attend Juilliard and become a concert pianist.

I flipped past the film on regular TV not long ago during the scene in which River's mom contacts her father to see if he'll take the lad, and in the brief exchange that I sat and watched, the moviemakers almost allowed "the other side" of the radicals' story to be told. By "the other side," I mean the side that is critical of them, because the movie obviously took the view that the poor family was having to live their lives like criminals for nothing more than a youthful indiscretion. In fact, I specifically remember, back when the 60s were just some mythical era before I had been born, that the scene with River's grandfather left me feeling that the old man was not quite forgiving enough.

I wonder if the families that Mr. Nordlinger mentions saw that movie... could bear to watch it.

Moving on to another tidbit: Mr. Nordlinger mentions the Saudi government's banning of the Jewess Barbie. He writes, "Now that the Saudis have gone on a jihad against Barbie, can we all agree — even the big businessmen and the academics among us — that that regime is very, very, very bad?" To which, I emailed him:

C'mon, Jay. Don't you think Western academics are happy to accept the company in their own long-standing jihad against Barbie and all that she represents?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:23 PM EST


So Mad I'm Shaking

While I can understand the idea of letting the letters section lapse into lunacy occasionally to give the semblance of an open forum, I'm astonished that the Providence Journal would run this letter on September 10:

Which is worse: zealots who fly passenger planes into symbols of wealth and power, or wealth and power using this prostitute Republican administration to declare war on the biosphere -- on all life on earth?


North Kingstown

How dare he? How dare the paper?

I hope I never bump into this asshole.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:26 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

The Redwood Review poem of the week is "Elsewhere," by B.E. Delaplain.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:24 AM EST


Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Pooling Resources Just Puts It All in One Place

Don Sensing conveys the tale of when one Soviet soldier discovered the flaw in communist thinking. I suggest you read the story before reading its resolution, but here's the final point:

"What, exactly, does an ordinary, run-of-the-mill Secretary of the District Party Committee stand to gain from this communism? Eh? Plenty of caviar? But he’s got so much caviar already that he can even eat it through his [rear end] if he wishes. A car? But he has two personal Volga cars and a private one as well. Medical care? Food, women, a country house? But he already has all these things. So our dear Secretary of the most Godforsaken District Party Committee stands to gain bugger-all from communism!

"And what will he lose? He will lose everything . . . . He will lose his country house, his personal physicians, his hirelings and his guards. [So for party officials] communism has long since ceased to be of any interest to them at all."

And there you have it. It's not for nothing that the undeserving elites and their institutions (entertainment, higher education, and so on) are overwhelmingly liberal.

For the related What It's Worth department: As I walked the dog by the water tonight, the combination of the slight chill in the air and the smell of the salty water brought back memories of evenings as a dock worker. More than minimum wage (because the job had to pay above that to attract workers, although not much more), and apart from the motivation to find better employment, the only thing I would have liked given to me was work gear. With the proper attire, working by the water in the middle of winter isn't as painful as one might assume, but boy, do you go through those insulated rubber gloves awfully quickly, and boy is one's tolerance high for numb fingers before shelling out the cash for a new pair.

If the government were to supplement such necessities, guess what would happen? Their price would go up, and anybody whose pair required replacement before the next alottment would have to deal with that. The company for which I worked did buy one pair for each employee at regular intervals, but it never seemed rapid enough; furthermore, I'm using the gloves as representative... the company didn't offer heavy rain gear or insulated boots.

I'm rambling. I guess my point is that, if you really want to help those who've gotten the short end of the free market, give some thought to what they might actually require as laboring individuals, and help them to get that. The work wasn't that bad, and I suspect I'm not alone in thinking that helpful and considerate gifts would do more to assuage occupational frustration than government handouts.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:36 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 09/09/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Didn't Know It Rhymed" 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 "Didn't Know It Rhymed" a listen. Doing what I can to promote music like Dan's is one of the reasons for my continuing the Songs You Should Know feature at all.

"Didn't Know It Rhymed" Dan Lipton, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:49 PM EST


Quick to Condemn

I bookmarked David Brooks's debut for the New York Times to address it later, when I'd finished some other tasks. However, a conversation thread at to which Jonah Goldberg links in the Corner persuaded me that it might be helpful to make my thoughts sooner than later.

Most of the comments at give every indication that their authors didn't read the column, but Brooks's position is subtle enough that, in reading it, my first reaction was almost similar. The erroneous nature of that reaction is clear when one puts the opening and closing of the column together:

The Bush administration has the most infuriating way of changing its mind. The leading Bushies almost never admit serious mistakes. They never acknowledge that they are listening to their critics. They never even admit they are shifting course. They don these facial expressions suggesting calm omniscience while down below their legs are doing the fox trot in six different directions. ...

The essential news is that Bush will do whatever it takes to prevail, and senior members of his administration are capable of looking honestly at their mistakes. You will just never be able to get any of them to admit publicly they've ever made any.

David Brooks is dead on about the reality, but vague about the reason for what he's objecting to. (He is, after all, writing in the NYT.) Most thinking conservatives — most thinking people — would want the administration's Iraq/terror "policy" to be flexible, because it's a policy of practicality, not of ideology. The President is resolved (i.e., inflexible) about the need to continue the War on Terror. However, he would be a dreadful commander of that war if he were so intransigent as to stick with particular strategies even as they became of questionable value.

The missing components in the Brooks piece are the culture and the media. In a broad sense, President Bush can't be candid about any errors in judgment that his administration might have made, because the American public has difficulty seeing flexibility as a virtue in its leaders. I'm convinced that this is just a misguided extension of an aversion to plastic principles and, ultimate, an admirable part of our national character. However, it does require a little maneuvering among the leadership. In the case of President Bush, this maneuvering is even more crucial and difficult than usual because hostile members of the media are working overtime to find any hint of error and therefore (in their minds) controversy in any aspect of the administration's handling of the War on Terror and the war in Iraq.

With regard to the Brooks column, I'm with Jonah. Conservatives would do well to be understanding of the framework within which Brooks is working and the audience that he is trying to reach, without seeing Dowdistry in every paragraph that doesn't raise the administration to the level of deities. And the entire American public would do well to foster a national temperament that encourages open admission of error, without seeing Watergate in every questionable administrative assessment.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:25 PM EST


Every Paper a Hostile Tabloid

Instapundit links to this by James Dunnigan:

The battle in Mogadishu is only considered an American defeat because the American government considered 18 dead G.I.'s a defeat, even if over 500 Somali fighters died as well. At the time, the Somalis considered themselves defeated, and feared the return of the Army Rangers the next day to finish off the Somali militia that was terrorizing Mogadishu. The media declared the battle an American defeat, and that’s how it became known. Asymmetric warfare includes having the media in your corner, for that can easily turn a military defeat into a media victory.

As it happens, I had already been planning to mention how dangerously irresponsible the major media has become. Today, the Washington Post writes, in a tone appropriate to wacko conspiracy theorists, "U.S. intelligence agencies warned Bush administration policymakers before the war in Iraq that there would be significant armed opposition to a U.S.-led occupation." I hope we're not paying those intelligence agents very much, because any second-rate blogger could have told the administration that.

Moreover, the administration knew it. Who ever actually said that we'd have Iraq up and running, with every hostile force in the Middle East either converted to peaceful ways or sitting across the border nursing their stress headaches over being defeated, within six months? Post writer Walter Pincus filled his article with anonymous quotations, analysis of biased commentators, careful placement of quotations to distort their implications, and plenty of "well duh" assertions. Again: why is this a news-worthy item? What "controversy" exists in the report is pinned entirely to vague statements that I'm not convinced Pincus didn't just make up. Consider the text that I've italicized in the following:

As U.S. military casualties mount and resistance forces wage a campaign of targeted bombings in Iraq, some administration officials have begun to fault the CIA and other intelligence agencies for being overly optimistic and failing to anticipate such widespread and sustained opposition to a U.S. occupation. But several administration and congressional sources interviewed for this article said the opposite occurred. They said senior policymakers at the White House, Pentagon and elsewhere received classified analyses before the war warning about the dangers of the postwar period.

Who are all these "officials"? For the statement to make any sense, Pincus must presume that the administration believes that there is something going so wrong as to require deflection of blame, and that isn't true, as far as I've seen, either.

That "Pincus" name looked familiar, so I searched my archives. Indeed, this article appears to follow a general theme (strategy). Here's what I opined last time:

I hope everybody is learning to laugh when reading such media rhetoric as, "The result could be to raise more questions." It's almost as if the Post is losing confidence in its own ability to distort reality; it's already "raising more questions," so what's with the "could"? I'd say this prospective controversy won't catch either, for one simple reason: only the mainstream media was paying so little attention to what was really being argued to even be able to pretend that the possibility that a cornered Hussein would resort to WMD terrorism was some sort of top-secret intelligence assessment before the war.

It simply isn't acceptable for the American people to have to wade through the equivalent of enemy propaganda masked as objective news in order to assess what is going on in the world. Here's my suggestion: interested citizens should should form a panel that would read through newspapers and characterize each so that readers can better decide how to approach what they find therein. At least based on Pincus's work, it seems likely that the Post would get the Baghdad Bob stamp.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:45 AM EST


Monday, September 8, 2003

Where Does One Start, at This Late Date?

Steve from Absit Invidia inadvertently illustrates another indication of the power that the media has to frame public debate: the war in Iraq. I had to reread Steve's blog entry about the President's speech last night several times to make sure that he was saying what he seemed to be saying, so it's likely too gargantuan a task for me to respond in an essay format. Instead, I'll address points individually:

Last night the president talked about fighting terrorists on their home ground so we don't have to fight them in the streets of American cities. There was no mention of weapons of mass destruction, no imminent nuclear program, no images of New York enveloped in a mushroom cloud, no talk of aerial drones spraying chemical weapons on our population centers. That's all been tossed down the memory hole. Now we're presented with a new rationale which appears even less convincing than the original.

Quothe the President: "And we acted in Iraq, where the former regime sponsored terror, possessed and used weapons of mass destruction, and for 12 years defied the clear demands of the United Nations Security Council." The problem, for Steve, is that President Bush's intention with this speech wasn't to justify the action in Iraq, but to keep us "informed of America's actions in the war on terror." You'll note that Afghanistan is mentioned throughout the speech, as well. Citizens (and the media) may have drawn distinctions, separated the fronts, and made their arguments separately, but the President has not. Some speeches deal with A, some with B, for the simple reason that one cannot address everything every time and be comprehensive.

There is no "new rationale" (and Steve doesn't explain what he takes to be it). This was just a "big picture" speech. From what I understand, a more-specific explanation of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is slated for later in the autumn. The flow of information goes on... as does Steve:

This Administration attacked a country that never threatened us.

What? Talk about rewritten history. Plotting to assassinate a President; frequent aggressive statements; continual attacks on our airplanes during the past decade; funding and training terrorists; working toward weapons of mass destruction; none of these count as "threats"? This doesn't include Hussein's collusion in specific terrorist attacks, which range from probable to possible, and not every factor listed must be provable to invalidate Steve's assertion.

They had no credible occupation plan, and they still lack an exit strategy.

I'm beginning to think that this "exit strategy" complaint is merely spurious usage of a conveniently empty phrase. What would be an example of an "exit strategy," as such people mean it? This isn't like a baseball game, with a clear delineation of the playing time. Rebuilding a nation essentially from scratch is a matter of periodic assessment, with shifting and reworking of strategy when appropriate. To the extent that an "exit strategy" is possible (advisable, even), the President has offered it:

Our strategy in Iraq has three objectives: destroying the terrorists, enlisting the support of other nations for a free Iraq and helping Iraqis assume responsibility for their own defense and their own future. ...

First, we are taking direct action against the terrorists in the Iraqi theater, which is the surest way to prevent future attacks on coalition forces and the Iraqi people. ...

Second, we are committed to expanding international cooperation in the reconstruction and security of Iraq, just as we are in Afghanistan. ...

Third, we are encouraging the orderly transfer of sovereignty and authority to the Iraqi people.

In other words, we exit when we are confident that the threat of attack is gone (or sufficiently manageable for indigenous forces), when Iraqis are administering to all of the needs of their nation, and when the world begins interacting with the new Iraqi government as a legitimate entity. (And probably, too, when the foundation has been built in Iraq for the next step in our larger plan, which is understandably not put on the public table for consideration.) As for "credible occupation plan," I think Steve has obligated himself to describe what "occupation plan" exists that he has deemed not credible, and perhaps to suggest what would have made it "credible." But back to what he's already written:

They've turned a stable secular Iraq ...

And so begins the pining for the good ol' days of Saddam's dictatorship. I'll resist the temptation to comment that Nazi Germany was "stable" and just note that Iraq was in poor shape before the war.

...into a hornet's nest of Islamo-fascists ...

I'm going to have to request some elucidation, here. I just don't see it.

... and a magnet for terrorists of every stripe.

This is a good thing. It means that those "terrorists of every stripe" are pitting themselves against heavily armed, well trained soldiers, who are on alert, rather than against unsuspecting civilians. I'll let President Bush's speech respond further:

The terrorists thrive on the support of tyrants and the resentments of oppressed peoples. When tyrants fall, and resentment gives way to hope, men and women in every culture reject the ideologies of terror, and turn to the pursuits of peace. Everywhere that freedom takes hold, terror will retreat.

Our enemies understand this. They know that a free Iraq will be free of them — free of assassins, and torturers, and secret police. They know that as democracy rises in Iraq, all of their hateful ambitions will fall like the statues of the former dictator. And that is why, five months after we liberated Iraq, a collection of killers is desperately trying to undermine Iraq's progress and throw the country into chaos.

I'm not sure how to do more to answer Steve's post. One question I have is from where he gets his news, because the picture he paints is worse, even, than the overly dark portrayal of the major media. Things are going well in Iraq, considering the circumstances that exist, and have existed, in the Middle East. To the extent that our brief correspondence has allowed, I know Steve to be thoughtful and to handle issues with consideration. But I can't shake the feeling that, when it comes to President Bush, Steve's plodding headlong toward a prior conclusion.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:52 PM EST


Reporting the Opposition Only When It's Been Defeated

Why do I get the feeling that many folks in the major media intend to address the huge cultural battle over gay marriage before the "battle" is over only by way of indirectly relevant puff-pieces about gays and the occasional op-ed, editorial, or letter to the editor supporting gay marriage (but without addressing the concerns)? Well, Stanley Kurtz has articulated one reason.

I could be wrong (even forgetting something), but my sense is that Rhode Island's single major newspaper, the Providence Journal, has only balanced its advocacy with arguments from religious perspectives. It really is a lesson in how debates can be framed by those who control the sources of "objective" news, as Kurtz shows, in conjunction with tilted opinion pages. Obviously, within a secular society, religious arguments are only minimally effective unless linked to practical social ramifications.

Something along the lines of Maggie Gallagher's must-read testimony to the U.S. Senate would be a good start:

Two ideas are in conflict here: one is that children deserve mothers and father, and that adults have an obligation to at least try to conduct their sexual lives to give children this important protection. That is the marriage idea. The other is that adult interests in sexual liberty are more important than “imposing” or preferring any one family form: all family forms must be treated identically by law if adults are to be free to make intimate choices. This is the core idea behind the drive for same-sex marriage. And it is the core idea that must be rejected if the marriage idea is to be sustained.

Perhaps the most dramatic threat to our society is this "judiciary-media complex," through which the courts overstep their boundaries, making law, and the media reports the action after the fact, as an irrevocable deed done. That certainly seems to be the strategy with gay marriage, with hardly a peep, certainly not a thorough public debate, offered by the media establishment. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts judiciary had set a date to rule on the issue — a date that has been continually pushed back now that Supreme Court rulings and events across the northern border have resulted in unwanted noise — like sneezing officers in an ambush.

I tend to doubt that there's a conscious conspiracy afoot. Rather, I think we're getting a pretty good view of the way in which the elite have been shifting the culture further and further under their control.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:54 PM EST


Just Thinking 09/08/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "The Discordant Harmony of Racialized America," about the dangerously facile metaphor of race.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:10 PM EST


Sunday, September 7, 2003

The End of Logical Means

The more intelligent and well-spoken a person is, the more clear the gap in his thinking can be when he attempts to further expound upon an instance of logical thinking that is, in fact, not rooted in logic. Such is the case with Minute Particulars Mark and his comparison of abortion-doctor killer Paul Hill with the war in Iraq. (He admits that it's a flimsy linkage, mostly using it as an excuse to open up the Iraq debate again, which is the spirit in which I'll respond.)

I think I've written this before, but here it is again. With reference to "means," there are two possible connotations for "end": objective or outcome. In the following sentence, Mark obviously intends the former:

In this case, an end (preventing a possible abortion) has prompted a means (murder the person who might perform the abortion) in a manner that is morally disproportionate because preventing a possible event is not a morally valid end.

I cannot put it any more kindly than to say that it is ludicrous to declare, in this connotation, that "an end never justifies the means." In point of fact, it makes no sense to speak of "means" except in relation to an "end." Of course, there are acts that one need have only the flimsiest of "ends" to undertake, such as enjoying the taste of chewing gum, but for acts that are only justified under certain circumstances, those circumstances must include an objective. Indeed, Just War doctrine clearly requires that one consider the "end" in all of its aspects (e.g., likelihood of success and unintended consequences), and it would be clearly immoral to attack other nations "just because." The moral question is whether that specific end justifies these specific means.

The only sense of "end" that never justifies the means of itself is "outcome." If old man Aqualung prevents Cross-Eyed Mary from falling off the slide onto the pavement, that fact does not retroactively justify his loitering around the playground "with bad intent." In the case of Iraq, this particular criticism would only have applied if we'd attacked Iraq in order to acquire sand for our tony beaches and, after the fact, noticed that we'd freed a nation in the process. This (or a more realistic version of it) was simply not how the whole thing happened. (Nor was it the case that Paul Hill randomly picked two people to kill for fun, only to find that they had been involved in abortion.)

Mark writes a mile in an attempt to use the two connotations of "end" interchangeably as convenient, but he cannot make it work. Indeed, when he attempts to summarize the post with his last line, he has turned himself entirely around: "In principle, moral actions where the end is justified by the means, in this case, a preemptive or preventive strike, are not defensible." I'd say it's quite obvious that switching from "end justifies means" to "end justified by means" was just a slip of the tongue, so to speak, but I think Mark's failure to spot it before posting the entry suggests that he didn't have the entire trail of thought coherently plotted on his rhetorical map. Extending the metaphor a bit too much, this is to say that he stumbled as he exited the woods because he had merely been dashing down any path that seemed to head in the direction that he wanted to lead to a valid exit.

Here is one batch of paragraphs that indicates that Mark has blurred the distinction between the actor's objective and the outcome, as represented by the recipient's behavior:

Human beings are free and have actions that cannot be anticipated with any moral certitude. If we apply principles to a future situation, a situation we anticipate and conjecture about, we are no longer making a moral judgment, we're making a bet, a wager about the outcome of something. If the outcome we've anticipated actually occurs, any previous moral judgments are still just that, previous moral judgments that don't apply to the event that actually occurred.

The obvious, though myopic, objection to this runs something like this:

So, you're saying that until someone plants an axe into my skull, an axe that someone is currently swinging toward my head, I can't -- let's say I can freeze the action and ponder it -- I can't with moral certitude state that they are going to murder me!?

Mark doesn't resolve his point with the hypothetical objection that he poses, instead doubling back and shifting arguments to get around it. What he hasn't allowed himself to acknowledge is that "judgment" always requires some degree of betting, otherwise it would be "reaction." It just isn't true that we can't "anticipate" actions with "any moral certitude"; we just can't anticipate them with complete moral certitude. The "actual events" on which one is judging the axe-wielder's intent took place when he cursed at the speaker, picked up the axe, scowled, and charged forward. In the case of Iraq, Hussein continually threatened our nation, was seeking WMDs, and was fostering relationships with groups that had attacked, were attacking, and would go on to attack the United States. Furthermore, Hussein was terrorizing his own people (represented by unborn children in the Paul Hill analogy), which was a point made at every step of the lead-up.

One could say, for example, that Paul Hill had reasonable certitude that that abortion doctor was going to kill children. That is why the better moral argument against Paul Hill (or one of them) is that killing an individual abortion doctor doesn't by any stretch guarantee that a single baby would thereby avoid death. Furthermore, so dramatically discarding the rule of law has the potential to be calamitous (an argument, to be sure, that has been made against striking the Ba'athists, though I consider it a poor one in that application).

I hold it as a truism that leaning too heavily on the language of a discussion can lead one to lose sight of the ideas that the words are meant to represent. Mark has done so in the case of "end." All of those whom I've read exploring the idea of "preemption" with an eye toward invalidating the U.S. action in Iraq have done so with that word, too. They cannot answer the hypothetical axe-murder victim's objection because, if it would be immoral for him to "preempt" the attack, striking after a given attempt would be immoral "retaliation" because he is merely "wagering" that the axe-man is going to swing again.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:56 PM EST


Saturday, September 6, 2003

The False Promise of the Internet

I just caught myself drifting into that wasteful mood in which I aimlessly click around the Internet, sensing that somewhere I'll find something that will help me to move my life along (for free). An opportunity. An opening. A long-lost friend, now a literary big-wig looking to publish obscure writers. The THING that will make my entire life-strategy slip into place.

Y'know what? I don't think these Internet-speed blessings are out there. At least not tonight. While failure isn't a permanent state, it takes time, effort, and luck to rectify. Heck, you come to me daily/regularly/periodically, and I can't even get you to buy one of my books!

Guess I'll go read a book by somebody else and go to bed... try to make it to the early mass.

You'll note that I didn't grab the obvious opportunity to link to my store. I chose not to because it wasn't a guilt trip, but a statement of fact. Besides, you know where the books can be found, and you'll stumble on impulse on your own time, not mine.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:49 PM EST


Avoiding the Avalanche

Look at that! I waited not even 24 hours to post on something, and the issue's already been resolved (probably due, in some part, to the notice of various big-name bloggers).

Indiana University Professor Eric Rasmusen's blog was removed from the university's server when it attracted the attention of gay activists and their friends. Here's what Doug Bauder, coordinator of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender services for IU, had to say:

"It's not an easy Web page to look at," Bauder said. "From what I read, it is very offensive. I'm glad people in the business school are responding to this."

While I'll agree that Prof. Rasmusen's blog isn't the most aesthetically pleasing that I've seen, after reading the above-linked article I expected something that would make Michael Savage blush. Instead, I found a tempered post that takes what is currently an unpopular position on American campuses.

The blog is back on the server now, so this doesn't have quite the bite that it did, but when I went to the homepage of IU's "mypage" service, I found this relevant disclaimer, with the underlining in the original:

Free expression of ideas is a central value within the academy. Some materials displayed on pages in this service may be objectionable or offensive to some visitors, but that does not necessarily mean that the material is illegal or that it violates Indiana University policy. Absent a violation of law or University policy, the University will not take action with respect to material on a personal home page.

The administrators' first reaction to Rasmusen suggests that this note was intended to address the sensibilities of parents and other interested parties who share some of the views and beliefs of Rasmusen and myself. For example, it is meant to cover such work as is inexplicably published in a student literary review called Genesis, like Aaron Woodsworth's offensive short-short story "Open." (Note to Master Woodsworth: Nevermind the "perfect word"; the difference between the wrong word and the right word is the difference between "lightening" and "lightning.") (Note to everybody else: "Woodsworth" is not, I presume, a typo.)

I found "Open" by doing a quick poke-through of the sights listed on the "mypage" service. However, clicking among some professors' bios in the English Department, it occurred to me that perhaps the university should encourage more professors to take up blogging. Looking at it from the point of view of a potential customer (as a parent, in my case), I think it would be very helpful to get a less glossy, turgid, and jargoned presentation of the people who would be injecting ideas into the heads of my progeny.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:27 PM EST


Noting Courage When It Appears

I thought I'd send kudos to Rhode Island's Rev. Richard Donnelly, who had the guts to "speak truth to power," as it were, in a letter to the Providence Journal:

Regarding the question that Rhode Island Episcopal Bishop Geralyn Wolf asked: Is homosexuality a sin? The answer can be found in sacred scripture. ...

Scripture clearly teaches that sexual activity belongs only to the married, and as the recent statement from Rome says: "Society owes its continued survival to the family, founded on marriage."

Maybe if more people speak and write thus, we can avoid a society like Canada's, in which the letter could be seen as "hate speech."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:52 PM EST


Balancing Poverty of Pocket and of Perspective

I've intended to post on Don Sensing's rhuminations on poverty, but I wanted to come up with something to add. Well, I haven't, and before it ages anymore, I thought I'd link to it. Rev. Sensing tells a very compassion-evoking tale of a single mother trying to find some way to make life work, and then he writes:

I know from personal experience overseas what non-US poverty really means - try visiting a Honduran family, as I have, who has a single-room sapling cabin (not a log cabin, a sapling cabin) with a dirt floor, no electricity, no medical care, two sets of homemade clothing, and whose total net worth consists of one cow and three chickens, which they bring into the cabin each night to keep the animals safe.

Don is right that "the main causes of poverty in the world today are political, not material." What we tend to forget (meaning me and you; not so much Mr. Sensing) is that this truth doesn't tell us what politics are to blame. Perhaps the wrangling between them is part of it. And perhaps it isn't a matter of "blame," but rather politics are what we call the varying philosophical solutions.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:47 PM EST


Friday, September 5, 2003

Taking Activists at Their Word

Read the following passage from Newsweek, pointed out by Tim Graham, with the assumption that abortion is murder:

According to Vicki Saporta of the pro-choice National Abortion Federation, violence against clinics typically increases in the months following an extremist's conviction....Until now, most had assumed that the abortion battle's bloodiest days had passed. After the 1998 killing of an abortion doctor (there have been seven abortion-related murders and 17 attempted ones so far, according to Saporta), Attorney General Janet Reno established a task force to combat such violence, and it abated.

The numbers aren't very accurate, viewed with my assumption, are they? Actually, Graham's point with his post was that the reader has no idea how accurate the numbers are, because they come from an activist with an interest in inflating them. That very taint appears (minus the verifiable/refutable numbers), again, in a New York Times article about Roman Catholic priests speaking out against their celibacy requirement:

"There is an enormous amount of support for this among priests," said the Rev. Donald C. Fisher of the Association of Pittsburgh Priests, a liberal group of clerics and laypeople that plans to collect 5,000 signatures on a petition supporting optional celibacy. "It's the elephant in every clerical living room."

Funny how the only number given is for the signatures that the group "plans" to get (note, too, that those signatures won't all be from priests). The next paragraph says that "About a third of Milwaukee's priests signed a letter to bishops last month lamenting that a severe priest shortage was forcing many parishioners to go without the Eucharist and other sacraments that only priests can administer." First of all, that suggests that two thirds of Milwaukee's priests don't support the change, at least enough to put their names to it. Second of all, other reports put the number closer to a quarter, while a more specific report notes that it was 128 parish priests and 35 priests in religious orders, who may or may not be included in the percentage estimations, but who not only had less culpability for the abuse scandal, but also don't have as direct role performing the sacraments for the Catholic public.

There's certainly a lot of wiggle room, here, but that's the point: the Times gave the absolute largest number that it could justify (and I'd still like to see an explanation of their calculations), without finding a single person to point out that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has 806 priests/brothers, so the number is actually almost exactly a fifth (and this leaves out the 2,764 women religious and 163 permanent deacons).

Is that "enormous support"?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:37 PM EST


Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It's off to Jail You Go

Yeah, the folks at Girls Gone Wild have the right to film young adults behaving stupidly. Seen in a certain way, perhaps it could be a service of sorts, if people (organized or not) began sending the videos to the parents of the offending young ladies. But that doesn't mean that the entrepreneurs of smut aren't scum. Therefore, although I'm aghast when the inevitable happens and they film minors, I consider it a victory for society when the dirtbags go to jail... for up to 30 years. Think of it: the girls will be in their late 40s, by then, and able to consent.

The dark lining to the story is the sliding scale that lawyers can't help but further when they seek to exploit it:

Another defense attorney, Aaron Dyer of Los Angeles, asked that all "flashing" scenes on the tapes be declared legal.

"It doesn't become child pornography when you're just dealing with nudity," Dyer said.

I'm not sure how it works, but I'd say such people are either too stupid, too slimy, or both to deserve a place in our legal system. Otherwise, we may have the opportunity to witness the same argument being made for the relative innocence of further gradations between "soft core" and "hard core" as we slip toward social hell.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:16 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from Twice Sorry," by Barbara Moore.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:40 AM EST


Thursday, September 4, 2003

Coulter on "The War on [Blank]"

Say what you will about her average, but when she hits, Coulter is a slugger:

But George Bush — with the widespread support of the American people and the U.S. Congress — acts to take out a lunatic supporting Islamic terrorism, and within six months, all the Democratic presidential candidates are clamoring for an "exit strategy." Bush should promise the Democrats that there will be peace and democracy in Iraq long before the Democrats conceive of an exit strategy to the war on poverty, the war on high rents, and the war on white kids applying to Michigan Law School.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:48 PM EST


The Contradiction Before Jonah's Eyes

One of the things that soured me on Jonah Goldberg and professional punditry in general was Goldberg's relationship with and corresponding treatment of Andrew Sullivan. Look, I don't expect people to trash their friends, no matter their professions, but when commentators who help to form public opinion to a non-trivial degree become lenient in responding to bad policy — bad thinking — it undermines, in my view, their reason for being.

Consider these excerpts from two contiguous Goldberg posts in the Corner. First:

What so disturbed me about that article wasn't that I "discovered" there are homosexual radicals out there, as Andrew suggests. No, what I found so disturbing about the prominent front page story in the paper of record was how clearly it signaled that many advocates of gay marriage simply cannot be trusted — Andrew not included.


Which brings me to the second area where I think Andrew is unfair to what I wrote... [Goldberg gives an extended quotation] This strikes me as a deliberate misreading.

As far as I've seen, it's pretty much common knowledge among conservatives that Sullivan has amply proven that he "simply cannot be trusted" when it comes to the gay marriage discussion. I'm at a loss to explain how Goldberg, with his usually sharp eye for B.S., could miss it. Actually, I don't think he has; he just refuses to accept it:

Indeed, if Andrew is sincere in all of his talk about Lincoln-Douglass debates and all that — and I am sure he is — then I'm curious why his finely tuned New York Times radar didn't ping at all on this story.

Hint: Dot number one connects to dot number two.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:44 PM EST


Readjusting to Reality

Brit Hume mentioned this last night on Fox News:

Despite the recent bombings, Baghdad looks dramatically different. The stores are full of supplies. The streets are crowded with people and cars. The buses are working and police are on the streets, directing traffic.

At night the streets are full of pedestrians, many families with children. I am at a loss to reconcile what we see on the ground with what is being reported.

I've been amazed, lately, that people are so credulous of the media reports, even people who seem generally aware of the media's capacity for distortion. I can only conclude that such folks want to believe that the U.S. is utterly failing. We're not:

What is happening, including the bombings, as far as people who I talked to are concerned, is the work of foreign nuts -- the same people who were the only ones to fight for Saddam at the later part of the war.

They are coming from all over the world like they did in Afghanistan to get a chance to fight Americans. I always remember how in Jordan everybody loved Saddam, whereas in Iraq everybody hated him.

The Iraqi people, in spite of all that is said, love the Americans. They are deeply grateful and are giving the United States the benefit of the doubt.

If anything, the author of this piece, Rev. Ken Joseph, suggests that where the United States is weak, it is because our politically correct policies of "tolerance" are too mushy, allowing too much leverage for a minority that, for example, wants an Islamic state.

Well, as Iraqis become better informed, I'm sure one of the first forms of visible expression that they'll learn will be to shake their heads. Me, I've got it down pat.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:33 PM EST


Consequences Schmonsequences, as Long as We Get Benefits

I'll be honest; I don't have a problem with state governments' choosing to remove some barriers to committed gay couples' setting up more-committed relationships. But seeing some particulars grouped together raises some questions:

Scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2005, the bill, would give domestic partners the ability to ask for child support and alimony, the right to health coverage under a partner's plan and the ability to make funeral arrangements for a partner.

Other provisions would give domestic partners access to family student housing, bereavement and family care leave and exemptions from estate and gift taxes, and in the event of a partner's death, the authority to consent to an autopsy, donate organs and to make funeral arrangements.

It also would prevent courts from forcing a domestic partner to testify against the other partner in a trial, and it would give domestic partners the ability to apply for absentee ballots on a partner's behalf.

First of all, the health coverage question puts the law into sticky territory. I'm guessing that any business that offers spousal health benefits will have to extend them to "domestic partners," which seems to push government morality on business owners. Look at it this way: an employee's sexuality needn't be of any concern to his or her employer (although lifestyle might, if it disrupted the person's work), but now the business will be forced to offer financially "approve" of homosexuality.

Moreover, what's the test to prove that a relationship is homosexual? Put another way, what's to stop heterosexual housemates from registering for the purpose of benefits? Frankly, I don't see the logic. Covering spouses seems a practice hearkening back to the days of one-income families. I'd have to see evidence that homosexual partners arrange their lives like that before I'd believe it. I'm also a little worried that, if businesses begin to find their benefit expenses skyrocketing, they'll just cancel all extended plans.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:20 PM EST


Couldn't Imprison Everybody in America?

Hey, look't this:

Universal Music Group, the world's largest record company, on Wednesday said it will cut list prices on compact discs by as much as 30 percent in an effort to boost sales that have been stymied by free online music-sharing services such as Kazaa.

Starting in October, Universal, the home to such artists as Mary J. Blige, U2 and Elton John, will trim its prices on most of its CDs to $12.98 from its current $16.98-$18.98 range of prices.

"Our research shows that the sweet spot is to sell our records below $12.98,' said Universal Music president Zach Horowitz. "We're confident that when we implement this we will get a dramatic and sustained increase."

Imagine, a music company addressing unforeseen changes in the marketplace as any other business would rather than seeking to imprison every college kid in the country. (Make that "as any other business that had been charging exorbitant prices for its product would.")

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:00 PM EST


On Anti-Science and Authorship

On the bright side, Frank Tipler's The Physics of Immortality has helped me to fill in a major plot gap for my fourth novel, which is slated to be a theological science fiction, of sorts. On the other hand, it's pushing me a bit toward anti-sciencism.

I don't mean to say that I'm opposed to science or to scientific advancement, but to science treated as religion. This sentence, from page 126 of Tipler's book, pretty well captures the problem: "Any attempt to reduce life to physics will inevitably end up with the same definition." I can only imagine that either "reduce" is a slip of thought, or Tipler meant it as a technical term, rather than a term connoting judgment, because he doesn't give any indication that he believes this to be a limit. And that is what bothers me so much about such thinking: where science cannot capture the totality of a thing, the incalculable parts are made secondary, sometimes presented as illusions.

As it happens, that thing that is made secondary is what most people consider to be the significant part of life. Tipler argues that a car is a form of life, delving into the factory/womb, mechanic/parents, analogies. But he never addresses the fact that, without an intelligent being to operate it, a car can do nothing. Even plants can move of their own volition. With the ease of the scientific tool of "defining terms," he dismisses such distinctions as irrelevant "by definition."

For his philosophical bases, Tipler draws heavily from Marxists. He points to lunatic atheist Richard Dawkins — whose more recent scribblings illustrate the danger of his view — for confirmation of his definition of life, calling it an inevitable conclusion. But only because of what he has defined outside of the need for consideration.

As I said, at least I've got the villain's plot for my fourth novel, and at least I've gotten into the practice of ending my day reading a few pages of the Bible so that I don't become completely lost in the maze of assumptions and calculations that enables a man to think laws restricting manufacturing are racist... against the machines.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:05 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "I-Roc, Do You?," by Gary Bolstridge.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:40 AM EST


Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Massachusetts Is Just Down the Road...

When I look toward the future with my family in mind, I get an almost panicked urge to move out of Rhode Island before I've laid too many roots. I love the state, as a location, and couldn't think of a better geography in which to have my children grow up, but as Edward Achorn explains, raising a family in Rhode Island comes at an unnecessarily high cost:

WHEN I MOVED to Rhode Island four years ago, I was struck instantly by its pinched and starveling economy, its oppressive taxes and poor government services. Most striking of all to me, perhaps, was the brazen sense of entitlement displayed by many public employees. They seemed to feel that they had a perfect right to drive the state into the ground, and they didn't seem to care about the consequences to themselves or their own children -- never mind to their neighbors' children. ...

How did this happen?

It's simple: Rhode Island's public employees organized, and they used their money and manpower to elect pliant, often cowardly politicians, who would give them everything they wanted.

That worked because politicians were politicians, and the public was ill-informed and apathetic. Most of all, it worked because there was essentially no competition for many legislative and local seats, because one party dominated the state. Rhode Island politicians were willing to cut a deal: to give away the store to the unions, in return for obtaining and retaining power.

Apparently, some of Achorn's most shocking data was wrong. The fact remains, however, that, in 2001, the average public-sector employee in Rhode Island earned 32% higher than the private sector average. Using the corrected data for the number of private sector employees per public employee (in 2000), on average, every 7.4 private-sector workers in Rhode Island pays for one person to earn more than they do. Simplifying the numbers, take the average individual income in the United States to be $25,000. The public sector average in Rhode Island would therefore be $33,000, requiring each private sector worker to pay $4,460 (by force of law) to support one public worker, leaving the private workers with $20,540. For comparison, if the public sector average were held to the level of everybody else, each private sector employee would pay $3,380, leaving each with $21,620 after covering the public worker's $25,000. I don't know whether the 32% number includes benefits, but if it doesn't that would be a huge addition to the disproportion.

The worst part: between the state oligarchy and the monolithic media presence, grumbles among the citizens are rarely amplified sufficiently to overcome Rhode Islanders' characteristic apathy. So, is it better to escape now, or to stay and fight from within?

We'll see. The fact that I'm coming to feel shut out of the state's media crowd doesn't leave me optimistic about my ability to fight, if I stay.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:26 PM EST


The Value of the Dependent

Jennifer Roback Morse did me the unknowing service of leavening the cold definitions of science-based theology. Here's the sentiment:

I maintain that we are afraid to look too closely at dependent people because they remind us that our own independence is fragile. The rational faculty is a gift that allows us to think and to choose, which in turn, makes our freedom and autonomy possible. But our rationality is not a necessary fact about us; any one of us could get a bump on the head that would make us radically dependent on others. This is why we should not view our rationality or independence as the source of our value or dignity as persons. It is also a mistake to view people exclusively in terms of what they do for us, unless we expand our understanding of service.

The story that begot this conclusion is well worth your time to read.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:22 PM EST


The Bible in the Public School

Mark Shea takes an admirably balanced look at the argument (which I wasn't aware was seriously underway) over including study of the Bible in public school curricula.

The popular arguments of those who speak against such things are, of course, wrong:

On the surface, this "drinking from a fire hose" method of pluralistic intimidation seems cogent. But it only works by assuming that the real purpose of studying the Bible in the classroom is to proselytize. This is not so. The normal reason an "Introduction to the Bible" class is proposed is because, whether Wall advocates like it or not, it is the Bible, not Jainism or African animism, which undergirds both American and Western Civilization. If you do not understand the Bible, you cannot possibly understand most of what has been thought about and done (for good or ill) in Western culture for the past 2000 years.

On the other hand, edging the Bible into the hands of public school teachers might not be the best idea, either:

To take the Bible out of the context of the community that produced it and place it in the hands of a secular culture which seeks only to dissect it is exactly like taking a living heart out of a living person in order to study the heart and the person better. What you instantly have is a dead heart and a dead person. For this reason, I think a secular "intro to the Bible" class would be more a way of inoculating students to the Bible than "introducing" them to it.

The potential weakness in Shea's conclusion is that the Bible is a crucial component to the formation of our culture, while also a central text of a religious community. However, the fact of this dualism takes on a different meaning when it is considered that young folks are in formation, themselves, and comprehending the simultaneous, but divergent, roles of the Bible is likely beyond many of their intellectual and emotional levels.

In the end, I agree with Mark, as far as an "Introduction to the Bible" course goes. However, I think it's important to leave open the argument for the strong importance of introducing sections of the Bible where it is relevant, culturally, to other studies. That is the branch of the larger argument that seems to come up from time to time.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:44 PM EST


Why It's Now Okay to Write the Truth About Gays and Marriage

I didn't comment on the New York Times article about gays in Canada not really wanting to get married (except to undermine the institution itself). I figured others with broader audiences would make more or less the same point that I would have: "This is a surprise?" However, I do want to weigh in on the discussion over why the Times would publish something that gives the first-look appearance of devaluing a major weapon of the gay-marriage advocates when the debate hits the United States.

Jonah Goldberg suggests that "it's a sign of how far the pro-gray marriage argument has progressed that The New York Times now feels comfortable to float stories more or less undermining the idea of gay marriage." Stanley Kurtz thinks the Times was "covering the return of the debate within the gay community itself" and that the NYT audience just sees "dissing monogamous marriage as a downright cool thing to do."

I think there are elements of truth to both men's assessments. (And I would remind Mr. Goldberg that he, ahem, surely contributed to any overconfidence on the part of those stumping for gay marriage.) However, I think another aspect that oughtn't go without highlighting is that the argument for gay marriage (as with many other liberal positions) consists of patchwork logic. The various questions that arise in discussion are addressed individually, and no big picture analysis is allowed (mostly because that's the conservative position, broadly speaking).

Two pieces of the patchwork are reconciled in the Times article and could be seen as a potential motivation, assuming that the paper's objective is to back gay marriage (which I do assume). The first argument that this latest news furthers is that gay marriage will occur in too small a population to affect the entire institution of marriage. In the last round of discussion about the issue, I read multiple people arguing that there simply aren't enough homosexuals in the population for them to have an effect on the majority where marriage is concerned. The second argument that is furthered (and united with the percentage patch) is evident in this quotation:

"Ambiguity is a good word for the feeling among gays about marriage," said Mitchel Raphael, editor in chief of Fab, a popular gay magazine in Toronto. "I'd be for marriage if I thought gay people would challenge and change the institution and not buy into the traditional meaning of 'till death do us part' and monogamy forever. We should be Oscar Wildes and not like everyone else watching the play."

Both Goldberg and Kurtz have cited this quotation as confirmation of the conservative assertion. However, the implication, here, is that these Canadian gays aren't interested in marriage because they don't think they can undermine the institution. To be sure, yesterday (I think), Kurtz gave some reasons that the situation in the United States is very different. But if such arguments are summarily ignored (and I have no doubt that's what the Times et al. will do), the Times article can be seen as a strategic maneuver, confirming what conservatives have been saying, yes, but only so as to undermine its practical import in the debate.

When the battle rages in the States, those who oppose gay marriage will be painted as acting from paranoid bigotry when they address the tepid outcome in Canada. When they point out, as Kurtz did yesterday, that Canada has already granted most of the "rights" of married couples to cohabiters, which combined with universal healthcare makes actual marriage only significantly different from "registered partnerships" on a personal level, proponents will move the debate either into the rights-based rhetoric with which they are so comfortable or into the question of why marriage ought to be a public question at all.

In other words, the outcome in Canada will act as a funnel to the areas in which the advocates for gay marriage are strongest. Of course, even their strongest arguments are built on false premises — it is dramatically to the public good to encourage marriage as it traditionally stands and not to dilute it into oblivion with government support for cohabitation — but the debate over the premises is more subtle and considered than often proves compelling for the general public. From the point of view of the Timesians, it isn't as important to be right as to erode the will of the public to oppose the cause.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:26 PM EST


Mr. Katz, the Neighborhood Booksmith

Glenn Reynolds describes the potential of technology to undo some of the damage done to domestic life with the advent of the Industrial Revolution:

The Industrial Revolution, we're often told, started back when cottage industry was replaced by factories. The results were widespread, ramifying throughout society. Before the Industrial Revolution, artisans worked in or alongside their homes, often with children observing and even helping. After the Industrial Revolution, workers were segregated in factories, where specialized facilities took advantage of new technologies, and of the economies of scope and scale that those technologies made available.

I'll tell you: I love the freedom that comes with working from home. Of course, it requires a bit of independent responsibility and willful organization. Many are the times that I end up doing my "work" well into the evening because I spent the day doing other things. Ultimately, I have trouble seeing this as a bad thing; a good portion of those "other things" are done with my daughter and/or wife (e.g., last week we went to a distant lake for a picnic). Some folks, however, need to be forced to stay in one place, under some sort of observation, to get work done, and I've also experienced the relief that comes with having a job that is left when you leave it.

Perhaps some of this dynamic will change as more types of work can be done from home and businesses divorce pay from a more-or-less time-based model. My personal experience has also shown that I will work harder when that work is directly related to more money, with no time-related thresholds to cross. Of course, having the freedom to balance these factors for myself is an unmitigated good as far as I'm concerned.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:19 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

The Redwood Review poem of the week is "Numb," by Janette van de Geest Van Gruisen.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:00 PM EST


Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Antichrist in the Machine

About a third of the way through The Physics of Immortality, I'm starting to think that Frank Tipler's "Omega Point" could literally be the Antichrist. Unless the rest of the book proves me wrong in my general expectations, I intend to write a Just Thinking column explaining why when I'm done reading. But here is the paragraph (from page 87) on which the impression thus far hinges:

A "person" is defined by qualities of mind and soul, not by a particular bodily form. Adolf Hitler disagreed with this definition, of course. He defined "person" in terms of bodily form and tried to prevent the reproduction of all people who were not "Aryans." He nearly succeeded in preventing Jewish reproduction: when the Second World War had ended, 70% of all the Jews in Europe were dead. If one rejects the philosophical basis of racism, one must accept the implications of such rejection: one must oppose any laws restricting the creation or reproduction of intelligent machines.

To understand what makes this largely altruistic-sounding argument so abhorrent, you have to consider how it is that Tipler defines "soul." As a scientist, he begins with the premise that what cannot be measured must therefore not exist. He takes human beings, essentially, to be machines that "run" their personalities; in other words, my brain is just a computer "running" the program of Justin Katz. That program is Tipler's "soul." From this position, he argues that, if one can converse with a computer, asking random questions requiring the semblance of creativity and opinion, without being able to distinguish the experience from conversing with a human, the computer must therefore be a "person."

The missing, as yet immeasurable, component is the very idea of "soul" that such scientists reject (in part to insist upon the primacy of their own vocations). From what I've gathered, thus far, the "resurrection" that Tipler promises is merely an emulation — a future computer that will run every program ever written. The problem — one that Tipler has not addressed throughout the first third of the book — is that this isn't what most people mean by "me." Suppose I die and a clone of me is created the next day; would the "I" who has died have the sensation of reawakening? Not based on any evidence that I've seen. Similarly, while it is not impossible that "intelligent machines" will tap into whatever force or pool of consciousness gives humans this immeasurable quality (in religious terms, that God will grant souls to them), it does not seem likely — particularly given the type of people who will program the initial machines.

According to Tipler's predictions, these machines will permeate the universe, ultimately guiding the universe's collapse toward a specific end. What makes this indicative of the Antichrist is something that I'll dive into, as I said, when I've finished reading the book. But it is enough, for now, to consider "the implications" of what Tipler is suggesting. A world in which intelligent machines are "persons" is one in which unintelligent human beings are not. In other words, while Tipler makes a laughably underhanded attempt to paint "human supremacists" as akin to Nazis, it is actually his encouraged future that will lead to euthanasia. Nietzsche's "Supermen" will merely be robots, with scientific advancement as their uniting "religion." It isn't race, ethnicity, nationality, or sexuality that will define the Higher Persons, but processing power. The fact that Tipler's scenario will require the dismantling of planets shows that individual instances of life will have no claims to value in the face of the perpetuation of the "biosphere" (into which he somewhat disingenuously slips these robots).

Tipler taunts, "To those people [who remain human supremacists], let me point out the consequences of your position: your permanent and very final death, and the death of your children." Not if we believe in the one thing that scientists explicitly reject, and that Tipler, as an assumption, denies: that there is a plane of existence that science cannot (yet) confirm; that there is a spiritual God. Ironically, Tipler's very premise leaves us no reason to prefer his version of a future in which our children are revived as emulations. By his argument, as I currently understand it to be, I will still experience that "very final death," but a computer simulation that acts like me will someday exist. The fact that he considers this to be an emotional trump card suggests to me that he ought to spend some time considering where it comes from.

Perhaps needless to say, at this point, I feel called, as a Christian, to work toward a society in which science is handled within the appropriate boundaries — to which scientists themselves admit — without redefining them as the boundaries of reality.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:52 PM EST


The Culture of Semi-Nakedness

With her tone, Linda Borg admirably takes more or less the side of school administrators in the battle over fashion, but this segue is just bizarre:

Lyle, the principal from Central Falls, says there are three reasons that students are wearing this sort of attire: "Britney Spears, Britney Spears, Britney Spears."

That raises an interesting question: How do you bridge the cultural divide between teachers, who are mostly white and middle-aged, and students, many of whom come from cultures with a very different sensibility about how much bare skin is acceptable.

Ummm... Britney's white, too...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:34 PM EST


Gay Tolerance Uber Alles

Mark Shea published an email that contained this simply astonishing tale:

... my wife's younger brother is a homosexual who considers himself to be "married" to his partner. When we moved to Maryland last year, we also moved to within an easy drive of his house -- a first in our ten years of marriage. He was very excited about our proximity and expressed his desire to come for a visit. My wife arranged a time and date, but when she tried to discuss with him some of our expectations for the visit, he hung up on her. All she wanted to ask of her brother and his partner was, 1) don't refer to themselves as being "married," 2) don't use the word "homosexual" or even the word "gay," and 3) to refrain from any displays of physical affection between themselves.

What it came down to was what I referred to earlier in this email: we don't want to boys to be confused by such things and to start asking questions that will force us into addressing issues that are not age-appropriate. As I said, my brother in law hung up on her after she got out about one half of a sentence, and he has cut off all communication with our family ever since. The remainder of my wife's family -- her other younger brother (married with two young boys), to some extent her dad, and most especially her mother -- have all ostracized her and our family. My wife's mom has been particularly viscous in her verbal assaults on our family and our faith, making it a point last Christmas to insure she knew that the whole family was gathering and that we were not invited.

You know, I can't think of a single thing that I do, or am, that I wouldn't be willing to mitigate if physically possible during a visit (for crying out loud!) for the sake of respecting somebody else's parental decisions. I might think something silly or ultimately wrong-headed, and I might even say as much to the parent, but as long as the request wasn't made in the form of an insult, I'd comply. In the comments to Mark's post, S.F. put his finger on it:

Everybody in the letter above (except for the parents) worried more about the feelings of two grown men than about the innocence of little children. Sad.

Assuming the letter to be more or less accurate, that grandmother ought to be ashamed.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:25 PM EST


Objectionable, but Not Surprising

If we decide to go the public school route with our children, I'm going to devote quite a bit of time praying that this sex-ed situation, which corresponds perfectly with my own experience in high school just over a decade ago, is rectified before they reach that age. If that doesn't look likely, I may devote some of that time preparing for lawsuits. I mean, come on:

In "Becoming a Responsible Teen," or B.A.R.T., kids get an education not only in condoms but in lubricants: "If you were trying to find something around the house, or at a convenience store, to use as a [lubricant] substitute, what would be safe? Why?... Some 'grocery store' lubricants are safe to use if they do not contain oil: grape jelly, maple syrup and honey."

Can't the libidinous psychopaths who write these guidelines find it in themselves to discourage sex even in situations in which every store (gas station, public school nurse, etc.) that distributes condoms and sexual aides is closed? And how is it right that strangers, with the sanction of the government, can take the de facto, blanket stance that they care more about and know better for children than the kids' parents do:

And who knows where you'll be when the mood strikes? Perhaps that's why the CDC-approved "Reducing the Risk" program advises teachers to tell kids, while they're shopping for condoms, to "put down the store's hours, too, because it may be important to know where to get protection at some odd hours." There are also family-planning clinics, of course: Students who might worry about what Mom and Dad think are told, "you do not need a parent's permission…no one needs to know that you are going to a clinic."

The only time I've ever lost my temper talking with a talk radio host (and, incidentally, the last time I called one), it was when the liberal, female half of a talk duo assumed schools' right, with no individualized justification, to take over for parents in such crucial areas of raising children as sexual education. It's just not right, and if I come face to face with it, I'll guarantee that my on-air seething will seem mild in comparison to my reaction then.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:09 PM EST


Race-Blind Racism

Jay Nordlinger devoted today's Impromptus to race. Most of it was copied from an article of his in the last National Review, but this item was new (to me), and appalling:

An infamous and signal event occurred in 1989. In that year, a couple of Detroit reps in the Michigan state legislature threatened to withhold funding for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra unless it hired an additional black player, pronto. (The orchestra had only one.) The DSO — like all other self-respecting orchestras — had always had blind auditions. You play behind a curtain: They can't see you. They're not supposed to tell whether you're young or old, a man or a woman, or whatever.

It is irrefutable evidence of a pathologically racist society that it finds justice in racial quotas for jobs that are filled in a completely blind audition.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:49 PM EST


Singing of Gay Hell

I'm a big fan of Rufus Wainwright's music, and it strikes me as a sort of injustice (more for the music than for the composer) that so much is made of his being gay. A New York Times profile intertwines these two aspects of the total artist. (N.B., I'm not saying that being gay isn't central to who Rufus Wainwright is, just that it's a shame that emphasizing his homosexuality may draw boundaries of relevance around his music.)

Here's a chill-giving summary of the personal conflict that is apparently behind his latest work, an album for release later this month:

"For years, and I mean thousands of years, the gay man's mind has been treated as perverted, clandestine and dirty," he went on, "and speed reinforces and glamorizes that as an ideal. And with drugs, what's more dangerous is more sexually exciting. On that drug I had really horrible thoughts that turned me on. I had a few of those real gay lost weekends, where everything goes out the window, where you want to make pornos or you want to have sex with children. I mean, your mind is just completely ravaged."

I'm not sure what comment to make on the substance of the apparently well-known "gay lost weekends," except that it brings to mind Andrew Sullivan's casual admission, while exploring the social subversion of "bears," that he has "no problem" with the drugs in the gay party scene. Personally, as with all substance abuse, I think it's a dangerous attitude to use drugs as an excuse as Wainwright does here, lightening the burden of his own behavior at the expense, simultaneously, of historical society and speed. Perhaps his own experience of being raped at 14 "by a man he picked up in London" contributes to his abominable desires when high. And I can't help but see significance in the omnipresence of the unresolved "issues" stemming from Wainwright's father's leaving the family when Rufus was three.

The folk-musician lifestyles of both parents couldn't help but exacerbate the problem:

For her part, Ms. McGarrigle expressed relief that her son had taken steps to bring his excesses under control. Noting that as a family of musicians and writers, neither the McGarrigles nor the Wainwrights were particularly abstemious, they all recognized the need to preserve their ability to create.

"By nature, Rufus is a party animal," his mother said matter-of-factly. "The word in French is sauvage. But he saw that he had to stop it. None of us is self-destructive. We'd all rather live than die, so you do whatever is necessary to keep that life going. I mean, you can't make records when you're dead."

This echoes the treacherous and erroneous belief that drugs facilitate creativity. Of course, too many "artists" believe that their creativity is enhanced by the loose ways in which they live their lives, and it's impossible to prove that they could be (could have been) better — more productive and more creative — by finding other channels to express those impulses. Back to Rufus:

"I'm always worried talking about my sobriety," he said. "That could change at any moment. That could change right after this interview. But I will say that the minute that I started taking care of myself, so many other things slipped into place. This record really just flowed. I took care of myself, and the music took care of itself. Something was very kind to me."

My generation and, naturally, its artists give the indication that they are learning from, rather than following, their parents' example. I hope that Rufus Wainwright is one of those who finds his way through.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:52 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 09/02/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Waltz+1" by Joe Parillo. I can't think of a better soundtrack for the autumn than Sand Box, and "Waltz+1" just seemed to capture my mood today.

"Joe Parillo" Joe Parillo, Jazz
Stream (HiFi)
from Sand Box

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:31 PM EST


All About Work

Well, with the suddenness of a 6:00 a.m. alarm, summer ended. The wife is back to work, and the child is in my care all morning. One change that came about during the summer months: the end of a.m. naps. In other words, posting on this site will likely not begin until the early afternoon henceforth.

Today, I'm particularly behind because I had the new experience of finding something I've written make its way onto a public discussion board over at Somebody posted that "Four myths, 30 million potential votes" column by Beth Shulman that I took apart last week. Somebody else posted my blog entry, and yet another person responded to me.

Well, what could I do but register (for free), and answer the challenge thus:

I love stumbling across arguments in which I'm already an unknowing participant.

To respond to DOA70:

"Another handy table, also from the Census Bureau reveals that the bottom quintile of HOUSEHOLDS in America (the bottom 20%) earned less than $17,950."
--- This is just repeated information. I wasn't refuting the 20% figure, but pointing out that, according to Shulman's own sources, that isn't "poor" unless a household has four people. All you've done is to more specifically describe the numbers that prove Shulman dishonest, and you missed an aspect in doing that. If 40% of those households are families (defined as more than one person), it's still many fewer than that who are officially "poor" at $18,000 (because not all, perhaps not even many, will have four members). I'll grant you that it's sad, but it simply isn't honest to say that 20%, or even 8%, of households earning at that rate are officially "poor" at $18,000 a year.

"Since I am 99.9999999% certain the author of this blog hasn't worked ANY of these jobs, I summarily and completely dismiss the characterizations made."
--- Well, your judgment is pretty poor if you've only given the truth a 0.0000001% probability. I've worked menial, low-paying jobs for most of my life (to be fair, I'm not that old), probably the most dangerous of which was as a dock worker unloading commercial fishing boats, and frankly, I didn't find it uncomfortably dangerous (I got "fish poisoning" once, making my pinky explode to the size of a thumb, but mine was the only injury that the dock experienced while I was there, and it wasn't serious at all, with modern medicine). Again, to be fair, if I'd waited around long enough, I may even have experienced a fatality, but most likely among the fishermen. However, Shulman defined such workers out of her argument so that she didn't have to address globalization. As for grueling and humiliating, I've had white-collar jobs that fit that description more than my ventures into retail and other menial tasks. It has more to do with outlook than occupation, if you ask me. (To my experience, it's mainly snobs and the whiners who emulate them who fret about how "demeaning" honest work is.)

"Could you help explain this to me? I've always understood that the simplest way to fight inflation was to ensure a certain level of unemployment."
--- My intention, with the inflation thing, wasn't to introduce the intricacies of the related policy, but to point out that Shulman simultaneously complained about inflation and broadly condemned policies to fight it, without delving into the analysis that allowed her to do so.

"It isn't 1/3 of the total that had moved up to the median income or above, but rather 1/3 of 1/2 or 1/6th of the total. And I don't know about you, but I just don't consider 17% success much of a success rate."
--- Yes, I'm aware that it was 1/3 of 1/2 to make it ABOVE MEDIAN, but you don't think the full picture is pretty good? Especially considering that percentage is relative, so the bottom fifth doesn't describe a stationary income level? Think about this: in 23 years (from ages 20 to 43, or from the 40s to retirement, for example), HALF of the bottom fifth (most of whom, as we've both shown, were not officially "poor") moved above that grouping. Of THEM, one-third made it above average income (in a way of looking "average").

Now consider that, among that group, there were surely people who started out single and married within that timeframe; however, the analysis doesn't appear to be household income, but individual income. Also consider that, with percentages, that half who advanced necessarily required another half to fall. The kicker is that a socialistic scheme would not erase relative (percentage) statistics, but it would tend to freeze those statistics where they currently happened to be by removing incentive to strive, increasing the tendency to rely on the state, and otherwise sucking all of the corrective forces out of the economy. That there are poor people is, indeed, sad, but the government is a very poor mechanism for addressing the problem.

Cheer up, man! You live in a fabulous country!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:47 PM EST


Monday, September 1, 2003

Just Thinking 09/01/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Marital Insubordination," about Ephesians 5 and the metaphor of marital submission.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:14 PM EST


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