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Sunday, November 30, 2003

Why Jonah Goldberg Should Support the FMA

I'm not sure what to make of Jonah Goldberg's writing on gay marriage. On one hand, although he believes (for some unsubstantiated reason) that "everyone agrees that we are well on our way to living in a country where allowing same-sex marriage is the law of the land," he laments that political considerations are almost certain to bring it about too quickly, by means of the courts:

But the federal and state courts are blazing ahead of the public and any chance of such compromises. As with abortion and affirmative action, both parties are so scared of seeming "divisive," they'd rather have an unelected judiciary make the tough calls for them. There's no easier dodge for a politician than "It's out of my hands." The end result is a public policy fait accompli, crafted and implemented without democratic input at any level.

On the other hand, he opposes the result of months and years of consensus building among those who share his opposition to court-imposed gay marriage: the Federal Marriage Amendment. I may be incorrect in the source, but it seems to me that Goldberg's been taken in by the (arguably deceptive) rhetoric of Andrew Sullivan. Consider this, from the first column linked above:

Marriage has a specific meaning: a union of a man and a woman. But the state shouldn't bar gays or anyone else from naming heirs or sharing property as they see fit.

What has gotten lost in this emotionally tangled wrangling is that gays aren't barred from doing either of these things. More germane to the discussion of the FMA, however, is Goldberg's "or anyone else." Despite his assertion that "many take ['legal incidence' of marriage] to mean civil unions as well," Goldberg need only read Ramesh Ponnuru's essay a couple of National Reviews ago to see that most of the disagreement — all of it, among those who oppose gay marriage — is about what types of civil unions the amendment will allow. Indeed, a sentence was recently added to the amendment to clarify that civil relationships can't be based on the presumption of sexual intimacy.

I've argued that states will still be able to pass civil union laws that include gender and consanguinity clauses, and it seems more than likely that the courts, as currently constituted, would allow those laws to stand. If this doesn't prove to be the case, then it wouldn't prove to be the case with any civil union laws. First of all, no civil union law could possibly exclude same-sex heterosexuals from entering into such arrangements; as Sullivan quipped with opposite intent:

How would a state legislature or the official granting civil union licenses know that? Short of putting videocams in people's bedrooms, they surely couldn't.

Second of all, same-sex family members would have to be included, as well. If the judicial system follows the logic of its own precedent on this issue (which, granted, may be a big if), then, in the language of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, a state would have no "rational basis" to exclude close family members, because there would be no chance of their conceiving a child. Simply put, also in the Mass. court's language, sexual orientation cannot be the basis for exclusion from a civil arrangement.

Another echo of Sullivan in Goldberg's latest column is that the marriage amendment would ban gay marriage "for all time." That's not true, and what makes it all the more jarring in this instance is that Goldberg immediately thereafter calls the FMA "a replay of Prohibition." The thing is: I went to a liquor store just yesterday and bought a case of beer. So much for "amendments are forever"! In the case of Prohibition, forever lasted just under fifteen years, at which time the twenty-first amendment repealed it. The main distinction, currently, is that Constitutional amendments have tended to be "progressive" — granting new rights or adding new specifics — whereas the FMA would solidify current law and require that the new rights that it forbids be granted by means of Constitutional amendment.

The fact of the matter is that the Federal Marriage Amendment will only do exactly what Goldberg wishes were the case without it: allow (force) the nation to take its time experimenting and debating. That he doesn't see this seems related to his unfair assumption that supporters of the FMA just want the whole debate to go away and think the FMA will accomplish that goal. Some may desire it to go away — although I'd suggest that many, many more supporters of gay marriage or undecided folks desire this — but they would be foolish to believe that it will.

About all the FMA does, if we take an objective view of it within the context of history, is state something that has been the law of the land all along and ensure that it does not cease to be the law of the land until a critical mass of Americans are convinced that a change would be for the better. This is what makes the other component of Goldberg's argument strike me as a bit odd:

I can't tell you what the unforeseeable consequences of such an amendment are because, duh, they're unforeseeable. But what I can predict with almost mathematical certitude is that the FMA will not make this issue go away. Rather, it will more likely serve to radicalize the anti-FMA forces in much the same way Roe vs. Wade radicalized anti-abortion forces.

Goldberg's own examples alone ought to give him reason to reconsider. Prohibition made illegal an activity that had been legal and that had deep roots in the culture. Actually, it wasn't so much an "activity" as a thing that became forbidden, and as such, the "radicalization" involved efforts to procure it. In contrast, does Jonah believe that the Mob will start performing gay marriages? If it does, then the mobsters won't be doing anything differently than what various religious and other organizations throughout the country already do. The marriages just won't be granted government recognition.

For its part, Roe v. Wade made legal a practice that had been illegal, and it did so in a way that disfranchised the large portion of the population that objected to it. As for radicalization, I have to wonder how much more radical supporters of gay marriage could become. The danger goes the other way on this one, I think. I know that the likelihood of judicial imposition of gay marriage certainly radicalized my views on the issue, and I worry about the extent to which it would radicalized others who start from a position of stronger opposition than did I.

That's not a threat, but it is a consideration. And considerations are all we have when addressing social and governmental change. Moreover, this is a change that will not remain unaddressed. In objecting to the only legally and politically feasible opposition to gay marriage, while acknowledging that the politics will ensure judicial activism, Goldberg has made himself objectively pro–gay marriage. Many Americans are reluctant to pick a side in this cultural battle, but I think that if Jonah Goldberg, for one, took some time to do additional reading and hard consideration, he would see that the FMA aligns with most of his proclaimed preferences.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:41 PM EST


Friday, November 28, 2003

Fourteen for Black Friday

Continuing with my CD drive to get out of debt, I've put the following discs on eBay. Please bid.

The Butthole Survers, Independent Worm Saloon
Nick Cave, Tender Prey
Nick Cave, Kicking Against the Pricks
Nick Cave, Live Seeds
Cheap Trick, You Can Have Sex in America
Chicago, Greatest Hits 1982-1989
Bobby Darin, The Bobby Darin Story
Neil Diamond, The Christmas Album
The Doors, Strange Days
The Doors, Waiting for the Sun
The Doors, Morrison Hotel
The Doors, The Soft Parade
The Doors, L.A. Woman
Firehose, Mr. Machinery Operator

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:46 PM EST


Giving the Amendment the Sullivan Treatment

There's a reason I try to avoid reading Andrew Sullivan's writing about social issues. Every time I do so, I come across arguments so horribly distorted, yet certain to be taken seriously by some, that I feel compelled to address them. Such is the case with his poorly characterized "fisking" of the Federal Marriage Amendment. Not to be subtle about it, Sullivan's piece is either embarrassingly incorrect or deeply dishonest. I don't see any middle ground.

Here's the FMA as it now stands:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups. Neither the federal government nor any state shall predicate benefits, privileges, rights, or immunities on the existence, recognition, or presumption of sexual conduct or relationships.

Regarding the first sentence, Sullivan writes:

This sounds simple enough. But the word "marriage" is extremely broad.

Sorry to break the flow so soon, here, but we really should take a moment to stand in awe of the audacity of this comment. A man who has argued for more than a decade that marriage — which is everywhere defined as involving members of opposite sex — really means a relationship between two sexually involved people of any gender is complaining that the word is "extremely broad" within this amendment that specifies its meaning. One must marvel. Moving on:

Its main problem is that it conflates both civil marriage and religious marriage. By not being specific that it refers to civil marriage and civil marriage alone, the wording of this first sentence could be subject to considerable doubt. Could this mean that a church that decided to marry two people of the same gender would be violating the Constitution? Isn't civil regulation of religious marriage against the First Amendment?

To be sure, we should give Sullivan credit for being sufficiently creative to insert confusion where it does not inhere. But then, that credit must be rescinded when we note that he answers his own question as he picks up rhetorical steam. The Constitution is civil by its very nature, and obviously the First Amendment already makes the clarification that Sullivan desires. (I've got some suspicion that Sullivan calls for this change for some deceptive reason, but whether it is spitting out misinformation in order to defeat the amendment, adding verbiage that can later be distorted, or both, I'm not sure.)

Now on to the second sentence of the FMA. Here's Sullivan:

Why this provision, one might ask? Isn't the first sentence clear enough? Ah, but the fundamentalist right is not content merely to ban civil marriage for gay couples in the United States. They want to ensure that gay couples get no civil recognition at all. ...

Some have argued that it only prevents state or federal courts from imposing marriage rights on unwilling populations. But the wording is clear enough. It doesn't simply ban courts from construing state constitutions or the federal constitution to exclude gay couples. It includes state and federal law as well. And it doesn't say, "judicially construe." It says simply, "construe." The intent is clear: to stop any state variation on the subject of marital or couple rights, to impose on the country one single model for civil relationships--heterosexual marriage to the exclusion and abolition of all others. That, of course, means civil unions for heterosexuals as well.

This is a perfect illustration of what I meant, the other day, when I suggested that, among those who support gay marriage, "Contested assertions are reasserted as if they had not faced criticism." I've written before (here, for one) that Sullivan is simply wrong; this sentence does not "impose on the country one single model for civil relationships." Of itself, it would merely require that civil union laws (or any other "couple" laws) be designed without reference to marriage.

It is probable that Sullivan has come across this argument before, whether from me or somebody else, so one might wonder why he doesn't explain it as something that "some have argued." But then, one might stop wondering when it is noted that Sullivan now declares that "the intent is clear," whereas several months ago, he was arguing that it could "provoke genuine and deep disagreement" and therefore represented a "vague and sweeping amendment." Vague. Clear. Whatever.

Because Sullivan ignores what this sentence does clearly do, he is completely befuddled by the final, newly added sentence. Before addressing his analysis, which he uses as a springboard into delirious demagoguery, let's take another look at the sentence and interpret it based on its own language rather than Sullivan's:

Neither the federal government nor any state shall predicate benefits, privileges, rights, or immunities on the existence, recognition, or presumption of sexual conduct or relationships.

What this clearly means, as a pure function of the words and grammar, is that the government cannot base (i.e., predicate) the allocation of benefits on what a couple may or may not do in the bedroom. In essence, this merely adds reference to sexuality to my reading of the second sentence: "civil unions" could not be described in terms of marriage nor in terms of sexual or romantic relationships. There is probably room for discussion about whether this would allow a state to institute a law that specified most of the particulars tracking closely with homosexuality; I'd argue that it would. It seems to me that a state could specify that the arrangement is exclusive, limited to people of the same sex, involves people who share a household, and excludes immediate family members. In other words, something akin to the Vermont description of civil unions would, for essentially the reasons that I've previously argued, still be possible.

If you think about it, while there is certainly a social presumption of sex (and parenthood) for married couples, nothing in the law prevents a man and woman who are friends from getting married. This would still be a social possibility for gay unions. All the new sentence forbids a legislature or judiciary to do is to guess at whether the pair is romantically involved. Frankly, I think federal law as it currently exists would ultimately require that straight men (or women) who wanted to engage in a civil same-sex relationship be allowed to do so, for the same reason that homosexuals aren't currently prevented from marrying people of the opposite sex. As the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in Goodridge, the state cannot deny "access to an institution of fundamental legal, personal, and social significance... because of a single trait... sexual orientation here."

It seems to me that activists could still work to create same-sex union laws in each state. Thereafter, homosexuals would be able to work to shape society's view of those unions. Now on to Sullivan's take:

It would be the first time that the word "sexual" is inserted into the Constitution of the United States.

Yes, it's a shame that it's come to that, but I don't see how people who wish to redefine marriage not in terms of the specific gender-based relationship that it has always represented, but to enable homosexual marriage, have grounds to object.

And what it is apparently designed to do is to reassure people that the second sentence of the amendment does not indeed do what it seems to do, i.e. ban all forms of civil union or domestic partnership. The religious right would, it appears, be willing to allow civil unions between brothers, or an aunt and uncle, or a son and mother, or two college roommates--as long as it was assumed that no sexual activity was implied in the relationship. By this deft move, the amendment would apparently allow gay couples to get civil unions--but only if they pretended that they were not gay couples.

Sullivan has it almost backwards. It isn't a matter of assuming "that no sexual activity was implied," but declaring that the law cannot distinguish between people based on the individual factor of their sexual behavior. Gay couples wouldn't have to "pretend" anything, but neither would straight friends who wished to procure a license. Sullivan, here, has conveniently forgotten the distinction that he himself drew between civil and religious marriage. Consider that the Vermont civil unions law ensures exclusivity in purely civil terms: "parties to a civil union" shall "Not be a party to another civil union or a marriage." It doesn't say that they shall not be romantically involved with somebody else. But hey, if advocates of gay marriage want to put strong adultery and divorce laws on the table, we social conservatives might be willing to reconsider.

Now here's where Sullivan really goes off the track:

What it amounts to, however, is a constitutional acceptance of any number of social arrangements short of marriage, as long as those relationships are asexual. How would a state legislature or the official granting civil union licenses know that? Short of putting videocams in people's bedrooms, they surely couldn't. So this is a kind of veil of ignorance, a pretense, that affirms the public appearance of a non-sexual relationship, while allowing it in reality. It's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" applied to the Constitution. It seems, on the face of it, to contradict the second sentence. But it doesn't. It merely underlines the fact that no sexual activity between two people can be a basis for a civilly recognized relationship except heterosexual marriage. It would make civil unions for straight people void as well, if those straight couples had the temerity to be in love or want to have sex.

As already explained, there is much arguable in what Sullivan says, and much that is just plain incorrect. It's not "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; it's "Not Our Place to Care." This is why it's so bizarre for supporters of gay marriage to use the "what goes on in their bedrooms" rhetoric: marriage, as a civil arrangement, isn't concerned with what goes on within the bedroom, whether the couple sleeps in separate twin beds or has orgies in the garage. But I suspect gay marriage advocates are keenly interested in keeping the "videocams in people's bedrooms" rhetoric floating around in the air. It's a kind of veil of ignorance, a pretense, that seeks to obscure the fact that there is "constitutional acceptance" of all sorts of relationships that are not marriage — for various legal, business, and personal purposes — and that marriage is defined by gender, not sexual or emotional activity.

You can go read the rest of Sullivan's piece on your own, if you'd like to see how he catapults his false assumptions into an implication that the FMA is the next best thing to a gay Holocaust that we religious conservatives are able to effect (for now) within the United States. The last point I want to make is that I find it laughable that Sullivan accuses supporters of the amendment of being "divisive" when he wishes to impose the opposite side on the country. At least an amendment works within the representative and federalist system. Lying about the opposition while attempting to push the "culture war" through the judicial oligarchy is what is truly divisive in this scenario.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:40 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from The Toonijuk," by Bill Goetzinger.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:25 PM EST


Thursday, November 27, 2003

Thanking Those Who Keep Us Free

Dennis Prager's open letter to American soldiers in Iraq offers another way to think of being thankful today:

Though you may already know everything I am about to say, I need to say it for those of you who, after seeing fellow soldiers blown up or severely injured, may sometimes wonder whether these sacrifices are worth it. ...

In sum, you are carrying the great burden of history on your shoulders every day you serve in Iraq. That some of your fellow citizens do not understand this only means that the war for civilization is taking place as much here at home as it is in Iraq.

It surely is. But we waging the war on the cultural front should remember that we do so in relative comfort and keep our troops overseas in our prayers.

May God keep us all strong in our efforts.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:36 AM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Are Adults Too Old for Young Adult Literature?," by Len DeAngelis.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:29 AM EST


Being Thankful That We Can Learn from Other Cultures

Paying attention only to the mainstream media, one might get the impression that the most important thing to remember about Thanksgiving is that it's based on a bunch of lies. The Providence Journal, for example, has to remind us of the "real" history of Thanksgiving because, well, we're all given a false story by those jingoistic grade-school teachers.

In "The First Thanksgiving: More myth than reality," Paul Davis opens by informing us:

Before you bite into that turkey leg, you might want to chew on this:

Much of what we celebrate at Thanksgiving is based on myth, not fact.

Of course, most holidays have a mythology about them, to the extent that anybody cares why they get a day off from work. But one wonders who it is, exactly, that needs to be disabused of false conceptions.

Everett Weeden, a Rhode Island Indian activist, was among those who started, in 1970, a National Day of Mourning involving a vigil in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Weeden has since redirected his efforts: "My energies are still focused on changing attitudes, but I don't have to march through the streets to do it. I work in the schools now, with teachers and students."

Here's how one Rhode Island grade school engenders interest in colonial history:

At the Clayville Elementary School in Rhode Island, fourth and fifth graders each fall build English settler and Indian villages in the thick woods behind the school. Students and teachers have been doing it for 12 years.

"It's a good kickoff to Rhode Island history," says Betty Angelotti, the teacher who started the program. In some ways, her mission echoes the one at Plimoth Plantation. "My main goal was to teach students about the feelings the Indians have for the environment," she says.

The message of Thanksgiving seems to be that others should be thankful that they aren't us. The message to those of us who cannot help but be American is that we should concentrate on learning from others. The Projo's editorial staff suggests that Thanksgiving is valuable amidst our peculiarly American frenzy to remind us how much more enlightened are the Europeans:

The search for what F. Scott Fitzgerald called the "orgiastic future" is set aside to celebrate the now. So what an un-American holiday is the post-Calvinist Thanksgiving -- a sort of languid European feast. How much we could use more such days as we rush through the calendar going -- where?

On the op-ed page, Stephen Webber has a somewhat different take:

We are victims of our own success, since the American food supply is so abundant and food companies so efficient that we can afford to eat like kings and queens without going into debt. We have nobody to blame, then, but ourselves. What religions can teach us is that fast-food restaurants and giant food companies are only taking advantage of our human nature.

Thanksgiving only makes matters worse because it seems to be saying that overeating is what it means to be an American. We should be grateful for the variety of food choices we have in this country, but instead we go for quantity over quality.

Well, at least Mr. Webber reintroduces religion into the holiday — that we require Somebody to whom to be thankful. Pat Mack, of The Bergen Record, recently learned that.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I like it because it has no religious connotations, even though it was founded by a religious community. You can be a Protestant, a Catholic, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Jew, even an agnostic or an atheist and still participate in this American celebration of gratitude for good fortune in your life.

A trip to Plimoth Plantation and a chat with Randy Joseph, history interpreter for its Wampanoag Education Program, helped to give Mack's views a somewhat more spiritual tint:

Thanksgiving has always been a tradition of Native Americans. They didn't learn it from the Pilgrims. Spirituality was and is a deeply sacred and personal part of Wampanoag life.

"From ancient times up to the present, we [Native Americans] have held ceremonies to give thanks for successful harvests and hunts, for good fortune."

I was especially interested in a celebration called Nickommo. It has a "giveaway" ceremony to show gratitude to the Creator who provides for "the people" [the tribe] and makes possible "the parade of blessings," Joseph said. The act of giving away material things shows respect and caring for others, while reminding the participants that material objects are only secondary to one's spiritual life.

Imagine that! A holiday in which people give each other presents in celebration of the gifts of their Creator. I'll tell ya: we sure could learn a lot from those Indians.

(That wouldn't be Saint Nickommo, would it?)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:01 AM EST


Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Fetuses and Gays, United in Their Struggle for Civil Rights

I sort of shrugged and went "Hmm" when I read the following from Ramesh Ponnuru in the Corner:

The op-ed made me wonder something I have wondered in the past: whether the pro-life cause will be stronger once it is divested from opposition to gay rights; whether, that is, opposition to abortion will lose some of the negative connotations of social conservatism and become more obviously a campaign for civil rights.

It struck me as a slightly peculiar notion for which I should keep an eye out in the future. However, Mr. Ponnuru just posted an email that has given me cause to take up the question now:

A thousand times yes! It's a theme a pro-life/pro-gay marriage conservative will need to develop, but this observation strikes me as on the money. Of course, I'm one of those who fits the description. I think being the (real or perceived) anti-gay attitudes of many conservatives makes it far more difficult for the pro-life argument to get a hearing, particularly in places like here in Manhattan. And in some ways I don't blame those who make the connection - I see the issue in both cases as one of civil rights.

I can fully appreciate that those people, however many there may be, who are pro-life/pro-SSM might perceive their support for gay marriage as a major barrier to full activistic unity with other pro-lifers, but is this really framing the debate across the divide? In other words, are there pro-abortion folks for whom conservative opposition to gay marriage is the deciding factor determining that a fetus is not a human being worthy of protection?

From a pro-life standpoint, the two issues are only related by way of a general moral platform tending to originate from a religious basis. At their most connected, I'd say, both stances are determined according to the rightful claims of children to place responsibilities on adults: to live with the "burden" of giving birth to and raising children who were not planned, in the one case, and to foster a society in which children are more likely to be raised within families consisting of their two biological parents bound by marriage, in the other. But this connection, to the extent that it exists, is a few steps beyond the reasoning done by most who hold both positions.

The connection between the two issues is much more centrally and obviously made from the other side, having to do with the supremacy of the individual. A woman has a right to determine the nature and consequences of her sexual behavior, including the right to abort unwanted children, in the one case, and two people have a right to demand public approval of their sexual relationship, including the right to disregard simple and obvious definitions of public arrangements, in the other.

In all of my arguing and reading around the issue of abortion, I have never encountered even the hint that the other side was shutting out the pro-life arguments because their advocates held other socially conservative views. Moreover, by every measure that I can think of, it seems far more likely that the weight goes in the other direction, with opposition to gay marriage being written off on the basis of its related social conservatism, primarily being pro-life. After all, many more liberal Manhattanites are personally affected by abortion policy than by gay marriage.

Yes, I would say that it will be good for the pro-life cause when social liberals stop seeing abortion as just a position that they must hold to be comme il faut — unlike those fundamentalists in the wilds of the nation. But no, I don't think social conservatives are going to further the pro-life cause by surrendering the gay marriage issue. Rather, were they to do so, I think they would set back their cause by furthering the argument that an individual's "choice" and transitory happiness are the single guiding principle of a "civilized" society.

I just want to offer a note, here, that I am increasingly worried — and offended — by the attenuation of "civil rights" into a catch-all concept. It was bad enough when Andrew Sullivan was uniting the push for gay marriage with the battles against anti-Semitism (manifested the Holocaust) and racism (manifested in slavery and enforced segregation).

Am I alone in finding it disturbing that some are now suggesting that the movement to prevent young human beings from being clinically murdered will gain a new relevance when it can be compared with the movement to grant a relatively well-to-do class of people a right that has never been thought to exist in the history of man, very probably at the cost of a basic social institution? I hope not.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:06 PM EST


Boys Marry Women Like Their Mothers

Over on the Marriage Debate blog (the direct links of which are not working properly), Eve Tushnet just goes ahead and makes a point that I have been holding in reserve, having not found an arguer on the other side who was willing to let me reach it in my logical procession:

For obvious reasons, I know more about fatherless households, so I'll stick with those: Sons say they never learned what it meant to be a man. (And they often try to find other, destructive roads to masculinity--like gang membership.) Daughters say they never learned what to look for in a man. Sons have a hard time learning how men fit into a family, why and how men are needed in the family. Daughters have a hard time learning how much they can ask of men--they often set their standards way too low and get taken advantage of. ...I think it would be bizarre if for some reason similarly powerful emotional effects were not felt in intentionally motherless households, although, like I said, I know a lot less about that because it's less common.

Men and women are not interchangeable as parents. But, again, you'll rarely maneuver a proponent of gay marriage into the position of having to answer this as a "yes" or "no" question.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:33 PM EST


Studio Matters Notes & Commentary

Continuing to prove that her tastes and capacity for analysis cover many forms and styles of art, Maureen Mullarkey's latest Notes & Commentary essay is "Martha Meyer Erlebacher at Forum Gallery." More images from the show about which she writes, including the painting of Adam and Eve can be found here.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:39 AM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

The Redwood Review poem of the week is "Born on the Cadence," by Ingrid Mathews.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:32 AM EST


The Enemy Offers No Points for Eloquence

There just seems to be some kind of connection between the global elite's fear that the masses will out-procreate them, which I mentioned earlier, and so many other issues that trickle down from the upper crust. Gay marriage is among those issues, as Sam Shulman hints when he closes a recent essay thus:

Severing this connection by defining it out of existence—cutting it down to size, transforming it into a mere contract between chums—sunders the natural laws that prevent concubinage and incest. Unless we resist, we will find ourselves entering on the path to the abolition of the human. The gods move very fast when they bring ruin on misguided men.

As I suggested earlier, helping the masses to "manage" their reproduction is one way keep from being overwhelmed by them. Another way is to break down walls that have limited certain behaviors among those who cannot afford their repercussions. Marriage schmarriage. Religion? Bah! Hard work? Self reliance? Self control? Those are merely traps, friend, to cage the natural being inside of you!

Shulman phrases some arguments well:

Why should I not be able to marry a man? The question addresses a class of human phenomena that can be described in sentences but nonetheless cannot be. However much I might wish to, I cannot be a father to a pebble—I cannot be a brother to a puppy—I cannot make my horse my consul. Just so, I cannot, and should not be able to, marry a man. If I want to be a brother to a puppy, are you abridging my rights by not permitting it? I may say what I please; saying it does not mean that it can be. ...

Insofar as I care for my homosexual friend as a friend, I am required to say to him that, if a lifelong monogamous relationship is what you want, I wish you that felicity, just as I hope you would wish me the same. But insofar as our lives as citizens are concerned, or even as human beings, your monogamy and the durability of your relationship are, to be blunt about it, matters of complete indifference. They are of as little concern to our collective life as if you were to smoke cigars or build model railroads in your basement or hang-glide, and of less concern to society than the safety of your property when you leave your house or your right not to be overcharged by the phone company.

That is not because you are gay. It is because, in choosing to conduct your life as you have every right to do, you have stepped out of the area of shared social concern—in the same sense as has anyone, of whatever sexuality, who chooses not to marry. There are millions of lonely people, of whom it is safe to say that the majority are in heterosexual marriages. But marriage, though it may help meet the needs of the lonely, does not exist because it is an answer to those needs; it is an arrangement that has to do with empowering women to avoid even greater unhappiness, and with sustaining the future history of the species

And I encourage you to read the whole thing, if you've got the time. Nonetheless, I have to admit that I bristled when I read him say, addressing the reason the issue of gay marriage is being pushed along the cultural fast track, "I have found myself disappointed by the arguments I have seen advanced against it." Well, I've been arguing this issue pretty regularly for a couple of years, and a phenomenon that I noticed specifically in Andrew Sullivan has now been taken up and amplified by most of the American media. Difficult objections are ignored. Contested assertions are reasserted as if they had not faced criticism. I've wondered, in the past, what it would be like to live in a world in which the truth is simply wished away, and on this issue, I've gotten a taste. Shulman's argument leaves the other side multiple escape routes.

So, while I do agree with Mr. Shulman and think he has made some valuable points, I get the feeling that he doesn't quite understand the hurdles — or the enemy, for that matter. The more ways in which we state the obvious, the better, but I think each of us does well to avoid entering the fray as if some eloquent, recast rhetoric will win the day, while others have merely contributed to the general apathy.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:02 AM EST


Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Censoring the Censorers

Lane Core has caught Teddy Kennedy suggesting that Bush's campaign ads are stifling dissent, even as his fellow Democrats pound their fists and declare that the commercials should be silenced.

Be honest, now, any Democrats out there: you can see this naked politicking for what it really is, can't you? Can't you?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:49 PM EST


Need Marriage?

Not surprisingly, Jay Nordlinger had much the same reaction as I did to David Brooks's gay marriage column. In an Impromptus that is even more worth reading than usual, Mr. Nordlinger writes:

The column, as I have read it, argues that we must favor gay marriage because we must favor fidelity — commitment, loyal love. Well, let me make the obvious point that no force on earth can stop people from being faithful if they wish to be. Certainly you don't need a marriage license for that. And no force on earth can stop people from being unfaithful if they wish to be — a marriage license is no barrier to that. Gay partners have been faithful to each other for millennia (presumably), without benefit of marriage. And married partners have been unfaithful to each other for millennia, with benefit of marriage. So, support gay marriage if you like, for whatever (sound) reasons you can come up with — but let's not pretend that a respect for fidelity has anything to do with it.

He also notes that Brooks's reference to the Biblical Ruth and Naomi makes the daughter- and mother-in-law sound like a lesbian couple. That brings to mind the claims of some homosexualist historians that the Catholic Church once sanctioned gay marriage. As I've suggested before, such claims prove, if anything, that "homosexuality is sexualizing, and thus destroying, the ancient idea of friendship."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:45 PM EST


State GOPs Need a Few Lashings

A couple of weeks ago, Rod Dreher posted this email regarding the loss of the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Louisiana:

I think you are missing the bigger picture - the State Republican Party is a joke. This national talk of a Republican realignment is just hot air unless it can be translated into effective State Party organizations. With two low-key, non-controversial candidates, this race became a State party fight and, as usual, the State GOP had their ass handed to them. Let's face it - the Democratic Party in Louisiana has an organization built to win. until the State GOP becomes more than a coffee social for rich, old women, we will continue to lose.

A subsequent emailer wrote:

Just wanted to chime in on what another reader claimed about the Louisiana GOP - here in Washington, it's the same story. The Democrats play to win, and our party is filled with ineptitude from top to bottom thanks to a party apparatus whose professional personnel changes all the time, thanks in turn to rich old women who view the Party as some kind of knitting club where they can feel good about civic involvement but never really accomplish anything. I used to manage campaigns for state legislative candidates, but will no longer give one more minute of effort to the Party until the Reaper comes for much of the current leadership.

And, just to make it a complaint that truly covers the entire nation, I emailed the following to Rod:

I just wanted to chime in; when I read your comments about the state GOP, they hit close to home for me here in Rhode Island. One example: we've got a local guy who poses at least a minor threat to Pat Kennedy for Congress, and the other day, he held a media event (swimming the length of the district), and the only Republican to show up was a relatively well-known mayor from halfway across the state. Our Republican governor was busy filing papers for Bush's election, and our Republican U.S. Senator, well, he's Linc Chafee.

It's very disheartening, not the least because the monolithic local media (including, to some extent, talk radio) is content to let the little Republican attempts at momentum fizzle out, and as a result, the apathetic population isn't being shaken out of the stupor in which many just vote "D" out of habit, bitch about the insane policies of the state, and then go home to watch the Patriots.

I'm not sure how to feel about the whole thing. Some days, it makes me think that I ought to take personal initiative to force some change in my small state. Other days, I think that would be a fool's errand. And still other days, I think it would just be easier to move...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:49 PM EST


Spinning Against Religion

The other day, Donald Sensing noted a University of Michigan study of religious trends. Giving evidence of the tremendous arrogance of Western intellectuals, the study's authors come across an apparent paradox:

In the book, Inglehart and co-author Pippa Norris put religion and spirituality in the U.S. in a global context by showing that while virtually all post-industrial societies have been moving toward more secular orientations for many decades, the world as a whole now has more people with traditional religious views than ever before.

"Though these two propositions may seem contradictory, they're not," Inglehart said. "Secularization has a powerful negative impact on human fertility rates, so the least religious countries have fertility rates far below the replacement level, while societies with traditional religious views have fertility rates two or three times the replacement level." As a result, those with traditional religious views now constitute a growing proportion of the world’s population.

The underlying presumption, perhaps not a conscious one, that academics seek in vain to reconcile with the facts is that secularization represents a more-correct way of viewing the world. Advanced nations (read: Europe) learn that God is a myth, so it is, therefore, a little puzzling that the trend should be toward increases of traditional religion.

Of course, "virtually all post-industrial societies" leaves out a huge wrench: the single post-industrial superpower society. That religion in the U.S. is the subject of the study perhaps presents evidence of the degree to which arrogant assumptions undermine rational, analytical thought. They've got two and two, but four is an answer that they reject out of hand.

Ah, say the academics, the ignorant religious people around the world breed like rabbits, and the U.S. has pushed its inhabitants toward the comfort of God because it withholds the comfort that ought to be offered by the socialist state! Therefore, you see, it is a paradox of the inherent superiority of the non-U.S.-post-industrial world that its worldview will decline in relative number of adherents.

This doomsday scenario of the Western elite fighting against the tide would seem to put paranoid rants about world overpopulation (and the need for global "family planning") in a whole 'nother light, wouldn't you say?

Stepping away from the presumption that the elite are not tragically deluded, one can see that the various theories and proclamations are but so much paint over the huge crack through their ideology. If the welfare state destroys religion, it is because it saps its victims of their humanity, not because it answers their bodily needs. As Rev. Sensing points out, "religious people are not merely more generous to religious causes and charities, they are very much more generous." Moreover, Michael Williams notes that "we [in the United States] export charitable giving all over the planet."

Somewhere in my daily reading, although I can't find it now, I came across another big piece of this puzzle, as explored in a New York Times article:

To put it bluntly, we are witnessing the decline and fall of the Protestant work ethic in Europe. This represents the stunning triumph of secularization in Western Europe the simultaneous decline of both Protestantism and its unique work ethic. ...

All this is the real reason that the American economy has surged ahead of its European competitors in the past two decades. It is not about efficiency. It is simply that Americans work more. Europeans take longer holidays and retire earlier; and many more European workers are either unemployed or on strike. ...

So the decline of work in Northern Europe has occurred more or less simultaneously with the decline of Protestantism. Quod erat demonstrandum indeed!

There's no need to get mired in the sectarian battle, although there is a discussion to be had among Christians. For the purposes of comparing secularism with religiosity, it is enough to note that European Protestantism has declined more dramatically than European Catholicism. At any rate, there has been a general decline in Christianity.

To summarize, people in less-religious post-industrial societies have smaller families with fewer children, don't work as hard, have slower economies, give less, demand more, and yet, I've seen no evidence that they're happier. In contrast, people in the more-religious United States have larger families, work more, give more, have more productive economies, and have more international confidence.

Somebody explain to me why our leading class looks to Europe for guidance?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:23 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 11/25/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "I Don't Want to Be Loved" by me. The recording is poor quality, and the instrumentation could do with some live instruments, but the depressed cynicism under the guise of ironic humor just about catches my mood today.

"I Don't Want to Be Loved" Justin Katz, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:51 PM EST


Just Thinking 11/24/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Thoughts at the End of the Day."

I'm calling it a day on the Just Thinking front. To any and all who've read the columns periodically or regularly, I thank you.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:57 AM EST


Tuesday in the Blog

Sorry about yesterday. Between the furnace going, the septic filling, work, parenthood, my column, and various other tasks, I've been spinning in circles. However, I have much to blog and intend to get through it all today.

Stay tuned.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:10 AM EST


Sunday, November 23, 2003

More False Responses

Given the refusal of many proponents of gay marriage even to fairly entertain reasoned argument against the innovation, it must be respected when the attempt is made. Unfortunately, I think the post by Mark Miller on Marriage Debate that I just came across misses a few central distinctions. Indeed, it seems to me to point to some shifting of logical threads that is endemic in this debate.

Mark responds to some responses by David Bianco to standard gay marriage arguments in the area of parental gender. For this post, the "standard arguments" are in bold, Bianco's response is in regular font, and Mark's response is in italics:

2. "Children need parents who love them. It doesn't matter if they are gay or straight."

I agree. I have no complaint with a lesbian who marries a man in order to raise children with him, for example. But having both a mother and a father is important. Ask yourself: If a child's parents were killed in an accident, all other things being equal, would it be better for that child to be raised by an aunt and an uncle, or by two aunts? If a little boy's mother died in childbirth, would it be better for him to be raised by his father and aunt or by his father and uncle?

Does he feel that a child with one parent who dies should be taken away and given to a two-parent (opposite-sex, of course) home. Or should the remaining parent be allowed to keep his/her child? In other words, should having two opposite-sex parents be the law in all cases?

Obviously, the damage done by tearing from one parent a child who has already experienced the loss of the other parent would dwarf any benefit that there might be to placing that child in a two-parent home. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that Mr. Miller would even think this comparable to Mr. Bianco's examples. At any rate, people whose spouses die can remarry. That is to say that being single is not an inherently permanent state, which is not presumed to be true of homosexuality.

3. "All the studies show that the children of gay parents are no more or less likely to be gay themselves."

Irrelevant, and ridiculous. Irrelevant because those studies (and there are also studies that say the opposite) focus on the sexual orientation of the parents, not the gender of the parents. And ridiculous because it just doesn't make sense. Given the number of people raised in repressive environments where coming out is less likely, doesn't it make sense that there would be some measurable difference just because gay parents aren't homophobic? Finally, my concern about same-sex parenting is not that it will make the kids gay, but that it will deny the kids a mother or a father.

I agree with David that these studies are irrelevant to this debate. Just as irrelevant as the studies that gay relationships are less stable than heterosexual relationships.

Mark's strategy, here, seems to be to cede the point, but to make a rhetorical consolation prize of one of the other side's arguments. The shift to the latter studies is mistaken because they address a separate dynamic of marriage. Bianco's comment has to do with whether children whose parents are in stable gay relationships are more likely to be gay, which is an outcome for the child that, to the extent that it is a possibility, may or may not be related to other factors of the child's well-being (all of which are relative to their probable state in different circumstances, such as an orphanage). The studies mentioned by Miller have to do with the actual stability of the parents' relationship, which is an entirely separate (and probably more important) factor.

Who would be a better bet for an adopted child: a couple that has been married for years with no significant problems, or a couple that is merely shacking up? Stability matters. (And no, this rhetorical question is not meant to characterize all gay relationships, just to illustrate a point.)

Apparently, restrictions of the Blogger software make the posts over at a little confusing. All posts are attributed, where posts are generally attributed, to Eve; however, the comments to which I've responded above were actually by Mark Miller, as indicated at the top of his post. I have changed the text above to correct my mistake.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:50 PM EST


Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blaaaah

Barry made a comment to my post about David Brooks's and Glenn Reynolds's support for gay marriage, and my response became sufficiently long and detailed that I thought I should make it a post of its own:


Yes, arguing with those who take such stances is a lot like arguing with teenagers. I emailed my David Brooks post to Mr. Reynolds shortly after I read his and Brooks's opinions, and watching the updates that he's chosen to make instead gives me the impression of a group of people intent on merely stuffing more straw into the strawman, as if to validate the beating that they're giving it.

They've rejected all forms of cultural wisdom, which requires either deep and difficult thought or the willingness to accept some degree of social "because I say so," and disconnected themselves from all forms of influence that conflict with their emotional drives. Therefore, the only basis for judgment happens to be emotional/personal inclination. Thus, they can only imagine that people who believe differently are either repressed or domineering or both.

The email that he posts from Bruce Bridges is a perfect example of the type. It pushes and pulls without ever making a substantive point — without ever making a true or valid point, for that matter:

As a single man that has not found the right girl even at this late date, I am one of those that has been pulverising all that is private and delicate blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blaaaaaaaaah.

Frankly, I'm suspicious that Bruce has ever faced such an argument made to him. He certainly didn't listen well enough to understand what the other person was trying to say. Instead, he covers his incomprehension with "blahs." And then he takes it as a personal attack, not a suggestion about how he might improve his own spiritual wellbeing:

The problem with those that need to point out my failings is of course that they can't stop themselves. First it was gays, then single sinners and of course eventually, married people that are corrupt enough to venture beyond the missionary position.

Huh? Where is this guy getting his chronology? What world does he live in? Morality has been crumbling, not being further, and more-harshly, molded. And it's hardly been a matter of picking on the fringes of sexual deviancy and working in, rather the fringes are always expanding on corrosion already accomplished.

The republicans would do well to recognize that this way of thinking is what most of us think of as "fringe".

Most of whom? Is he kidding?

More often than not, it seems to me, these people provide, with their arguments, proof of that which they claim to disprove. Reynolds is hardly a spiritual man, so I don't know on what basis he objects to the suggestion that he committed "spiritual suicide." More universally, it's obvious that he and many others are willing to follow erronious ways of thinking as long as they coincide with their sex lives. They may very well be happy people, but the problem that they refuse to face is that the reason for institutional practices is that, over the centuries, mankind has learned that certain decisions come at a higher risk of a higher cost.

The wealthy and/or the very lucky can get through their earthly lives without feeling or having to acknowledge the weight of their sins. But even when the damage does come, there's always a convenient boogeyman (or strawman) to blame and a further corruption in which to hide, rather than the decision itself. Moreover, the real, lasting damage takes place over time, and we're quick to lose sight of its origin.

So many in our culture have been coddled in a broth of like-thinking. You can see it in the clichés to which they resort and in their inability to question themselves.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:50 PM EST


The "Objective" Advocacy Continues

The other day, I wrote a letter to the Providence Journal because this report about gay marriage is nothing short of advocacy. Here's my letter:

Was Edward Fitzpatrick's phone busted the day he penned "Hope reborn for R.I. gay couples" (November 20)? He doesn't quote a single person making an argument against gay marriage. He mentions the Defense of Marriage Act without noting that some question whether it will stand up to judicial review. He doesn't even go to the extent of quoting religious arguments that others will find easy to dismiss.

Between the one-sided rhetoric, the worst-case sob stories, and the maudlin language with which he opens, Fitzpatrick's piece puts the Providence Journal's news department clearly in the category of advocacy, rather than reportage. Is it the Projo's intention to leverage its monolithic press influence in Rhode Island, removing one side of the discussion entirely from "objective" reports, to forward the political agenda of a small minority of its readership?

Perhaps the public debate won't degrade into dismissive and erroneous accusations of bigotry if reporters remember their training and maybe fix their phones. There are arguments against gay marriage — particularly if it's to be forced through the judiciary — and the Providence Journal ought to consider it a matter of duty to find them. (It isn't that hard.)

I tend to doubt that my letter brought it about, but today the Projo has at least reported on Courage, a Catholic group devoted to helping homosexuals to be chaste. But far from providing balance, it merely serves as a contrast by which to examine the advocacy. Whereas Fitzpatrick's piece was called "Hope reborn for R.I. gay couples"; the title and lead for the one today by Jennifer Levitz are: "Your libido is saying: Oh, come on; Oh, come on. If God allowed it, some members of a local group say they would like to be in monogamous relationships."

Bucking Fitzpatrick's one-sided strategy with his "Hope" piece, Levitz inserts contrasting statements from DignityUSA, another group of homosexual Catholics, but one that seems to think that God must be made to change His rules. (Somewhat ironically, the Dignity representative quotes mainly from the Old Testament to prove that the Church does not take a literal view of scripture, without noting that it took the birth, sacrifice, and resurrection of the Son of God to change the rules between the Testaments.) Most striking of all is the difference in tone. Here's how Fitzpatrick opens:

In many ways, the day was ideal.

With the June sun setting behind them, the Warwick couple stood barefoot on a beach, embraced by a semicircle of friends and relatives. Wearing white linen, they recited poems, exchanged vows and slipped gold bands on their fingers.

But the union lacked a crucial element -- the sanction of the state. As a same-sex couple, Nicole M. Jones and Iris I. Rodriguez could not be legally married.

Here's how Levitz describes a Courage meeting:

Rain fell on a recent night as the monthly meeting of Courage began in the rectory next to St. Charles Borromeo, a grand, church in the shadow of the Cranston Street armory in Providence.

The rectory looks like someone's grandmother's house. There is a picket fence around the garden and a yellow ribbon on the door. Inside, the kitchen was scrubbed clean and the tablecloth preserved with a covering of plastic. The windows were hung with ruffled curtains. The dark wood furniture was decorated with lace doilies. The coffee was on and the powdered doughnuts out. ...

At St. Charles, a loud, angry-sounding prayer could be heard through the closed door of the room where Courage was meeting.

I don't think one needs a degree in English to understand the picture being painted in the "Local News" section of the Providence Journal.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:21 PM EST


Saturday, November 22, 2003

The Gay Marriage Solution

I know this is presumptuous of some unknown blogger schmoe to say, but David Brooks completely misses the point with respect to gay marriage, almost to the degree that unthinking liberal blog-commenters have done. In other words, almost to the point of delusion.

The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments. It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity.

When liberals argue for gay marriage, they make it sound like a really good employee benefits plan. Or they frame it as a civil rights issue, like extending the right to vote.

While I disagree as a theological matter, as a civic matter, I can't help but agree with Brooks's suggestion about demanding homosexual fidelity, and I do find it "scandalous" that it remains such an issue among people who claim to be no different in their desires except for whom they desire. However, Brooks ignores entirely whether his proposed strategy will have the effect, in today's America, that he predicts. It is still a very open question whether homosexual marriage would follow this pattern or would push the envelope on the extent of "contingency" that already exists in marriage, against which Brooks rails. As I've written before, while the data is perhaps thin, all indications are that homosexuals, even those who are "marriage material," are not particularly concerned about fidelity. This factor could — perhaps — change in the future.

As it happens, I do believe that people who are, or consider themselves to be, irrevocably homosexual ought to pursue the most committed relationships possible. And I believe that doing so of their own accord is how they ought to make their case for changing the definition of marriage to include them. However, at this time, with courts willing to redefine marriage on the basis of a vote of four lawyers, and with the American media apparently more united behind this cause than behind just about any other issue to come along in my lifetime, allowing homosexuals into an institution to be shared with married heterosexuals is reckless to the point of insanity.

If we are to leverage the law so as to encourage fidelity in gay relationships (in any relationships), let's not employ half-measures. Rather than simply loosening the rules that the stamp of civic marriage requires in order to approve of a relationship, let's tighten them. Being "married" in a land of no-fault divorce won't change homosexuals, so let's make civic marriage truly "'till death do us part." The only way appeals such as Glenn Reynolds's that gay marriage would strengthen "traditional values rather than harming them" are valid is if gay marriage forces us to strengthen the marital bond in the eyes of the law.

So what do you supporters of gay marriage think: we'll pass a law allowing it, but at the same time, we'll make divorce (in any kind of marriage) possible only under the most extreme circumstances. We're after fidelity, right, Mr. Brooks? Well then, how about fines or other penalties for extramarital affairs? Sounds like a great compromise to me.

Any takers?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:20 PM EST


Friday, November 21, 2003

A Dozen for Debt

Here are the first 12 CDs from the next tier of my CD collection:

Alice in Chains, Sap
Alice in Chains, Unplugged
Bad Company, 10 from 6
Dan Baird, Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired
The Band, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
The Band, High on the Hog
The Beatles, Past Masters Volume One
The Beatles, Past Masters Volume Two
Black Sabbath, Paranoid
Black Sabbath, Sabotage
Boston, Move On
Boyz II Men, Cooleyhighharmony

All proceeds go to... me.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:30 PM EST


My Personal Blog or an AP Styleguide?

John Cole links to an AP article that contains the following sentence:

The brazen, coordinated strikes at some of Baghdad's most heavily protected civilian sites defied a U.S. crackdown.

Now, compare that to this sentence from an AP account of a previous attack:

But the bold blow at the heart of the U.S. presence here clearly rattled U.S. confidence that it is defeating Iraq's shadowy insurgents.

Note the difference in language? What made me notice the former sentence was that I complained of the latter sentence when I first came across it, rewriting it thus:

The brazen blow at the heart of the U.S. presence here clearly affected U.S. confidence about the rate at which it is defeating Iraq's underground insurgents.

I know, I know, I can't take credit for every switch to the use of the word "brazen." But I can imagine, can't I?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:24 PM EST


Bigotry Requires Obstinancy

Individual readers may or may not believe this, but I didn't expect, nor do I prefer, to post so much about the Mass. court ruling. We've anticipated the decision for months, after all. However, I'm coming to believe it imperative that we open up the way to honest debate. As it stands, the court, the media, and various "people on the street" are simply defining objections out of the discussion through appeals to our societal aversion to "bigotry."

The unabridged version of Merriam-Webster (the subscription-only version of defines "bigotry" as follows:

state of mind of a bigot : obstinate and unreasoning attachment to one's own belief and opinions with intolerance of beliefs opposed to them; also : behavior or beliefs ensuing from such a condition

The bottom line is that many of those arguing for gay marriage are presenting positions that more closely align with this definition than most of those who oppose the change. Even the Mass. court did this in its ruling:

The "marriage is procreation" argument singles out the one unbridgeable difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples, and transforms that difference into the essence of legal marriage. Like "Amendment 2" to the Constitution of Colorado, which effectively denied homosexual persons equality under the law and full access to the political process, the marriage restriction impermissibly "identifies persons by a single trait and then denies them protection across the board." Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 633 (1996). In so doing, the State's action confers an official stamp of approval on the destructive stereotype that same-sex relationships are inherently unstable and inferior to opposite-sex relationships and are not worthy of respect.

Of course, I disagree with the court's reasoning, regarding the suggestion of "across the board" denial of protection based on "a single trait," but beyond that, consider the final sentence. Is the court claiming to be in possession of proof that same-sex relationships are not "inherently unstable"? I'd suggest that it's generally held that men are typically the "less stable" half of a marriage, so what happens when they enter into relationships with each other? The court simply dispenses with the question as a "destructive stereotype." As for the inferiority of a form of relationship, in a general sense, that's obviously a matter of opinion, but in a specific sense, what evidence does the court possess that one isn't preferable to another in particular applications — for example, fidelity or child rearing? Again, the debate can and should be had, but the court has ruled it beneath consideration.

As I've suggested before, if fidelity is any measure of a relationship's suitability for marriage or child-rearing, then it manifestly is not mere bigotry to express concerns about families constructed around homosexual relationships. That a state court actually excluded consideration of this entire area of inquiry is among the most disturbing aspects of this whole controversy. That it is so difficult to make the "tolerant" people see where they are being intolerant is among the most frustrating.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:16 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from At First You See It," by A. Valentine Smith.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:21 PM EST


The End of an Old Trend Often Looks Like the Beginning of a New One

Lane Core quotes from a New York Times editorial that contains a factoid that I've heard quite a bit over the past couple of days:

In recent years, support for gay rights has sharply increased. A newly released poll found that although most Americans oppose gay marriage, views vary a lot by age. Older people oppose it 4 to 1, while young respondents are equally divided. That strongly suggests that eventually the views expressed by the Massachusetts court will be widely held. And Americans will come to regard this week's decision as they now do Loving v. Virginia — as a statement of the obvious.

The 4-to-1 versus 50-50 statistic is top-of-mind for those who support gay marriage, and as does the Times, they see it as evidence that gay marriage is in our future. But the language used for the statistics ought to perk up eyebrows; what are the cut-off points for "older" and "younger"? The first AP report to cite the study claims that opposition "grew steadily as people's age increased."

But perusing the actual Pew poll, one comes across this line graph of the actual results, which illustrates that the AP's view of "steady" is inaccurate to the point of being misleading. (Particularly if my suspicion is correct that a five-year "moving average" will tend to smooth out the curve.) Opposition to gay marriage shoots up almost 30% from those aged 32 to those aged 39; it then stabilizes among fortysomethings, dropping back down to about 55% (with some turbulence) by the early/mid 50s, but climbing back in the late 50s; it then climbs another 25% by 70 and plummets 30% from ages 70 to 80, before making up much of that loss by age 85.

Either a view of increasing conservatism with age or a gradual change in acceptance of homosexuality would seem to merit a smoother line. To make some sense out of these slopes, we have to consider that there are two ways to consider age-based data: as indicative of historical cultural trends, or as indicative of a single-person's lifeline. Although both are important in all cross-sections, I'd suggest that the significance of the lifeline view fades with age, while the significance of the historical view increases. For one thing, older people have been "formed" and "settled" for longer. For another, younger people are more in the midst, so to speak, of the cultural change, so they'll track more closely to the cultural elite's position on the issue itself.

Frankly, my historical knowledge is sufficiently lacking that I'm a bit puzzled by the huge drop in opposition among those who came of age in the 1940s. From personal experience, my sense is that people in this age group are more amenable to the comparison of the gay marriage movement to civil rights issues, seeing it in light of their generational experience with the Holocaust and racial segregation in the United States. This would seem to find some support in the fact that uncertainty (as indicated by the "don't know" line) shoots up from almost 0% to almost 30% for this age group.

More important to the future of the issue of gay marriage, however, are those born after 1940. Within this limited field, the largest dip in opposition comes among those in their late 40s to early 50s. This is the group of people who were born around 1950 — Boomers who hit college-age just at the ripe part of the 1960s. This is also the group that began coming into power in the early 1990s, when the push for gay civil rights really picked up steam... with increasingly ratcheted support from cultural elites.

It seems to me that their onslaught would have hit hardest among those in their 20s and early 30s, the same group, as it happens, that is evenly divided. I can't say for sure, but I would opine that this factor has gone a long way toward keeping opposition among this group so much below the middle line around which everybody else seems to hover. The question that I entered into this analysis to address is what this means for their future opinions.

Well, of course, the greatest determination will be what happens over the next decade or so. Nonetheless, if we assume that the lifeline, as opposed to the historical, analysis is strongest among this group, some hope emerges for conservatives: Uncertainty, here, is higher than for any other section under 70 years of age. Moreover, the "don't know" line more or less increases with age, before dropping dramatically among early thirtysomethings — the very same group that initiates the nearly 30% climb in opposition to gay marriage.

We can't put too much weight on this single poll — or on any polls for that matter. Society is in constant flux. But it seems to me at least plausible that, as this group enters into full adulthood — with all of the experiences and responsibilities that it entails — it will rebound to at least the median line. My own opinion, as a conservative Catholic convert who is still a few years away from the age at which the opposition to gay marriage currently takes off, is that mine will prove to be the most socially conservative generation that the country has seen in many decades.

Once we've fully shaken off the cultural dictates of the Boomer establishment, we'll see the fantasies through clarity provided by first-hand experience of their repercussions. No illusions have we. We have witnessed the horrible results that wishful-thinking weakness can beget, crystallized in attacks that killed or threatened many of our number. We are finding religion only to experience the scorn of our nation's elite. We are watching as popular culture hits the bottom and begins clawing at it, and while high culture and academia drift off into palpable nonsense.

All of us could have been aborted on a whim; some of us will learn, or have learned, that our siblings were. The wet dreams of our parents have been saturated with danger for us; we've felt that cold sweat when the blood results arrived. Our parents have divorced — some to enter into homosexual relationships.

To be sure, none of this belongs on the shoulders of people who are gay. Yet, it falls there because so much of it comes together in the issues in which they are involved. Mine has learned from previous generations that people ought to be free to live in ways with which we disagree. However, we have seen for ourselves that this freedom taken too far begins to affect us all, that the society does have legitimate claims on behavior the public sphere.

No honest thinker can deny that deception and delusion abound as our cultural pendulum swings out beyond the supporting beams of society. We who are "equally divided" have a central perch from which to watch attempts to sweep away a tradition that we are just beginning to explore, with the speed of change apparently justified on the basis of some strange fairy tale about a world without consequences.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:03 AM EST


Thursday, November 20, 2003

Ambushed in Confidence Place

Ambushed: Why George Herbert Walker Bush Really Lost in 1992 by Anne DuBose Joslin is the latest addition to Confidence Place: The Timshel Arts Store. For more information about the book, see the author's Web site: 7 Omega.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:25 PM EST


The Standard Piece Succeeded

Do you want to know what's really notable about today's New York Times article about the Weekly Standard report about the Iraq–al Qaeda link? No, not that the Times used every method to discredit everybody along the chain that brought this information to the public. Rather, the part I've italicized here:

"If you don't understand how intelligence works, you could look at this memo and say, `Aha, there was an operational connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda,' " a Pentagon official said Wednesday. "But intelligence is about sorting what is credible from what isn't, and I think the best judgment about Iraq and Al Qaeda is that the jury is still out."

The public opinion jury had been back for quite a while. Now it's left the room again.

(Of course, that poor jury is getting a lot of exercise. As I've pointed out, in 1998, the Times reported the verdict in a headline: "US Government - Bin Laden and Iraq Agreed to Cooperate on Weapons Development.")

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:11 AM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

This one comes very highly recommended; it is certainly worth a few minutes of your time.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:52 AM EST


Would a Dictionary Solve the Problem

I've taken the time to read the actual Massachusetts gay marriage ruling so that I can better address the truly horrible arguments that are being made on its behalf. I'll tell ya: it almost makes you want to throw up your hands and say, "Fine, let's just tear the whole damn thing down and have done with it!"

The first thing to note is all of the previous judgments — good and moral judgments — that have been coopted into this cause. Every measure to help usher children into stable environments, right down to "grandparent visitation," has been thrown in. (And yet, elsewhere, the court argues that marriage is fundamentally about the spouses, not the children.)

At bottom, the entire thing is a sleight of hand. The court agrees that marriage means and has, for our purposes, always meant (in the words of "the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law." Therefore, one could legitimately go through and, at every instance of "marriage" in the precedent, change it to "heterosexual marriage," because that is what was meant. Thus, we see that every argument of the court is either a non sequitur or beside the point; homosexuals are not discriminated against in their right to enter into heterosexual marriages. Neither are people who have no interest in marriage.

In order to give the appearance of getting around this, the court has absolutely opened the way for any arrangement between two people (the number limit applying arbitrarily for now). If anybody scoffs at the notion that we'll be able to marry siblings, you can be certain that they haven't understood the argument put forward by this ruling. Yes, there are spots in which consanguinity is mentioned, but the argument in full completely undermines its inclusion. (Indeed, what laws about consanguinity are on the books are exclusively opposite-sex, as might be expected since there was no such thing as same-sex marriage.) This court has dismissed the opposite-sex intent of every use of the word "marriage" in Massachusetts law ever, and its own logic practically requires subsequent courts to do the same with any other restrictions that this court, itself, places on the definition.

The delusion on which this decision hinges is captured naked in the following statement, which caused me to sit up in my chair and wonder who these robed tyrants think they're kidding:

Alarms about the imminent erosion of the "natural" order of marriage were sounded over... the introduction of "no-fault" divorce. Marriage has survived all of these transformations, and we have no doubt that marriage will continue to be a vibrant and revered institution.

Lord, please help us.

(Note: the words that I've cut from that final quotation were "the demise of antimiscegenation laws, the expansion of the rights of married women." I agree with both changes, and I agree that marriage survived despite the warnings of the opposition. But I didn't want the court to slip in "no-fault" divorce as if that a) is equivalent to the other rights-based issues or b) didn't damage marriage dramatically.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:22 AM EST


Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Seven Score

Lane Core marks the 140th anniversary of the Gettysburgh Address.

I'm sometimes amazed at how truly young our nation is, yet how distant the past seems. It's odd to think that, when my grandmother was a girl in Virginia, there were still veterans of the Civil War walking the Earth. To her, the Civil War is like World War II to kids now.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:20 PM EST


Make It Go Away!

I'm sorry if you've had enough of the gay marriage talk from me, but there's just so much to say (after even more head shaking). On the anti-gay-marriage side, people are looking for ways to discuss the point with those who reject religious arguments out of hand. On the pro-gay-marriage side, there are folks proving (check the comments) that they are just as willing to reject non-faith-based arguments out of hand (i.e., on faith), although they'll pretend to be interested in hearing them.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the middle are people like John Cole (who has been rapidly moving up my list of to-read blogs), who seem just to turn the issue off:

I officially refuse to become mired in the gay marriage debate because I simply do not care what consenting adults do in the bedroom. Unless it is my bedroom, thank you very much.

Let me say this one more time (with feeling): Marriage is not exclusively, or even primarily, a bedroom relationship. In fact, that the gay marriage initiative seems to encourage this thinking strikes me as prima facie evidence that it is already serving to diminish the institution.

Yet, folks with strong libertarian streaks seem to wish the whole thing merely to go away. Perhaps it hits too close to a huge weak spot of libertarianism: that government cannot be defined without reference to morality, whichever way that morality goes, and that the society to be governed has a right to influence that definition.

I don't believe that this applies to John, but it seems to me that, for a great number of these people, their libertarian streaks are an echo of the liberal call for tolerance uber alles. They are emotionally disposed to recoil from strongly made moral statements, so they are loathe to explore whether those statements have an intellectual basis. Everything in their reaction points to an emotional justification for pushing the issue away so that they don't have to reconcile what they say with the likely real-world results of their advised policies.

For example, if opposition to gay marriage is purely opposition to what is done in the bedroom, and if one rejects that as a criterion, then what is done in the bedroom could be nothing. That is, marriage could be between anybody and any number of people. Whether or not they find this possibility objectionable, it may push the libertarian sorts to seek to end the conversation there by declaring that the government has no role in marriage (an argument that I once flirted with). This, in turn, moves to the heart of what government is, should be, and cannot help but be.

Once again, however, it is much easier simply to declare the thing a "non-issue" and ignore any and all repercussions. That's a very disappointing attitude to find among people whose opinion one respects.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:36 PM EST


That Incorribly Right-Wing Talk Radio!

Local talk host Steve Kass was discussing the Massachusetts gay marriage issue, and over the course of an hour (which is much more time than I have to spare), I was more and more inclined to call in. Kass is in favor of gay marriage, as is everybody whom I've come across in the Rhode Island media. He sort of reminds me of my grandfather, although Kass is quite a bit younger, in his approach. He sees ours as an evolving society, and he can't imagine people choosing to be gay. Therefore, he concludes that society can justly evolve such that people can be happy no matter the cards that they've been dealt.

However, I don't think he understands how much the culture and the youth environment has changed since he was young. For my grandfather, this generation gap is most pronounced with race. Far from being a monolithically oppresive nation for gays, in regions of our country, certainly the one in which I grew up, there was undoubtedly a gay caché. Even if that weren't true, people choose all sorts of lifestyles that others see as undesirable. Devout Catholicism, for example.

This relates to something that really hit me — smacked me upside the ear — as I listened to the show. Kass's call-screener, a young guy named Jeff, came on the air and ranted about how he's sick of sitting there listening to "crazy" people quote from the Bible. "Just go away," he said. "Go live in Bibleland."

I don't think we have instruments capable of measuring the speed at which that kid would have been whipped out the door if his comments were the reverse. Can you imagine? "We've been sitting here for an hour listening to these crazy people talk about their perverse lifestyles. Just go away. Go to Queerland."

So, anyway, I took a few minutes to calm down, and then I decided that I would follow through with my previous intention, which had been to make a non-Bible-based argument against gay marriage — something that, amazingly, nobody had done comprehensively. I dialed. A gruff-sounding Jeff put me on hold. He came back, and I explained the essence of my point. A minute later, Steve Kass said, "Okay, let's go out to Portsmouth." The phone clicked and I said, "Good morning."

And I discovered that I'd been disconnected. When I turned on the radio, Kass was speaking with some woman. Now, I don't know if I was the Portsmouth person whom he mentioned. I don't know whose finger hit the wrong button and disconnected me. And I certainly can't claim that it was intentional. Isn't it suggestive, though?

Rather than try again, I just sent the following email to Kass. We'll see what he says:

I tried to call, but was disconnected. I'm a better writer than speaker, anyway, and your screener certainly added a level of anxiety to making the call.

My first point is that the Mass. court decision does open the way wide for any type of arrangement: "the right to marry means little if it does not include the right to marry the person of one's choice, subject to appropriate government restrictions in the interests of public health, safety, and welfare." I don't see how brothers, for example, wouldn't have a legitimate claim on that basis.

My larger point reflects, as you said, that society changes, evolves, and it's proven more than a little reckless to let this swing like a live wire. This is why it isn't valid to argue that it won't affect my marriage; the question is whether it will affect my children's marriage — my children's society. I think that's beyond doubt, but it represents a worthwhile discussion.

But I don't think the argument is at the point of addressing that. We're still figuring out the forum for the debate. It is simply wrong to declare that the law has nothing to do with morality. It is impossible to avoid it, and indeed, a presumption of morality, however derived, is a founding principle of our nation. But the fact that the written law cannot apply with undue discrimination is why the legislature makes the laws, not the courts. If the courts can decide what's right, proper, or "where we are as a people" — changing the definition, as you admit, of what "marriage" means — then we could save a whole lot of money and time by dissolving legislative branches.

Personally, I'm sympathetic to committed gay couples, but I don't think it's yet been proven that they are the rule, or that they are enough of the rule to prevent corrosion of the institution. It's also pretty clear that there's no reason society will brake after including gays in the institution. In other words, it isn't gay marriage, necessarily, but what comes with it. Consider the degree of reinterpretation of the Bible that came with Bishop Robinson; more to the point, consider that he added extra-marital sex and divorce into the mix of Episcopalian acceptance. At the very least, gay marriage is bringing with it a judicial oligarchy. What else will it bring with it? Well, that's an argument to be had, not dismissed.

Frankly, I think Jeff illustrated the future of this movement with his "just go away" comment. "Go live in Bibleland?" People who quote the Bible are "crazy"? As offensive and unprofessional as his comments were, I think they're more important as a warning of a mindset that has no patience for differing opinion. Canada (a nation that the Mass. court cited in its opinion) already has multiple examples of acceptance of homosexuality in private and religious spheres being mandated.

Well, this is such a nexus of an issue that I could go on, but this is long enough as it is. Frankly, I'm beginning to worry that many in the media have no interest in conveying the less-easily-dismissed arguments of the other side. I guess there's always Bibleland... or perhaps a backlash in America that goes beyond what most Christians would like to see.

One thing's for sure. I'm not calling in to this station anymore, with the foreknowledge that the screener thinks I'm a hateful lunatic. That being the case, I don't know that I've got much reason to listen, either.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:24 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:59 AM EST


Songs You Should Know 11/18/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Hessian Foxtrot" by You; the song is closer to out-there jazz than rock, but it sure illustrates the versatility of the band.

"Hessian Foxtrot" You, Alternative Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:58 AM EST


Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The Curmudgeons Are Always Right

That's how Glenn Reynolds put it just now on the Hugh Hewitt radio show. He was referring to two posts from Eugene Volokh (here and here) pointing out that those who suggested, in the '70s, that the Equal Rights Amendment would lead to gay marriage were ridiculed. Essentially, the slippery slope argument can be valid. And what are the slippery slope people saying gay marriage will lead to?

Well, nevermind that now; it's more than a little frightening.

Turning back to the issue of activist courts, this AP report suggests that the entire range of objectionable threads are united in this decision. The court is redefining marriage, it's dictating action on the part of the legislature, and it even looked to legal activity in Canada for inspiration. It may be that what the slippery-slopers would predict for gay marriage is mild by comparison to the noose that could be lowering around every consensual government around the world as courts grab more and more power and coalesce into one global institution.

And as that happens, the courts will become increasingly political and inclined to play tricky games for public consumption. I think that component is in this ruling as well, and it is, therefore, the most objectionable part of the whole thing: the 180 day window for the legislature to act is more like window dressing. The consensus has quickly become that the only real option for the legislature, if it objects to the court's decision, would be a constitutional amendment. That might not be impossible to enact, but unfortunately, the amendment process in Massachusetts requires the action of two consecutive two-year legislatures and finally a public vote. The earliest such a thing could come into being would be 2006.

Surely, the state Supreme Court — which took an extra six months to consider its decision — knows the amendment process and has some idea of what it will and will not be possible for the legislature to do. So, why would the court now postpone the effects of its ruling for too short a time for the legislature to do anything about it? It could be to phase in the backlash. It could be to appear reasonable, even as it takes more power for itself. Whatever it is, I don't like it, and the people of America shouldn't either.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:54 PM EST


Finishing Out the First Lap

Well, here are the last CDs of my first lap through my collection. Please bid.

Jerry Seinfeld, I'm Telling You for the Last Time
Soundtrack, Days of Thunder
Soundtrack, Dead Man Walking
Various, An Epic Tour de Force
Various, Greenpeace Rainbow Warriors
Various (3 CDs), Guitar World's Super Fuzz
Soundtrack, Judgment Night Street Legal Version
Various, Lollapalooza '92
Various, Red, Hot + Dance
Various, The Rock n' 70's
Various, Independent Music Sampler
Various, Slayer, Biohazard, and Machine Head, The Tour '95
Various, Spew 2 Sampler
Various, Strung Out
Various, A Very Special Christmas
WCBS FM101.1, Ultimate Christmas Vol. 2
Soundtrack, Wings of Desire
Various, Woodstock (2CD)
Various, Selections from "Working Class Hero"

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:20 PM EST


Hold on to Your Seats

Do you ever lean back from your desk and marvel — just marvel — at the insanity of the world? One issue that does it for me most frequently is homosexuality. About three percent of the population is swinging like a loose electric wire igniting tradition and history. 2,000 years of Christian teaching about sexual behavior — including homosexuality, extra-marital sex, and divorce? Up in flames for the cause of a single bishop. The timeless link between marriage and heterosexuality — whereby marriage represents the linkage of a man and woman? Zap.

Yup, the Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that marriage is, well, just about anything two people (or more) say it is. NRO's Corner has the best discussion so far (scroll up from here), and it appears that the Supreme Court has essentially punted it to the legislature. I've argued all along that the issue actually belongs with that branch, but the catch is that the court has inserted the boundaries of the discussion. I haven't read the whole decision, so I can't say how pernicious the court's ruling is. But suffice to say that it's reversed the burden from where it ought to be: requiring homosexuals to make the case for their unprecedented inclusion.

That, ultimately, is the sore spot today. Common knowledge — historical meanings and cultural agreement — has been ruled not "constitutionally adequate" in court. Gays have a right to marry because, well, the court says so, and with the help of the media, the American judiciary will seek to push the agenda of this influential minority onto the majority. Just look at the AP headline: "Mass. Court Strikes Down Gay-Marriage Ban." This distorts the facts beyond recognition. There is no "gay-marriage ban." Gay marriage never existed. It has only become an idea within recent years. The headline should read "Mass. Court Redefines Marriage."

So, hold on to your seats everybody. I'll be absolutely honest: I don't care if people are gay. As with so many other things that I'm willing to overlook in my dealings with people on the basis that it is not relevant to our relationship, I feel compelled not at all to seek to "convert" homosexuals who don't bring it up with me. But that's not the limit of what America is being asked to do. We're being asked no less than to reorder our entire society for the whims of a small minority.

It also seems likely that we're being required to give up our more essential freedoms, such as the right to disagree with the elite, in the bargain.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:55 PM EST


A Is Forever, B Is a Limited Time Offer

In the comments at Mark Shea's blog, C Matt makes a good point that relates to Minute Particulars Mark's suggestion that the al Qaeda link can't just be an after-the-fact justification for the war in Iraq. Here's C Matt:

Assume you go to war on claim A, and in good faith believe claim A to be true. In fact, most agreed that, at the time claim A was true. But, as it turns out, claim A was false. Does the ... falsity of A always nullify justification, regardless of how well founded, good faith, reasonable it was to believe A true?

And here's the statement from MP Mark that I wish to juxtapose with the quotation from C Matt:

If it's merely bringing to light what was clearly and solidly behind the reason for our invasion in the first place, then it would seem to reinforce the claim that the decision was just. However, if this is really an ex post facto justification, then I think it's morally problematic.

Call the WMD argument "A" and the terrorist link argument "B." Mark suggests that, if argument B arrived after the war (which it didn't, but ignore that for a moment), then it does not apply to deliberations over justness. In this context, I'd like to see Mark address whether the reverse intention gets the same privileges. As C Matt says, if A was universally thought to be valid before the war, does it matter whether it disappeared as a true suggestion after the war? (Which it didn't, but ignore that for a moment.)

If those who take the anti-war position were as circumspect as they claim to be, I'd have expected a lot more verbiage suggesting that, not only was the WMD claim wrong, but the President knew it to be wrong.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:41 AM EST


Well, I Guess We Should Have Known...

... that they would react this way. The question is whether we can afford to ignore them.

I'm talking about the Iraq fretters. I was finally preparing to ignore Mark Shea on the issue (see here, here, and here). However, since Eve Tushnet, in her roundup of the Iraq–al Qaeda news, quoted the single most bothersome piece of Shea's slippery thinking, I thought I should address it. Here's what Shea wrote:

So while it will be a very fine thing if, in fact, a support of Al-Quaeda is out of the way. But it will be a very bad thing if, in tradeoff for that, we transform ourselves into a nation which says the ends justify the means. The question that still needs to be attended to is the justice of the war as it was when we launched in it in March when Bush said there was no connection between Saddam and Al-Quaeda.

Not only is Shea's timeline off by months, with the President's now infamous comment on the issue being made on September 17 of this year, but he continues either to miss or to distort what the President clearly stated: "There's no question that Saddam Hussein had al Qaeda ties." The only question, and it is a question that could be answered in the affirmative, is whether Saddam helped out specifically in the September 11 attacks.

Shea links to the following from Mark at Minute Particulars:

If it's merely bringing to light what was clearly and solidly behind the reason for our invasion in the first place, then it would seem to reinforce the claim that the decision was just. However, if this is really an ex post facto justification, then I think it's morally problematic. I explain why in the two posts below from earlier this year. [Which I addressed here. — ed.]

That these "ifs" can even be proposed suggest to me that these normally serious thinkers have simply decided that their burden is to stick with the Pope's stance on the war until the very last bit of air is taken out of the accusation that the U.S. attacked aggressively. Remember when the very same people were complaining that there were too many reasons being given for war? Well, now they're jumping from one to the other so as to avoid being proven wrong. The terrorist link argument was made all along, and all throughout the '90s. But there are a great number of people who will take any measures to justify their doubt or opposition.

I wish we could ignore them.

My wife was home a little later this morning than usual, so I had the opportunity to break my general rule about blogging first thing in the morning. Therefore, I think my Pope comment, above, made this post a bit more aggressive than I wanted it to be. Of course, I used "the Pope's stance" emblematically, because not everybody who falls in the category that I'm describing is a Catholic.

But I remain convinced that there is some irrational motivation, whether it is the internal battle of split loyalties or the desire not to lose what investment of time, thought, and emotion people have made arguing against the justness of this war. They've merely seen what they've wanted to see.

Shea, for example, continually expressed discomfort over the "shifting arguments" of the pro-war side before the war, yet he never gave any indication that he understood, or even considered, the suggestions that it was one total argument being addressed on its particulars. This is why it seems like the al Qaeda link has come out of nowhere.

Let me remind everyone of the President's State of the Union address... in 2002:

Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September the 11th. But we know their true nature. ...

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

WMDs, links to terrorism, and dictatorial brutality have been the argument all along. Now, it is still possible to argue that even if Saddam had some WMDs and hidden programs, even if Iraq had a working, albeit shadowy, relationship with al Qaeda, the war was not just. It would be valid (although naive and wrong) to argue that it was not enough that Hussein, his capabilities, and his connections represented such an unpredictable danger — that some evidence of imminence was still required. It can also be argued that it is irrelevant to calculations of justness that "time was not on our side," that windows of opportunity were closing and might only be reopened by a nuclear blast.

But people aren't taking that position. Those who continue to oppose the war argue as if a link, or as if evidence of weapons of mass destruction, would be sufficient. Then, when evidence is presented for a particular aspect, they argue that it might not have been the "real reason."

What's it going to take before folks begin to wonder whether they missed something way back at the beginning and have, therefore, not fully comprehended the argument being made?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:51 AM EST


Monday, November 17, 2003

Just Thinking 11/17/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "The Physics of the Antichrist, a Theory of Everything, VI of VI: Social Laws of Nature, Coming and Going." This is the last essay in a six-part response to Frank Tipler's book, The Physics of Immortality.

In this edition, I:

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:13 PM EST


Sunday, November 16, 2003

A Quick Question (sort of quick and sort of a question)

I just caught the panel on Fox News Sunday, and the moment Fred Barnes had finished talking about the Weekly Standard piece about the Iraq–al Qaeda link, Juan Williams jumped to the attack. From memory:

"Even the President said there's no evidence of a link." ("Whoa, whoa, whoa," said Brit Hume offscreen, "that was only about 9/11.")

"We all know that Iraq was a separate issue, and now you're trying to conflate them."

I've heard comments such as Juan's before, and they seem immune to evidence. They seem immune to argument. They seem, in other words, like dogmatic positions. Williams's comments illustrate perfectly the way in which many left-leaners completely misunderstand the entire War on Terror and what is required for its successful resolution.

I've wondered why the administration, the Pentagon, and everybody else with a stake in the outcome would keep this sort of information so quiet. Recalling that the President did indeed say that there's "no question" of ties between Hussein and bin Laden, I imagine that there's some reason to keep specifics classified; for example, a particular conduit for intelligence might still be open. Yet, the press is content to let the entire story sit as if there is no question that the link was out of the question. What's it going to take for the issue to get some play?

This is simply unacceptable. Thanks to the conspicuous silence of the Democrat mainstream media, the vast majority of Americans have no idea that there's any evidence of any link whatsoever, let alone darn-near-conclusive evidence of a long-term working relationship. Unable to believe the risks that such people are willing to take with their countrymen, I find myself wondering how the history books will portray our times. Hopefully, the presentation won't be one of evidence of Allah's goodness in making his enemies confused and, therefore, weak.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:07 PM EST


Saturday, November 15, 2003

Milking Harvey Milk

I fully expect Harvey Milk, New York City's high school for gays, to become somewhat of a dating service, if not an orgy center. This won't be the intention of those who set the school up, nor of many of the students. However, even leaving aside the differences in sexual ethos between heterosexuals and homosexuals, gays are defined, as a group, exclusively on the basis of their sexual preference.

But I didn't anticipate what Joel Mowbray has reported:

Last week, police arrested five cross-dressing Harvey Milk students who posed as female hookers and robbed men who approached them for sex. According to news reports, the teens dressed up as female hookers, and when would-be johns approached to solicit sex, other students posing as cops would start "arresting" the men.

After allegedly taking wallets, cash, ATM and credit cards—and apparently brandishing a gun in at least one case—the students would say something like, "You're not such a bad guy," and "release" the men. But before the men were set free, several of them divulged their PIN numbers, allowing the Harvey Milk students to withdraw as much as $1200 from each person's account.

I tend to agree with Mowbray's assessment, which expands to cover what I mentioned above:

There's obviously nothing inherent to homosexuality that causes or leads to violent crime, but maybe there is something about a homosexual high school that does. Taking scared, confused youths—many of whom may incorrectly believe they are gay or bisexual, just as many teens who later turn out to be gay or bisexual believe in high school that they are straight—and putting them into a segregated environment could be the equivalent of putting a lit match in a tinder box.

After another incident, during which Harvey Milk students stabbed a man in the back with a screwdriver, classmates of the (alleged) perpetrators went right to the script: the man had made "homophobic" remarks.

One really must feel for these kids, who are at the nexus of so many problems that our society is getting wrong.

(via J Bowen)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:54 PM EST


No More Wasted Breath

So here's a question for Catholic and non-Catholic anti-war voices alike: If Saddam worked with al Qaeda throughout the '90s and early '00s, including financial support and training (some of it perhaps directly related to September 11), then the war was undeniably just, right?

I'm just curious, because I find myself being pulled into the WMD discussion — mostly because the argument can be made on that basis alone, in my opinion — yet the al Qaeda component is always there. Of course, I suspect that bringing it up, now, will elicit cries of "shifting arguments." Some, maybe most, anti-war folks will insist that Bush didn't make the case based on the link, so it wouldn't really matter even if Saddam had handed Atta his plane ticket.

Such people are not to be taken seriously.

I noticed, when I posted about the New York Times last night, that the Weekly Standard Web site was down. That's kind of curious, given the nature of the article to which it seems everybody on the Internet would like to link. Anyway, Instapundit has found the whole thing reprinted with commentary. Interestingly, in the comments of that post, somebody from Free Republic posted a link to a 1998 NY Times article with the following:

Both indictments offer new information about Mr. bin Laden's operations, including one deal he is said to have struck with Iraq to cooperate in the development of weapons in return for Mr. bin Laden's agreeing not to work against that country.

No details were given about whether the alleged deal with Iraq led to the development of actual weapons for Mr. bin Laden's group, which is called Al Qaeda.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:54 AM EST


Friday, November 14, 2003

Bias as a State of Being

Tacitus inexplicably links to a New York Times article, "In U.S., Fears Are Voiced of a Too-Rapid Iraq Exit," as evidence of the administration's "marked unwillingness to stick things out." I was going to post about the facts that, first, a look at troop deployment in the country shows a steady, though slight, decrease in U.S. troop strength and a largely unmentioned surge in Iraqi security personnel (now at 115,000 plus) since May (contrary to hints that reduction is a political reaction to continued violence) and, second, the 105,000 U.S. military personnel represent a best-case scenario, with 43,000 National Guard and Reserve personnel put on notice that they may be called. (Some of these, but no more than 20,000 may be included in the 105,000 figure; I can't tell.)

But then I just got bogged down in the sheer audacity of the Times's bias. It begins about halfway into the article, just after assurances from the administration that leaving before the job is done is not an option:

Nevertheless, many experts say they are concerned that the administration is carrying out a schedule that, coincidentally or not, fits into the desire of many Republican politicians to reduce the vulnerability of American troops by cutting them back by next year.

Who are those "many Republican politicians"? Beats me; the Times gives no substantiation for that statement. As for the "many experts," this paragraph is followed, sequentially, by comments from:

Then we get this:

For the most part, Republicans in Congress and among administration supporters in Washington have not parted company politically with the administration on Iraq, at least publicly. But that is beginning to change.

So, what Republican should the Times quote to illustrate this change in harmony? Why Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, of course, a Republican who has been advocating against the war in Iraq since before most of America knew it was a proximate option.

When finally we get to a conservative, the Times stuttersteps through a confusing paragraph and then quotes William Kristol as follows:

"Too many people for my comfort are looking for an exit strategy, and this administration is making too many noises that sound like an exit strategy," Mr. Kristol said in an interview. "But I believe that, at the end of the day, Bush is not pursuing and will not pursue an exit strategy."

I don't know to what, specifically, Mr. Kristol is referring, but from where I sit, it appears that the administration is being made too look as if its members are making such noises, regardless of what they actually say or do.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:26 PM EST


Setting Up the President

I'm a little late on this, but I still wanted to comment. Part of the reason for my delay is that I decided to hold off on offering opinion when I first read about that letter that President Bush sent to a church of activist homosexuals.

After all, the letter is pretty generically worded, and it strikes me as entirely appropriate for a Christian to emphasize the guidance of faith in God for homosexuals (well, for everybody, really). But as it turns out, such letters seem to usually be things that organizations request (or even that new parents request). In other words, the whole thing, timing and all, appears to have been a set-up.

Of course, I sort of wondered about the principal teachings of a "gay church" with a minister who is endeavoring to import Canadian homosexual marriages through the courts. If it's true that the church requested the letter, then comments from the minister, Troy Perry, would seem to merit the label of deception:

"President Bush was wrong in his endorsement of a week dedicated to denying equal rights to gays and lesbians," he said, according to the website "And while we appreciate the sentiments he expressed on MCC's anniversary, the president has sent a very mixed message that makes his effusive praise of MCC's 35th anniversary all the more puzzling."

At any rate, I join the President in hoping that God guides the members of this group.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:58 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Dragons," by Gary Bolstridge.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:53 PM EST


Pre-Complaint Apology

Before anybody says anything (as if anybody would do other than just go away), I want to apologize for something that may or may not be noticeable.

At some point yesterday, I felt my run of clarity slip away. It'll come back (it always does), but in the meantime, I may not write or make intellectual connections as well as I would like.

Just so's you know.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:03 PM EST


On the Heads of the Press

I don't think it'll happen, but if the United States were to exit from Iraq too quickly, it would lead to turmoil in the Middle East and almost a guarantee of more terrorist attacks within our borders. And if that happens, the blame will be on the heads of the international press, which has, at every opportunity, twisted words and facts with abandon for the purpose of convincing the Western public that the war is already lost.

Denis Boyles has a must-read column on NRO today (note: the following is sarcastic):

As I was going through all this, I had a houseguest, a chap who had just left his prestigious, babe-magnet of a job at the San Francisco Chronicle to take up the more honorable business of writing a book about grandmothers. We discussed how America lost the war in Iraq and concluded that, really, a school bus filled with militants could defeat the United States on the ground, so long as they had a sufficient supply of landmines, rocket- and grenade-launchers and demo-derby vehicles. We figured all it takes is media-savvy sensibility, a largely hysterical press corps, and an atrocity every day or two. If you're a rebel or militant or whatever, and you get a Hummer to roll past your bomb, you have a global PR machine primed and more than ready to promote your product — that would be the explosion — until it was a full-fledged "spiral of violence." If you can pull that off, in a few weeks, you'll have POTUS diving for cover.

I thought of this yesterday when I came across an AP report entitled, "Bush Seeks to Speed Up Handover to Iraqis." I'd swear that the opening paragraph of this report has been changed, modifying the implications of the article, since yesterday... but I was tired when I came across it. At any rate, it seems that the piece was sufficiently misleading — in conjunction with such reports as the London Telegraph's " Bush speeds up the exit strategy" — that today the same AP writer, Barry Schweid, has published "U.S. Has No Quick Exit Strategy for Iraq" (which somehow manages to correct yesterday's false impression while remaining negative).

What was perhaps most telling about yesterday's splash, however, was that it derived largely from some brief comments by the President at the end of a press event about judicial nominees. Moreover, these words from the President were noticeably absent from the report:

Bremer was telling me about a survey done by an American firm in Baghdad, for example; and it said that by far the vast majority of people understand that if America were to leave and the terrorists were to prevail in their desire to drive us out, the country would fall into chaos. And no one wants that. And so I'm confident we'll prevail in the long run.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:35 AM EST


Thursday, November 13, 2003

Hard Questions Taken Up Fairly

Noah Millman, who is Jewish, has written an amazingly fair meditation on the actions and reactions of the Catholic Church in the build-up to World War II, as well as the implications for the throes of protest from Andrew Sullivan about its position on homosexuality. Although I don't have the time or mental energy to give the piece the thought that it would require for an intelligent response, I wanted to point it out for two reasons.

First, the inquiry raises immensely difficult questions. And they are questions that bear not only on how we defend the history of our Church, but also on how we believe our Church should act.

Second, I worry that the Church has set itself up for similar criticism with respect to Iraq. As the humanitarian situation there continues to improve, issues related to those that Noah raises will expand to this episode of history. And again, this bears on how we believe our Church should act — and in a context that is of immediate importance.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:14 PM EST


If You're Not Like Me...

... in that you've got time to kill, here's a Flash application that enables you to create "paper" snowflakes.

Check out the gallery; how do people find the time and energy to create such detailed designs?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:56 PM EST


Insuring Other People's Dreams

"I think there's a perception that people without health insurance are being irresponsible and the underlying notion is we don't want it," Dormody said. "Underneath it all comes down to affordability." ...

"Obviously, I'm a risk taker," Dormody said. "But this is a risk I'd rather not take."

So says 31-year-old Debora Dormody, on whom the Providence Journal focuses in a report about the growing number of working adults who have no healthcare. One in five of those adults are, as is Dormody, self employed.

In 2000, Dormody quit her marketing job to begin a designer book-binding business, expecting to have advanced enough within a year to be able to afford insurance. Now, she's got two part-time employees, a sales representative, and half of a $600-a-month studio, but no health coverage. Claiming that her after-tax income last year was $1,000 dollars, she says she just can't afford the $200 or so per month.

I'm not quite sure how those numbers work out. As a teenager, I made more than that working part-time in a record store. Unless Dormody relies on her cohabiting boyfriend for just about everything, it seems to me that there's more to the income story than she's letting on. After all, she can apparently afford to "load up" on Echinachea rather than put up with the minor inconvenience of a cold. Moreover, if she took a part-time job herself, making even minimum wage, she would only have to work about an extra hour-and-a-half per weekday, or one weekend day, to cover health insurance.

Look, I sympathize with Debora; I'm probably very much like her in a lot of ways. But I've got a real problem with the message that she is used to further in this article. From what the Projo says, Dormody wants it all. She wants to be able to make the choice to leave a steady job and begin her dream company, but she wants me and every other person in Rhode Island, and/or the United States, to chip in and cover any real risk, such as to her health.

That sort of risk has just got to factor into the professional decisions that we make. It also has to factor into our personal decisions. For example, perhaps her boyfriend's employer offers an extended plan to cover spouses; why not get married? This may or may not apply to the woman in question, but it is very easy to see the formation of consequence-free existence as an ideal. The problem is that such lifestyles cannot be universal, so somebody else has to pay the price somewhere along the social line.

That somebody could be me, struggling to get by, with my "office" in the corner of my attic, working additional hours each week to qualify for health insurance.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:54 PM EST


A Note on Thursday

I've got pages on which to comment piling up in my bookmarks, and I'll try to get to them soon. Meanwhile, I'm working on the last of my six-part column series, and have other stuff I'm trying to get done as well.

I just wanted to let you know that things are a-comin', some of them worth reading, even.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:26 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Three Women on a French Canal," by Heide Atkins.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:40 AM EST


Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Song You Should Know 11/11/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Someday Somehow" 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 "Someday Somehow" 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.

"Someday Somehow" Dan Lipton, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:50 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:48 PM EST


Condi's Lies? Or an Educational Quagmire?

I may have spent too much time researching the history for this post, but as a victim of America's educational quagmire, I rarely begrudge time spent chipping away at my ignorance. This is particularly the case with history, a subject with textbooks so thick and saturated that reading them is like wading through a rice paddy.

Back in August, both Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld compared the situation in Iraq to that in Germany in 1945. I don't know if the ensuing controversy is still permeating the Internet or is poised for a resurgence, but Steve at Absit Invidia just yesterday noted it, saying (without substantiation), "the Bush propaganda machine constantly tells us that we had similar casulaty problems in post WWII Germany and Japan."

Here is the entirety of Rice's mention of the comparison in a speech to the 104th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars:

There is an understandable tendency to look back on America's experience in post-War Germany and see only the successes. But as some of you here today surely remember, the road we traveled was very difficult. 1945 through 1947 was an especially challenging period. Germany was not immediately stable or prosperous. SS officers -- called "werewolves" -- engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with them -- much like today's Baathist and Fedayeen remnants.

And here's the relevant chunk of a Rumsfeld speech from the same day:

Indeed I suspect that some of you in this hall today, especially those who served in Germany during World War II or in the period immediately after the war were not surprised that some Ba'athists have kept on fighting. You will recall that some dead-enders fought on during and after the defeat of the Nazi regime in Germany.

Here's how war correspondent Martha Gellhorn described conditions in Germany after the arrival of allied forces. She said, "At night the Germans take pot shots at Americans or string wires across the roads or they burn the houses of Germans who accept posts in the military government or they booby trap ammunition dumps or motorcycles or anything that is likely to be touched."

One group of those dead-enders was known as "werewolves." They and other Nazi regime remnants targeted allied soldiers and they targeted Germans who cooperated with the allied forces. Mayors were assassinated including the American appointed Mayor of Achen, the first major German city to be liberated. Children as young as ten were used as snipers, radio broadcast and leaflets warned Germans not to collaborate with the Allies. They plotted sabotage of factories, power plants, rail lines. They blew up police stations and government building, and they destroyed stocks of art and antiques that were stored by the Berlin museum. Does this sound familiar?

Like the death squads in Iraq they failed to stop the liberation of Germany and they failed in rousing the population of Germany to widespread revolt. Indeed as one historian put it, "Werewolf intimidation only increased public hatred of the Nazi regime...German civilians sometimes led allied troops straight to where werewolf supply caches." The vast majority of the German people like the vast majority of the Iraqi people were glad to be rid of the tyrannical dictatorship.

I'll be honest that there is probably some deliberate overstatement here, with the Werwolves being used almost metaphorically. This aspect is mitigated, however, even beyond the complete validity of the point that the German/European reconstruction did not go flawlessly, because what there is of oversimplification in the Rice and Rumsfeld comments is forgivable in the context of our media environment, in which nuance is rewarded with deceptive headlines. That is not to say that there are no legitimate claims of similarity; Rumsfeld, having devoted more words to the analogy, endeavored to keep the comparison in perspective.

Rumsfeld notes that he is talking about the period "during and after the defeat of the Nazi regime," and the events that he mentions took place during the spring, "after the arrival of allied forces." According to the L.A. Times:

One reason for that ambiguity is that a few days before the Nazi surrender, the SS officially disbanded the werewolves. But in the last month of the war, as Germany collapsed, Nazi radio propaganda called on German citizens to take up arms to resist the occupying forces. Members of the Hitler Youth vowed to join the werewolves in attacking Allied troops, and some individual Germans who resisted after the surrender adopted the term "werewolf'" to describe themselves.

The Dallas Morning News has reported that:

Aachen Mayor Franz Oppenhoff, for example, was assassinated in March 1945, two months before the war ended. Aachen lies in western Germany, near the Belgian border, and was the first major city occupied by Allied forces.

It is clear that Rumsfeld, at least, is including the last few months before the official German surrender on May 7, 1945. It is debatable whether that's fair, but that debate only highlights what is different and similar between the two conflicts. If one takes the administration officials at their word that Iraq was part of a larger war, then the similarities are manifold. The Allies moved across Europe, recapturing countries on their way to Berlin. In that respect, it is reasonable to compare enemy subversion in captured areas in spring 1945 to an Iraq in which a substantial number of the insurgents are terrorists from around the Middle East.

Among the differences is what U.S. forces can currently get away with given politics back home. First of all, Germany was left in utter defeat after years of war, which is something we should all be happy to have avoided in Iraq. Second of all, University of Maryland history professor Jeffrey Herf notes, "Between 1945 and 1949 the Western Allies alone interned 200,000 former members of the Nazi Party, its various organizations and former Nazi government officials. Over 100,000 were indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Of them over 6,000 were convicted and something over 800 death sentences were carried out." Imagine the uproar if the administration sought to intern a comparable number of Iraqis.

If Rumfeld and Rice were guilty of not limiting or justifying their cut-off dates and the like, those who've too strenuously attacked Rice and Rumsfeld have far more egregiously engaged in a selectively narrow analysis. Former Clinton National Security Council aide Daniel Benjamin, whom Absit Invidia cites, is correct that RAND Corporation's comparison of various reconstruction efforts lists the total U.S. "postconflict combat-related deaths" in Germany as zero (see figure 9.4 in the Chapter 9 PDF). But he does so in such a way as to measure the conflicts with an ambiguous yardstick.

Not only does RAND begin the clock after the complete surrender of the enemy, but it apparently leaves out 45 deaths that a 1953 Pentagon report listed "as a result of enemy action" for 1945 and '46. That's still much lower than the Iraq total, but it's above even the 43 deaths that RAND notes for Somalia. I suppose the difference is the definition of "enemy action" versus "combat," and I wonder how the various casualties in Iraq would fall. I also wonder what the other Allies experienced in post-war Germany; Rice and Rumsfeld refer to the whole coalition, while their critics refer specifically to U.S. casualties. Is it possible that Russia, the U.K., or France had the Sunni Triangle of Germany? I can't find any information suggesting a conclusion either way.

What is clear to me, even through the "fog of peace" that followed academia's surrender of my mind to the real world, is that the battle over history is real. Unfortunately, far too many Americans have neither the resources, background, nor interest to form complete pictures that will put the political wrangling over distant historical facts in perspective.

I'm sure that the vast majority of you readers, who have come here via Instapundit, have already seen it, but I wanted to note that The CounterRevolutionary's helpful service of perusing New York Times articles from the 1940s for comparison purposes relates well to the above. One such article notes gang attacks on U.S. soldiers, and one can speculate how such occurrences would be played in the same paper today — probably as either indication that the troops aren't sufficiently respectful of local cultures and are turning the people against us or merely as further manifestations of insurrection. Similarly, I wonder whether the 1953 Pentagon report included such incidents in its tally.

As the Heritage Foundation mentions in Condi's defense:

Werwolves weren’t the only problem. Violent crime, thievery and black-marketing were rampant. Germans incessantly complained to U.S. military officials about inadequate public safety. And these threats paled in comparison to the physical privations. Many feared masses of Germans would freeze or starve to death in the first winter after the war. To suggest that the first year of occupation was anything less than a dreadful, harrowing experience for many Germans is just bad history.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:46 PM EST


Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Everything Old Is New Again

Wow. They really do think it's Vietnam all over again:

In my humble opinion, supporting our troops is about giving diplomacy many chances to work. It's about not getting our young men and women killed or turning them into killers or otherwise scarring them for life.

It's about not letting gray-haired men who never fought send them into war for obscure reasons. It's about telling them the truth about just who our real enemies are. And, if that truth is so horrible it means they must go to war, it's about having a plan to bring them safely home again.

That's Don Williams, ironically of New Millennium Writings. How exciting it must be for these people that rhetoric from the Vietnam era that had grown stale now tastes fresh again. I'm so confident that one could find almost those exact words in an article from the Sixties or Seventies that I'm not going to bother looking. "Gray-haired men." "Obscure reasons."

Mr. Williams has a few gray hairs of his own, I notice.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:19 PM EST


Another Batch o' Debt Reduction

Well, I'm certainly hoping that the bidding wars continue over my various CDs. Please consider helping the cause by bidding on the latest batch:

Henry Rollins, Big Ugly Mouth
Henry Rollins, The Boxed Life
Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde
The Wailers Band, "My Friend"
Barry White, Selections from Just for You
XTC, Apple Venus, Vol. 1
Xtra Large, Now I Eat Them
Soundtrack, Airheads
Various, The Album Network, Tune Up 39
Soundtrack, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Various, Capricorn Records, Sampler Volume One

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:47 PM EST


Jeff Jarvis: All Too Human

Craig also posts in disagreement with Jeff Jarvis, who characterizes the outcome of the CBS Reagans controversy as mob rule. Craig's response is correct:

Jarvis acts as though only the mob can censor or restrict programming. He is not that naive. Networks and studios make decisions everyday that shape what we see on TV. One reason conservatives were angry is that they knew CBS or Miramax will never fund a Clinton mini-series that is as shoddy, exploitive and dishonest as the Reagan drama. No one is going to base a prime time movie on Gary Aldrich's book or The American Spectator's reporting.

There's more here, though, and I think it indicates an importance in remembering that folks like Jeff Jarvis are old-media types dabbling in — and differentiating themselves using — new media. In this case, Jarvis is showing himself to be all too human by expressing some objection when the "mob" makes decisions with which he personally disagrees. It is very easy, of course, to make appeals to the wisdom of the masses when the masses' conclusion is equivalent to one's own.

Back in February, Jarvis complained about interest groups' expressing concern that media consolidation would lead to further corrosion of television content into debauchery by writing:

Let's get this straight: Sex sells. Sex is fun. Sex is good.
Gotta problem with that? Then you're the freak, geek.

At the time, I wondered how a self-proclaimed populist could have a problem with keeping media as localized as possible, supporting, instead, consolidated media corporations through which a few could dictate the free-TV content for the entire nation. Indeed, I turned a Jarvis comment from last November in order to illustrate this human tendency to agree with agreement even at the expense of consistency, and that comment applies even more directly to the issue at hand. In November 2002, Jarvis wrote:

Simply put: If you don't innately trust the aggregate intelligence, taste, and morality of the people, then you do not, you cannot believe in democracy or capitalism.

Unless, I suppose, the "aggregate intelligence, taste, and morality of the people" involves furor over the blatant falsehood of a purported "biopic" about a conservative President.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:24 AM EST


Those Dumb Men

Craig, of Lead and Gold, writes about something that has been increasingly obvious and bothersome:

I don't doubt that if you totaled all the spending on these commercials you would conclude that "husbands are dumb" is the most popular advertising message in America. If TV commercials can shape the image of a sneaker or beer, what is it doing to the image of marriage.

Craig thinks that the broader trend of disparaging males — which isn't restricted to the commercials — might be contributing to the declining numbers of men who bother with the television. My personal sense is that this is correct; I know that, each season, I watch fewer shows regularly, and it is certainly true that I've noticed an apparent disinterest among the television people about whether men care that they are constantly portrayed so badly.

Although, at the same time, television producers are giving men an inroad into victimhood status, which we can hopefully use to scuttle the entire ethos. As John Derbyshire wrote in the context of a "privilege walk":

22. If you saw members of your race, ethnic group, gender, or sexual orientation portrayed on television in degrading roles, take one step back. (-1. Yet again, I can't believe they are serious. My "gender" [by which I assume they mean my sex]? Degrading? Have these cretins ever watched any TV sitcom? Those shows, I mean, where the men are all dithering doofuses, being herded and corralled by sharp-witted women? My race, too: Starting with Roots 25 years ago, there has been a whole flourishing genre of TV dramas featuring cruel, evil white people doing beastly things to colored folk. For crying out loud: If a TV drama has a white person and a black person in it, which one is more likely to be the villain? Can I step back two here?)

But remember, boys, no whining! We'll scuttle victimhood through stoney example, not through (ugh) empathy. We should all just bottle our emotions... and take our eyeballs — and wallets — elsewhere.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:36 AM EST


Seeing the World Clearly

Keep Lane Core in your prayers. He is having trouble with his vision, having to do with blood in his eye.

Of course, the prayers wouldn't be entirely without self-interest — if the problem is not entirely fixed, it is sure to slow down his blogging.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:22 AM EST


Monday, November 10, 2003

Taking Advantage of Seasons Enspirited by Others

Lane Core notes a conflict involving the secular utilization of Christian tradition:

Hap Corbett, editor and publisher of The Christian Response newsletter, is fighting a crusade to get the Christmas Seal and Easter Seal people to stop exploiting Christianity's two most sacred feasts just to raise money.

Ever since the two organizations started sending out seals and asking for donations to support their good work — and Corbett admits they do good work — they have been using Christmas (the American Lung Association) and Easter (the Easter Seals Society) as their themes.

The problem is, Corbett points out, both organizations absolutely refuse to recognize the religious aspect of the two feasts even though they have been asked to do so many times. The Easter seals have pictures of flowers — Easter lilies — but nothing related to Christ's Resurrection from the dead. The Christmas seals have pictures of snowmen, sleds, toboggans, pine trees, candles and other winter scenes, but nothing even remotely related to Christ's Birth.

It's just a fact of reality that Christian holidays have taken on secular significance. However, I'd suggest that a line begins to be crossed when the focus is on secularizing Christian holidays specifically. Would "they" ever put out a Ramadan Seal that only had a picture of the desert?

Lane's got more information.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:32 PM EST


Studio Matters Notes & Commentary: Janet Malcolm / Susanna Coffey

Keeping with her forthright, insightful, and sometimes cutting analysis of art in the modern world, Maureen Mullarkey's latest Notes & Commentary essay is "Janet Malcolm / Susanna Coffey."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:24 PM EST


Where I've Been All Day


I just wanted to post a note for regular readers and to those who've sent me links: I will get to posting today. I just had to actually go into the office this morning. (I know! Who ever heard of such a thing?)

Therefore, I'm behind — even more behind than I would have been without the 80-miles-each-way drive.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:27 PM EST


Sunday, November 9, 2003

The Matrix of Dogma of the Atheists

I've been following a discussion at the Web site of Michael Williams — a fiction writer, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science, and a Christian.

It has to do with the superficials of the theology presented in the Matrix movies. Personally, although the first film wasn't bad, I have no interest in the ideas put forth therein. My cousin once said that the first movie changed the way he thought about reality; I told him to be careful, because it's slippery ground (onto which my father pushed me when I wasn't yet a teenager).

As might be expected, the conversation on Mr. Williams's page shifted almost immediately outside of the context of the movie. And as might be expected, I find myself surprised at my surprise that, rather than move such a discussion forward, the atheists seek to rephrase specific questions in ways that are more amenable to their arguments. For example, commenter Mike Northover writes, "To say that historically poor people were allowed to die ignores the fact that this was practice in a lot of strongly christian countries as well." Yet, nobody said anything about such historical practices. The theistic argument has been that burdensome welfare-like healthcare isn't justified, in a Godless world, merely by the fact that unhealthy poor can cause health problems outside of their sphere; it would be more efficient just to exterminate them. It's a bit beside the point, but one could respond to Mr. Northover with the suggestion that it is beyond the power of even the most devout Christians to prevent poor people — or anybody, for that matter — from dying.

Northover's next sentence reminds me of a particular myopia that I myself fell to when an atheist: "God has nothing to do with how people treat each other, people do what they want and interpret the word of god to suit them, no matter what." One can carry that argument into higher levels of abstraction, suggesting, for example, that one's upbringing and emotional experience ultimately make self-denial for the sake of others the least uncomfortable option (through guilt, shame, and other social mechanisms). Thus does the sinner define virtue as merely another form of sin.

Michael Williams responds in a way that might answer Mr. Northover, but would still be susceptible to attack on the more abstract basis: "That's not true; my interpretations of God's Word are hardly construed for my own benefit. Generally they're quite difficult." The abstractionist would simply say that Michael has been convinced that not attempting to live in accordance to God's Word would ultimately be even more difficult.

That may or may not be true, and both sides would have to offer some evidence and argument. Ultimately, I think the atheist would win a Pyrrhic victory, here. From personal experience, I'll attest that I'd put up with quite a bit of discomfort for the sake of religion in order to avoid the periods of absolute dread and despair that result when one attempts to feel the reality of a Godless world. That fact, however, is proof of the initial theistic suggestion: there's no morality without God. Or, to be more specific, there's no morality without belief in God. It's a peculiarity of the atheism of the last century to believe that the option that is more difficult to accept must, on that basis, be true.

But back to Northover's less-abstract suggestion: "people do what they want and interpret the word of god to suit them." That simply isn't supported by a broad, fair assessment of humanity. Oh sure, it's a tendency that we have, fallen as we are, but it's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy to declare it Truth. Consider the tear in the Episcopal Church, as the liberal wing seeks to do just as Northover suggests and interpret God's Word to accommodate open and active homosexuality in a divorced bishop. How does Northover address the Bible-based opposition?

Some might (and do) address it by presupposing a bigotry that the Bible has been interpreted to suit, and that's a whole other discussion, but at the very least, it's an instance of the "interpreters" projecting their practice on the traditionalists. A similar give and take arises with the secular topic of whether the U.S. Constitution is a "living" document. Suffice to say that one ought to be suspicious when "progressives" argue that traditionalists merely interpret tradition literally because it suits their traditionalist biases.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:42 PM EST


Saturday, November 8, 2003

A Madness I Have Never Known

As I've come out of the fog of obligatory liberalism of post-sixties youth, I've thought what bizarre times the sixties actually must have been. From the pop-culture point of view, the era has the appearance of an unreal happening. Protesting because it was cool. "Hey, man. We tripped out and told those fascist pigs the deal." But once one comes to realize that there were actually people who held differing points of view, in those times, one can begin to appreciate the impression of a country gone mad that must have existed among other groups — conservatives, say.

I'm starting to get that feeling about Iraq, and it's starting to make me angry. I just came across a Slobodan Lekic AP piece entitled "Official Says U.S. Has Advantage in Iraq." Right off the bat Lekic pretends that the war has gone so horribly wrong that its supporters are undeniably on the defensive:

A senior U.S. official insisted on Saturday that the U.S. military has the upper hand in the escalating war in Iraq, on a day when two paratroopers died in a roadside ambush and the international Red Cross said it was closing two main offices due to deteriorating security.

"Insisted"? What is that meant to imply? That's the sort of word one uses to describe an assertion made in the face of daunting evidence. Instead, it's Lekic's starting point. And here's why:

The sharp rise in the number of attacks against the troops of the U.S.-led coalition and their allies in the Iraqi security services, and the guerrillas' apparent ability to strike at will, has prompted fears that the initiative in the conflict is slipping from the coalition's hands.

"Has prompted fears." Among whom? Mr. Lekic is a reporter; how about he give his readers a damn quotation? How about some data or facts? But we all know that Lekic has no need of facts; after all, there's a victory to undermine, a difficult but far-from-impossible task that must be spun beyond salvation. Just look at that phrase "the guerrillas' apparent ability to strike at will." Excuse me? Lekic couldn't mean that the guerrillas are doing as much damage as they want to. It appears that "strike at will" doesn't mean, say, "able to attack any target at any time," but something more along the lines of, "able to pull off attacks of varying utility here and there."

Again, how about a single factoid to give the claim some validation, or at least some context? For example, how many attempts are foiled? You know, reporters can do things like ask questions, so perhaps it's time for "objective" journalists to take off their editorialist hats and get a military official's assessment of how freely the enemy is able to strike in Iraq. (Oh, of course we know that any military official would simply "insist" that the guerrillas aren't able to "strike at will.")

The worst part is that it isn't just the journalists, whose credibility as a group is plummeting, who are behaving as if they live in some fantasy world dreamed up by a tipsy U.N. Committee on the Meaning of It All. Just read (and then pinch yourself and read it a second time) this evidence of complete asininity at the Red Cross:

"We decided that in view of an extremely dangerous and volatile situation that we would have to temporarily close our offices in Baghdad and Basra," said Florian Westphal, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Westphal said the organization was studying how to keep its work going on a reduced level throughout the country. He said the ICRC had decided against seeking protection from coalition forces _ which would undermine its policy of strict neutrality in world conflicts.

"We would run the risk that people on the ground would think, 'OK, because they walk around specifically with coalition force protection, this means that they are now allied and work together with the coalition,'" he told AP. "Obviously for our way of working we have to be neutral. There is just no way around it."

It's almost enough to leave me speechless. Almost. One side is actively attacking the Red Cross; the other side would freely provide assistance in the Red Cross's mission, without seeking to usurp the effort, and everybody except wackos and liars knows this to be true. Nonetheless, this relativist spokeswoman for an international organization that receives a great big chunk of its funding from the United States chooses to abandon those who need its help because asking for protection might give the impression that the Red Cross officially prefers a free society with a strong humanitarian streak over a die-hard group of terrorists and fascists who kill indiscriminately in the hopes of returning the nation to the clutches of a brutal dictator.

Absolutely insane. Despicable and insane.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:26 PM EST


A Quick Response to the View

From the Core, that is. Lane Core suggests:

Those who approve of the unconstitutional federal ban on partial-birth abortion forfeit the moral authority to criticize the Supreme Court for overstepping its constitutional role. No matter what they think they are doing, they are really making arguments that tend to leave us further and further at the mercy of an ever increasingly omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent federal government.

I have sympathy for this argument, but I think Lane puts it a bit strongly. Multiple arguments could be said to preserve "moral authority" in this case. The one that I use has to do with the fact that the Supreme Court opened the door, and the Legislature has now put a first-ever cap on that ruling. It's a bit like when the Democrats argued that elections shouldn't be a matter of court decision, in reference to Bush v. Gore, although all the Supreme Court had done was to restrict what the Florida court could demand.

I know there are other, Constitutional, methods that the legislature could have used in this case, but the problem is a practical one: most of them would be stronger in import and, therefore, not the sort of thing you use to solve a very limited part of a larger problem. For example, even for pro-lifers, does it make sense to seek a Constitutional amendment only for partial birth abortion? I think that would open the extremely dangerous door to amendments for micromanaging.

If the goal is to end abortion in this country, there are two practical ways to look at the PBA ban. Either we were better off with this horrible practice included in the larger abortion package, thus having a wedge for argument, or we increase our chances at overturning Roe v. Wade by drawing a stark line (even an unconstitutional one) from which the logic of abortion's evil is inescapable. I go with the latter, because even the most apathetic fool must be able to spot the contortions of the pro-death crowd as they try to explain why it was outrageous to want to ban a woman's right to stick scissors into her child's brain. (And I note that, at least from everything I've seen, the pro-abortion types are sticking with their emotionalist rhetoric about choice; as Lane notes, they can't very well turn to legal principles that they themselves first trampled.)

As for whether this increases the reach of our federal government, I have to wonder how that could be so. One branch has held that a form of infanticide is protected by the federal government, and another branch has declared that it is banned by the federal government. Personally, I'd call it progress if we could shift the overreach to a branch that is (or can be) held accountable through elections. The way to go with this one, I'd say, is to seek to turn the pro-abortion arguments against legislative overreach into arguments to remove the whole group of laws and rulings from the federal purview.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:48 AM EST


Shhhh... Hear that? It's the Neocons!

I wanted to take a moment to express my marvel at the methodology by which liberals turn everything into a neocon conspiracy. It really is a thing to behold.

In a post that is heavy on insinuation and wild speculation and light on substantiating linkage, Josh Marshall links three times to the same article, from August, by Warren Stroble in an attempt prove that the story, the other day, about the supposed last-minute chance for peace, was actually a neocon attempt to regain security clearance for a middle-level bureaucrat, Michael Maloof. Here's Marshall (follow the link above for context):

Now, if I'm on the line for these unauthorized contacts with the gun-running businessman, wouldn't it be a lot harder to punish me for it if it looked like that contact almost allowed me to secure a deal that would have averted the need for war?

And if that's the case, wouldn't it be cool if my buddies and mentors went to the press with the story of how I almost saved the day?

You can almost deconstruct this word by word.

Is Maloof "on the line"? Well, he lost his security clearance back in 2001, perhaps as a result of infighting around his claims of an Iraq–al Qaeda link (claims that I'd say have been vindicated). The meeting with Arab businessman Hage was in January 2003. And Maloof lost an appeal to regain his clearance in May 2003. In other words, it doesn't sound like we're at a critical juncture in Maloof's case, and if he's on the line, then that line had been lowered to the ground by the time his "buddies" sought to lift it.

Were the contacts "unauthorized"? I've searched multiple sources to find the justification for what looks to be a Marshall-originating characterization. The only thing that comes close is the information in a New York Times article, to which Marshall links, saying that, after the initial contacts, Richard Perle could not get CIA authorization to meet with Iraqi officials.

Is Hage a "gun-running businessman"? Well, he's a businessman. As for the guns, the only information I can find is that, when he attempted to fly out of the country after his mission for peace (so to speak), he was detained for having a single handgun in his luggage. Newsweek gives him four stun-guns, too. If this is "gun-running," then that once-lucrative industry must be among the last to begin emerging from the recession.

I don't know about you, but the factual timeline seems to require a bit too much fudging for Marshall's theory to be very likely. Moreover, it seems downright bizarre to suggest that pro-war officials are seeking to hold up Maloof as the guy who nearly "saved the day"? Saved it from whom? Them? This is a complication that billmon, who adds a layer of spin to the truth already distorted by Marshall, notes:

The whole story smells like a rotten fish. It has disinformation written all over it -- the latest product of the neocon fantasy factory. If so, it has to be considered at least mildly remarkable that the neocons woud intentionally float a story that makes United States look (to the non-GOP fraction of the world, anyway) like a irredeemable war monger, just to salvage the hide of a lower-level member of the cabal.

At this point, the rhetoric about neocons is beginning to make them look like bumbling fools who somehow control the world with their clever manipulation of the facts — foolishly giving ammunition to a hostile press that somehow manages to parrot the party line while simultaneously seeming to be biased in favor of the other party.

For clever manipulation without the facts, we can look to the liberal spin-bloggers. Marshall and billmon imply and assert, respectively, that Maloof's friends in high places handed this story to the press to bolster his image. However, looking through all of the pieces listed here, plus some that carried the "deal that got away" story on Wednesday, I see no indication that this would be the case... except perhaps for that sneakily buried parenthetical that Marshall cites in the Times piece. The only article that seems to open that possibility is the Stroble piece from August, which didn't get much play and (most important) doesn't mention the Iraq angle at all, merely suggesting that Hage "approached Maloof on behalf of Syria to seek help in arranging a communications channel between Syria and the Defense Department."

However, as I noted on Thursday, Newsweek lets quite a bit more slip as far as who might be pushing the story:

... the meeting between El-Hage and Durnan, then special assistant to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, has attracted the attention of congressional investigators who are probing the Bush administration's handling of intelligence during the run up to the war on Iraq.

Sources tell NEWSWEEK that investigators want to know if White House officials blew an opportunity to avoid an invasion of Iraq. Others see the meeting, and others that took place overseas involving Pentagon officials as part of a secretive intelligence operation that was set up by administration hard-liners within the Defense Department and functioned outside the boundaries of the U.S. intelligence community—and without congressional oversight. "It was a renegade operation," says one Democratic investigator. But Bush administration officials insist the secret intelligence team was a benign effort to alert policymakers to proposals and information that was being ignored by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.

Skimming through the Times article reveals that much of the primary evidence that isn't directly from Hage comes from the sorts of documents that might have been turned over for the Congressional investigation, such as administration officials' email exchanges. It also clears up some of the timeline confusion, considering this from the AP the day before the Hage story broke:

They said committee staff will need time to conduct interviews and review documents that began arriving after committee leaders sent a series of letters last week to the White House, CIA, Pentagon and State Department. ... The senators said they have received material from three of the agencies.

Oh sure, it makes for a much more plausible scenario that the Democrats leaked some findings from the classified documents that they recently procured from the Pentagon to a staunchly anti-war, anti-Bush media for the purpose of earning another free ticket to step up to the discredit-the-president booth for another shot at winning the prize of the Presidency. But those darn neocons sure are tricky.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:02 AM EST


Friday, November 7, 2003

What Does the Title Matter, Anyway?

Steve links a bit too credulously to a foreign AP article, giving only its title: "Little Evidence Syrians Heading to Iraq." Frankly, I'm stunned... these reporters (or at least the headline writers) must not think anybody actually reads the text. Consider:

Asked at the Pentagon last week about fighters in Iraq from other countries, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said between 200 and 300people believed to be foreigners have been captured, with a "high percentage" from Syria and Lebanon.

Mideast counterterrorism officials in Jordan, another of Iraq's neighbors, don't believe foreign fighters entering Iraq are recruited in any organized way by militant groups. ... Most of the foreign fighters are believed to be Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Yemeni, Kuwaiti and Saudi, the officials said.

So, with just about everybody listing Syrians among the foreign fighters in Iraq, what justifies the headline? Well, it seems that the migrant fighters aren't gathering in Yarmouk before they go. I'd say that could certainly have to do with the changing nature of the war, particularly Syria's need to put on its best face, thus: "Syrian authorities have barred all citizens except businessmen from traveling to Iraq." Nonetheless, "Syrian officials say the long, porous border makes it hard to stop infiltrators."

Some of you might not believe this, but I do make an effort to read all of the evidence of the evil plotting and deception perpetrated by the pro-war "neocons" with an open enough mind to spot real missteps. But the problem is that every single time I read one of these reports, it takes almost no thought at all to find gaping holes in the claims made on their basis.

Despite that, however, I have no doubt that the dubious claims will be rehashed, in Steve's words, when "the neocons start saying that Syria represents a 'grave and growing threat' to baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and American maternity." Truth? That's the first sacrifice in the attempt to exorcise the neocon demons.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:21 PM EST


The Shining and King's Absolution

Over in the Corner, Mike Potemra suggests of the movie The Shining:

The dread in that movie is much deeper and more existential than what you get when Freddy and Jason jump out of the bushes and cut somebody's head off. The latter involves a momentary shock, and a lot of special-effects ketchup blood. What Jack Nicholson's character, Torrance, undergoes is much worse—the realization that he himself is fundamentally evil, predestined to do horrible things to his family: The story of the previous caretaker who killed his family is not a spooky historical anecdote but somehow the truth about Torrance's own being.

I don't remember how the movie ends, but Potemra's comment relates to something that bothered me very much as a young man reading the book version. Throughout the book, it's somewhat ambiguous whether the hotel is really haunted or Torrance is merely sucking his family into his delusion. In an artistic sense, I guess it doesn't matter, because, as Potemra suggests, there's an overlap of being and of causation between the evil of the hotel and the evil of the caretaker.

What has always bothered me about the book, a point that is made sharper by Potemra's analysis, is that Stephen King absolved Torrance of his evil by giving the reader a view of "the shape of a huge, obscene manta," which he explains as akin to "a large dark cloud of hornets rising in the hot air," a "single group intelligence" of demons searching for the person who destroyed their home. In the next scene, Halloran, the chef who saves Torrance's family, hears voices in his head trying to get him to kill those whom he had just saved.

Then, in the epilogue, Halloran tells Danny to grieve over "what happened to" his daddy. Of course, it's the sort of thing that one would say to a little boy regardless, but the question is what it says about King's intention that he put it in. Just before that, Halloran divides the world into good and bad people, saying:

Good people die in bad, painful ways and leave the folks that love them all alone. Sometimes it seems like it's only the bad people who stay healthy and prosper.

It always seemed to me that King pulls back from the harder question of Torrance's nature and his ultimate responsibility. He was just possessed by a giant bug thing. He wasn't a flawed human, but a good person whom evil overpowered against his will.

Flipping through the book for the first time after my college studies, I note that, also in the epilogue, King does one of those things that white male authors seem to think gives them some credibility with racialist readers who think they find the markings of America's true race relations within the subtext of works of fiction. Halloran, who is black, has just asked Mrs. Torrance where Danny is, and she points to him a ways away fishing:

"He's gettin brown," Halloran said.
"Yes. Very brown." She looked at him fondly.

Ah, twentieth-century American fiction... as long as Danny stays where the sun will darken his skin, he may very well avoid the horrors of his birthright, which he witnessed in full while living in a resort hotel for the ultra rich in the north, surrounded by all that white snow.

(And, yes, I could make some suggestions, in this context, about what it might mean that King had to take the blame off the adult white male in the end, but come on — it's Friday!)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:51 AM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:00 AM EST


Thursday, November 6, 2003

The Next Flash in the Controversy Pan

Bill Cork has spotted the next controversy, and happily, it's apparently one that even pro-war Catholics can use to unite their thus far split loyalties on this issue: reports that Iraq offered a negotiated settlement days before Colin Powell spoke to the UN. Richard Perle was "not enthusiastic about the offer" but "was willing to meet with the Iraqis. ... The United States government told me not to." ...

If so, the war was, as the Vatican has maintained, unjust, and pursued not only on the basis of bad information, but on the basis of false assertions to the American people.

Unfortunately (from Newsweek of all places):

THE MURKY OVERTURE—which bypassed normal diplomatic procedures—never went anywhere in part because immediately after the meeting, the businessman, Imad El-Hage, was detained at Washington’s Dulles International Airport on suspicions that he was trying to smuggle weapons out of the country. U.S. Customs inspectors discovered an undeclared semiautomatic .45 caliber pistol and four stun guns in El-Hage's luggage. They also found he was carrying the business card of Pentagon official Jaymie Durnan. Although he was questioned by FBI agents, El-Hage was allowed to board a plane home to Lebanon because he was carrying a Liberian diplomatic passport.

In any event, Pentagon officials insisted the businessman’s approach was never taken seriously and likened it to one of many "crackpot" ideas that got presented to the U.S. government on the eve of war. Nevertheless, the meeting between El-Hage and Durnan, then special assistant to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, has attracted the attention of congressional investigators who are probing the Bush administration's handling of intelligence during the run up to the war on Iraq.

That wouldn't be these "congressional investigators," would it?

Let's just give this idea a moment's serious consideration. As disagreeable as it may be, put yourself in Saddam Hussein's shoes. After more than a decade of getting away with defying the U.N. and U.S., a new American President, with the mandate of a horrifying terrorist attack within his borders, is changing the rules of international diplomacy (mostly by endeavoring to remove the wrinkles in which tyrants such as yourself [Mr. Hussein] manage to hide). It is beginning to look unlikely that he's going to accept the delays that your friends in the United Nations have been trying to insert into the timeline, and you decide to make overtures toward a peaceful resolution — including, if it must be so, legitimate "free elections" that might cost you your job (not to mention your head).

Do you get one of your top men on the phone to call one of this new "cowboy" President's top officials? Or maybe seek to offer the U.N. this new ticket to relevance in exchange for some extra leverage during negotiations? Why, no, of course not; you have your head spy call a Lebanese insurance company president to act as a go-between!

Returning to ourselves (and breathing deeply of the free air), we can now forget this bout of imagining and go back to our entirely political wrangling. For some, that means blithely throwing this controversy onto the anti-Bush scales, no matter the specifics, because "even if it were [a legitimate offer], the Bushies wouldn't have paid much attention to it."

Well, at least I'm on the same wavelength as Scrappleface.

1 Comment (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:07 PM EST


Another Score to Settle (my debt)

The eBay CD auctions are going better than I could have hoped; thanks to anybody who's bid on any of them. With the CDs that were at the bottom of my pile selling so well, I'm actually very curious to see what happens to the bidding as I move toward the CDs that are more to my current tastes.

Anyway, here are twenty more. If any are to your tastes, please consider bidding on them to help a poor blogger lower his gargantuan debt:

Red Hot Chili Peppers, BloodSugarSexMagik (radio safe promo version)
Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Give It Away"
Rolling Stones, Desert Island Survival Kit
Rollins Band, Weight
Sand Rubies, Sand Rubies (promo)
Seal, "Crazy"
Seal, "Killer"
Seal, "Newborn Friend"
Shamen, En-Tact
Smashing Pumpkins, "Bullet with Butterfly Wings"
Smashing Pumpkins, "Zero"
Snow, 12 Inches of Snow
Sonic Youth, Dirty
Soundgarden, Songs from the Superunknown
Tears for Fears, "Laid So Low (Tears Roll Down)"
Richard Thompson, It
Toto, Tambu
U2 with B.B. King, "When Love Comes to Town"
U2, "The Fly"
U2, "Mysterious Ways"

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:40 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "SanGimignano (Siena) Italy," by Len DeAngelis.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:52 AM EST


Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Changing the Law by Changing the Law

John Cole is very upset about news that a provision of the Patriot Act has been invoked in an investigation of a Las Vegas strip-club owner's financial... umm... dealings with some local politicians. Before I read John's comments, I had been holding on to this one because I've gone back and forth on whether to blog it.

There simply isn't enough information to be upset either way. All we know is that something in the Patriot Act was cited to subpoena financial records (requiring a judge's sign-off, I presume). One curious part that makes me wonder how accurate the reporters' (and lawyers') sources could be is that the investigation appears to involve bribery and corruption, yet:

Sources said the FBI sought the records under Section 314 of the act. That section allows federal investigators to obtain information from any financial institution regarding the accounts of people "engaged in or reasonably suspected, based on credible evidence, of engaging in terrorist acts or money laundering activities."

Even divorcing "money laundering" from terrorism, this section would seem a bit of a stretch to apply in this case — particularly since the thrust of the act's language in this section has to do with "the specific purpose of encouraging regulatory authorities and law enforcement authorities to share with financial institutions information regarding individuals, entities, and organizations engaged in or reasonably suspected based on credible evidence of engaging in terrorist acts or money laundering activities." In other words, it seems intended to allow investigators to give information, not get it.

Furthermore, the heated reactions seem even more premature when one notices that Section 315 adds the following language to the definition of "specified unlawful activity" in a different law that deals with laundering:

bribery of a public official, or the misappropriation, theft, or embezzlement of public funds by or for the benefit of a public official

In other words, while it is entirely possible that the Patriot Act has been improperly used in this instance, it is also possible that the FBI utilized an entirely different law that was changed as part of the Patriot Act. In that case, no new powers would have been used; existing investigative capabilities merely now apply to public officials' corruption. That might seem like a distinction without a difference to those who are already convinced that the Patriot Act is an inroad for fascism, but look at it this way: the language was added to Title 18, Part I (Crimes), Chapter 95 (Racketeering), Sec. 1956 (Laundering of monetary instruments). Skim through Section 1956(c)(7)(B), and you'll see a law that looks entirely self-contained — without reference to the Patriot Act.

It's easy to get lost in all the numbers and letters of these discussions, but what I'm trying to convey is that, while you could argue that this change of language shouldn't have gotten into the Patriot Act, it isn't exactly abuse of the law to use a law as it is currently written. Furthermore, I'm not a law person, but it seems to me that our lawmakers would (should) know enough about how these things work to have been able to spot the fact that the "bribery of a public official" wouldn't have been limited to terrorist investigations.

While I'm on the topic, I wanted to note what seems to be either a bit of a slip or a bit too much poetic license for political effect:

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Congress intended the Patriot Act to help federal authorities root out threats from terrorists and spies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"The law was intended for activities related to terrorism and not to naked women," said Reid, who as minority whip is the second most powerful Democrat in the Senate.

Just to be clear, here, Senator Reid, the topic at hand has to do with the corruption of government officials, not the naked ladies on whose behalf any bribes might have been made.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:56 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

The Redwood Review poem of the week is "Meetings on the Road, II: Immortal Conflict," by me.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:01 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 11/04/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Not a Great Man" by Victor Lams. This one is hot out of Victor's studio, and it's about a guy in Florida who is manifestly not a great man.

"Not a Great Man" Victor Lams, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:49 AM EST


Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Just Thinking 11/03/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "The Physics of the Antichrist, a Theory of Everything, V of VI: The Word of God and a Commandment of Contradiction." This is the fifth essay in a six-part response to Frank Tipler's book, The Physics of Immortality.

In this edition, I:

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:01 PM EST


Catholics in Iraq

As a tangential matter growing out of the blog hostilities, I wanted to make a few responses to this interview with Iraqi Jesuit Fr. Clarence Burby to which Mark linked. The core point is that sharing a profession of Christianity oughtn't override all disagreements that form as a result of our differing positions and perspectives. We ought to, I'd say, be more inclined to correct those with whom we share something as fundamental as faith in Christ.

My concerns with Fr. Burby's statements have multiple origins. First, there are questions of tone and a lack of qualifications in such statements as this:

With regard to Christians and churches, there's been peace with regard to his politics. There was no religious persecution; there was tolerance. The regime of Saddam Hussein has friendly relations with church leaders.

One would hope for such statements to be a heavily laden with qualifications that make it impossible for "tolerance" and "friendly relations" to take shape independently of the horrors with which they coexisted. Mostly, this is a concern because it risks giving the impression that the Christian leaders were a bit too cooperative with the tyrant, which is something that I've heard suggested before. This is particularly true in proximity to such comments as this:

We don't fully know why he's retained this policy of tolerance towards Christians. Perhaps because it would help him gain the support and allegiance of Christians who come originally from the north of the country, because that's the Kurdish region. There's always been conflict between the Kurdish region and the Iraqi government, even before Saddam.

Given the Kurdish situation, and because the Christians and their monasteries are found in the north, I suppose the regime wants to make sure they will be with Saddam Hussein.

When Fr. Burby expresses doubts about the treatment of Christians in post-Hussein Iraq, it surely ought to be noted that any impression that they were "with Saddam Hussein" is a danger. But here's the biggest red flag, requiring (charitable) criticism, that I can see:

The leadership in the beginning might try to be tolerant. The difficulty is connected with the ever-growing vexation and dissatisfaction of the Muslim "street" all over the world with America's unchanging policy towards Israel, for siding persistently with Israel and neglecting the just rights of the Palestinians. Any leadership in Iraq might be democratic at first, but there will be a problem unless U.S. policy begins to be more balanced towards the Palestinian cause.

Just what Father sees as "America's unchanging policy towards Israel" would require further inquiry. However, it is unarguable that it is simply a fallacy that the U.S. has blatantly neglected the Palestinians. It is slightly less certain that, by "balance," the Islamic fanatics mean supporting the Palestinian cause for reclaiming all of the land currently occupied by Israel. It seems to me that seeing the key to a democratic Iraq as support for Yasser Arafat falls for one of the major deceptions and distractions of the Islamic radicals. It also has dangerous undertones of a suggestion that the Jews be sacrificed to protect the Christians.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:41 PM EST


Last Notes on This Syrian Christian Battle

Tess has requested that I explain my comment so as to explain my reaction to Mark and to her, and it's a fair request. The first thing to say is that my comment was made in the broad context of Mark's opinion as I've come to understand it over the past year and a half as well as in the specific context of the article to which Mark linked and the statements that he made on its basis.

What I saw presented in the article was a Christianity that: (1) is swamped by the Muslim majority to the point of having its Masses largely attended by Muslims praying to Allah, (2) is barred explicitly from any political activity that runs contrary to the regime, and (3) actually participates in that oppressive regime. The opinion that Mark expressed on the basis of this picture was: (A) that removing the regime would probably be tantamount to eliminating the Church, and (B) that conservative Christians, in their "enthusiasm for toppling despotisms," don't bother to consider this reality.

In response to these points, taking offense at (B), and within the context of Mark's other statements, some offensive in their own right, was to reject (A) ("You have absolutely no basis for this."). The following paragraph went on to explain this rejection on the basis that it must either contradict the sunny picture painted by the linked article or imply that the Church in Syria has made a deal with the devil, the maintenance of which might be sufficient justification for blocking U.S. military action against the regime:

One would think that such a friendly, pluralistic society would be a prime candidate for incipient democracy. Or maybe you think it is only through brutal repression that Christian rights can be preserved; that's quite a contradiction.

After alluding to historical problems with the position that "the Church should be maintained — in a state of near dhimmitude, in this case — at the expense of those who are thrown into plastic shredders by the regime," I made the controversial statement:

If a Church must be maintained by a police state, and if removal of the fascism would ensure the Church's demise, then perhaps the faith perpetuated therein is hollow. Formalistic. You know, the sort of place where "the congregation consists largely of heavily bearded Muslim men and their shrouded wives… [and as] the priest circles the altar, filling the sanctuary with clouds of incense, the men bob up and down on their prayer mats."

Perhaps this isn't the most effectively written paragraph that I've ever let fly, but it was, afterall, composed for a comment box on a blog whose owner I did not expect to deign to respond. What I was trying to do was to illustrate the scenario that would reconcile two positions that I'd already rejected: if the continued existence of the regime is a prerequisite for the continued existence of the Church, then perhaps the reason is that it has been forced into atrophy by suppression and being swamped by the Muslim majority.

Moving on from this (quick) analysis of the position that I believed Mark to have presented, I sought to allude to the positions that Mark has taken on American Christianity, in which he has condemned it for (1) being swamped by the majority culture, either liberal or conservative, (2) being passive in insisting that its positions be furthered by our government (e.g., Terri Schiavo), and (3) actually participating in an objectionable "regime" (e.g., by being party-devoted Republicans). Note how well these numbers align with the corresponding ones that I drew from Mark's linked article above.

All of this, I placed "in related fashion" to Mark's inconsistent, "shoddy thinking" with respect to his evidence of the oppression of Palestinian Christians, of which Fr. Pando had previously written:

...a recurring theme in most of your posts concerning Iraq has concerned your view that the administration falsly claimed that there were, at the time that the decision to invade Iraq was made, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In making this argumemt, you have consistently rejected the arguments of those who claimed that the administration's assertions were justified on the basis of the fact that Iraq demonstrably possessed, and used, both nerve and mustard gasses in the past.

When it comes to the case of allegations of Israeli misconduct, though, your evidentiary standard changes. In this case it is acceptable to use old allegations to sustain the thesis that Israel is currently engaging in oppression of Christians.

Furthermore, when commenter SJ Tily challenged my use of the term "dhimmitude," I ultimately restated my point more concisely as: "the larger issue of whether submissive Christianity held in place, according to Mark's thesis, by a dictatorship justifies the perpetuation of that dictatorship." After all of this, Mark removed all rhetorical context from my comments and declared, "Justin tells me that the Christians living under the repression of these regimes are 'maintained by a police state' and that such Church are apparently better off dead since they are 'hollow'." With this frame of reference, Tess read my comments as indicating a "breathtakingly horrible" belief.

This has taken up more of my time and emotional reserves than ought to have been required, so I'm going to leave the argument with this explanation of what I thought it was. Suffice to say that the mashing of nuance is among my larger complaints with Mark's cutting (some might say, "slashing") and uncharitable style of punditry.

17 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:00 PM EST


The False Choice of Occupation Versus Elected Theocracy

A central component of my brawl with Mark Shea has been his perpetuation of a false choice that everything's-negative anti-war types love to present. The argument goes that there are two possibilities: the United States can give a Middle Eastern nation, such as Iraq, complete self-determination, in which case an Islamic radical government is practically ensured, or the United States can perpetually occupy the nation and impose a "puppet regime," which will be obvious to everybody and will enflame the Muslim world. These simply aren't the only possibilities.

In the context of our most recent argument, Mark is concerned that removing the Alawite regime of Syria will probably lead to an Islamic regime that will proceed to massacre the Christian minority in that nation. For my purposes, here, put aside questions about whether Christianity ought ever to be made to align with tyranny and whether Christianity as it exists there isn't so constrained as to become yet another reason to overthrow the government that suppresses it. With respect to a future government, the case in Syria offers a good test scenario for some abstract governmental thinking.

Our own representative democracy in the United States is built around a series of "checks and balances," which includes mechanisms to prevent "the tyranny of the masses." Ours isn't a strict radical democracy in which what the majority wants it gets. This isn't just a simple principle; it manifests as an intricate and carefully planned governmental construction. This is what must be built in the Middle East.

I don't know enough about the specifics of those nations to offer suggestions, but I would imagine that their Constitutions would have to enable representation by geographic and/or ethnic grouping and impose objective boundaries for laws and policies that can be enacted. This means that, in Syria, the 74% of the population that is Sunni Muslim couldn't install a theocracy nor enact laws to persecute Christians.

Once the rules have become internalized in the national culture, they will stand relatively well by themselves. At first, of course, the United States will have to act as a guarantor of the structure — not of the entire government, including the individuals who run it, but simply the structure, the rules upon which all agreed at the outset. As an intermediary step, the United States could act as a moderator to which aggrieved parties could appeal should the rules be twisted out of shape.

One thing is for sure: the barrage of negativity and pessimism endemic among those who were against the war and now give the impression of being against the peace will help neither the U.S., nor the nation in question, nor the religious minorities in that nation.

2 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:04 AM EST


Monday, November 3, 2003

Who I Will Become to Them

Man, I just realized what it could mean to be badly characterized on a blog with thousands of daily readers. Here's how Mark Shea mischaracterizes a comment that I made on his site:

Now Justin tells me that the Christians living under the repression of these regimes are "maintained by a police state" and that such Church are apparently better off dead since they are "hollow". It doesn't seem to occur to people who volunteer such Churches for utter obliteration and martyrdom that it might be a good thing to at least consult them on whether they wish to be martyred. Indeed, it doesn't even seem to occur to them that such Churches may not even be all that "hollow" but are merely a little *less* repressed than they would be under an Islamic regime. It begins to look very much to me like an American lecturing a repressed Church on their need to graciously accept martyrdom so that American Whateveritis Plans can go forward unimpeded and an accusation of selfishness if Christians in an oppressive regime will not accept the prospect of glorious obliteration without a peep.

I tried to clarify my argument — in a heated response, to be sure — in the comments, and Mark called me a "plump American Christian." But what it occurs to me to wonder is how many people of the thousands who will read the above will bother to also read the comments, let alone to return to the previous post and read the comments there for context. My guess is not many, and I imagine that there will be quite a few — hundreds? — who leave with the impression of me expressed by Tess Rooney in a comment on Mark's site:

Just read this. Wow. Wow...

Wow. How breathtakingly horrible. People kill you for being Christian, the Body of Christ gets murdered and their faith is... hollow. Wow.

Mr Katz, you might be explaining that wee phrase to the Big Guy Upstairs. He kinda has a soft spot for people martyred in His Holy Name.

Now, I'm fully aware that there might be dozens of people with whom I've crossed paths in my life who think very little of me, to put it mildly. Many of them would be legitimately responding to things I've done or that I haven't done and should have. Such things we must live with, accept, and repent, seeking forgiveness where possible.

But this being held before the world as "breathtakingly horrible" for espousing that which I do not believe... I guess we should remember that we can only pick our online audience in a limited fashion and should therefore choose every word, even in a comment box, with utmost care.

5 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:19 PM EST


Sunday, November 2, 2003

A Different View of Terri... as Personal Harbinger

Stephen Drake today offers an antidote to the Froma Harrop piece in the Providence Journal last week (a piece on which I still intend to comment). Drake argues that, if Schiavo were starved to death, it might auger frighteningly for others with disabilities.

And this is a personal anecdote not to be missed:

I was born brain-damaged as a result of a forceps delivery. The doctor told my parents I would be a "vegetable" for the rest of my life -- the same word now being used for Schiavo -- and that the best thing would be for nature to take its course. My parents refused. Although I had a lot of health problems, surgeries and pain as a child, I went on to lead a happy life.

I'm imagining a future op-ed piece entitled "My Right to Live" authored by one Terri Schindler. I can only hope that there will be no need for it to be a further indictment of an idea still being put forward by Ms. Harrop.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:13 PM EST


Saturday, November 1, 2003

They Just Don't Get It

I'll refrain from performing an extended analysis of recent revelations about a "Memo" that supposedly goes out to the folks at Fox News every day telling them what their opinion should be. I continue to be amused at the scorn that liberals have for the network. Hey, I'll admit it: I enjoy watching the spasms of anger when the "Fair and Balanced" slogan comes up.

But more than anything, I'm disheartened by the degree to which the underlying "it" in this matter is just not gotten. Here's journalist/blogger J.D. Lasica on The Memo:

Journalism is never about about advancing your viewpoint, or your political spin. It's about getting at the truth, regardless of where the facts lead you. And anyone who has worked in journalism knows that when an editor comes over and mentions discreetly that "the boss would like this played a certain way," or that r the pro-environment angle of a story should be played down, the only legitimate feeling for a real journalist is to feel sick to one's stomach. I've worked (briefly) for such a paper once, the Sacramento Union, where new owners decreed that any reference to the National Organization for Women must be preceded by the description "the radical feminist group."

The complaint against bias is that the facts have a conspicuous way of conforming themselves to journalists' viewpoints, which tend to be liberal. The bias doesn't have to be dictated because it is known to be inherent. Is it inaccurate to label NOW as a "radical feminist group"? Or is it just adherence to accuracy that Reuters refuses to call terrorists... umm... terrorists? For my part, I'd like to know if there were any rightward groups that the Sacramento Union labeled in a similar fashion. Among journalists, it seems, it is just appropriate for NOW to receive the Andrew Shepherd treatment. (I'm referring to the speech in the movie The American President in which Michael Douglas, the president, describes the ACLU as "an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights.")

That's not the worst of it, though. Expanding beyond journalism, into all fields that are overwhelmingly liberal, the reality is that liberal lines don't have to be imposed specifically because they've been imposed generally, as conservatives have been "discouraged" from certain areas of study, certain occupations, and certain jobs. None of it, of course, is explicit; rather, it represents an internalized memo of what is right (as in "correct"). As Rod Dreher puts it, in a column about being a conservative journalist:

For another, [a new conservative journalist] will be struck by the gap between what journalists actually know about conservatives and what they think they know. Reporters and editors, like most people, assume their own frame of reference is normative. The conservative in the newsroom will be assumed by many to be a Bible-thumping, race-baiting, gay-hating bigot until proved otherwise — because that's what many journalists, who rarely if ever socialize with conservatives, think we all are like. Moreover, they believe that's how rational, fair-minded people see the world.

Then again, as Lane Core reminds me, it's a little silly to become upset by the liberals in the media. Indeed, it should be encouraging for conservatives that those whom we oppose continue not to "get it."

1 Comment (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:45 PM EST


Two Perspectives on the Passing On

In the spirit of continued dialogue, I'd left a link to my recent post on the imminence/preemption topic over at Steve's Absit Invidia. Here's his reply:

I'll pass, Justin. I've had enough of this one for the moment.

There are two ways to take this. From one perspective, it serves me right, after my tantrum a few days ago; I did, after all, declare that I'd had enough. From the other perspective, it can be taken as evidence of that which had made me throw the tantrum in the first place; here, Steve has gone outside for further information bearing on the question, presented it as evidence, and then demurred from taking up rigorous analysis of it. Apart from alleviating the stress from my pathological need to express opinions when I have them, that imminence/preemption post was apparently a tremendous waste of time.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:36 PM EST


Breaking the Silence

Well, I couldn't help myself, tonight, and I headed over to Mark Shea's blog. There, I was reminded of a time not long after I'd discovered his site at which he made a post to the effect that several people had suggested to him that he had an issue wrong, and that he had taken the cue to reflect and to discover that, indeed, he had been incorrect on whatever it was.

I wish he'd go back to that mindset. Here's my silence-breaking comment to this bizarre post, which directs readers to this example of unabashed journalistic bias (although Mark doesn't treat it as such):

Sorry, Mark, I've been trying to follow the "if you can't say anything nice" rule, but this is simply unbelievable. Fr. Pando has it exactly right. You wrote that "Many of the Palestinians whose houses are indiscriminately bulldozed are Christians." When pressed, your evidence is anecdotal, based on a third party, and a decade old. Sorry, but that's simply shoddy thinking, not unlike that inspired by Andrew Sullivan's Li'l Willy. Father put it much more politely than I am able, so why not consider addressing his substantive point rather than pretending to misunderstand it.

In related fashion, you open your post with this jaw-dropper: "The Paradox of Conservative Christian Enthusiasm for Toppling the Despotisms in Places Like Iraq and Syria ... is that it will very likely result in the destruction of the Church in those places." You have absolutely no basis for this. None. Zero. It's Mark Shea's made-up future.

One would think that such a friendly, pluralistic society would be a prime candidate for incipient democracy. Or maybe you think it is only through brutal repression that Christian rights can be preserved; that's quite a contradiction. It also seems disconcertingly close to a view that has caused a bit of mischief in history: that the Church should be maintained — in a state of near dhimmitude, in this case — at the expense of those who are thrown into plastic shredders by the regime.

If a Church must be maintained by a police state, and if removal of the fascism would ensure the Church's demise, then perhaps the faith perpetuated therein is hollow. Formalistic. You know, the sort of place where "the congregation consists largely of heavily bearded Muslim men and their shrouded wives… [and as] the priest circles the altar, filling the sanctuary with clouds of incense, the men bob up and down on their prayer mats."

And consider this, in your linked article: "For if Syria is a one-party police state, it is a police state that tends to leave its citizens alone as long as they keep out of politics." In other words, only benign Christianity is welcome.

Aren't you the same writer who suggested that they ought to play "God Bless America" as Terri Schiavo died and attacks Republicans for not advancing the Catholic agenda? Hey, maybe the Florida hierarchy has the right idea keeping out of that political hot potato after all...

Once upon a time, Mark, you proved yourself capable of rethinking things when enough people told you that you were off. That's much better than brushing off conflicting arguments.

4 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:13 PM EST


Another Dozen

Here're some more CDs, as I work my way through the alphabet for the first of six times on my hopeful way to less family debt:

Paleface, Paleface
Pearl Jam, "Alive"
Pearl Jam, "Even Flow"
Pearl Jam, "Go"
Pearl Jam, "Dissident" (1st of 3)
Pearl Jam, "Dissident" (3rd of 3)
Pearl Jam, "Jeremy"
Pearl Jam, "Spin the Black Circle"
Poi Dog Pondering, Volo Volo
Primus, Miscellaneous Debris
Primus, Tales from the Punchbowl (with interactive PC application)
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:26 PM EST


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