September 30, 2004

Ah, the Debates

Debates... I don't know. You'll hear a whole lot of analysis, but if nothing else during the past four years, President Bush has helped me to learn one thing about myself, and it's something that is probably true for more people than not: I'm too eager for my guy to come out swinging, when knocking down the other guy relentlessly doesn't really win the room. The debater who lists the most unsubstantiated facts and/or who most effectively belittles his opponent may win the debate, but it just may be that the other guy is taking a broader view of the performance: not as a competition, but as a discrete, contrived event amid the rest of life.

When the President spends almost half of his allotted time answering a question about his opponent's character by complimenting him, and then the opponent tries to tiptoe around actually returning the favor without seeming like a jerk, people notice. Kerry's response was almost comical. Something like: "I, too, think very highly of... the President's daughters. And I have a great deal of respect for... the President's wife."

A politician's supporters always want the quick jibe, the killer line, but the reality is that the process of filling the presidency is less a structured intellectual match than a popularity contest. And it is this point of politics — of life — that President Bush has schooled me on again and again. In this debate, he came across as a good guy. He drew his opponent not into rants and raves, but into uncomfortable efforts to claim the good mantle without actually reciprocating goodness. He out-gooded him.

Which brings up a major disagreement that I have with the professional commentators. You'll hear repeatedly over the next hours and days that the President looked too tired and impatient, that Kerry knew how to tweek him in ways that stung, and that Bush let the sting show on his face. What I saw in those looks — and (more importantly) what drew the only comment from my non-political wife throughout the entire debate — was the difficulty of standing there and listening to the other guy say bent and spun things to put you down.

Bush's looks said to me that, with so much of importance going on in the world, he was almost pained that politics must always be politics. With a set of issues involving so many variables and life-and-death decisions, soundbite summaries of the opponent's missing context would be futile.

"That's not what a Commander in Chief does," he said over and over. He's "working hard" to strike the difficult balance — as crystallized in his comments about Vladamir Putin — between diplomacy and action. At one point he even said something to the effect of: "That's just not how the world works." You don't lead by giving those whom you would seek to lead a veto over actions that are necessary for you but perhaps less so for them.

From the other angle, you don't lead by insulting any players, large or small. One point that I, as a non-candidate, would have loved for Bush to make could have come when Kerry essentially said that diplomacy means giving reluctant parties what they want in order to get them onboard. The President could have noted that buying off allies isn't so easy when they've got billions of dollars invested in the government that you're planning to overthrow. Unfortunately, the guy who's actually in office, at the moment, must worry about how his comments in the debate will affect real-world diplomacy.

My bottom line review: Kerry did much better than I expected, particularly in asserting that his positions have been consistent. But Bush, no matter how many people say he "succeeded by not losing," won beyond the game.

(Oh, and watch for ads in the near future that draw on Kerry's performance in ways that might be unexpected. Bush also looked like a guy setting out for a particular task, and his confidence in finishing answers with time still available toward the end suggests that he thought the job done.)

Here's Kerry's response on the character question, although the transcript doesn't convey the comedic timing of his pauses after "acknowledge" and "admiration":

KERRY: Well, first of all, I appreciate enormously the personal comments the president just made. And I share them with him. I think only if you're doing this -- and he's done it more than I have in terms of the presidency -- can you begin to get a sense of what it means to your families. And it's tough. And so I acknowledge that his daughters -- I've watched them.

KERRY: I've chuckled a few times at some of their comments.



BUSH: I'm trying to put a leash on them.


KERRY: Well, I know. I've learned not to do that.


And I have great respect and admiration for his wife. I think she's a terrific person...

BUSH: Thank you.

KERRY: ... and a great first lady

The RNC's already rolling with the first reaction to something that President Bush drew out of Kerry by being so cordial.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:30 PM | Comments (16)

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:39 PM

Bennies and Legitimacy

In the comments to the previous entry, Chuck Anziulewicz responds to the suggestion that the same-sex marriage movement is more about legitimacy than benefits by writing:

No, you are simply wrong. What Gay couples are most interested in is equal treatment under the law. We don't really care if you don't consider our love and commitment "legitimate." Evangelical Christians don't consider any religions but their own to be "legitimate" faiths. So what? You can't be forced to accept something you won't accept. Equal treatment under the law does not mean forced brainwashing of an unwilling heterosexual majority.

To reuse my too-frequent introductory phrase: as with everything in this debate, in evidence in Chuck's argument is the distance between the first principles on which everything else is built. It's certainly understandable that a homosexual person in a committed relationship, as Chuck is, would skip a step of dispassionate logic, but he strides right over the point that the traditionalists are making, leaving him (apparently) no room to comprehend what they are saying short of hearing a complaint against brainwashing.

For an inequality according to the law to exist, all other circumstances must be equivalent. It is not unduly discriminatory, for example, not to give carpenters a tax break for teaching supplies. You teach, you get the break; you don't teach, you don't. Chuck is like a carpenter claiming that, since both professionals buy supplies, he deserves the tax break; this presumes that no relevant difference lies between the two vocations. In the terms of the same-sex marriage debate, the legitimacy that Chuck claims not to demand is inherent in the claim of inequality. Same-sex relationships are assumed to be as legitimate an arrangement for public recognition as opposite-sex marriages, and the argument proceeds from there.

Chuck is somewhat unique, however, in that he sincerely wants no more than the ability to provide for his partner in the same way that spouses are able to provide for each other. The difficulty with this position, however, is that it is morally untenable once the emotional plank of inequality is leveraged. Unequal is unequal; if we can't assert enough difference to justify discriminatory policy assessments with respect to Social Security, for example, then on what basis do we assert enough difference to offer opposite-sex marriages any distinction, including the name of the relationship?

The case to be made — by homosexuals who truly desire only commitment's fruit of public benefits — is that their relationships deserve that degree of recognition, without more reference to marriage than as an example. This is actually the fair compromise that I've long advocated: ensure that laws creating civil unions will do so on an item-by-item basis, and allow the states to determine what rights and privileges ought to be included — on their own merits. Unless there have been changes since I last analyzed it, that is precisely the scenario that the Federal Marriage Amendment would create.

It is not, however, a compromise that many homosexuals would accept, whatever their protestations of indifference about fundamentalists' opinions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:27 PM | Comments (10)
Marriage & Family

September 29, 2004

Complexity: The Enemy of My Enemy?

The Marriage Debate blog quotes an argument from a Canadian report on bisexuals as the lost party in the debate over same sex marriage. A reality that pervades the entire debate arises again: the sides on this issue are simply irreconcilable. The same evidence can be claimed to support both conclusions, depending on first principles. Consider:

"The opponents of marriage equality consistently seek to reduce this emotional and complex issue to straight versus gay, good versus evil, religiously-blessed love versus mere sex," said Matt Foreman, Task Force Executive Director. "In reality, marriage is about much more than gender and sexual orientation, it is much more than a package of civil rights and responsibilities, and it is about much more than sex. Highlighting bisexuals in the debate underscores all of this and shows that love and commitment are wonderfully complex and multi-dimensional."

From where I sit, it is actually the advocates for same-sex marriage who "seek to reduce this emotional and complex issue to straight versus gay." In their view, straights love people of the opposite sex; gays love people of the same sex; who is the citizenry to decide that one is more legitimate than the other? With the placement of bisexuals before reasonable disputants, an answer to this question only becomes more conceivable.

Depending on circumstances, bisexuals would be open to marrying a person of either sex. Therefore, we may legitimately wonder whether — apart from the individual's desire — society has a reason to support one choice over another. For many of us on the traditionalist side, the answer already lies within our writing against same-sex marriage.

Marriage is indeed about more than those aspects of it that Mr. Foreman mentions. (Although, I'd be interested to know what that "more" is, from his point of view.) Highlighting bisexuals, however, only underscores the fact that different manifestations of the "wonderfully complex and multi-dimensional" experiences of love and commitment require different considerations — considerations according to which distinctions can and should be made.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:56 PM | Comments (14)
Marriage & Family

Some Reservations

When I wrote a post on the issue of Indian reservation gambling in Rhode Island, I was essentially thinking out loud. Marc Comtois rightly called me on some of the content of that post, and although I still thought the risk of a casino to be far below other problems in the state of Rhode Island, I did reevaluate my position.

The reassessment found a foundation, today, in a piece by Gary Bauer. I hadn't realized how extensive and culturally significant the trend of Indian casinos has become:

The petition to the high court was filed by four card clubs and two charities in the San Francisco Bay area — operations that stand to be driven out of business by a nine-acre urban "reservation" conveniently created for an Indian tribe and its investors just off a major interstate near San Francisco.

Many people, including the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court who helped effectuate IGRA in 1988, might be shocked to see that the financial "winners" from Indian gambling include very few Indians. Rather, the "winners" are oftentimes savvy, non-Indian investors, large public casino-operating companies that manage operations for the tribes, and a handful of very wealthy Indians who are aggressively working to exclude other tribes from the action.

Matters of questionable ethics are like that, though: the door can't be cracked open, even for reasonable license. In the case of mega-casinos, it hardly even represents a gamble to predict that any allowance will be pushed and wedged to open the way for, as Bauer calls it, "casino culture."

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:36 PM

Monkeying Around

Although the discovery isn't exactly what I needed, just now, some among you might like to know that Ferry Halim's got yet another gorgeous game up on his Orisinal site.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:54 PM
Quick Links

In the Spin Biz, Timing Is Everything

Hadi Semanti writes some discouraging words in today's Providence Journal:

THE BUSH administration hoped that regime change in Iraq would stimulate democratic change throughout the Mideast, but, in fact, the opposite is taking place.

Reform movements, despite the promises of the Bush administration, are in retreat across the region, at least for now. Given the enormous antipathy currently felt toward the United States, even to be associated with the U.S. agenda of democratic transformation in the Mideast means the end of legitimacy for many of these groups. ...

It is no wonder that Iranians have in recent months slowed their calls for reform, that they have indicated that they want change from within, and that they have quietly and hesitantly submitted to the rule of a more monolithic conservative polity. For a lot of people, among the ordinary public and the elite, the level of instability in Iraq is an unacceptable price to pay for political reform.

If low-profile reports prove true, however, the Tehran University professor appears to have slipped onto history's list of commentators with monumentally bad timing:

Reports over the past 24 - 48 hours via several important information services such as SMCCDI, Peykeiran, Zagros and direct email reports and phone calls from Iranian citizens is beginning to shine light on what at this time looks to be country-wide fighting and quickly escalating into what could potentially become a freedom revolution. ...

In the past week and recent days, many regional commanders and leaders of the regime's militias have been targeted and killed along with many of their militiamen.

Initial reports from Iranian online news sources as well as from western satellite news media are reporting intense fighting throughout Iran, and report that such fighting is increasing at a constant rate.

As the saying goes, don't count your mullahs...

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:57 PM
International Affairs

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.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:24 PM

A Turnaround (and Around and Around)

This morning was one of those mornings.

I'd stayed up a bit later than I'd wanted, last night, because on top of grading quizzes, I had revisions to make to a tightly written piece for a local periodical. Come morning, for some reason, both of my children decided that 5:30 a.m. was too late to be in bed. Then, crawling through my morning routine, I discovered that a basement leak that I'd thought fixed was actually coming through a different spot, and with the torrential downpour, some preventative measures — towels, to the non–home owner — were required to prevent the water from dripping down the wall and slithering around the corner, through the bathroom, and into the cedar closet during the day. And the school day confirmed that the large contingent of unruly children in my class is going to force me to be the sort of teacher I'd prefer not to be.

But then the day progressed. Today the middle school teachers worked out new schedules that will allow me to trade my three grades of math for three grades of English. Not only will that be more fun and more in line with my areas of expertise, but it will require less rigid (and time-consuming) planning. After school, I was pleased to discover that the pumpkin beers are back on the shelf, and my expectations were not disappointed that they would instantly evoke pleasant memories of last autumn and winter.

When I'd finally made it to my computer to check my email, one from reader Mike S. directed my attention the newly released digital version of National Review. Turning to page 19 (p. 21 of the PDF file), skimming down to the bottom, I saw that Dust in the Light made the "up-'n'-comers" box in NR's "Blog Guide 2004."

If I didn't know better, I'd think that somebody among the magazine's editorial staff was just looking for a way to prod me toward more-devoted posting, even in the midst of my thrown-in-the-pool struggle to get 28 seventh graders under control and learning. Well, intended or not, the message has been received.

Compared with the now-homeless people along the southern coast, my basement leaks are as nothing. Compared with so many people everywhere clawing their way out of ruts, my various occupations are astoundingly light, fun, and edifying. A house cannot run on an empty budget, but a life can run on hope, at least for a good, long while.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:21 PM
Diary & Confession

September 28, 2004

Putting the "Me" in "Meritocracy"

Michelle Malkin, a woman who rapidly penetrated the upper tier of the blogosphere, takes up the topic of whether there's really room at the top:

In Billmon's eyes, the blogosphere is an inegalitarian place, with little opportunity for new blogs to break into the "charmed circle" of high-traffic sites that have sold out in pursuit of advertising dollars. I am not familiar with Billmon's writings, but I get the sense that he (or she) probably feels the same way about economic opportunity in the U.S.

How well does this pessimistic view of the blogosphere align with reality? Is mobility really as limited as Billmon suggests? ...

If [John] Hawkins were to create [a list of influential bloggers] today, I have no doubt we'd see plenty of new names--sites like Powerline, Hewitt, Allah, and perhaps Wizbang and INDC Journal. Not coincidentally, these are among the most consistently interesting and informed sites in the blogosphere.

As with everything, one's approach to the experience of blogging will affect one's view of its opportunities. I've been trying to break into relatively creative fields for almost two-thirds of my not-quite-thirty years of life — first acting, then music, then writing — so when I look at the blogosphere, I see tremendous opportunity. Not only is the Internet new, unruly territory, but it's also easier to get somebody to click a link than to read a manuscript. More importantly, it's easier to get an individual to publish a link (with or without a "heh" or "indeed") to content on the author's space than to convince an editor to buy and publish a full piece. In this way, merit really does play a stronger role in blogging, and exposure in that realm increasingly reflects into the "professional" literary world.

But it can't be denied that blogging well can be hard work. In my two years of blogging, I've researched countless issues, developing indepth analyses of some, replete with charts and catalogues. I've rearranged my schedule and cut into my sleep time in order to churn out worthwhile posts at Internet speed. I've even experimented with a whole new medium (digital video) and spent a few days, during a few weeks, making vlogs. These habits can become excessive, to be sure, but I think a portion of the frustration that Billmon expresses is attributable to the balance of demands.

Very, very few bloggers are able to translate all of that work into income of anywhere near the amount necessary to justify the time in the face of other responsibilities. A blogger making more in BlogAds alone than my entire annual household income is going to have more time to devote to blogging well. As time goes on, the competition is getting tighter, and given the nature of the Internet, we're each competing with others in dramatically differing circumstances.

I've no doubt that, if I had been working my current schedule all along, instead of my part-time plus freelance meandering, I'd be fortunate even to be among the Flappy Birds and Slithering Reptiles of the Blogosphere Ecosystem, rather than among (as I was just stunned to discover) the Large Mammals. If I'd had that loose schedule in the midst of a metropolitan area and/or a major event, perhaps I'd be higher.

Charles Hill has it right — and this goes for professional writing, as well: Blog for your own reasons, whether joy or obsession, unencumbered by the need to be in the front row of the revolution. Yes, in the blogosphere, the top tier is always tantalizingly close. A quirk of interest, of random expertise, or of fortunate positioning could catapult a blog up there, but we should always keep in mind that, without a firm foundation, that success will be just as fleeting as it was rapid.

If it becomes frustrating that you aren't managing to put the "me" in "meritocracy," well then, take a break. Perhaps reassess what you're doing. Or better yet, take a few months, years, or decades to try to break into the world of the printed word the old fashioned way for perspective.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:59 PM | Comments (1)
Bloggers Blogging

Land of God and Guns

Over in the Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru wonders, while considering the truism that "blue states subsidize red ones," whether part of the reason is that "a significant military presence reddens an area," thus bringing both federal funds and Republican voters to it.

While Rhode Island is hardly representative for military states, we do have a rather significant Naval presence, particularly on the island on which I've spent most of my time as a citizen. (For example, National Review writer Mackubin Thomas Owens teaches at the Naval War College, which is attached to a large base.) Yet, ours is among the most liberal states in the nation, and even those employed by the military, with a material interest in the military bent of the country's leadership, often vote with their region rather than their occupation.

I'd say that military presence and redness represent one of those intricate relationships involving a web of causes and effects. Rugged, open land breeds a rugged individualism, and rural areas lend themselves to community activities, often involving religious organizations; in this day and age, both of these tendencies translate into Republican voters. More generally, the country attracts and forms a certain sort of worldview, part of which is the devotion to one's own group. Hubs for international communication, interaction, and travel seem about as far away as the other countries, themselves.

Simultaneously, rugged, open land is particularly attractive to several branches of the military. This is true, first, in a geographic sense: the landscape assists in military operations, for both training and strategy. It is true, second, demographically: likely recruits are nearby and will feel at home in rural settings.

Ramesh concentrates on political explanations, which certainly play a role, but I'm not sure the political, cultural, or anyotheral considerations can be teased out of the reality, here. Somehow — but not surprisingly — I find myself recalling something from his journal that Peter Robinson posted in the Corner back in June:

Journal entry, May 2001: Ever since my talk with Judge Clark, I've found, a picture keeps coming to mind. Ronald Reagan is on horseback, riding along the exposed ridge at the southwestern corner of his ranch. When he reaches the high point where the helicopter pad once stood, he reins in his mount. He gazes up at the enormous vault of the sky. He feels the rushing wind against his face. He looks east, following the shape of the land as it tumbles down and away, spreading to form the green bowl of the Santa Ynez Valley. Then he shifts in his saddle to look west, taking in the endless, dazzling ocean, the Channel Islands misty in the distance. And then he whispers, "Glory to God."

That's a pretty apt (if oblique) summary of the dynamic in question.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:49 PM

Songs You Should Know 09/28/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "David Melech" by Mozaik. The band calls its sound "psychedelic jewgrass," and one needn't listen long to understand the reason for the unique category. If you're in the mood for something different, give "David Melech" a listen, and maybe even pick up a copy of Beyond Words from Confidence Place.

"David Melech," Mozaik, Psychedelic Jewgrass
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Beyond Words

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:33 AM

September 27, 2004

Turn from the Sunken Foes Toward the Battle Ahead

You've probably seen it, but if you haven't read VDH's piece on the fall of the "bankrupt generation," go do so; if you've read it, read it again. For those who've read it twice already, here are the parts relevant to this entry's point:

Commentators have envisioned Rather's fall as symbolic of a "paradigm shift" and the "end of the era" — an event that has crystallized the much larger and ongoing demise of the old establishment media. Allegories from the French Revolution and the emperor without any clothes to the curtain scene in The Wizard of Oz have been evoked to illustrate Rather's dilemma and the hypocrisy of all that went before. We have come a long way since the 1960s: The once-revolutionary pigs taking over the manor are now bloated and strutting on two legs as they feast on silver inside the farmhouse. ...

But the regime is crumbling on campuses as well. Too many university professors in the humanities dropped long ago their allegiance to the disinterested search for truth, or to teaching students facts and methods. ...

The U.N. also seems to be going the way of CBS. Only a little over a quarter of our citizenry feels that the organization reflects American values. ...

Those who profess to be Democrats are reaching historically low numbers. Many prominent Democrats are hypocrites... Being rich and a lawyer helps too. Most prominent Democrats and their enablers are either lawyers or multimillionaires, and now often both.

Although I'm loath to turn from a vicious foe while he still has more power than he does lucidity, and although I wouldn't declare the fight over, it's increasingly clear that the Left is sinking. As it does so, it will drag our culture painfully toward the vortex, but the heat of battle is over; now we need only survive the fallout.

But history does not end here. There are plenty of swimmers in the water, and plenty of ideological dinghies have pulled away. Those with certain sympathies with the Right — whether military, economic, or broadly intellectual — have switched sides and have long been working to defeat their mutiny-ridden former vessels. Some of them, to be sure, have fully integrated, helping to evolve conservative thinking along the way.

Despite it all — all the confusion and the anticlimactic struggle — it behooves those of us who emphasize religion in our lives and who are socially conservative to look toward the new battle. How much longer we'll have more in common than in difference with the libertarians among us, we cannot know. However, I'd suggest that the redefinition of the sides will come more quickly than we expect, and that we'd do well to begin laying the groundwork for defense. For, by our natures, we will surely continue to be motivated more to guard what's good than to destroy what's evil — as much as the two overlap.

Some of our most effective and generally persuasive arguments will be split in two, and we must consider, beforehand, why the more viscerally pleasing half is a dangerous totem when severed from the more spiritually fulfilling half.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:22 PM | Comments (24)

September 26, 2004

The Week to Come

I've taken the week off from editing in the hopes that a merely ordinary workweek will offer sufficient time for me to get ahead of my lesson plans. If I manage to prepare all of my materials (such as overhead projector transparencies) through Christmas break, my schedule will be much more manageable. I'll also have a broader view that will assist in planning those lessons and projects that don't lend themselves to advance preparation.

What this will mean for the blog, I hope, is that I'll manage to post more regularly this week, establishing a pattern that might actually carry through the months ahead. Minimizing my week-by-week planning will, at least, mitigate the directions in which my mind must run during those hours that I'm neither in school nor editing market research. In general, while following the rhythm of a rational schedule, one has more room to ponder greater things.

In the meantime, I had wanted to publish some entries tonight, but I'm also trying to get ahead of what has thus far been a mild head cold. To bed, then.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:56 PM
Diary & Confession

September 25, 2004

Always Suspect

In line with thoughts about barriers to communication, I got a glimpse of what it means to be Man in the eyes of some women, yesterday.

During a lull in a long teachers' meeting in the afternoon, some of the women involved with the after-school program were discussing a female student who'd taken to giving little strip shows for the boys. Half-listening, as I graded math quizzes, I heard the names of two of the lads from my class as among the spectators, and I looked up from my scatterplots to ask, "How old was the girl?"

The reaction was not, let's say, quite what I expected. One of the women stood up, as if in confrontation, as she answered, "Four years old." I stumbled through a mild barrage of incredulous quips and returned to my work, mumbling something about having not been listening.

A short while later, it occurred to me: at least some of the ladies had heard my question as a leering expression of interest in the performance, rather than the children. What a pall of suspicion must envelop men, in some women's view, that such an innocent and obvious question resounds lustful! It brings to mind Zona Douthit's intriguing piece from the first Redwood Review, "Battles & Wars," about a girl's formative experiences when it comes to males. It seems we're warring tribes by nature, men and women.

(A suggestion with tremendous implications for the importance of the marriage debate, I'd say.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:27 AM | Comments (6)

Common Languages Across Years

If nothing else, teaching will provide me with new input for writing. The context it creates for understanding the difficulty of communication from one soul to another, for one thing, is of immeasurable value.

I'm not old, by any measure, except perhaps by my students', all of whom were born a couple years after I'd moved along from being their current age. To them, I'm in that vague, distant category beyond mandatory (and effectively mandatory) education. Moreover, I existed in that mysterious world of Before Them, and I've already experienced and incorporated the titillating lessons of adolescence and young adulthood.

And yet, they seem older than I remember feeling at their age. It may be that the school system in which I grew up placed us at the bottom of another stack — junior high — in seventh grade, whereas these kids are one step away from the top. Maybe times have changed. Maybe I see them in comparison with my children and nieces and nephews, most of whom are younger. Whatever the case, to what slice of my memory ought I to make reference when attempting to understand what they're thinking and going through?

The question is made more difficult by the fact that I remember being — and remember those around me being — more mature than they are. Again, perhaps the differing school system explains some of the disparity, but activities that I remember doing at younger ages, they have difficulty with. For some activities, they just haven't developed the skills; for others, they lack the concentration. To what slice of my memory ought I to make reference when attempting to teach them?

One thing's for sure: cultural markers are out. I attempted to illustrate a point by citing the geographic focus of grunge music — grunge music! — and they had no clue what I was talking about. Of course, grunge to them is like Led Zeppelin to me, meaning that they won't discover it, if at all, until their "retro" phase in high school or college. Perhaps the intimate knowledge of tangible examples is one of the values of peer tutors.

I wondered, as I watched my students leave the classroom, today, what they would do over the weekend. What would I have done, at their age? I barely recall. Not that my memories would necessarily be applicable; there are so many factors involved in the way in which we see the world and act that a sea of ifs lies between us. I guess it's enough to teach what I can and to help them to develop the common language of maturity. (And hope that the effort doesn't make me prematurely old.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:30 AM

September 23, 2004

And Then the Wall

It figures. I finally have a night during which I have a little bit of opportunity to get ahead, and shortly after I reached the comfort of my house — like reaching home base in a cross-town, full-contact game of tag, the game was over. My low-battery light has been blinking for days, and now somebody's got to drag me to the bedroom and plug me in for some recharging.

I'd have been able to handle the fact that the forty or so hours that I expected to spend on the teaching gig turned into more like sixty, with all of the getting up to speed and such. It changes the picture considerably, however, that the class that I'd counted as one of the two most manageable in the school, when I was the computer teacher there, has transformed into one of the most problematic. And it drains the last of my strength that, in the past week, I've had a toilet to fix, a freelance piece to write, the year's first parent assembly to attend, couches to move from house to house, and a dog deciding that he simply isn't going to let me slip off to bed at midnight without having walked him.

Did I mention the couches? Well, there's now one in my basement/office. The thing calls to me while I do my editing, I tell ya. Like some modern parody of Edgar Allen Poe, it beckons:

From my desk I fall to crawling, whilst the cushions keep on calling,
Like my life's love's luring sprawling, as I creep along the floor.
Despite the somnolent alarm that, through my haze, whispers of harm,
My couch's softly drooping arms promise napping, nothing more.
Though I've space for power napping and have time for nothing more,
I'll hear alarms nevermore.

On the bright side, I haven't seen much news that demands that I blog it. Also on the bright side, I've got a feeling that I'll experience an explosion of creativity and prolificacy when comes a day that I'm no longer constrained in my expression by the necessary comprehension of twelve/thirteen year olds. For tonight, I really have to get to bed early.

But then there are those math quizzes to grade... (forever more)

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:45 PM
Diary & Confession

September 21, 2004

A Landslide Heralding Change

For anybody interested, I thought I'd note that the important Cranston, Rhode Island, mayoral primary that I mentioned the other day ended with an even better result than I'd hoped:

Now, there were some problems at the polling places, but the margin of victory, 75% Laffey to 25% Reilly, is just too big for Laffey's victory to be totally attributable to polling place gaffes and fraud. I certainly hope that the people of Rhode Island made a statement this primary season.

For Rhode Island, it isn't unduly optimistic to suggest that better times are coming.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:59 PM
Rhode Island

Seeing Truth Live-Action

Readers may recall that, when The Passion of the Christ first came out in the movie theaters, I thought Christian Canadian writer Michael Cohen's reaction to the film a bit drastic, even suggesting that he had transformed the movie into a cartoon. At the time, these statements of Coren's struck me in an indeterminately related way:

This is some pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic blood cult. It is populated with medieval-type caricatures, screaming out of context, laughing at suffering. ...

The flashbacks seem, with one touching exception depicting Jesus as a child, to be mere attempts to push Catholic eucharistic theology onto the audience.

Now, Rod Dreher has noted that Coren's tune has changed:

I still believe that this work should have been different in various ways. Yet now I have seen, or allowed myself to see, what lies at the very core of The Passion. The Eucharist. ...

The interspersing of scenes from The Last Supper and the institution of the Mass with the immense and intense suffering of Christ was irksome to me when I first saw the movie. Now these flashes of truth serve as chapters of explanation, each one shining a unique light on the events that surround them. ...

As I watched again, another reality embraced me, like the arms of a loving mother around an eager if sometimes foolish child. It was that Mary is not merely a background figure in a magnificent drama, but the divine conduit for salvation. In other words, she is sublime and perfect and with us forever. The mother of us all....

Mary weeps for her son. Her tears and His blood mingle to soak the world in hope and love. Within their grandeur all despair is smothered and all sin cleansed. Yes, I see it now. I see it so clearly.

To be sure, private home viewing inclines one to react to a film differently than watching it amid a crowded theater, and different aspects will emerge in each place. Still, I think there's something more profound going on, in Coren's case. I think his initial reaction was an outward manifestation of a deep recognition of Truth and emotional rejection of the requirement to rethink views around which his life had been built. (Andrew Sullivan is an exponentially more transparent example of this.)

Ultimately, the clarity that broke through the repulsion has cost Coren avenues of income and career advancement — an Evangelical writer and speaker who converts to Roman Catholicism is apt to lose gigs more quickly than he can find new ones that better align with his revelation. And Mr. Coren joined the Church in July.

Watching The Passion in my own living room, I wondered how it could be that people don't see the essence behind Catholic theology. In allowing himself to see, Michael Coren has illustrated what keeps others from doing the same: usually themselves and their interest in their particular circumstances.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:54 PM | Comments (5)

I Just Couldn't

Today I had a freelance writer thing to do, on top of the teacher thing and the editor thing. I'm so tired that I'm dizzy, so I'm heading off to bed.

Of course, I'm thrilled to to have the freelance writer thing starting to advance, but it can't do otherwise than cut into my blogging time... mostly because I've simply got no more sleep time of which I can afford to deprive myself.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:02 AM
Site-Related Announcements

September 18, 2004

I See Your MP and Raise You a Marine

In a comment to my "Credibility Miser" post, Chris Allbritton writes:

You're right to take Chrenkoff -- and me -- with a grain of salt, but I think I and my sources are probably better positioned to know what's happening here than some guy reading press releases from CENTCOM.

Well, fair enough. Chris had reported on the frightening state of affairs in Iraq and reprinted a letter from a freelance writer turned Reservist MP. The truth of the matter is that I've seen many, many more first-hand accounts like that of a Marine Major whose letter Ed of Captain's Quarters reprints:

Boom, boom, just like that two major "hot spots" cool down in rapid succession. Does that mean that those towns are completely pacified? No. What it does mean is that we are learning how to do this the right way. The US commander in Samarra saw an opportunity and took it — probably the biggest victory of his military career and nary a shot was fired in anger. Things will still happen in those cities, and you can be sure that the bad guys really want to take them back. Those achievements, more than anything else in my opinion, account for the surge in violence in recent days — especially the violence directed at Iraqis by the insurgents. Both in Najaf and Samarra ordinary people stepped out and took sides with the Iraqi government against the insurgents, and the bad guys are hopping mad. They are trying to instill fear once again. The worst thing we could do now is pull back and let that scum back into people's homes and lives.

Moreover, the point of my post was that recent experience has piled into a higher barrier to credibility for those declaring doom and gloom and decrying the mess made by that fundy wacko in the White House. That President Bush has patiently endured the myriad times he's been besieged by those who would knock him from office suggests that he's a leader who understands that war is unpredictable in scope, degree, and duration. Frankly, I think more Americans join him in that understanding than domestic reportage might lead us to believe.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:17 PM
Middle East

Spiritual Espionage

In this week's Blogworthies, Lane Core links to a short piece in Envoy Magazine describing an ambush movie designed to suck in Catholics far enough to rattle their faith based on an erroneous formulation of their Church's view of Mary. As it happens, the false assertion that Catholics worship Mary is something about which I warned my class this week; as it also happens, I've been thinking about some Protestants' approach to evangelizing Catholics.

About a month ago, I received an email from the hopeful editor of a prospective Christian periodical in a region other than my own. His intention was merely to make contact, with a view toward having me write for him if his project came together. Of course, I suggested that I would be interested, but something in his note led me to mention that I'm Roman Catholic. This part of his reply, although he stated that all would be fine if we focused on matters about which we agree, provoked my eyebrows to lower:

I have a couple of christian friends that are catholic, their reason for staying was to reach other catholics.

It's possible that I'm reading too much into his decision to qualify his Catholic friends as Christian, but the idea of their "staying" within the Church makes me wonder how deliberately deceptive they are. Unless the editor mischaracterized his friends' objective, it would seem that they are infiltrating the very Church itself — their church itself — so as to lead people away from the religion that they had thought themselves to be bolstering by befriending the lurking Protestant cell.

Excuse the obvious turn of phrase, but is nothing sacred? I've made it a pillar of my belief system that Truth can be conveyed — must be conveyed — honestly. If you must deceive to convince, then you aren't pointing the way to Truth. Somehow I must have missed the passage in the Bible in which Jesus commands the apostles to convert others through deceit and espionage.

But the various anecdotes do raise questions. Periodically, one comes across a Catholic for whom the hierarchy can do nothing right — for whom, in fact, the hierarchy's support counts against a certain political or theological position. Some clearly long for a lost era of the Church, pre-Vatican II. Others may be undercover Protestants. Perhaps the countersign to discern which is which is to invoke the name of the Blessed Mother in yet another manifestation of our secret ways, our surreptitious signs and symbols.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:02 PM | Comments (6)

When You Reach the Edge of the Cliff... Turn

Having fallen out of the loop for a few day's, it's taken me a little while to reorient myself to the news of the day. As the election season heats up, it's easy to become acclimated to the pitch; step away for a time, however, and the line between the sides could not more clearly be a line between two entirely distinct realities.

Having picked one component of the investigation of Dan Rather's memos — the superscript — and decided, from personal experience, that the most superficial version of the evidence isn't true, Shiela Lennon grows in her respect for Mr. Rather:

A journalist's loyalty is to the ongoing truth of the story as it develops, whatever that may turn out to be.

I've seen very little of that in the blogosphere this week. I've seen a lot of whoops based on ignorant assumptions that were just plain wrong. ("Typewriters couldn't do that then" about things I did with typewriters then.)

Certainty based on nothing doesn't affect the truth of what happened one bit and is worthless.

Although I can't put my hands on it, at this moment, in the first day's rush of analysis, I did come across a blog post noting that some typewriters could superscript, but that the results looked nothing like the "th" in the CBS memos. (The particular post that I saw had images of the two, but I'm sure the observation has been made multiple times.) The point is that Ms. Lennon's superscripting experience as an intern at Brown University is incomplete in its application to the controversy: what did those superscripts look like? Surely, loyalty to the ongoing truth requires that comparison to be made.

To be honest, my editor's eye has led me to believe that Ms. Lennon meant her phrase to be written thus: "the ongoing anti-Bush truth of the story." Here's her very next paragraph:

This developing story brought a witness forward, Marian Carr Knox, secretary to Lt. Col. Killian in the '70s, a witness who knows what happened then, who says the memos reflect the reality she saw, but she does not know how that particular set of memos came to be. The tale of the memos themselves -- where they came from, who typed them, who held them, who turned them loose -- is now a sidebar to that story.

Knox, in short, renders Lennon's typing memory irrelevant, and her detraction fatuous. However, with a neat turn of paraphrasing, Lennon omits Ms. Knox's certainty that the documents were fake so as to pivot toward a Michael Moore-like assertion that the underlying truth can be captured with false evidence, and that the falsity of that evidence is immaterial. Also immaterial, apparently, is Ms. Knox's status as a Democrat parrot of such lines as "selected, not elected." (As well as all conflicting testimony from others who knew George Bush during his Guard days.)

My essential point is this: all sides of a political battle will be inclined (to one extent or another) to accept witnesses serving their own opinions without thorough scrutiny, but I think the American Left, particularly its representatives in the mainstream media (if that's not redundant), are reaching near delusion in their practice of what ought to be a natural tendency that one strives to neutralize. The dubious motivation of those who help John Kerry must be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt (and even then...); the taint on those whose testimony helps Bush can be assumed by the fact that their testimony helps Bush.

For whatever reason, I prefer to believe that people realize, whether explicitly or subconsciously, that they're donning offal as finery. But do they? To some folks, Dan Rather is a hero; what percentage of his time does he spend speaking exclusively with them?

There was another blog post comparing the superscripts with other superscripts from contemporary National Guard memos, with the latter being not only differently shaped, but underlined as well. However, this post was the one that I was thinking of. The bottom line is that, to approximate the superscript for his quick, never-to-be-seen memo, Killian would have had to switch the actual font ball in the typewriter and might have been required to make multiple tries to get the thing as perfectly as in the memos.

But remember: the point here is Sheila Lennon's scoffing at the blogosphere's "whoops based on ignorant assumptions," as compared to the serious journalism practiced by the likes of Dan Rather. Yet, here we have a widely linked blog post actually researching the technology involved and comparing samples. Many bloggers may not have been Ivy League interns in the early '70s, but they're clearly not afraid to follow a story to discover whether or not their claims are accurate.


Posted by Justin Katz at 4:09 PM | Comments (2)
News Media

September 17, 2004

A Rough, Rough Week

I apologize to anybody who's been checking in regularly. This week was extremely tough in the classroom. With the onset of actual work (and tests and quizzes), beyond preparing for classes and discovering all of the procedural stuff that I have to keep in mind, I had an eruption of difficulty with students who didn't realize that "you should write this down" means "you should write this down" — and other study-related revelations on their part.

Moreover, I've got a deadline for a local-interest piece coming up, and writing it honestly has required some family organization — something that isn't easy to do in general, let alone on deadline. I doubt the piece'll be online, but I'll let you know more details when it's appropriate to do so.

On the home front, the plunger in the toilet tank is leaking, the bathroom sink is dripping, and now the freezer's water dispenser is apparently possessed. Outside, I'm having a running disagreement with a near-tarantula-sized spider (I want to smush him, and he wants to live), and in the basement I've got a leak that just won't caulk.

In short, I'm overwhelmed. Please stick with me; I'll eventually post something other than complaints!

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:52 PM | Comments (1)
Diary & Confession

September 16, 2004

Credibility Miser

Sheila Lennon links to Christopher Albritton's troubling account of events in Iraq:

Thousands of Iraqis are desperate to get a new passport and flee the country. These are often the most educated Iraqis — the have the money to get new passports and travel — so the brain-drain will accelerate.

The poor and the disenfranchised are finding their leaders in the populist and fundamentalist Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr or in the radical Islam of the jihadis, who are casting a long shadow on this formerly secular country. Iraq has its own home-grown Wahhabists now, something it didn't have 18 months ago.

In the context of all this, reporting on a half-assed refurbished school or two seems a bit childish and naive, the equivalent of telling a happy story to comfort a scared child. Anyone who asks me to tell the "real" story of Iraq — implying all the bad things are just media hype — should refer to this post. I just told you the real story: What was once a hell wrought by Saddam is now one of America's making.

But y'know, I have to tell you that I'm having trouble buying it. Something about the note from the anonymous MP offering "my perspective as a grunt who was on the ground" just rings a bit oddly — like a journalist's voice in a soldier's mouth. It doesn't help that Albritton's subsequent post is a request for confirmation of Bush's admission, "God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them. And then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did." (Following the first commenter's link for context, we are reminded that the quotation comes second-hand, by way of an anecdote shared by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas while in "cease-fire negotiations" with Islamic Jihad and the Popular and Democratic Fronts.)

It also doesn't help that, just a few days ago, Sheila Lennon tapped into the Gender Wars in order to distract from the fact that "a legion of young male bloggers" have caught Dan Rather and CBS peddling forgeries. (Although, Lennon says they're "likely" authentic.) Previously, she's implied that only the Right can be hateful, so much as to cause civil war.

Frankly, there's not a whole lot of credibility left on the Left to shake the conflicting impression that, for example, Arthur Chrenkoff leaves with his good news in Iraq posts. For one specific example, whereas Albritton's anonymous correspondent offers some vivid imagery...

No matter what we wanted to do, my squad was not going to restore electricity to Iraq. Every day for several months we had to drive past a blown up power tower with lines dangling about 20 feet off the ground.

... that imagery doesn't entirely square with Chrenkoff's military source, which notes:

U.S. engineers have helped place seven generators on line this month in Iraq, bringing the national electricity capacity to more than 5,300 megawatts - a level that exceeds the country's pre-war capacity of 4,400 megawatts.

Well, at least one can say with complete confidence that "power" is being lost somewhere.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:03 AM | Comments (6)
News Media

September 15, 2004

Have I Ughed Lately?

I'm just overwhelmed with stuff. Things'll improve eventually... I know it!

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:18 PM | Comments (2)
Site-Related Announcements

September 14, 2004

A Teacher's Tuesday

Sorry for my lone post, today. I had a meeting tonight and tests to grade. Now I'm exhausted. More tomorrow.

The teaching load will lighten up some when I start sending my class to all of their specials next week.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:33 PM
Site-Related Announcements

Cranstonites, Go Vote!

Anybody who's taken an empathetic interest in American history will hear something familiar in William Tooher's recent letter to the Providence Journal:

Last December, I registered two used Vespa motor scooters and paid a total of $469 in sales tax [to the state of Rhode Island]. Six months later I traded in the bikes for one larger one, for an out-of-pocket expense of $684. When I went to turn in one plate and transfer the other to the new bike, I was taxed on the full cost of the new bike -- which was $5,100, so I paid an additional $357 in sales tax. No credit for the two trade-ins!

Then, a scant two weeks later, I traded the new Vespa for a larger but less expensive bike. I traded even and figured there would be no sales tax. Oh, silly me. I was charged another $325 in sales tax for a trade that had cost me nothing out of pocket. Bottom line: I paid a total of $1,151 in sales tax for a bike that didn't cost me a dime!

Perhaps it's merely an ideological echo in my head, but in Tooher's anecdote, I hear a whisper from the early days of the American Revolution. It's one of those stories that, if not allowed to slip out of the public's awareness, results in demands for change when there are too many to ignore.

Part of the problem, in Rhode Island, has been the difficulty of change. Nobody's quite sure who to blame for the problems. And when the public's gaze begins to focus, it blurs once again with stories about why the recipients of all that undeserved revenue need it, or at least why it's reasonable to give it to them. Even reasonable gifts add up.

As it happens, today provides an opportunity to begin resolving the matter without recourse to coups. As Edward Achorn describes the sides and the stakes:

Recognizing that they could not readily beat him in a general election, given his popularity, [public unions] are trying to steal today's Republican primary [in Cranston], by running a puppet named Garry Reilly against Mr. Laffey. ...

Some of that money and organizational power has bought glossy fliers and busy phone banks that attack Mayor Laffey for having hiked taxes. That seems remarkably hypocritical, given that taxes had to be hiked to stem Cranston's financial meltdown -- brought on by giveaways negotiated by Mr. Laffey's more "cooperative" predecessors!

On the other side, informed taxpayers fear the worst. I know of some who are planning to move out of Cranston if Mr. Laffey is erased.

But the aggressiveness of this attempt to crush one politician, and scare others into slavish compliance, suggests that the state's public-employee unions are themselves deeply fearful. They know the stakes are high: If the citizens of Rhode Island begin to wake up and realize why they are paying such high taxes, the special interests' easy entrée into the taxpayers' wallets may be a thing of the past. And their iron grip on Ocean State politics could be broken.

If you live in Cranston: Go Vote! Polls close at 9:00 p.m.

For some background (including video) see here.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:28 PM
Rhode Island

September 13, 2004

Granting Half a Child

Almost unbidden, while reading Marriage Debate Blog, the following opening from a Montreal Gazette piece by Allison Hanes brought to mind a dynamic of judicial activism to which I hadn't given much thought. Here's the opening, which is almost incidental to my point:

There's no doubt the Montreal man fathered the girl who celebrated her first birthday in July - but should he get to be her daddy?

That's the emotionally and legally loaded question Quebec Superior Court will grapple with this week.

The toddler was born after the man donated sperm to an old flame who was starting a family with her lesbian partner.

I wonder if at least some judges like the feeling of offering these Brave New World rulings. If you think about it, the judge's proper role is relatively mundane: just apply the laws that others have made. By dictating the redefinition of basic, core concepts of our societal understanding, they open up whole areas of moral and factual territory over which they can stand as arbiter. Perhaps it's not so much direct power that drives them as indirect power by way of a conceit of unimpeachable wisdom.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:48 PM
Marriage & Family

Having to Make the Case

Swamped as I am, I still couldn't let Glenn Reynolds's post on the politics of same-sex marriage go without comment, mainly because of this:

I think that gay marriage is good for everyone. Marriage is a good thing, and I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be just as good a thing for gay people as for straight people. Judging from the gay couples I know, it would be a good thing -- and I'm entirely at a loss to understand why people think gay marriage somehow undermines straight marriage. But to get there, you need to make that case, not just accuse opponents of being closedminded-biblethumping-bigotsoftheredneckreligiousright.

Now, of course, I agree entirely with Prof. Reynolds's suggestion that advocates of SSM can't just declare the other side invalid and move from there. Nonetheless, as one who has followed the SSM debate closely, who has read Glenn Reynolds closely, and who has analyzed both together, I have to object that I've never seen Reynolds "make the case." To be sure, he could reply that it isn't an issue about which he's overly intent, but then, one might wonder how jeers at the Pope on the issue fit into that lack of interest. What, really, is the difference between accusing opponents of being fanatics and just acting as if opponents don't make any points worth considering?

In this one, narrow, respect, I agree with an update that Reynolds made to his post, quoting Harvard law professor Bill Stuntz as follows:

It seems to me that the gay marriage debate today is the price we pay for Roe v. Wade a generation ago. Roe sent a message to a sizeable fraction of Americans, and the message was: your views don't count. Not "you lose," but "you don't even get to make an argument." I think the rush to constitutionalize marriage is very, very bad in a host of ways and on a host of levels, but it's hard to criticize the religious right for reaching for the weapons the other side used to crush them. Like you, I assume the marriage amendment is going nowhere. Maybe, once that happens, we can actually have a political debate (not a legal argument) that produces compromise and progress instead of polarization and regress. It'd be a nice change.

It's possible (though not likely) that Prof. Stuntz is referring to an aspect of the fight against SSM that I've yet to encounter, but it seems to me that he neatly slides over a distinction that ought to be important to one who deals with law. How is seeking to pass a Constitutional Amendment — with all of the arguments, political calculations, and actual votes involved — anything like "the weapon" of bringing about the same effect through litigation? Not to exaggerate, but that's a bit like calling strong homeland defense measures "reaching for the weapons the [terrorists] used."

Perhaps I'm just worn out and of limited faculty after dealing with a roomful of twelve year olds all day, but I simply cannot understand how reasonable-sounding men of the Ivy Hall can write such things as this:

I assume the marriage amendment is going nowhere. Maybe, once that happens, we can actually have a political debate (not a legal argument) that produces compromise and progress instead of polarization and regress.

With all due respect, what concept of this issue's history has slipped beneath Professor Stuntz's perch? The Supreme Court's right-to-sodomy finding? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's decision that same-sex marriage already exists within the law? The various mayors et al. who've grabbed the refracted spotlight by taking matters into their own hands? The multiple lawsuits around the country seeking to repeat Massachusetts or to invalidate the federal Defense of Marriage Act and all of the various corresponding state statutes and amendments?

How in the Founders' names, in short, does the professor find marriage's defenders as the offensive — polarizing — side? Following on that, through what tinted lense does it appear that a failure to define marriage by vote will put an end to the attempt to do so through legal argument?

Maybe I've been too quick to assume that certain commentators are slyly working to pacify reasonable supporters of a Federal Marriage Amendment in order to allow the SSM activists to sneak through the judicial system. Maybe they just aren't able, or willing, to assess the actual, objective positioning of the two sides.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:28 PM | Comments (7)
Marriage & Family

September 12, 2004

Day by Day

Because of illnesses in his family, Chris Muir is taking some time off from writing and drawing his strip, Day by Day. I'm sure many readers join me in offering prayers for Chris's family members and for his own continued progress toward success when he is able to return.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:52 PM
Bloggers Blogging

September 11, 2004

Drifting To and Fro

As is often the way when one drifts toward or away from some habit or topic, I've been surprised, recently, to read people mentioning Andrew Sullivan's blogging activities. When he left for his August break, his blog left my mind, and I haven't been back since. Sullivan has descended from indisputably must reading to hackdom.

Intending not to return to the Daily Dish seemed such a natural decision that I let myself repose in a blissful world in which nobody paid attention to its author. Some posts that I've come across today suggest that, while that world was only a fleeting illusion, the opposite may be only a fleeting reality.

Jonah Goldberg, noting Sullivan's activist-speak reference to "principled conservatives," says, "These little jabs get so tiresome." Yes, indeed, they do. I, for one, am getting to the point of finding it a curiosity that people continue to respond to them more seriously than to the latest Dowd inanities.

Marc Comtois, in fact, is thinking about removing Sullivan from his list of links — not so much as a response to Sullivan's monomania, but because links are a species of recommendation. And as Marc advises:

Andrew, if it seems that all those with whom you once agreed now disagree with you, but still agree with each other, it is true: that should tell you which entity seems to have changed philosophically. It is you, not us, who has become inconsistent. You are not some righteous lone wolf standing on a hill howling at the moon with a song of ideological purity because his pack left him. Instead, you have wandered from the pack and, despite our howls, you ignore us.

For one example of Sullivan's drift, we turn to Paul Craddick:

After quoting a pargraph from the article, Sullivan writes, "I have to say I'm delighted by Cato's stand. Bush is slowly destroying conservatism's small government credentials and commitment to expanding personal freedom." Yes indeed, the institute is unhappy with the Bush administration for record deficit spending, and its regulatory record. Strangely, though, Sullivan omits what may be Cato's biggest complaint about Bush:

'But the tipping point was the invasion of Iraq. As early as December 2001, Institute scholars were writing op-eds urging the administration not to go to war against Saddam Hussein; when it did, Cato was one of the first think tanks to warn that the lack of postwar planning would doom the reconstruction effort. In October 2003, several Cato foreign policy experts joined the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, co-organized by its director of foreign policy studies, Christopher Preble. Today, Cato is unabashed in its calls for an immediate exit from Iraq, a view encapsulated in a March USA Today op-ed by Preble titled "wisest move: leave soon." The Institute's link to its Iraq Web page reads "exit: iraq." Indeed, when it comes to the war, Cato sounds like The Nation--in a March Chicago Sun-Times op-ed, Cato fellow Stanley Kober even called out the administration for not listening to its international critics and failing to retain international support.'

There mightn't be a more perfect illustration of the rot that has invalidated Sullivan's podium for calling anybody unprincipled. Overwhelmed by his feelings about the one issue that can, for him, subsume the importance of defeating Islamic fascism, Sullivan links arms with others who strongly opposed, and continue to oppose, what he once correctly understood to be a step toward that defeat. And he doesn't bother to address the incongruity.

One can trace the incidentals of Sullivan's turned head in his apparent misunderstanding of conservatism's lessons. While it may accord with the libertarian subset, his limited, short-sighted conception of what it means to have a "commitment to expanding personal freedom" is clearly not conservative.

A lesson that those who look to tradition are apt to retain, but that Sullivan has lost, is that personal freedom is a much fuller concept than "things I can do" — or, more psychologically appropriate, "things others can't tell me I can't do." Exhibit A: Sullivan's own political and analytical servitude to the desperately immediate cause of homosexuality's normalization.

Sullivan must manage to find the freedom of he who transcends practicality's limits such that disappointing impracticality can be acknowledged. Otherwise, his chains will drag him down.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:40 PM | Comments (2)

The Third Time Around Still Stings

I suspect that, if I live to be 150, this 9/11 Flash presentation will still cause tears to well up. It's probably more poignant than anything that words could express — certainly more poignant than anything I've managed to put into words.

For some of those words, see my central post from the anniversary last year. And here's a more-recent piece that I wrote upon discovering another personal connection. Such discoveries will surely persist throughout most of our lives — as should our prayers for the lost and their loved ones, and as must our resolve.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:07 PM | Comments (2)

Noting Who's Passive

A juxtaposition of two sentences from statements of the two main candidates for President of the United States is instructive. Here's President Bush, from his radio address:

So we will not relent until the terrorists who plot murder against our people are found and dealt with.

And here's John Kerry, from his own radio address today:

And we are one America in our unbending determination to defend our country – to find and get the terrorists before they get us.

"Will not relent" versus "unbending determination"; the first implies offense, forward attack; the second implies standing stiff in defense and inherently raises the specter of "bending determination." "The terrorists who plot murder against our people" versus just "the terrorists [who seek] to get us."

But what's more interesting, at least from my perspective, is the difference that the speaker makes to the meaning of the language that he uses. Ordinarily, I'd suggest that "found and dealt with" is a weaker, less determined phrase than "find and get them before they get us." Not only is Bush's phrase in the passive voice, but "dealt with" is vague and indecisive. Pulling the microscope back a bit, however, confirms that the immediate context conforms with the context of each speaker's persona. Here's Bush:

The United States is determined to stay on the offensive, and to pursue the terrorists wherever they train, or sleep, or attempt to set down roots. We have conducted this campaign from the mountains of Afghanistan, to the heart of the Middle East, to the horn of Africa, to the islands of the Philippines, to hidden cells within our own country.

More than three-quarters of al Qaeda's key members and associates have been detained or killed. We know that there is still a danger to America. So we will not relent until the terrorists who plot murder against our people are found and dealt with.

Staying on the "offensive." The reference to where the terrorists "sleep" evokes images of them trembling in bed. "Roots" are for ripping out. And of course, the first sentence of the paragraph that ends with "dealth with" has the word "killed." Now, here's Kerry:

I know that for those who lost loved ones that day, the past three years have been almost unbearable. Their courage and faith have been tested in a way they never imagined. But day after day, they have held on. And day after day, they and we have found hope and comfort and strength by the quiet grace of God.

We are one America in our prayers for those who were taken from us on September 11th and for their families. And we are one America in our unbending determination to defend our country — to find and get the terrorists before they get us.

Loss, pain, holding on through "quiet grace." Courage is the daily struggle to go on living. Bush is on the offensive; Kerry is determined to play defense, separating the aggressive method of that defense with an em-dash — a tagged-on subordinate clause. Note, too, whom Kerry disguises in the passive voice: whoever it was who took our loved ones away.

To Bush, the terrorists are an active enemy, requiring an active response. From the above two paragraphs and his overall image, we can tell that we — the United States — are going to pursue those who would murder us as we go about our lives wherever it might be that they slither to hide. Against that background, his use of the passive voice is a discreet turn of phrase, a sly smile reassuring us that we can trust in what's going on behind the necessarily vague public statement. "Don't you worry. They're, ahem, being dealt with."

To Kerry, the United States is acted upon passively, and given the above two paragraphs and his overall image, we have ample reason to fear that his leadership would act passively upon those faceless actors.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:44 PM | Comments (2)

The Authoritarian Pal

Anybody who's pursued an activity meant for an audience of more than one will know that nobody can please everybody. Writers, in particular, understand that sometimes gaining readers requires sacrificing others. It's just the nature of multifarious humanity.

Well, based on just my first, short week, I don't think I've come across an activity for which the necessity to balance such gains and losses is as stark as with teaching middle school. A tack that draws some kids in and quiets them with interest makes others feel free to wander the room or talk loudly. A sharp rebuke that gains the respect of some will frighten others.

Earlier in the week, I caught myself agreeing with a line that I've heard several times from teachers: If we only had to teach the good ones, it would be the most enjoyable job in the world. But I think it may be closer to the truth to say that enjoyment is made most difficult by dramatic differences between students, not by their actual ability levels.

It's tempting to teach largely to those who can be easily taught. We could zip through the rote work and get right to the intricacies of writing and reading as well as the more-challenging levels of math. But the truth of the matter is that I know the bad kids. By that, I mean that I've either stood in their shoes or been very close friends with others who have. So, I feel in a position of both obligation and ability to help them.

How does one keep the smarter kids interested while keeping the sensitive kids comforted while commanding respect from the undisciplined kids? The answer might come more easily for students with a maturity level well past 12 years old. At that age, they're just beginning to learn what the last half of their childhood education demands of them. Wish as teachers might, all of such students' conflicting needs must be met within the overriding reality that their understanding and experience of life is prohibitively narrow.

Perhaps teaching (done well) is equally about self-growth in the teacher; my sense is that the students' various needs point directly to a type of person who can answer them all. The Lord knows that I've got a long, long way to go, and thank God He does.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:24 AM | Comments (1)
Diary & Confession

September 10, 2004

The Battle Begins in Earnest?

So, it looks like I was wrong about a pending media attempt to pump some life into the phony Bush memo story. As happy as I am to see that be the case, the media cynic in me can't help but wonder whether the story's handling would have been quite different if it hadn't been for the extent, accuracy, and attention to detail, as well as the sheer amount of commentary, online. Kimberly, of IrishLaw, makes the same point, based on a sentence in the above-linked WaPo piece reading, "After doubts about the documents began circulating on the Internet yesterday morning, The Post contacted several independent experts who said they appeared to have been generated by a word processor":

I'm glad the news coverage of the apparent forgery is being run as prominently as yesterday's reporting, but I'm amazed that the Post only thought to contact independent experts and do its own reporting after the blogosphere got cranking and Fox News picked it up. If the blogosphere wasn't here, would the same questions have been raised? Would people have thought to be less credulous of these heretofore undiscovered memos? Isn't being reasonably skeptical what good journalism is all about, no matter what the eventual results of investigation? But I suspect that the journalists were, rather, falling all over themselves to "balance" the negative happenings for Kerry over the last few weeks by jumping on new allegations against Bush.

The related point that struck me in Post writers Michael Dobbs and Mike Allen's sentence was the minimal extent to which the blog angle — a huge story by any measure, I would think — played a role in the Post's coverage. John Podhoretz follows that angle in the other Post:

THE populist revolution against the so-called mainstream media continues. Yesterday, the citizen journalists who produce blogs on the Internet — and their engaged readers — engaged in the wholesale exposure of what appears to be a presidential-year dirty trick against George W. Bush.

Of course, it's only natural for reporters and media organizations institutionally to be averse to exposing their decreasing influence, but after decades of excuse making about how such-and-such a story had to be reported because journalists ought only to judge newsworthiness, not content or effect, it's certainly worth a snort, here. Bordering on shocking, however, is Dan Rather's apparent decision to pick this battle in the ongoing war of the medias (new and old) to make a stand. The boys at Power Line, who have remained all over this story, speculate that Dan Rather is intending to retire soon, anyway, so he's cashing in his chips, including those usually reserved for legacy, in an attempt to get John Kerry in the White House.

Given, again, the sheer force and credibility with which the Internet media responded to this particular affront, however, the predictable stall of focusing on any coulda/maybe that still remains probably won't be an adequate guard to the flood. If it's not, then Dan Rather may very well take CBS News and perhaps even the already sinking Democrat party, if some of its members are right (or especially if it comes out that the Kerry campaign was involved in the promotion of the forgery), with him.

In response to my post on the subject from yesterday, Ben Bateman comments:

I imagine that nearly everyone who gets their news on the web pities the poor people who still rely on the old media. Perhaps this tale will play a key role in helping large numbers of those people understand just how ignorant they are choosing to remain.

To the extent that the general public actually follows news, rather than passively accepting whatever items land on the front step or the television, I imagine Ben is correct. What continues to amaze me, however, is the path that the mainstream media seems to be choosing. They could have adapted to the new reality — meaning not just the technology, but the revolutionary ethic, as well — and pretty much held their dominant positions, perhaps even using blogs as a sort of minor league from which to farm talent. Rather than swim with the current, however, they appear to be digging in, watching the flood rise, insisting that it will stop before it topples them.

Although it raises interesting questions about the degree to which the ideologues who populate the industry realize, deep down, that their views would not hold up to scrutiny, it's still a shame. Whether it's ultimately a more healthy scenario from society's vantage point may be a matter of debate for decades to come.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:25 PM | Comments (7)
News Media

September 9, 2004

Debunked Before the Workday's Out

I'm truly sorry not to have been able to follow the anti-Bush National Guard memo-forgery scandal as it unfolded throughout the day. Such are blogs that a highly visible mainstream media report is minutely proven (in my opinion) to include forged documents before the average man on the street had even heard the reports. (If pro newsies stay true to form, the story will run a bit longer in the mainstream before petering out without correction.)

You've probably seen the debunking all over the place, but I'll provide a few good places to start, if you haven't. I came across the story in the Corner (up from here). There, Jonah Goldberg links to Powerline's thorough coverage. An ill Glenn Reynolds has a roundup, and for the truth seared — seared — with humor, see Scrappleface.

Amazingly, although I've come to the pile-on late, I've found a point that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere. Powerline notes a comparison of the Lt. Col. Jerry Killian's actual signature with one from one of the documents.

What's striking about this is that I had intended to mention that the two Killian signatures on the (probable) forgeries don't match, either (even accounting for the fact that one is just initials). Here's the full signature from the May 4, 1972 memo that CBS has on its Web site (PDF), followed by the initialed signature from the August 1, 1972 memo from the same set (PDF), followed by Lt. Col. Killian's signature on Bush's discharge papers (PDF):

Although I would tentatively suggest that the second one is a forgery of the first — Doesn't the "J" have the same wobbly, too-careful look as "dad's" signature on that third grade test that you failed and had to have signed? — what they have in common compared with the actual Killian signature is perhaps more noteworthy.

Note the delicacy of the "K," in the first two images, with the right-hand line starting with an inward hook at the top, curving toward the middle and then bouncing back into a downward curve. Although the two are visibly different, they are both entirely different from the sharp, barely curved lines — with an extra pen stroke for the bottom leg — in the actual signature. Consider also the utter lack of a bottom loop on Killian's actual, angular "J."

Not knowing much about typical office structures in the military, I don't know whether Lt. Col. Killian would have had a secretary whom he might have had sign his memos. (Although that might offer some justification for his using his "sloppy version" on somebody's discharge papers, while reserving his elegant signature for quick notes.) Even if he did, however, have such assistance, we've got three signatures that don't match, not just two.

Do you suppose there's at least one each of a Kerry ally and a CBS employee compulsively checking the blogosphere today wondering just how much we'll manage to observe and dig up?

An expert whom Stephen Hayes cites for a Weekly Standard piece on the subject offers an alternate explanation:

So can we say with absolute certainty that the documents were forged? Not yet. Xavier University's Polt, in an email, offers two possible scenarios. "Either these are later transcriptions of earlier documents (which may have been handwritten or typed on a typewriter), or they are crude and amazingly foolish forgeries. I'm a Kerry supporter myself, but I won't let that cloud my objective judgment: I'm 99% sure that these documents were not produced in the early 1970s."

That might explain why the second signature above — which is from the most damaging of the forged memos — looks like a forgery of a forgery: the first signature being from a transcription, and the second attempting to copy it. But that's about it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:26 PM | Comments (8)

Skinned Knees and See-Ya-Laters

I lack adjectives to describe an email that arrived in my inbox today, from reader Mark Miller.

Those that come to mind — "cordial," "gracious," and (most objectionable) "nice" — would do, but in the context of correspondence between people who've long and deeply disagreed, such words have picked up a subtext of if-you-don't-have-anything-good-to-say. So clearly, "cordial," "gracious," and "nice" would be misleading if used to describe Mark's cordial, gracious, and nice note. Truth be told, it went a long way toward allaying my fears that the mutually respectful, if sometimes pointed, interaction that I'd hoped to foster with him might be untenable.

The crux is that (good) career changes leave Mark expecting his time and ability to comment on blogs to be dramatically curtailed. If that proves to be the case, then the comment sections will surely suffer for his absence. And if it proves to be the case, I thank Mark for the value that he has undoubtedly added to this blog for the past ten months or so.

But... as much as he cites minimal time during the day and deficient technology at home, I can't help but make one of those suggestive faces that fiction writers have such a hard time describing efficiently (eyebrows up, mouth thin, dimples deep, head tilted) and note that the big issue that started us arguing — same-sex marriage — has been in a bit of a lull lately. Time will tell where the smart money ought to have been, but mine is on a new computer and broadband over acceptance of bloglessness.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:43 PM | Comments (2)
Diary & Confession

September 8, 2004

That Conservative Media

The point has probably been made elsewhere, although it's the sort of perspective reminder of which one tends to lose sight over time and in the heat of discussion, but the argument over whether the mainstream media is biased might really be over the degree of leftishness that represents the objective center. The East Coast is discouragingly west if one is adrift in the Atlantic Ocean, after all.

Taking a look at Project Censored's top 10 "censored media stories of 2003–2004" (or the full list of the top 25) illustrates what people probably mean when they say that the "corporate media" tilts right, if anything:

#1: Wealth Inequality in 21st Century Threatens Economy and Democracy
#2: Ashcroft vs. the Human Rights Law that Hold Corporations Accountable
#3: Bush Administration Censors Science
#4: High Levels of Uranium Found in Troops and Civilians
#5: The Wholesale Giveaway of Our Natural Resources
#6: The Sale of Electoral Politics
#7: Conservative Organization Drives Judicial Appointments
#8: Cheney's Energy Task Force and The Energy Policy
#9: Widow Brings RICO Case Against U.S. government for 9/11
#10: New Nuke Plants: Taxpayers Support, Industry Profits

Curious as to what methodology — from a university-affiliated "media research group" — yielded a media bias list without a single conservative issue of complaint, I took a look at Project Censored's drippingly and unapologetically progressive Web site:

Between 700 and 1000 stories are submitted to Project Censored each year from journalists, scholars, librarians, and concerned citizens around the world. With the help of more than 200 Sonoma State University faculty, students, and community members, Project Censored reviews the story submissions for coverage, content, reliability of sources and national significance. The university community selects 25 stories to submit to the Project Censored panel of judges who then rank them in order of importance. Current or previous national judges include: Noam Chomsky, Susan Faludi, George Gerbner, Sut Jhally, Frances Moore Lappe, Norman Solomon, Michael Parenti, Herbert I. Schiller, Barbara Seaman, Erna Smith, Mike Wallace and Howard Zinn.

Recognize any names? Surprised that "wealth inequality" is the #1 "censored" story? (This is not a quantitative analysis; other conditions apply.) Who considers the media to be censorious of liberal causes? Well, group leader Professor Peter Phillips, for one. Of last year's reports of mass graves in Iraq and of prosecution of Serbian military leaders, Dr. Phillips writes:

These stories show how corporate media likes to give the impression that the US government is working diligently to root out evil doers around the world and to build democracy and freedom. This theme is part of a core ideological message in support of our recent wars on Panama, Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Governmental spin transmitted by a willing US media establishes simplistic mythologies of good vs. evil often leaving out historical context, special transnational corporate interests, and prior strategic relationships with the dreaded evil ones.

The hypocrisy of US policy and corporate media complicity is evident in the coverage of Donald Rumsfeld's stop over in Mazar-e Sharif Afghanistan December 4 to meet with regional warlord and mass killer General Abdul Rashid Dostum and his rival General Ustad Atta Mohammed. Rumsfeld was there to finalize a deal with the warlords to begin the decommissioning of their military forces in exchange for millions of dollars in international aid and increased power in the central Afghan government.

Upon reading the example of a Good v. Evil Mythology spoiler, perhaps you rubbed your eyes and looked again. You see, the U.S. isn't working to remove the power of evil doers and establish democracy and freedom. How could it be, when it's leveraged a warlord to remove a theocratic regime and then — talk about war being a last option — began efforts to buy-down the warlord's military forces? The simplistic right-wing mainstream media apparently chooses to hide the reality that the only options in dealing with unsavory geopolitical conditions are war and culpable complicity.

Here's more explanation, from Prof. Phillips, of how and why "the U.S. news is so biased against democratic liberation struggles all over the world":

The U.S. media ignores big questions like: Who loses in the process of economic growth and wealth accumulation? What about the one billion people in the world who are surplus labor and un-needed in the international market place? How are they to survive? What about the global issues of environmental sustainability and the using up of our unrenewable natural resources.

These are the questions of a socio-environmental apocalypse. Free market capitalism is creating an evil empire of corruption and waste that generates wretchedness for billions of people. All the indicators are that wealth and resources do not trickle down but rather become increasingly concentrated in the hands of the elites in the nation states of the First World and their senior and junior partners around the globe.

Now, I'm not a fan of all that Western culture exports with its dollars, but as I suggest to my fellow Christians, the responsibility for bringing our message across thresholds opened through economic means lies with us. So, too, could progressives see the removal of fascists, theocrats, and dictators as an opportunity. I guess the politically driven ideologues of the secular Left prefer other methods of... ahem... persuasion.

Frankly, I can't help but think that Doc Phillips is heading toward that conundrum whereby "democracy" involves the people's receiving a government and society that they wouldn't choose above the individualist "ideological messages" of the West. One might also find reason for scrutiny in the bifurcation evident in the statement that "[s]everal times over the past 100 years working people have joined with progressives." Who, in that partnership, did the heavy lifting, do you suppose?

From my perspective, working people are increasingly on to the progressives' game, and the further Left the "academics, progressives and leftists" manage to pull the mainstream media, the more discredited becomes the whole modernist bunch.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:15 PM | Comments (3)
News Media

The Acronym Spells Out the Truth

Having not read the relevant column, I don't really have anything substantive to say about a letter to the Providence Journal lambasting one of its regular opinion writers. But I just love the name of the group to which Edward Brennan, of Cranston, makes reference therein: the Sakonnet Peace Alliance.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:41 PM

Credit Where Credit's Due

An impressive post from Jeremiah Lewis following up on the wheat Eucharist discussion.

I have to confess to being almost entirely naive about the preconceptions and misconceptions that people have about Catholicism. Just as all Rhode Islanders are kin in Vermont, New Englanders in California, Americans in Europe, and so on, I've tended to view all religious folks in the West as kin in a Godless society, even if separated by differing doctrinal opinions, as citizens are separated geographically. In other words, my errors tend toward ascribing too much similarity, smothering real, genuine, and significant differences, and therefore failing to move discussions toward harmony — even harmony within disagreement.

One problem is that tensions run so high — so high as to take the naif aback — that it becomes very difficult even to tease out the actual differences and misconceptions. Bravo to Jeremiah for picking at the knot until some complicating kinks were revealed, and bravo to Elana for helping him to do so.

(N.B. — I'd have linked to Elana's contributions to the debate, but they appear to have been in private email. If my guess is wrong, I welcome correction.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:18 PM
Bloggers Blogging

September 7, 2004

A Matter of Experience

In the comments to this post, Mark Miller writes:

I think the decision to divorce where children are involved is agonizing for a majority of couples.

Does that correspond with people's experience? It's an honest question. The fact of the matter is that I can't think of a single divorce with which I've a personal connection in which the originating spouse gave any indication that the children were otherwise than a secondary consideration. If he or she was agonized, it hasn't shown. Ever.

That's not to say that there aren't such situations, but are they really a majority, as Mark contends?

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:53 PM | Comments (22)
Marriage & Family

After the Bell

Whew. Handling a large class is tiring! Although, I'm finding motivation to actually teach in the fact that the students have been most attentive while I've been doing so. Luckily, I've whole curricula of material from which to draw; first days are often nebulous, I guess.

I'm going to run a couple errands. Breathe a little bit. Then I'll do some reading and posting. Things'll be a little smoother once I'm a few weeks ahead in my planning.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:24 PM
Quips & Asides

September 6, 2004

Irreconcilable Self-Evidences

By way of a train of thought beginning with an area blogger who lives near there, as I walked into BJs wholesale club, today, another New England blogger came to mind — Bil Herron. And lo, what should I find in my email inbox this evening but a trackback from Mr. Herron responding to my previous post. School starts tomorrow, and I've only got a few more hours to prepare myself — both planning-wise and mentally — to walk the line between educating and entertaining 28 twelve year olds, but I do want to make a couple of points (seeing as Bil called me a "smart guy" and all).

What came to mind, when I noticed the AP's return to the Air National Guard story, were statistics like this, this, and this, as well as the grilling that White House spokesman Scott McClellan underwent over President Bush's National Guard pay stubs. In other words, I'm glad that I wasn't sipping any beverages when I read about the AP's having "identified five categories of records" that [insert innuendo] are absent from the president's records — in an article that doesn't happen to mention that John Kerry hasn't released his Vietnam-era government documentation.

As busy as I am — and this close to the election — I don't know that I can fruitfully debate the topic of media bias with somebody who, at this stage in the game, is still suggesting that "BIAS!" is just an "incredibly effective distraction" perpetuated by "the Big Republican Communications Machine." For instance, Bil finds it grasping that I highlighted the "heroism" paragraph as editorializing, but as I suggested, that paragraph serves to touch on the Kerry-related controversy without offering a single specific claim.

Saying that people have attacked somebody's "heroism" is akin to saying that they attacked his "patriotism" in that it's easily dismissed as dirty politics — even more so when 250 veterans are tagged as "some veterans who support Bush." (Note that I'm running out of time to check that 250 number, but it's about right.) For the sake of illustrating what I'm talking about (in case it isn't clear) let me contrast reporter Matt Kelley's language with something that I think would have been more balanced in an article that addresses very specific findings against Bush's record:

Democrat John Kerry commanded a Navy Swift boat in Vietnam and was awarded five medals, including a Silver Star. But his heroism has been challenged in ads by some veterans who support Bush.

Democrat John Kerry commanded a Navy Swift boat in Vietnam and was awarded five medals, including a Silver Star. But the circumstances under which he received those medals have been challenged in ads, public statements, and books by about 250 veterans who do not support his bid for the presidency.

Although I realize that it may seem a distraction, given the multiple pleas of busyness on my part, if Bil has the time and interest, I would very much like to see his substantiation of this claim:

Bonus points if you can do that while remembering that the AP duly covered the, let's say, "credibility-challenged," charges of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

In all sincerity, I truly could have missed something, but I haven't seen any AP (or other Big Media) coverage of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that comes anywhere near "duly" thorough. The existence of such reportage would seem a minimum requirement if we are to believe that media balance requires resurrection of the amply addressed Air National Guard story.

In the meantime, I'll be keeping an eye out — you know, in the BJs parking lot — for Bil's SAAB. Honk if the image is too perfect for comment.

(NB: that closing jibe is made in the spirit of respectful mirth that Bil's post about his bumper sticker seems to invite.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:48 PM | Comments (4)
News Media

Are You Kidding Me?

A partisan news service, the Associated Press, is going to bat for John Kerry:

Documents that should have been written to explain gaps in President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service are missing from the military records released about his service in 1972 and 1973, according to regulations and outside experts. ...

Challenging the government's declaration that no more documents exist, the AP identified five categories of records that should have been generated after Bush skipped his pilot's physical and missed five months of training.

Reporter Matt Kelley does mention attacks on Kerry's record — admitting, it seems to me, that his reportage is meant as return fire — but he manages to do so without citing a single specific accusation. Check out the editorializing:

Democrat John Kerry commanded a Navy Swift boat in Vietnam and was awarded five medals, including a Silver Star. But his heroism has been challenged in ads by some veterans who support Bush.

You know, it's almost getting boring to highlight these things. Maybe the growing public discontent with news services offers a partial explanation for AP reporters' hearing people boo everywhere they go.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:43 AM | Comments (1)
News Media

September 5, 2004

Analysis in Two Dimensions

Because it seems typical of a certain mindset, a letter to the Providence Journal from Walter Bosse of Cumberland, Rhode Island, demands response:

We need to create jobs for the unemployed, but no more than that. The nationwide marketing plan discussed by Governor Carcieri for Quonset would create many more jobs than we have unemployed. The top jobs for new companies are filled by people who already work for the company and would be moved in. The remaining jobs might be filled by the unemployed. Where would the people come from to fill jobs above what are available here? They would have to move here, also.

Without guessing at Mr. Bosse's general political approach, one can say that his suggestion echoes the socialist's conceit that these things can be micromanaged. They can't be; moreover, in a state of stasis, problems are more difficult to handle, and economic mobility ceases to exist.

Let's think this through. Suppose Rhode Island companies need more workers than there are available in the state: what do they have to do? Well, they either have to lure workers away from other companies, or they have to attract workers from elsewhere, entailing either a move or a commute. In all cases, they have to make themselves more attractive to potential employees; pay and benefits increase across the board.

As for housing and population density, the value of housing will increase. In an environment primed for growth, that will require companies to make further efforts to attract and keep employees. Increased tax receipts from both companies and the wealthier citizenry can be directed toward improvement of public land and rethinking of convoluted transportation systems. And if the two sides of the issue come together such that companies can't afford the rate that the market demands they pay for workers, perhaps industries that pay less will have to move elsewhere or find ways to be more efficient.

I've simplified the picture, of course; it's probably beyond human ability to fully comprehend. But just as it is exponentially more difficult to move a car without allowing its own forward motion, so with the economy. Without a doubt, the various forces at play will require adept steering (i.e., management), but in a way that is probably related to the socialist's conceit, asking fellow citizens to accept the squalid stagnation of the status quo to maintain a preferred density is the liberal's selfishness.

If it happens that Rhode Island begins to change in character, then the "country feel" will become a premium for which citizens who can will have to pay, in some form, or to look elsewhere to find. And should they decide to do the latter, they'll get a much better price for their land, perhaps enabling an upgrade in lifestyle when they move somewhere that fewer people wish to be.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:21 PM
Rhode Island

September 4, 2004

For VDH, History Is Now

I've put my finger on at least one reason that Victor Davis Hanson's writing is so compelling. It's as if he's offering a well-written historical account... of the present. I've changed this paragraph to past-tense to illustrate:

"Seething"? The radical Left was courting disaster and threatened to destroy the credibility of liberals who were apparently fearful of condemning the madness in their midst — this "cry of the heart" to save Saddam Hussein from the wrath of an imperialistic and bullying United States. When upscale protestors swore at delegates and paraded obscene signs in New York while John Kerry went windsurfing in shades and racing gloves, you had a recipe for disaster for wannabe populists.

A sense permeates Hanson's writing that he already knows the outcome. In the bifurcated images of the liberal/Democrat segment of society, we get a perspective akin to historical juxtapositions of a king's soft, perhaps naive, life and the brutality of his foot soldiers, and the historian builds his narrative with a view toward where it's headed.

Where Children Sleep Under the Gaze of the World

Pinpoint flashes through the branches —
the wind cool as early winter,
but not from season shifts of sun,
nor from fronts, nor chills' migration,

but from sweat bled through tense fabric,
from tracks (wet) slipping through the flames
of stung cheeks, beneath eyes that blur
As if steam (not tears) were rising.

Sky lights, like huddled secret beams,
high up in branches where there might
rest a house, for soft whispered oaths —
dead serious oaths to fight childhood's wars.

Not this light. This light is distant,
afar away, unreachable,
beyond the reach of mothers' calls,
beyond laughs, beyond ladders, limbs,

beyond the morning bells of Beslan,
where children sleep under the gaze of the world.

No comfort has the father's night,
an ocean and a continent
from where mothers cover their eyes
against motherhood corrupted,

and children with their rasping breaths,
and those whose chests lie steady, call
to fathers with their eyes enflamed —
dead serious oaths of dawn's reply,

to calm the dull, drear sobs of Beslan,
where children sleep under the gaze of the world.

I'll probably edit this heavily, but a post by Michelle Malkin tore it from me raw and half-formed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:28 AM | Comments (2)
International Affairs

September 3, 2004

A Can of Whupass with His Name on It

Jay Nordlinger passes along an anecdote that made me laugh aloud (in a cheering way):

You may want to hear a little more from Zell Miller — this is from the Imus radio program: "A 73-year-old man doesn't have any business coming to New York and getting involved in all this stuff. He ought to stay down in Young Harris with his two yellow labs, Gus and Woodrow, and let the world go by, I guess. I had just been holding one" — just been holding one! — "for Chris Matthews ever since I saw him browbeat Michelle Malkin on his show that night. He wouldn't let that little 5'2", 95-pound girl say a word, and I just said to myself, 'If he ever gets into my face like that, I'm gonna pop him.'"

For readers who are squeamish about violence (at least when insinuated by those of conservative bent), I note that Uncle Zell obviously meant a rhetorical pop.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:23 PM
News Media

Indoctrinating with Song

So the school at which I'll be teaching this year has just bought a new religion curriculum — new books, new schedules, new material... and an accompanying CD alleging to be "music for teens." As one might guess, the curriculum's producers — God bless their well-meaning souls — haven't quite succeeded in compiling a track list that will reach the kids' pop culture spirits.

But the idea is a good one, and I'd like to run with it. The problem is that, being a relatively new Christian, I'm also relatively new to Christian music, so both my knowledge and collection are inadequate to the task. Please, if you've any favorites in this category — and I'd also be interested in albums or specific songs from the more famous, secular side of the industry — let me know in the comments sections. Hey, for all I know, some of y'all work in the music biz; self promotion is allowed.

I'd also welcome (ahem) any CD contributions that the spirit of the project might inspire you to send along.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:34 PM | Comments (4)
Quips & Asides

Run with It, Suzie!

I'm beginning to think that Susan Estrich is a very well placed, long left fallow mole for the Republicans:

Will it be the three, or is it four or five, drunken driving arrests that Bush and Cheney, the two most powerful men in the world, managed to rack up? (Bush's Texas record has been sealed. Now why would that be? Who seals a perfect driving record?)

After Vietnam, nothing is ancient history, and Cheney is still drinking. What their records suggest is not only a serious problem with alcoholism, which Bush but not Cheney has acknowledged, but also an even more serious problem of judgment. Could Dick Cheney get a license to drive a school bus with his record of drunken driving? (I can see the ad now.) A job at a nuclear power plant? Is any alcoholic ever really cured? So why put him in the most stressful job in the world, with a war going south, a thousand Americans already dead and control of weapons capable of destroying the world at his fingertips.

It has been said that in the worst of times, Kissinger gave orders to the military not to obey Nixon if he ordered a first strike. What if Bush were to fall off the wagon? Then what? Has America really faced the fact that we have an alcoholic as our president?

Go for it! I can't wait to see the commercials! And then I can't wait to see President Bush convince a few more million (or tens of million) people of what is already obvious to anybody paying attention: that the Republican Party is now the proper home for compassionate people who believe in renewal and forgiveness and who abhor the rabid victimizer. As Lane Core has said (CCCLXVI times), the Democrats are in self-destruct mode.

Incidentally, Lane's mention of Dick Cheney's five deferments from enlistment during Vietnam brings to mind a point that I haven't seen anybody make. (What that says about the merits of the suggestion, I'll leave for others to decide.)

A while back, I bit my lip through a brief session of some liberal writer friends' mocking Dick Cheney's health (mostly passing along fifth-person knowledge of how closely to death Cheney lives each day). Well, perhaps that's why even those who might be inclined to think his draft avoidance 30 years ago to be proof of hypocrisy won't get incensed about the vice president's actions as a younger man: because it's impossible to envision him as a younger man.

Clinton still looks young (and even more so in the early '90s). It's easy to picture him as a strapping youth, dodging Uncle Sam, though he was more than fit to enlist. Cheney, not so much. However inaccurate that impression of Cheney as a young man might be, I think it still plays a role.

Take a moment, too, to consider Lane's discovery that Propaganda 101 was not wasted on the graphic designers over at Time magazine.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:08 PM | Comments (1)

Pop the Bubble

Proclaims Providence Journal blogger Sheila Lennon:

Nobody who voted for Al Gore is likely to vote for Bush this time, but a lot of 2000 Bush supporters -- fiscal conservatives, gay Republicans such as Andrew Sullivan, people living on fixed incomes, people of faith who aren't so sure that the voice speaking to George Bush and molding American policy is actually the voice of God -- are likely to stay home or vote for Kerry.

Sounds like repercolated by-the-coffee-machine wisdom from around the Projo staff lounge — "it stands to reason" logic on a question that ought to be a matter of evidence. Interestingly, just a few paragraphs down, Ms. Lennon mentions Zell Miller. Nobody, I guess.

I'm loathe to be over-confident, and I have to admit being a bit fearful of its extent, but I am so looking forward to reading around the Internet the day after President Bush wins (perhaps in a landslide). Will the by-the-coffee-machine chitchat include at least a hint of the honest question, "How could we have been so wrong?"

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:23 AM | Comments (11)
News Media

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "The Reluctant Preacher," by Andrew McNabb.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:01 AM

Lashing Out at Unheard Voices

Crouched down at eye-level with my two-month old daughter, a man to whom I'm disjointedly related said, "I just can't understand how anybody could hurt them."

My sister-in-law's mother's second husband is a notable presence at family gatherings. Last year, my not-quite-two-year-old daughter stared at him for the entirety of her cousin's party: "Santa Claus!" Well, perhaps a modified Santa. I'm not sure what his religious practices are, but he gives the impression of a Biker for Christ. He's a gentle, jovial man who wears a hard-rocker's t-shirts, and when I took his comment as less of an incredulous assertion than a spark for intellectual discussion, I quickly realized my mistake, although his reaction supplied by far more wisdom than my rambling.

I related to him an anecdote that a child-protection professional of some sort had told the auditorium full of teachers in which I sat a couple of years ago as a grade-school computer instructor:

A harried single mother of a young boy and a newborn, desperately had to run to the store around the corner from her apartment. Her son was playing quietly, and the newborn was sleeping, so she asked the very friendly guy across the hall just to stand in her apartment and keep an eye on things for five minutes — no more than ten. He protested that he didn't know anything about watching children, but she assured him that he need only be concerned with obvious and desperate dangers and left him there.

Time passed. Five and ten minutes came and went. Fifteen. Twenty. At about thirty minutes, the baby stirred. At thirty-five, she began to scream, and her brother suggested that the neighbor pick her up. He did so — nervously — and bounced her around a little. She kept crying.

After another ten minutes, the brother informed his agitated babysitter that mommy usually gave his sister a bottle when she cried, so the man found an empty bottle, went to the refrigerator, and filled the bottle with nice cold whole milk. The baby's body didn't take it well, and the screaming escalated. Then the phone rang.

The mother, as it turns out, had enough outstanding tickets that, when she was pulled over while rushing to the store, the policeman arrested her. In the process of it all, she proved unable to contact her neighbor immediately. And when she finally managed to do so, the screaming baby, and the whining brother, and the ringing phone were all too much, and the panicked neighbor threw the baby against the wall. She stopped screaming.

"There's something about their screams that touches a very deep chord," I concluded.

"Yeah, to help them! Not to throw them against the wall!"

I stammered the beginning of a response, but couldn't quite make things come together, under the sudden pressure of feeling that I'd seemed to be making excuses. What I tried to express was that the deep instinct sparked by a baby's cries is to do something. When there is nothing to be done, or nothing that works, blood pressure rises and one's sense of desperation with it. It took me until my second child to be able (somewhat) to have the presence of mind to run down the checklist of possible actions, conclude that nothing is seriously wrong, and resign myself to the cries. A person with absolutely no experience or psychological preparedness to assess and answer a baby's needs would feel only frustration and an undefined urge to make it stop.

The reason I stammered my response last Saturday afternoon (apart from the few empty-stomach beers that I'd had) was that I began to wonder, even as I spoke, whether there mightn't be a broader statement there. How much of our society's corrosive discombobulation could be described as a frustrated response to our disconnection from instinct and from the embrace of God? Having suppressed and denied our natures and He who formed them, we have no channels for strong pulls that we do not understand, and so we lash out, trying to silence the aggravation.

It won't work, though, because the call is inside of us, and with each lashing we know less what it truly requires.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:12 AM | Comments (5)

September 2, 2004

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Recollections of Switzerland," by Christine L. Mullen.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:47 AM

A Southerner and a Lady's Honor

Wizbang, who has a link to video, mentions it, but I haven't seen much commentary on what I think is one of the most interesting aspects of the Zell Miller v. Chris Matthews fight: the Senator's defense of Michelle Malkin's honor. From the transcript:

MILLER: If you are going to ask me a question, step back and let me answer.

MATTHEWS: Senator, please.

MILLER: You know, I wish we...

MILLER: I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel.

MILLER: Now, that would be pretty good.

Don't ask me—don't pull that...

MATTHEWS: Can you can come over? I need you, Senator. Please come over.

MILLER: Wait a minute. Don't pull that kind of stuff on me, like you did that young lady when you had her there, browbeating her to death. I am not her. I am not her.

MATTHEWS: Let me tell you, she was suggesting that John Kerry purposely shot himself to win a medal. And I was trying to correct the record.

MILLER: You get in my face, I am going to get back in your face. ... You ask these questions and then you just talk over what I am trying to answer, just like you did that woman the other day.

For a sense of Miller's effect on Matthews, just slowly scroll down the Miller interview portion of the transcript. After Matthew's chastening, the questions and answers come in large blocks — almost paragraphs. I'm not a big-time TV personality, but that sort of discussion seems much more productive, and much more interesting, to me. That a Senator had to demand it makes this comment from Matthews later in his show even more delectable:

I think when he goes back and starts reading what I said, instead of checking on the latest blog site, he will learn a lot more about what's going on here.

I think Miller does know "what's going on," and Matthews is beginning to figure it out, too. Online transcripts make it obvious who talks in incomprehensible bulletpoints. And even the talking heads are beginning to feel the media earth shaking.

Michelle applauds here.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:26 AM | Comments (11)
News Media

An Assignment

If I were able to assign required reading for y'all, a brilliant article to which reader Mike S. directed my attention would be it. "Supremely Modern Liberals," by James Hitchcock, is more than worth your time, long as it is.

On first reading, it seems to encompass just about every concept toward which conversation on this blog has tended, lately. Even the wheat thing fits in — as a nearly perfect example of the way in which emotions are tugged to change policies in such a way as to undermine the basic ideas and beliefs behind those policies, under the radar and with minimal review of the original reasoning.

Hitchcock's essay has the feel of a quick explanation of a much larger theory, and much of it requires further exploration. I've printed it out with the intention of reading it again when I've got a chance. Still, it's already pulled my calling into sharper focus, so perhaps it could do the same for you.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:40 AM | Comments (3)

The Other Side of the Coin

Earl Appleby has continued his convention coverage with daily posts related to the Republican national convention. Day 1 focused on the official convention bloggers, day 2 shifted toward the Catholic blogging world, and day 3 turns to face the DMC (dominant media culture).

Earl also has a post about the comments from Vice President Cheney regarding same-sex marriage. To be honest, I think the most concrete thing that can be said about those comments is that they've provided yet more evidence of news media bias. For example, the AP piece in the Boston Globe to which Earl links, "Cheney says he, Bush, at odds over same-sex marriage: Wants issue left up to each state rather than a new amendment," clearly plays up and exaggerates the explicitness of any disagreement. It needn't even be deliberate partisanship; for a class of people who believe that opposition to same-sex marriage is just veiled support for locking up homosexuals, a direct statement that, in the VP's words, people "ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to" does sound like a contradiction.

As the White House transcript shows, Cheney was at best ambiguous about where his opinion ends and the President's begins. Peculiarly, that transcript ends at about the most crucial part, but CNN provides the missing text:

Most states have addressed this. There is on the books the federal statute, Defensive Marriage Act passed in 1996. To date, it has not been successfully challenged in the courts and it may be sufficient to resolve the issue. But at this point my own preference is as I've stated but the president makes basic policy for this administration, and he's made it clear that he does, in fact, support a constitutional amendment on this issue.

Reading the preceding points, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a confident answer about what Cheney's specific policy "preference" would be. I, for one, have argued that the Federal Marriage Amendment is the best bet to grant the states — meaning their voters and elected representatives — the most room to maneuver. A particular stumble on Cheney's part — "And I don't think -- well, so far [the FMA] hasn't had the votes to pass." — is interesting, too.

Many people see Dick Cheney as a consummate politician, so I wouldn't discard the possibility that his spiel, which managed at the same time to illustrate a thorough knowledge of where the issue stands and to offer naught but innuendo for predictions and preferences, was designed to give some not-quite-lost gay Republican voters a tiny bit more room to come back into the fold.

That doesn't mean that we who oppose same-sex marriage oughtn't keep an eye on the VP. It could be that he's fallen victim to the principle that Ben Shapiro terms "blood is thicker than morality." Given his social class, it wouldn't surprise me if Dick Cheney actually did support same-sex marriage. Given his secure adherence to principles, it also wouldn't surprise me if he were the type of man who could tell his homosexual daughter that his love and support for her does not extend the support for the redefinition of a bedrock institution.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:27 AM | Comments (1)

Just So They Know

If it weren't for the war against Islamofascism,* this sort of stuff would keep me home in November:

President Bush's campaign asked a court Wednesday to force the Federal Election Commission to act on its complaints against anti-Bush groups spending millions of dollars in the presidential race, arguing that the FEC is failing to do its job.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, the campaign argued that the FEC is taking too long to address what the campaign calls illegal spending of corporate, union and big individual donations to influence the presidential race. Its lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction that would force the commission to act on its March complaint within 30 days. After that, the campaign could sue to block the groups' activities through court action rather than relying on the FEC.

I'm sure it's purely a political consideration — taking the opening that circumstances and the opponent have provided — but that doesn't mean it's right.

* ... and abortion and same-sex marriage and tax cuts and... alright, alright, I'm just griping about the FEC suit. That doesn't change the sorry state of affairs emerging, in which neither party cares to take up the obvious political winner of First Amendment rights and no branch of government will defend them. The nation will have to be far less polarized on major issues before the problem can be remedied, I suspect. Hopefully it won't come too late, with polarization defused by dictatorial command.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:31 AM

September 1, 2004

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:26 PM

Finding the Direct Interest

While expressing another position related to marriage that leads me to wonder what, in his experience, has made his assumptions differ so dramatically from mine, Mark Miller's comments to a recent post bring forth a link between his views on divorce and on same-sex marriage:

In this case, I think I am the one being conservative - people taking personal responsibility and limiting government involvement. To me, this issue is akin to outlawing spanking. Some studies have shown that spanking is not good for children. Should the government criminalize it ? I don't want the government telling me how to raise my kids - and that includes not telling me I have to stay married - whatever good intentions may exist.

Spanking is just one of various examples that Mark has used in the same context — smoking being another — all of which fail in that they conflate various forms of state interest. One could argue — wrongly, in my opinion — that the government's interest in the healthy development of its citizens gives it the right to determine whether certain parental strategies, such as spanking, serve that interest and thereafter regulate them. But that would require quite a different argument from one suggesting that the government's interest in the same gives it the right to determine when it will recognize the dissolution of a marriage.

As has often been repeated lately, marriage is not merely a private contract between two parties. Rather, it's a relationship in which the public invests its cultural and financial capital and that the government certifies representatives to witness and recognize. Couples who do not wish for the public, through its government structure, to have a say in whether parenthood dictates a heightened barrier to exit from marriage are free to pursue religious sanctification and contractual union, while forgoing government recognition and its benefits. Even those who object to my offering that as an option ought to see that official marriage, on one hand, and parental strategy, on the other, are not at the same level of legitimate government interest.

The distinction between the two presents itself in the form of a decision in the issue of healthcare. Although some are trying, it's currently very difficult to argue on behalf of behavioral regulations for consumers of fast food. The dynamic would change, however, were the government to take a more significant role in the provision of healthcare. The public would actually be involved in the process of maintaining health, rather than just dealing with habits' results in indirect ways.

It seems at least possible, to me, that this same conflation of degrees of interest likely contributes to Mark's support for same-sex marriage. As an uninvolved third-party that merely recognizes private relationships called "marriage," the government would have insufficient interest in differentiating between those relationships on the basis of sex to have a right to make distinctions. (It would go beyond my purposes, here, to offer more than a parenthetical note that many supporters of same-sex marriage somehow expect that right to reassert itself when participants in other permutations of marriage-like relationships request recognition.)

In this light, something that might appear to be an ideological contradiction, at first glance, proves consistent. Among the more expansive points that Mark has made repeatedly while arguing for same-sex marriage is that one benefit is the "normalization" of homosexuality. Social acceptance of homosexuality, in his view, justifies changes to marriage law, whereas a preference for children to be raised by their married biological parents does not. Put another way, the public's involvement in individuals' marital bonds is a permissible tool for the legitimization of homosexuality, but it is not a permissible tool for the illegitimization of divorce.

Admittedly, I've crafted my language in such a way as to exclude various ways in which the two views are consistent (e.g., if one believes that the government ought to be able to force inclusion, but not exclusion). One consistent thread that may be irreducible, however, is the idea that the individual's rights always trump a society's rights.

An individual who is a spouse and parent would only lose his right to conduct his affairs as suits him if doing so infringes on somebody else's rights. The only applicable infringement would be on that person's children's right to be raised in the optimal environment... but who better than the parent to determine what that entails? Thus, Mark — who would also oppose giving one spouse veto power over divorce — is suggesting that the parent asserting his right to leave also has the exclusive right to judge his children's competing claim.

Cut from the equation is society's right to determine that children are better off with married biological parents, no matter what a supremely prejudiced parent might declare. Cut from the equation is society's right to reinforce the power, value, and importance of marriage — an institution "owned" at the social level. Cut from the equation is society's right to structure relationships in which it plays a role in such a way as to discourage one side from allowing himself or herself to want to break the entrance oath.

Whatever one thinks of such rights, cutting them is certainly not conservative.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:50 PM | Comments (27)
Marriage & Family

Songs You Should Know 08/31/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Sand Box" by Joe Parillo and Christine Harrington.

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:59 AM

Housing Trends, the Confusion Continues

I don't doubt the laudable intentions and objectives of the Providence Journal's editorial board when it comes to the affordable housing issue. Still, being among the information elite in a region with a tendency toward liberal, even socialistic, solutions to every problem, their analysis has an understandable tilt. In yesterday's editorial on the matter, that tilt jostles the thinking, largely through a reliance on statistics disconnected with what they mean for actual people. Consider:

As elsewhere in the nation, New England's housing challenges cannot be met by state efforts alone. The Bush administration recently touted record home-ownership rates. But what it did not mention was that the hike was largely among the well-off, and mainly due to historically low interest rates. Home-ownership rates for low- and moderate-income working families with children have actually fallen since the 1970s, according to the Center for Housing Policy, from 62.5 percent to 56.6 percent. The rate has declined even for two-earner families.

Why a specific reason for record home-ownership rates is relevant, I don't know, so I'll leave that aside. On the claim about the hike's being among the "well-off," I not only can't find historical trend data for home-ownership by income, but I don't know what the editors consider "well-off" in these circumstances. The Center for Housing Policy's data (PDF) breaks down "working families with children" into five categories below 120% of the median income and lumps every income level above that into one. In 2001, which provided the Center's latest data, the median U.S. household income was $42,228, so 120% of that would be $50,000 — which probably isn't what most people think of as "well-off."

But what all of the above overlooks is something that nobody disputes: one way to increase home ownership is to increase income. A household earning below the median in the '70s that found more income and bought a house before 2001 would contribute to an increase in the higher bracket and a decrease in the lower one. Indeed, if that household had been a "working family with children" in the '70s, it probably would not be so now, dropping it entirely from the Center's data.

This hole in the statistics — that the categories capture demographics, not actual families — is probably very significant when observing the home-ownership of below-median working families. What the numbers show is a large drop between 1978 and 1991, with a gradual increase thereafter. What caused that? Reagan? I'd suggest that it could have had something to do with the Boomers' age range moving from 14–33 to 27–46. (Taking into account the median ages of women when they have each of their children (PDF), the average age at which Boomers became parents was 23, and the average parental age at which a Boomer's children were no longer children was 45.)

This discussion, as meaty as it may be, becomes less important when the Projo editors move on to a suggestion:

At the least, the federal government should be expanding its Section 8 voucher program, which helps low-income citizens cover rent. Instead, the White House has pulled back on the program.

Even pushing aside all argument about principles and the merits of forced self-reliance, one can suggest that the editors' suggestion will only exacerbate the specific disparity that they had just cited as evidence of a problem. If the government helps to cover rent, then taking on a mortgage will seem an increasingly distant objective and will represent a larger leap for comparable housing. In other words, if one believes in the significance of the Center for Housing Policy's claim that home-ownership, of itself, correlates with better behavior, better lives, among children (PDF), then an expanded Section 8 will only make matters worse.

As I suggested, the tripping obstacle appears to be the strong local inclination toward redistributionist policies, which bubbles through as the editorial ends:

With tax breaks benefiting the rich far more than aspiring moderate-income home owners, and with a still-mounting federal deficit bumping up interest rates, don't look for much relief on the affordable-housing front soon. The states will have to make do.

As one such aspirer, I can attest that the states, at least those that tax me, have plenty of room to "make do" in providing me with beneficial tax breaks. On principle, I'd prefer they do that than insist that the federal government add yet more income brackets to the "negative tax burden" side of the ledger.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:13 AM | Comments (1)
Poverty & Wealth