Culture

January 2, 2012

Providence's First Babies

News over the weekend makes it appear that birth out of wedlock is now the norm; if so, our society is in deep, deep trouble.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:51 AM

November 30, 2011

Bullies, Allowed and Not Allowed

It isn't appropriate to handle the groups involved in cultural disputes by the dynamics of individuals.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:48 AM

November 29, 2011

It's Almost Like an Unintentional Social Theme...

Children need fathers, and lesbians need sperm donors. These facts are not unrelated.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:29 PM

November 17, 2011

The Cultural Cycle We're In

We're in a cycle of decline, and it would be better to reform peacefully now than to collapse or revolt later.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

November 11, 2011

What Kind of Progress?

The modern zeitgeist doesn't seem to make distinctions between progress in various areas of society, even when they're at odds.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

August 4, 2011

Continuing Downness on the Economy

Household debt is another factor limiting entrepreneurship.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:26 PM

June 21, 2011

Portsmouth Institute, "The Catholic Shakespeare?," Sunday, June 12

I've posted video from the third and final day of the Portsmouth Institute's conference on "The Catholic Shakespeare."

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

June 14, 2011

Portsmouth Institute, "The Catholic Shakespeare?," Friday, June 10

I've uploaded video from the first day of this year's Portsmouth Institute conference, on "The Catholic Shakespeare?"

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:34 AM

May 19, 2011

Charlie Sheen as Internet Metaphor

The media is looking at a death spiral, but I wonder whether quality might save the day.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

May 4, 2011

Preference for a More Confident Nation

There's something insecure and unAmerican in too jubilant a celebration of the death of a single man.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:32 AM

April 22, 2011

They're Watching You

The era of being tracked by our devices is upon us.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:57 AM

April 15, 2011

Not Working: A Society in Decline

Employment statistics should cause concern, as well as skepticism that leftist policies can repair the damage that they've caused.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:24 PM

April 14, 2011

John Derbyshire: "Dissidents and Doom"

I've posted video of John Derbyshire's lecture, last night, before the Providence College Republicans.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:09 AM

March 25, 2011

If Not for the People, RI Would Have Fewer People

The inclination to slice society up into racial categories cannot be healthy.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:16 AM

March 22, 2011

The Law of Honoring Thy Parents

Is it honoring when a parental visit is done under force of law?

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

March 11, 2011

Once Again Re: The Direction of Imposition

And on the conversation about separation goes.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:08 PM

Re: The Direction of Imposition

Continuing the discussion about a prayer banner in Cranston.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:29 PM

The Direction of Imposition with Cranston Prayer

Cranston atheists and the ACLU are projecting their desire to impose a belief on everybody else.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:20 AM

March 8, 2011

What Inspires Political Activity?

When a radical feminist says something with which a religious conservative agrees, you just know she's speaking non sequiturs.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:57 PM

February 23, 2011

On the Way to Extraordinary

Condoleezza Rice's memoir provides evidence for the argument that racial equality should have emphasized faith, family, and dedication.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

February 18, 2011

Big Government or Small, the Culture Must Be Healthy

Statists require a society that's free enough to stumble over itself and into the government's arms.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

February 5, 2011

Toward a More Optimistic Pessimism

Questions of optimism versus pessimism require context; one can be optimistic on one level and pessimistic on another.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:33 AM

February 4, 2011

Checking Out of the Race

The American spirit may be changing, and it won't be a healthy development.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

January 25, 2011

The Bully and the Protector

The hot topic of cyberbullying raises questions about the role of government and social reasons that it's changing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

January 24, 2011

Stagnant Life for the Up-and-Comers

Young adults aren't chasing opportunity around the country as much as they used to. Hopefully, that'll change.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

January 16, 2011

Grappling with Truth Isn't Easy

Love (compassion) and responsibility can be difficult to reconcile, in life, but the call to both requires that we try.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:03 PM

January 4, 2011

How to Put Kids First

"Putting kids first" must be a cultural mandate, not a governmental one.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

December 31, 2010

The Bourgeois Change

That radical change does not instantly kill tradition does not mean that it does not corrupt it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:48 AM

December 15, 2010

Human Nature (and Frank Reality) Will Out

Young women are beginning to acknowledge the benefits of marrying a rich husband. And the old is new...

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:13 AM

December 11, 2010

If Suicide Isn't Wrong, It Isn't Wrong

The culture of death works in not so mysterious ways.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

December 9, 2010

The Classical Nihilist

Richard Wagner contributed to the regression of Western society.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

December 6, 2010

Glory Can Be Reclaimed

Fear not, conservatives, the end of the Western world is not night.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

November 27, 2010

An Uproar of Absurdity

Does it get more absurd than "uproar" over a contestant in a celebrity reality dance competition show?

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:00 PM

November 25, 2010

Thankful for the Window

The world should be thankful for America as an example, and we should strive to live up to that obligation.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:32 PM

November 22, 2010

Hooked on Hooking Up

Hook-up culture on American campuses is hardly conducive to the repair of educations flubbed in secondary school, let alone the advancement to greater knowledge and maturity.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

November 14, 2010

Encouraging Querulousness in Lieu of Genius

Geniuses don't have to be misanthropic or even disagreeable. In fact, I'd expect the opposite.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:39 AM

November 12, 2010

Trying to Win Is the Point

A soccer dad experiments with the victor versus fun hypothesis.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

November 8, 2010

Letting Government Be Neutral

Government should let democracy be messy.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

Economic Liberty as Equalizer

Unless one rejects the proposition that some "discrimination" is justified by the differing circumstances of the subjects, the best way to lower the gender pay gap is to lighten restrictions and regulations on businesses.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:48 AM

October 26, 2010

An Open Door for Evil

Acknowledgment of evil remains a necessary means of combating it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:15 AM

October 25, 2010

Negative, Not Affirmative, Action

Now that men are a minority on college campuses, it's suddenly victimization to deny better qualified applicants in the name of diversity.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

October 21, 2010

Happiness by the Numbers

I'm skeptical that it's possible to divide happiness into categories of causes, from genetics, to circumstances, to personal relationships.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

October 17, 2010

Clarifying My Perspective

I certainly don't mind young adults' having fun and pursuing other ends than material wealth, but it is objectionable for them to use their idle time to advocate for the confiscation of wealth from others.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:10 PM

October 7, 2010

Handling Matters Outside of the Legal System

Although he's far out on the right wing, Rev. Phelps's universally offensive displays point to the damage that the left has done to our society.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

October 4, 2010

We Don't Need Intellectual Chaperones

The decline of print media is a loss, in my view, but not because it removes the mainstream news filter.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

October 3, 2010

The Allocation of "Hate Crimes" Dismisses Empathy

Hate crime legislation, and identity politics, overall, prevent us from developing a broader social empathy.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:30 PM

September 27, 2010

Servility with Outward Liberty

Would-be totalitarians have learned that they do best, in our society, to encourage enough leash in personal indulgence so as to distract from the fact that they own the leash.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:17 AM

September 18, 2010

The Origins of Orientation

Thinking on the psychological and biological foundations of homosexuality appear to be moving in the direction that I've long thought to be true.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:00 PM

September 13, 2010

Ordinary Heroes

We tend to be impressed by fame, but if we look to our families, we find that even the ordinary played roles in history.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:10 AM

September 12, 2010

Keeping Murder in the Family

Parricide is becoming a too-familiar event in my East Bay community. Should we start looking for a cause?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:44 AM

September 8, 2010

The Customer Has to Want It

Liveblogging from an instructional presentation on carpentry, I note that we all strive for craftsmanship, but a continual flow of business can overwhelm the desire.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:45 AM

September 7, 2010

A Balance of Status and Meaning

In a democratic society, the availability of status to all can distract from deeper meaning. The question is how we free ourselves from that difficulty without destroying the motivational fuel by which our society advances.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:33 AM

September 5, 2010

A Short Thought on a Long Road

Watching The Road, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, leaves me wondering whether the author was more concerned about the end of nature as we know it than of human nature as we know it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:03 AM

September 1, 2010

The Confusion of Success with the Meaning of Life

Try as they might, secular Darwinian materialists cannot avoid the necessity of religion and tradition.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:33 AM

August 31, 2010

An Argument for a Burqa Ban

It's not a matter of immediate concern, yet, in the United States, but European experience with the burqa and lesser veils suggests that we would do well to adjust our culture in preparation, perhaps thereby to avoid the need for legal bans.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:07 AM

August 26, 2010

An Interesting Place to Visit (or at Least to Read About Visiting)

A parable from Afghanistan seems like it might be applicable to cross-cultural dialogue.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

August 22, 2010

A Craft for Our Region

A local artisan-artist takes old materials and makes furniture and artwork. A very conservative activity, if you ask me.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:53 PM

August 21, 2010

On "Giving Back"

Rich people's "giving back" doesn't imply that they've taken something; it implies that they've received something.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:31 PM

A Couple of Thoughts Upon Watching Sowell

Peter Robinson's interview of Thomas Sowell brings forth some interesting questions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:06 PM

August 20, 2010

Extremists Among Us

The ACLU versus a school dress code. Absurd.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

August 18, 2010

What Brevity Should Mean

Brevity should mean that each word contains more content, not less.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

August 17, 2010

The Brain of Slaves

Giving in to the habits of modern technology may just prep us for lives as manipulated slaves.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

August 9, 2010

Generation Why Bother

It seems as if a number of factors contribute to kids reluctance to work (and parents' reluctance to push them to), these days.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:58 AM

August 8, 2010

Just Be Better

The key to bringing the haughty down a notch is to strive to better ourselves.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:40 PM

August 3, 2010

The Arts Should Be Conservative

The decline of dance, as an art form, indicates to me that the time has come for the envelope to be pushed back in a traditional (and religious) direction.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

August 1, 2010

The Long Conversion Toward Pro-Life

The pro-life side of the abortion debate appears to be making progress, but there's a whole lot of cultural weight to lift before the public, as a whole, will bend sufficiently.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:30 PM

July 26, 2010

Offense Against Sharia as Disorderly Conduct; Conformity with Sharia as Excuse Under the Law

Call it "creeping sharia." Somehow it's become an open question whether American laws apply to everyone.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

July 24, 2010

Making Room for Protection

Jonah Golberg and Nick Schulz have a worthwhile proposal for helping parents filter the Internet by creating a .kids domain.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:10 AM

July 20, 2010

Boys and Men — Goodbye to All That

Are men a fading gender? Folks are talking as if we are, and it isn't difficult to see same-sex marriage as a facilitator.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:13 PM

July 18, 2010

Charity and Accosting the Public

Philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein (world famous in Rhode Island) has been the target of an accusatory letter to the editor. My opinion sort of splits the difference.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:16 PM

July 9, 2010

The Slow Theocratic Revolution

Turkey's Islamification could be a dire warning sign that the West must reinvigorate its own principles and confidence.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

Spending Priorities Are a Consequence of Policy Priorities

Rhode Island spends more public money on prisons than colleges. I'd present that as a symptom, not a cause.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

Permissible Discrimination

Christian groups on college campuses are no longer free to prevent their own subversion while receiving official recognition. In theory, the Supreme Court ruling is ideologically neutral, but in practical effect, well, we'll see.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:47 AM

The Odd Twists of Guilt

Mark Steyn suggests that radical Muslims are the greatest beneficiaries of Western Holocaust guilt. In the United States, they're a huge beneficiary of slavery guilt.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:40 AM

July 8, 2010

Earning Happiness

Suppose for a moment that money — or at least financial equality — doesn't actually buy happiness. If earning money and having the opportunity to do so are key to happiness, then government redistribution can only make people less happy.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:34 PM

Civic Engagement Should Be Part of Life

My proposition: An intellectually curious population is a politically engaged population.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:43 AM

Exceptionalism as Limit to Options

James Bennett suggests that American Exceptionalism shouldn't be a statement of pride so much as a practical description, and one that indicates what policies do and don't suit our nation.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:33 AM

June 25, 2010

Who to Blame for the Social Fabric

Blaming WalMart for the deterioration of downtowns kind of misses the point.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:53 AM

June 22, 2010

Facing Up to Porn

I'm concerned that the factions over cultural issues like porn will lead to government-imposed solutions when a majority acknowledges the real problems that cultural deterioration presents.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:36 AM

June 18, 2010

Perhaps Those Who Ought to Know Better Oughtn't

Could it be that the highly educated are less likely than the salt of the Earth to see justice with clear eyes?

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

Discrimination with Regard to Discrimination

Unless we are able to distinguish between discrimination based on race and discrimination based on behavior, everything will always come down to expressions of power.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:00 AM

June 10, 2010

Socializing the Missing Link

It seems to me that we can either reinvigorate some traditional aspects of our culture or more and more problems will fall to the government to solve.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:21 AM

June 9, 2010

Formerly Admirable, Now a Bad Example on the Way to Obviation

In one way of summarizing it, the political and cultural divide within the United States comes down to beliefs about risk.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:51 AM

May 27, 2010

Evolution Away from Threats, Versus Toward Desires

The notion of social change as evolutionary misses the central fact about biological evolution: it occurs in response to stimuli for survival, not to desire for political gain.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

May 22, 2010

A Quick Review of Avatar

The movie Avatar could have been great. Instead, its creators chose to bash humanity.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:28 PM

Advancing in the Melting Pot

It may not be news, but it's worth reminding ourselves that the U.S.A. is a land of opportunity, provided you are willing to take the initiative.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:29 AM

May 18, 2010

A Foreboding Web Site Name

A Web site that posts your purchases online in real time? What could go wrong?

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

May 17, 2010

Two Perspectives on Root Causes

When it comes to dealing with poverty, there are two irreducibly incompatible perspectives. It shouldn't be difficult to guess which one I favor.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

May 15, 2010

Nothing to See Here, Locally and Globally

To compensate for the down note of the FTM, I've posted a funny line that I'd just read by Mark Steyn. Of course, looking beyond the one sentence, Steyn's commentary is not quite a pick-me-up.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:56 PM

May 12, 2010

Where the West Is Going

Bureaucrats are prosecuting politicians for their political platforms right in the middle of the democratic West.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:59 AM

May 2, 2010

How the Accommodating Institution Declines

Functional cultural institutions (like churches and marriage) face a continual tension to become more accommodating, but thereby less able to prove its own value.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:04 PM

April 30, 2010

The Misdirected Swagger of the Go Getter

Folks on Wall Street appear to think themselves the archetypes of professional workers. I'm not so sure.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:24 PM

April 26, 2010

Insider and Outsider "A" Students

P.J. O'Rourke laments the invidious rule of "A" students. He ought to distinguish between types of "A" students.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

April 22, 2010

A Glimpse Down the Social Path (or, Perhaps, Sociopath)

The socialist government in Spain has taken the step of introducing bestiality as a possibility to third graders. The question: How nigh is the end?

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:00 PM

April 6, 2010

The First Step of Abstinence Is Believing It's Possible

I simply deny that abstinence is impossible.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:16 AM

October 8, 2007

For Those Who Don't Know

I work as a carpenter around fifty hours per week. Another thirty or so, I devote to activities related to my socio-political writing. The rest of my time, I spend with my wife and children. Once or twice a month, I use this cathartic space to entertain myself with language as I work periodic anxieties and lamentations around into meaning and hope. And yet, the likes of Christine — who wouldn't know me from Dostoevsky — feel no compunction about entering my online home, as it were, and declaring:

I have inadvertently stumbled upon your blog and started reading through it - here's a suggestion for you - instead of feeling sorry for yourself like the world has somehow done you wrong and that we all owe you something. Stop wasting so much time on your precious blog whining about it and get out there and make the life for yourself that you feel you are entitled to.

You are what's wrong with society - everyone is a victim and invited to the world wide pity party.

Suck it up and do something.

I suppose that in some worldviews, a hardworking and socially involved family man who now and then uses literary habits deliberately to work through unbidden morosities is what's wrong with society. Personally, I'm more concerned that folks who mistakenly believe they've a talent for decisive and life-redefining snap judgments (involving others' lives, of course) have a say in our nation's governance and in both their professional and private lives exert some sort of influence over other people.

Thank you, Christine. You've given me another depressing thought to overcome with words.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:29 PM | Comments (2)

July 1, 2007

The Carpenter's Access to Luxury

Click here for a streaming MP3 reading of the following. (Click here to download it.)


During my (paid) 15 minute break in the morning and my (not paid) half-hour lunch as a carpenter, I've leaned against gateways and taken in views that other families must spend generations accruing the wealth to enjoy. Workers can develop a feeling of temporary ownership of the empty mansions in which they toil for most of their waking hours, and for the average construction crew, there's nothing so humanizing of the young billionaire as cutting a hole for duct-work in his bedroom and finding his stash of naughty DVDs hidden on the tippy-top of a nine-foot shelf. Far from solidifying a kindred sense, however, these mild epiphanies that the rich and the working are all human — sharing traits both transcendent and base — make differences in standing and perspective even less comprehensible.


Many's the time I've turned to my younger coworkers — most, I suspect, not accustomed to such lunchtime conversation — and wondered aloud what effect it must have on the psyche to have so much. When I had a dog to walk, I would most nights pass a view that brought regular feelings of spontaneous gratitude to God for having created the world thus, and I owned neither the perch nor the view. I imagine that people born of great wealth must feel as if those views were created for them. Leisure time, fantastic settings, great privileges — such is life. Their life.

It can be difficult working in their ocean-front mansions during the families' in-town season. In winter, the rich are phantoms — no more real than when one sees them on television or reads of them in books — and one scarcely believes the groundskeepers that they exist at all. When they do stop by to review the projects' progress, they seem more like character actors in an elaborate illusion than living conduits of tremendous wealth. In the summer, the tradesman must watch, while he toils, as they enjoy their vacation from... what? Their lives are vacations. It would be edifying to follow them around for a while — here and wherever it is that they go in the fall — to investigate just what they do. They fill their houses with superfluous furniture; with what do they fill their days?

Don't get me wrong. Some such folk are wonderful people. I've recognized, in my time as a driver of nails, an exuded gratitude and respect when I'm the guy who can, for example, fix a door so that the dogs cannot sneak out and be mauled again by the coyotes that are attracted to the acres of open land. The experience of months of intensive doggy-care has exposed some vulnerability that I have the knowledge, skill, and tools to prevent from being chafed once more. But always interceding in such interactions is my knowledge, and their apparent ignorance, that with less labor than I am expending, they could fix the debt problem that has dogged me for over a decade.

Perhaps they are unaware of their own ability to fix doors, as it were, or maybe lifetimes of outreached hands have led them to do the math concerning the cost of too dramatically indulging a sense of responsibility. They would be able to solve a great many people's problems, and yet they aren't able to solve them all, so it could be that they learn early on (in youth, perhaps,
and subconsciously) not to burden themselves with finding their own boundaries for giving, taking instead those that society has defined. Our society, unfortunately, has defined them poorly, not only through the legitimization of avarice, but by its tendency to grab for, rather than apply pressure for, wealth.


It is a shame, and detrimental, that our too secular society seems intent on rubbing out the distinction between obligation and responsibility. Yes, responsibilities can be shirked, but explicit and enforceable obligations give the impression that responsibility ends with them. For a brief while — of which we under fifty sometimes hear tell — America seemed to have faith in the shapeless forces of cultural expectations, one of which held it a courtesy to allow others a chance to accelerate. Now, it appears that only coyotes and the fortunate carpenter may come and go past the walls that attempts to manage the distribution of wealth, and the stoked strategic concomitant of class envy, helped to inspire.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:41 PM

September 9, 2006

The Fuel of the Demagogue

Having been mildly intrigued by the commercials for it, I recently watched V for Vendetta, and as Christian conservatives often observe in the world of contemporary art and entertainment, the particular fantasy most emphasized in film was the liberal fantasy of standing up against conservative tyranny.

The basic outline of the story is compelling (if common) enough. A budding dictatorial politician, while seeking to develop a biological weapon, creates a superhero who will one day topple his regime. The dictator follows a clichéd Hitlerian model both of method and of aesthetic and, in an absolutely believable progression, begins rounding up and executing opposition and activists. Even his portrayal as a religious demagogue is, if predictable and unimaginative, not distracting within the plot (perhaps because it is so completely predictable).

The jarring imposition of the writers' ideology makes its appearance, however, with the unexplained revelation of a homosexual holocaust. One can suppose that the authors leave it as understood that the dictator villified gays in order to tug at public sentiment and redirect proper righteous feelings away from himself. That's believable enough, given all that must be accepted for the sake of the story to that point, but what disrupts the theatrical illusion is the emphasis on the tribulations of that small group.

It also doesn't comport with trends that we actually find in reality (especially in England), which the writers would have us believe could in fact lead to the fantasy world that they have created. Witness:

A police force was caught up in a freedom of speech row after its officers arrested an anti-gay campaigner for handing out leaflets at a homosexual rally.

South Wales police admitted evangelical Christian Stephen Green was then charged purely because his pamphlets contained anti-gay quotations from the Bible. ...

In recent months incidents have included a Metropolitan Police warning to author Lynette Burrows that she was responsible for a 'homophobic incident' after she suggesting on a BBC Radio Five Live programme that gays did not make ideal adoptive parents.

Another warning about future behaviour was delivered by Lancashire police who visited the home of a Christian couple after they complained about their local council's gay rights policies.

The Met Police in London also investigated former Muslim Council of Britain leader Sir Iqbal Sacranie after he gave an interview saying homosexuality was harmful. However, no prosecution followed in that case.

The Hollywooden would do well — not the least because it would make them better artists — to realize that emotions can be stoked from more directions than the right.

ADDENDUM:
I should temper this post with an acknowledgment that the source of my quotation, the Daily Mail, is also recently notable for apparently having concocted friction — or at least unjustifiably embellishing it — between Pope Benedict and an evolution-believing priest, Father George Coyne, Vatican Observatory head for nearly three decades. Indeed, the Mail article in question exposes itself as shoddy work by the incoherency of its storyline's logic.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:45 AM

August 3, 2006

Truly, We Are a Decadent Culture

I'm in the market, so to speak, for a relatively readable history of early civilizations — a survey or starting point for further study, whether in depth or chronology. Such things are apparently difficult to find, outside of the dessicated world of text books. At any rate, I figured I'd attempt the obvious route and see where the menues of Barnes & Noble might take me. Well, narrowing my results from history to world history to civilization - history to ancient civilization - history, I found the following top 10 recommendations:

  • A book about Ireland's role in the period between ancient Rome and Medieval Europe
  • A "history of the Biblical world"
  • A book about women's role in ancient Greece and Rome
  • The hardcover edition of the second book
  • A book tantalizing about the "naked olympics" — meaning the "ancient games"
  • A book about the Egyptians
  • A book about Greek homosexuality
  • A "classical Greek reader"
  • A book about the "Aegean Bronze Age"
  • A book about Homer

Now, some of these books may or may not be interesting to the average reader of such texts, but I can't help but wonder: are we really that well informed about history that we've narrowed our interests to sexual orientation and women's lib? Or are we really that ignorant of history to have narrowed our interests to same?

Heck, I'd bet the average American reader would actually learn, from this list, that ancient Rome transitioned into Medieval Europe!

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:51 PM | Comments (1)

June 17, 2006

What Corrosion of Culture?

Discussion of whether Superman and Batman — superheroes adored by generations of boys — are homosexual. In The Providence Journal. And there's evidence:

When I mention all the commercial time that Warner Bros. has bought for the movie on the Logo cable channel, all three say this is pretty strong evidence that Warner's may think that Superman is gay. Logo bills itself as the channel for "Gay America."

The Harley hat says the only comic-book hero she's sure is gay is Batman. Her friend to her right says she heard George Clooney during an interview say that he had played him as gay in Batman and Robin.

This must be what happens when the darker sides of a culture switch from masturbation to mastication.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:24 PM | Comments (1)

May 15, 2006

Fighting the "Urge"

Isn't it just too perfect that MTV's product challenger to the iPod would be called the "Urge"? Apparently, the company will offer a pricing structure with increasingly deep discounts as the content approaches pornography.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:56 PM

May 9, 2006

Truth in Casting

Michelle Malkin, conveying the hard-Leftism of the actress who played the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, asks:

Sort of dampens one's enthusiasm to see the next Narnia movie, doesn't it?

Not at all. What a perfect villain; I'm sure Mr. Lewis would approve — not the least because the subtext ads significance to the often questioned presence of Santa Clause in Narnia. One suspects that Tilda Swinton would block him from the public square, as well.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:55 PM | Comments (3)

Fear and Lying in Knoxville

"Numbers don't lie," writes Leslie Wylie in the cover story of the latest Metro Pulse, "Abstinence Ed., Are Your Tax Dollars Funding an Agenda of Fear?" To an extent, of course, she's correct; it's usually the words and context around the numbers that introduce falsehoods. Take, for example, some of the particular numbers with which Wylie follows her assertion:

The country's teen pregnancy rate is 84 pregnancies per 1,000 females ages 15 thru 19, a much higher rate than in any other developed country (twice as high as in England or Canada, and nine times higher than the Netherlands or Japan). Fifty-six percent result of these pregnancies result in birth; 30 percent result in abortion; and 14 percent result in miscarriage.

The error is in the "is": Her U.S. data is from the year 2000. Number-people will note that it is currently 2006. The international comparisons, meanwhile, if the Guttmacher Institute's relevant fact sheet is evidence, are from the "mid-1990s." Undeterred by matters of tense, Wylie allows Corrine Rovetti, director of the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, to run with the stats:

As did the representatives from PPA [Planned Parenthood Association], Rovetti points to studies that have been done that disprove the effectiveness of abstinence-only education. "As a developed country, we still have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease," she says. "That's a travesty. It's frightening. I can't overemphasize enough what a dangerous approach the abstinence-only program is."

And it's the abstinence-only advocates who have "an agenda of fear"? Considering that the article emphasizes the federal funds allocated toward abstinence-until-marriage education by the Title V program — which wasn't implemented until 1997, the first of at least seven years in a row during which the proportion of high school students who had had sex at least once (PDF) was below 50% — it may be a bit premature to panic.

Via Instapundit.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:50 PM

May 7, 2006

Rebellion Without Liberty

One thought from gay-rights activist Chai Feldblum in that Maggie Gallagher piece lodged itself in my mind yesterday afternoon and evening:

Sexual liberty should win in most cases. There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that's the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner.

The reference to "sexual liberty" feels displaced from modern reality. If the Internet has proven anything, it is that, with the (perhaps temporary) exception of pedophilia, sexual liberty is nearly total. As a matter of law, there are virtually no boundaries on sexual practice, as long as they are consensual and (for the time being) not performed in full view of a non-consenting audience.

For her statement to have any coherency, Feldblum must mean "liberty" from the consequences that come from others' judgment. What she's placing in conflict, therefore, are:

  • Religious people's liberty to go about their religious practices, such as charitably devoting time and resources to placing children with adoptive parents whom the religion holds to be a help, not a danger, to the children's souls
  • Other people's liberty to have their sexual relationships treated as if all sexual relationships are identical in every respect

Relationships are reduced to the type of sex that their members have, all are leveled, and that equivalence becomes enforced by law — even to the point of prohibiting the free exercise of religion. The activists' argument then becomes, in the words of Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese, that discriminatory practice X "has nothing to do whatsoever with faith." There's a type of madness in this logic:

  • Gendered adoptions have nothing to do with a religion that has a long gendered family tradition and an instruction to know God and His intentions through that which He has made, because
  • parenthood has nothing to do with gender, because
  • gender has only to do with the type of sex that couples can have, and

Perhaps even today we stumble on the next bullet:

  • sex has nothing to do with children.

For her part, Feldblum attempts to skirt the issue with a neutral view of essentials:

"It seemed to me the height of disingenuousness, absurdity, and indeed disrespect to tell someone it is okay to 'be' gay, but not necessarily okay to engage in gay sex. What do they think being gay means?" she writes in her Becket paper. "I have the same reaction to courts and legislatures that blithely assume a religious person can easily disengage her religious belief and self-identity from her religious practice and religious behavior. What do they think being religious means?"

But to truly believe in that neutrality would require the conclusion that the sexual orientation category is at best legislatively protected, while religion is constitutionally protected. Even agreeing with Feldman's view — which I do not — would require a focus on constitutional amendment, not on courts and regular legislation. There is an unmistakable haze around Feldblum's analysis of which liberty "should win": Should win as a matter of current law, or should win according to some emoted political principle that the people of, by, and for whom the government exists have not willingly taken as their own?

This thoughtless procession is in keeping with the underlying absurdity of appealing to "sexual liberty" as grounds to change the meaning of marriage. Marriage — especially in the degree to which expectation and validation are involved — is intimately tied to the curbing of sexual appetites. It is therefore not surprising that we find, in the conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, the mechanism whereby unleashing the sexual drive has served to enslave us.

The ever insightful Paul Cella writes:

... in fact prejudice — that is, prejudgment — is a neutral thing, which can indeed issue in oppression, but can also issue in liberation. To cultivate in men a prejudice against some abiding error, or against some recurrent evil, is to free them from oppression, not set the yoke of it upon them.

Just so, the sexual liberationists are bound by the dictates of their driving motivation, which isn't the sex itself, but the rationalization and justification of it and absolution of those who engage in it. Theology, politics, civil philosophy, economics — all — must accommodate the sexual behavior. If that means undermining the Constitution for the formless benefit of affirming "the dignity of gay people," so be it. If it means tripping up and forcing out those people and practices that carry a dwindling torch of authority from our ancestors, so much the better.

The greater evil lies not in the visceral sin, but in the desire to excuse it, for though it may carry simplicity's tone, one cannot help but hear indications that the rationalization, the justification, and the insistence on absolution have much less to do with the "for what" than with the "from whom." In the context of privacy, Cella points to proof of the lifelong adolescence of the modern culture, in the person of those who "really think Larry Flynt is a free speech hero." They are correct only inasmuch as "free speech" translates as "sticking it in the eye of some parent-figure authority. "

Not even an actual authority, but a facile caricature of a representative of a messenger from an authority whom much of Western Society rejected so long ago that it doesn't remember the sincere, warm assurance that the rules are not restraints, but steps toward transcendence. Those who would recast liberty as freedom from the guiding hand of others' judgment would do well to ponder, as they jerk themselves away, whether it is possible to have dignity while tumbling.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:27 PM | Comments (6)

December 14, 2005

Killing on the Radio

Shortly after 2:00 p.m. today, I'll be discussing Israel's recent euthanasia law with Howie Barte on WHJJ, 920 on the AM radio dial.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:06 AM | Comments (2)

November 25, 2005

A Local Culture War

I wasn't sure on which blog my latest post belonged. Being about the social and administrative culture of Brown University, and local liberals' reaction thereto, it's the sort of thing that I generally mention here. But since it's so very Rhode Island, I put it on Anchor Rising.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:48 AM

October 29, 2005

Elites, Doom & Gloom, and Blogs

Quiet as it's been 'round here, there's been some talk about the doom and gloom among conservatives. I've put up some relevant thoughts, incorporating a short speech on blogs that I gave today, over on Anchor Rising.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:46 PM

October 25, 2005

Pacing Around a Disturbing Theme

My latest FactIs column, "The Premises of the Culture of Death," ponders a theme upon which I can't quite land my finger. Something about things not meaning what they mean in pulsing cultural conversation that lacks substance.

This, by the way, is my final FactIs column. I'm very grateful to the folks who produce the 'zine for giving me the opportunity, and for doing so with such consistent courtesy and encouragement. But timing is as it is, and the need to prepare my house (and household) to accommodate another child in the spring — as well as the need to support that house (and household) — will leave me unable to devote sufficient time to a regular, polished, deadlined column.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:24 PM | Comments (9)

September 2, 2005

A Sequence of Plans

My latest FactIs column, "When Plan B Becomes Plan A," suggests that something is awry when a drug that requires a prescription for low concentrations is on track for over-the-counter status in higher concentrations. Of course, Plan B is a "birth control" pill; such does sex — and the consequences thereof — skew Western minds.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:38 AM

August 17, 2005

Teaching the Boundaries of Science

My latest column, "Life in an Unfinished World," takes up the evolution v. intelligent design dispute. The religious-like fervor of those who oppose intelligent design raises the question of whether they think any aspects of society rightly impinge on science. Contrary to frequent insistence that intelligent design be taught — if at all — in religion or philosophy classes, no more important lesson can be taught to American schoolchildren than that science has culturally and methodologically defined boundaries.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:06 AM | Comments (25)

July 21, 2005

The Social Engineering Beyond Challenge

"Breaking the Glass Taboo," my latest column for TheFactIs.org, responds to Providence Journal editorialist M.J. Anderson's nostalgia for the days of the Baby Boomers' youth and to recent research finding that removing men from the home can be part of a recipe for creating "exceptional" boys.

I didn't go into this in my column, but have you ever noticed that "progress" increasingly seems like a bend around the cultural track back to our primal days? Well, consider what it would imply for men's behavior if society accepted the notion that fathers needn't be bound to the children whom they beget.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:28 AM | Comments (2)

July 7, 2005

A Reason for Tradition

My latest column for TheFactIs.org — "Reasoning with the Id" — responds to a recent piece by Lee Harris. To summarize too drastically, Harris seeks to find a place for tradition in a world of reason. Me, I think is more accurate to stress that rationality already exists in a world of tradition.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:52 PM | Comments (19)

June 9, 2005

Falling from Thoughts of Heaven

After the twelfth of the twenty-four episodes of Lost's first season, religious viewers thought they'd taken another step toward inclusion in mainstream culture, as represented by television and film. (Or at least one religious viewer did.) Lost treated religion seriously — acknowledging it as part of the society in which we live. Without a tone of sneering irony, as is expected in one direction, and without the feel of saccharine sincerity, as is expected in the other, two characters prayed to the "Heavenly Father" right at the end of a hit show that isn't definingly faith-based.

Well, by the two-hour season finale, it seemed as if Lost's creators had banned the word "God" except as an expression of emphasis. I can't help but wonder, as I have in my latest column for TheFactIs.org, whether "Religion's Gone Missing on 'Lost.'"

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:59 PM | Comments (6)

May 30, 2005

Lost During the Summer?

I disagree with John Podhoretz's disappointment in the season finale of Lost:

The two-hour final episode answered absolutely nothing. Not one thing. Basically, it appears that the series' creators simply threw all sorts of things out there to tantalize people and then had absolutely no idea where to go with it or what to do. This is a very, very bad idea. The audience for "Lost" will abandon the show over the summer and it will creak out a few more months until it is deservedly cancelled. Audiences will go for a sucker punch once, but no longer. Bye bye "Lost." It's been lousy to know ya.

Podhoretz may or may not have a better understanding than I do of the primetime television audience. (I'd wager on the "may.") But there's room to argue that he's applying the wrong standard to the show: it isn't so much of a seasonal series as a long-running epic. The significant difference, in my characterization, is that the former emphasizes the what happened, while the latter has the more artistic emphasis on what does it mean.

The fact is that we did get some answers in the finale, after a fashion, but they were clues to the plot's direction rather than the filled in blanks that Podhoretz wanted. We've gotten a glimpse of the "they" who whisper in the jungle. We know which child they were after. We've seen that the mysterious hatch, rather than opening directly into some sort of spaceship, goes deep into the island. More thematically, the writers gave us a glimpse of a probable central tension to define the next season, if not the show itself: faith versus science.

The show's audience might be inclined, therefore, to give it at least another season. The decisive factor thereafter will be whether viewers get the sense that the writers are just stringing them along or are actually going somewhere. Podhoretz's assessment is already that the writers are luring the audience from episode to episode with empty noises. The nature of the show and the way in which it has begun and progressed, with a limited cast within a delineated setting, suggest intentions other than running for the maximum number of seasons.

Me, I've got another complaint — a "scandal" to use Podhoretz's word — about the season finale, but I might use the topic for my next column... (To be continued.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:16 PM | Comments (7)

May 26, 2005

A Matter of Competing Values

Part of what makes a danger of modern approaches to addressing public policies that bear on "progress" is that we tend to view them on an individual basis, and when we do realize that they are tangential to each other, we hesitate to follow the implications but so deeply. (Sometimes the hesitance results from the complexity, sometimes from the sense that we'll be proven wrong in what we want to believe.)

My latest column for TheFactIs.org dwells on the intersection of embryonic stem cell research, "right to die" trends, socialist healthcare schemes, and radical life extension. Ultimately, I don't think any of these issues can be fully appreciated without consideration of the others. (And many others, but one can only do so much in fewer than 1,000 words.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:50 PM | Comments (1)

April 22, 2005

The Fourth Option Is Anti-Modern

It speaks volumes about the rigidity of modern liberalism that Community College of Rhode Island sociology and philosophy professor David Carlin (whose political alignment I do not know) didn't bother to list the fourth option for liberal Catholics disappointed in Cardinal Ratzinger's transition to Pope Benedict:

These disillusioned liberals will follow one of three courses: Some will remain Catholic and be depressed by the whole situation; some will join a church that better suits their idea of what a church should be (e.g., the Episcopal Church); and some will drift away from institutionalized religion altogether, and instead practice their own private forms of Christianity.

That a learned man wouldn't even consider it a possibility that some "disillusioned liberals" would reassess their views to conform with the consistent teachings of the Church suggests that sociologists and liberals, as well as the Church, might want to consider ways to put that fourth option back on the list.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:24 AM | Comments (1)

April 14, 2005

We Needn't Steering, for the Road Won't Turn?

It may have taken the oxymoronicism of Christianity and constitutional pessimism, but National Review has found a secular utopian in John Derbyshire:

Conservatives are not supposed to believe that human beings are the helpless instruments of blind Historical Forces. We are supposed to be the people who celebrate humanity in all its knotty and unpredictable variety, and in the power of the individual human will to transform the world. Did not John Paul II himself challenge, and help defeat, those who claimed the mandate of History? Yes, but that only adds a gloss of irony to his larger failure.

Looking back across the past few decades, it’s hard not to think that post-industrial modernism is headed all one way, everywhere it has taken a firm grip. Pleasure-giving gadgets and drugs are ever cheaper and more accessible. The distresses of life, especially physical sickness and pain, are gradually being pushed to the margins. As scientists probe deeper into the human genome, the human nervous system, and the biology of human social arrangements, that divine spark of person-hood that we all feel to be the essence of ourselves is being chased along narrower and darker passageways of the brain and the tribal folkways. Happiness itself, it seems, is genetic. And all this is headed…where?

We all know the answer to that one. It is headed to Brave New World.

Society is in a bizarre state indeed when the dour are resolving themselves to an impending world of untrammeled happiness:

So far as it makes any sense to predict the future, it seems to me highly probable that the world of 50 or 100 years from now will bear a close resemblance to Huxley’s dystopia — a world without pain, grief, sickness or war, but also without family, religion, sacrifice, or nobility of spirit.

I'm not sure whether it's an indication of deeper pessimism about human beings, but Derbyshire discounts humanity's ability to screw things up. In other words, he implicitly concedes human nature as something that will go softly into that good night. A recent scene makes me question the assumption: While sitting for a moment after a hard day's work last week — feeling the contentment that can only come with the completion of exhausting labor — I became whelmed with love for my three year old daughter and her unmitigated joy at life. Just as the contentment was tinged with pain, so was the love tinged with sadness.

We may be entering an era of bland happiness, but I'd suggest that the "risk death to taste life" ethos of the '60s was a dark manifestation — perverted as so much was during that period — of something intrinsically linked to religion, sacrifice, and nobility of spirit. In short, we will not be content to be content.

But even that odd consolation views our society as an isolated ecosystem. It ignores outside forces, including most profoundly God. Christianity's hope is intriguingly carried within a form of worldly pessimism. We must die, and the world must end, but those are good things. Are we to believe that God will cease to call those whose society has dragged them into false heaven? Are we to believe that He will cease to shape the world toward His own ends?

Human nature will answer the call to which it is so innately tuned. God will act in the world, and surely we've only just begun to appreciate the extent to which John Paul II was evidence of that action. Our actions and words will carry into the spotless future, and even behind a veil of palliatives, humanity will wonder what truth we had.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:56 AM | Comments (12)

April 7, 2005

The Reasonable Man Jumps

PROEM:
For a page design that might be easier to read, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.


What is the opposite of "pragmatic"? Noah Millman suggests "principled," but that doesn't seem quite right. A person can be a principled pragmatist, emphasizing practical steps toward a goal without permitting that goal to reduce principle to a nicety.

The opposite of "pragmatic," in common usage, is "idealistic." Compromising, working the system, somebody who is pragmatic seeks efficient means toward some objective — a good that offers justification. Somebody who is idealistic, in contrast, behaves as if the objective requires only a declaration, with all obstacles simply invalid. Pragmatism describes realistic means toward an end; idealism presents a peremptory end in search of means.

This correction, though it may seem quibbling, has implications related the column by Jonah Goldberg to which Millman is responding. Although he doesn't go into great detail about the mechanism, Goldberg's central observation is that raising pragmatism to a principle — making it Pragmatism — has undesirable consequences, chief among them Relativism and overweening protection, even celebration, of the deviant willing to exist in a ridiculous reality.

Missing the mechanism, Millman interprets Goldberg's argument as saying that "Pragmatists drained us of belief in Truth, and once we stopped believing in Truth we no longer could make distinctions." Consequently, free speech has degenerated into an absolute right to deviant expression and only a conditional right to political speech because we "no longer jealously defend our ancient liberties."

That isn't the implication of Goldberg's thoughts, as I read them. He begins by describing Oliver Wendell Holmes's legal theorizing as an attempt to cut through moral superfluities in order to apply the law more efficiently. In part, this requires the discernment of an ideal or, in Holmes's words, an "external standard" personified in a "reasonable man" — a hypothetical "intelligent and prudent member of the community."

The problem, as Ben Franklin quipped around the time of our nation's founding, is that "a reasonable Creature [can] find or make a Reason for every thing one has a mind to do." With a "reasonable man" at its head, what Goldberg calls the "collective intelligence" can concoct whatever rules it wills. A moral society requires a standard that is external to the community itself, hence the importance of moral language in the law. Pragmatism is best kept as a strategy in the service of, not a guide to, truth.

As such a guide, Millman explains, Pragmatism holds that the "meaning of any statement... is limited to the consequences of that statement in terms of action." The pragmatic truth of a stated belief, in other words, depends on what it accomplishes in the believer. Therefore, a belief that enables a person to achieve some desirable end — peace of mind, motivation, fortitude — is pragmatically true for that person.

This approach is fine, as long as we're aware of its limitations. If belief in an eternal soul increases one person's sense of purpose, while disbelief in eternal soul allows another to justify impulsive behavior, we may know what's pragmatically true for each of them, but we've no basis for coming to a conclusion about whose belief is correct. To answer the question of whether the soul is, in fact, eternal — or at least which truth society ought to prefer — would require some external criterion that this Pragmatism doesn't provide.

Pragmatism, however, smuggles in the implicit sense that there is no relevant truth beyond itself. Millman presents an example when he suggests that if the concepts of "individuals, rights, the people, the nation are real... they are only pragmatically real." The consequence of that "only" is that, if nobody behaves as if something exists, then it is not pragmatically real, and theoretically, any truth, anything conceptual, can be ignored.

Pragmatism becomes, in a word, Relativism. To the argument that the eternal soul is a reality because it acts in bringing comfort, the Pragmatist qualifies that belief therein is "only" pragmatically true. But the trick works in reverse. If not believing makes real the nonexistence of such things as eternal soul and rights, then that is "only" pragmatically true.

It begins to become apparent that Pragmatism is not pragmatically true in most cases. Being aware that one's belief in eternal soul may only be true because it brings comfort undermines the comfort. Understanding that disbelief may only be true inasmuch as it justifies impulsive behavior lessens its utility as a justification. Believing that rights are only real if we act as if they are real invites behavior that takes advantage of their underlying unreality.

As Millman admits, this presents the moral Pragmatist with a difficulty. After wading through all of the practical consequences of Pragmatism, it appears that one must resolve, having duly acknowledged it, to ignore it in order to allow perpetuation of a good end. Millman refers to an "elect" who "know that much of what we believe is... only true pragmatically, ... because it works, not because it's True in some absolute sense unrelated to human psychology." Morality keeps society functioning, so those "smart people" who realize that it's hooey pretend that it's not.

For Pragmatism to deserve its capital-P, however, its adherents must believe it to contain Truth. Goldberg quotes Charles Beard as saying that "the means can make the ends." For Pragmatism to be pragmatically true, it must have a practical outcome, so what truth does it make?

Since Pragmatism challenges the objectivity of any principle that's coupled with a rational goal, it devolves into an idealism of whim. It is, itself, Pragmatically true only for causes that don't require willful belief, for impulses. Providing, as Millman applauds, "warrant for... reasoning to a premise from a conclusion," it is an efficient philosophy for achieving irrational desire. This is why a pragmatic approach to law wound up allowing profanities, but disallowing political speech. It wasn't that "Pragmatism drained us of belief in Truth," as Millman suggests; rather, it was that Pragmatism makes Truth out of whatever an individual or a political cohort wants, whether that means kinky sex or unthreatened power.

The importance that Holmes placed on the "marketplace of ideas" ceases to be a matter of Truth, and other points of view can be dismissed. Insisting that the ideal must be pragmatically correct, its advocates turn their blame on others for not being sufficiently true believers. An undesired outcome (e.g., men's disproportion in mathematics departments) is taken as conclusive proof of the suspected and invalid cause (sexism). Conflicting speech is invalid because it hinders the new ideal. That seems to be Jonah's argument: that Pragmatism leads to Relativism in a perpetual cycle of corrupt idealism. Pragmatism is a razor that cuts clear through to mushy primal impulses.

Of course, we've learned to the detriment of generations that human beings can behave as if things that are True are not — for a time. Jumping off a cliff, one can deny gravity for a brief moment and then deny that falling indicates moving toward something until... well, splat.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:25 AM | Comments (37)

April 2, 2005

Summing Up the Contorted Thinking

Not to pick on M. Carrie Ruo of North Providence, RI, but her letter to the Providence Journal too perfectly captures an impulse behind the Kill Terri crowd:

For centuries, the husband has been given "God-like" authority over his own family. How many wives have gone to their relatives, priests and other conservative counselors, complaining of abuse from their husbands, only to be told that they should stay in the marriage because it is God's will -- that they should obey their husbands and pray?

In the recent elections, we were told time and again that marriage is between a man and a woman, which conveys exclusive rights to the husband and wife over each other's affairs. Why then, did the same conservatives wish to strip away Michael Shiavo's rights? Last I read, he was still married to Terri.

The hypocrites have made the husband king, but now want to take away his crown, simply because they don't like his decision. Too bad.

What's the argument? That Terri Schiavo had to die because conservatives wish to preserve the opposite-sex definition of marriage? That an objectionable view of spouses' positioning relative to each other that has largely faded in the Western world requires us to honor that precedent for a modern man who wanted his disabled wife dead? I could be reading too much into this, but it seems to me that this particular manifestation of adolescent psychosis offers partial explanation for Western liberals' sympathy for the most retrograde practices of Islamic fundamentalists.

For too many, liberalism has devolved into an ideology for feeling one's own rightness, as compared to the wrongness of Western (particularly Christian) conservatives. If the highest sin that conservatives can commit, in the eyes of liberals, is hypocrisy, then some withdrawn feeding tubes and the slithering of the burkqa onto the Western street are a small price to pay in order to wield the scarlet H.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:34 AM | Comments (153)

April 1, 2005

A Contradiction to the Very End

Even in Terri Schiavo's final moments, a central contradiction of those who thought she should "be allowed to die" surfaces:

Felos disputed the Schindler family's account. He said that Terri Schiavo's siblings had been asked to leave the room so that the hospice staff could examine her, and the brother, Bobby Schindler, started arguing with a law enforcement official.

Michael Schiavo feared a "potentially explosive" situation, and would not allow the brother in the room, Felos said. "Mrs. Schiavo had a right to have her last and final moments on this earth be experienced by a spirit of love and not of acrimony," the lawyer said.

Isn't the whole argument, vis-à-vis the legitimacy of killing her, that she can't experience anything? Perhaps the atrociousness of Felos's grammar indicates an attempt on his part to gloss this contradiction with ambiguity.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:39 AM | Comments (33)

March 31, 2005

This Is the Way the World Ends...

What is there to say? I'm too tired to sort it all out, just now, but Don Hawthorne's got a good post over on Anchor Rising. My mind keeps coming back to two related things: First, Mort Kondrake on Brit Hume's show tonight emphasized that the controversy over Terri Schiavo was just a part of the broader cultural battle going on, confirming (I think) that many who felt so strongly that she must die did so because it would represent a defeat for those who wanted her to live. And second, one of the central skirmishes in that cultural battle is defining how restricted citizens are from "imposing" their will on each other.

There's a whole lot of contradiction on the second point. As I've been trying to explain to a local commenter to an older post on Anchor Rising about sex ed, it is incorrect to claim that one can separate government and religion (broadly viewed). I hope to write more on this aspect tomorrow. For now, suffice to say that I'm unimpressed by Sheila Lennon's referring to the American Catholic Church as a "splinter group" in a post directly after one that's about right-wing militias' plans to storm Terri's hospice.

What a mess it all is. But it's a mess from which Terri Schiavo is now, we hope and pray, free.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:50 PM | Comments (29)

March 23, 2005

Trimming Worthiness at the Edges

I've posted a broader thought based on the Schiavo case over on Anchor Rising. If you're inclined to comment, feel free to do so here or there, if you'd like a change of scenery.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:27 PM | Comments (2)

March 18, 2005

Two by Peggy

I'm extremely busy, but I wanted to take a break to direct your attention to two stunning columns by Peggy Noonan. The first is about the "amazing story of how Ashley Smith stopped Brian Nichols's killing spree." The second explains why, if "Terri Schiavo is killed, Republicans will pay a political price."

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:28 PM | Comments (17)

March 11, 2005

Life Is a Yes-or-No Question

For a guest column on TheFactIs.org, a news and commentary site sponsored by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and the Culture of Life Foundation, I've expanded on my thoughts related to Stanley Kurtz's Policy Review piece about population decline and the possible social strategies for dealing with it.

The bottom line is that life is a yes-or-no question.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:38 PM

March 8, 2005

Beyond Ethical Consideration

At the end of a series of posts (up from here) reacting to a Time magazine cover story about differences between men and women, brainwise, Stanley Kurtz notes that it appears to be a foregone conclusion that, when we can "tweak" brain functions, we should:

The new interest in brain biology is a two edged sword. It has raised legitimate questions about social constructionist orthodoxy. Those questions ought to be debated. But the new brain biology is itself on shaky ground and should not be treated as an alternative orthodoxy, much less as a license to tamper with the human brain.

Kurtz is right that we're "headed for dangerous times." Medical science is entering a range of promises that all too many people find irresistible. It has been harmful enough, these many decades, that social engineers have been plunging our society into cultural changes. We should all shudder to think about the possible results when biological engineers begin doing the same.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:37 AM | Comments (6)

March 7, 2005

Woman as Racehorse

Frankly, I had no idea how to react to Brown professor William F. Wyatt's recent piece in the Providence Journal, "Million Dollar Baby revealed," so I thought it only fair and reasonable to share my perplexity with you:

The movie is thus a Western of the traditional sort, with cowboy replaced by trainer and filly replaced by fighter. The action is transferred from the ranch to the city, from the corral to the ring.

Unless conservative commentators object to putting down injured horses, they can have no objection to this film. The Academy clearly approves. My job is done.

Judging from Mr. Wyatt's place and line of work, it seems probable that the tongue-in-cheek piece is either an example of a liberal's mocking conservatives while actually proving their point or an indication that liberals are coming back around to agreement with conservatives by circuitous routes. Perhaps it indicates unrecognized confusion between the two. After all, how could a professor of classics emeritus fail to bristle at the reduction of humanity (a woman, no less!) to the status of metaphor for an animal slave?

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:55 AM | Comments (22)

Death of a Dubious Icon

Having almost no experience with nor knowledge about Hunter Thomson, I had nothing to say about his suicide. But I imagine my thoughts would have been much like Jeff Jacoby's:

Could anything be more ghoulish and egotistical than making your unsuspecting wife listen while you put a bullet through your skull? Absolutely: making your unsuspecting wife listen while you put a bullet through your skull — and your son, daughter-in-law, and grandson are just a few yards away. Juan Thompson was in a nearby office when his father blew his brains out in the kitchen. Winkel Thompson and 6-year-old Will were playing in the living room next door. It takes a real sadist to arrange his suicide so that his loved ones are forced to hear him die. But what kind of degenerate inflicts something so traumatic on a child of 6? ...

How striking is the contrast between Thompson's tawdry death and the excruciating struggle of Pope John Paul II, whose passionate belief in the sanctity of life remains unwavering, even as Parkinson's disease slowly ravages him. The pope's example of courage and dignity sends a powerful message, but the chattering class would rather talk instead about why this stubborn man won't resign. Meanwhile they extol Hunter Thompson and are itching to know — are his ashes really going to be fired from a cannon?

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:44 AM | Comments (1)

March 1, 2005

Coasting on God's Whispers

Periodically, rhetoric or circumstances — or rhetoric about circumstances — raise questions about the degree to which modernity has unconsciously relied upon its cultural, moral, and emotional heritage without its believing non-believers' realizing it. Even in the most secular groups and nations, to what degree has assessment of social dynamics and human nature been founded in the lingering effects of millennia of religious morality? And what happens if those effects wear off?

In a post from October, I suggested that a morality founded in self-interest ultimately makes it advisable at least to perpetuate a belief in God. While one can develop self-interest into a long-term community view, doing so introduces a sort of gamble whereby we acknowledge that it is in self-interest to form social covenants, pledging to sacrifice if needed, but hoping that the benefits will outweigh the sacrifices. To ensure that there are members willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, it benefits the society to cultivate an irrational (or suprarational) morality.

Certainly theistic religion is foremost among such moralities, but a recent comment from Dan Carvin doesn't contradict the point:

During World War II, thousands of Russian soldiers gave up their lives to liberate their homeland from the Nazi invaders. While it is impossible to know how many of these soldiers subscribed the official atheist beliefs, certainly many of them were, and they didn't require a belief in God to give up their lives for their families and communities.

Few theists would discard the notion that the state (or community) can substitute for God as the "greater thing" for which people will sacrifice. Indeed, apologists often employ that very attempt as evidence that humanity requires meaning — usually adding that atheistic nationalism has claimed more lives with less humanitarian benefit than other, theistic, religions. Carvin faults religious morality for its susceptibility to multiple interpretations ("It's ALL moral relativism"), but variations of that flaw apply to nations, ethnicities, and any other basis for group identity. Worse yet, rooting morality in an extant entity, rather than a being or concept external to tangible society, merely makes morality subject to the immediate needs of that entity.

More to the point, as I put it in the above-mentioned post, a problem arises over time when more and more people figure out the game. I challenged the reader to "show me a soldier who would lay down his life in full awareness that he has merely lost the lottery in a necessary cultural illusion." It doesn't answer the challenge to cite soldiers from a mid–twentieth century culture that had simply recast that illusion in the image of ideological nationalism. Where is the non-theistic morality in a world of relativism and radical individualism that will encourage a thinking man (or woman) to lay down his life in the service of a worthwhile end?

Here, Carvin might retreat to the more personalized concept of "expanded self-interest" that preceded his extrapolation of self-interest to the "clan, or whatever group they belong to":

Self-interest is not just interest for the self. The urge to procreate extends self-interest toward our spouses and children. This is why parents willingly give up a great deal, including body organs in some cases, for the well being of their children.

This argument may have long historical currency, but what of a culture in which parents don't willingly give up "a great deal" for their children — to the extent of not giving them life in the first place? After all, we're having this discussion within a society in which millions of parents and non-parents alike elevate the individual's "choice" above even the very lives of children already conceived. Addressing Western culture beyond the United States, it is becoming increasingly untenable to argue that "the urge to procreate" inherently scuttles the urge to keep self-interest narrowly focused on the self.

A piece by Stanley Kurtz in the current Policy Review traces the interplay between these various forces when it comes to precipitous population decline. With the exception of resignation, Kurtz organizes possible cultural reactions to that demographic shift into two camps: "at least a partial restoration of traditional social values" or "a radical new eugenics." In the former case:

Economic decline could force people to depend on families instead of the state. A religious revival could restore traditional mores. And a revised calculation of rational interest in light of social chaos could call the benefits of extreme individualism into question.

And in the latter:

... the end of the nuclear family would come through a further development of our growing tendency to separate pair-bonding from sex and procreation. Especially in Europe, marriage is morphing into parental cohabitation. And in societies where parents commonly cohabit, the practice of "living alone together" is emerging. There unmarried parents remain "together" yet live in separate households, only one of them with a child. And of course, intentional single motherhood by older unmarried women — Murphy Brown-style — is another dramatic repudiation of the nuclear family. The next logical step in all this would be for single mothers to turn their children over to some other individual or group for rearing. ...

... objections to the human exploitation inherent in surrogacy could actually propel a shift toward artificial wombs. Of course, that would only complete the commodification of childbirth itself — weakening if not eliminating the parent-child bond. And if artificial wombs one day become "safer" than human gestation, insurers might begin to insist on our not giving birth the old-fashioned way.

These two broad reactions to demographic changes relate to two broad approaches to morality. To be sure, a person could argue that the alignment isn't perfect; a "revised calculation of rational interest" need only mean that people have children as a retirement investment, proving the point about "expanded self-interest." More likely, I'd suggest, is that the reconstruction of traditional activities from a position of rationalism will tend to contribute to, not merely coincide with, a religious revival. With the momentum of the nihilistic avalanche arrested, God will be found in the family.

Whether that proves to be the case or not, the two worldviews that begin to emerge give starkly different impressions. In my bias, the first feels involved and organic:

  • Natural childbirth and appreciation for children
  • Sex as a metaphysical and moral act intrinsically related to the giving of life
  • Stable, married homes in which to raise those children and secure them within a family
  • Single income households, lending themselves to maximal parental involvement with children
  • A sense of heritage and connection with all of humanity
  • Connection with the God who underlies all of the suprarational fruits of life

The second, in contrast, feels aloof and artificial:

  • Separation of birth and childrearing from parenting
  • Sex that serves primarily as a mechanism for pleasure
  • Relationships and "homes" contingent upon the contentment and convenience of adults
  • Maximal removal of time spent with children to allow career and recreational pursuits
  • A sense of self gratification as a measure of personal success

I'm writing broadly, of course, and again, my lists are drenched in my own beliefs. But despite such disclaimers, these strike me as being more or less the two directions in which society and individuals can head. The former admits a wrong turn and retraces its steps, hoping to address legitimate objections to the tradition that had filtered into modern times; the latter continually invests its hopes in decisions already made, in part as reactionary functions of the same objections.

It has been my experience that the culture at large underestimates the depth and cost of these cumulative investments. Whatever conclusions individuals come to, those from Generation X down have raw personal experience with the truth that a progressive culture hurts, and it seems doubtful that too many young adults will be content to revel in the pain.

It would require more ground than this essay can advisably cover to flesh out my assertion of pain, but the point consolidates well in a passage that Amanda Witt quoted from a speech by secular humanist Natalie Angier:

For a while, Katherine [now eight years old] was terrified about death. We'd be driving along in the car, and all of a sudden she'd start screaming in the back seat. What's wrong, what's wrong? We'd ask, thinking we had to pull over for a medical emergency. I've just been thinking about death! She'd cry. I don't want to just disappear! To die forever and that's all, that's the end. This happened a few times, each time, out of nowhere, she'd start to wail. We'd tell her whatever we could to comfort her, that she will live a long, long time, and that they're inventing new drugs that will, by the time she grows up, help her live even longer, a couple of hundred years, who knows; she'd live until she was pig-sick of it. And we'd tell her that nothing really disappears, it just changes form, and that she could become part of a dolphin, or an eagle, or a cheetah, a praying mantis. She'd have none of it. She knew she wouldn't be aware of her new incarnation. She knew she probably wouldn't remember her life as Katherine, and that loss of self she found impossibly sad. As do I, the loss of her, the loss of myself. As do all of us. Learning how to die is one of the greatest tasks of life, and it's one that most us never quite get the hang of, until we realize, whoops, not much of a trick here, is there. Not much of a choice, either.

... lately Katherine seems to have gotten past those terror jags. She hasn’t had an outburst for the past year or two.

I recall having those "terror jags," and my experience is that atheists don't so much "get past" them as find ways to suppress them. Sometimes several years would pass between waves of soul-deep realization about "the truth of what death means" (as I thought at the time). When realization came as a splash rather than a wave, I would induce a little fake-reflexive shiver, giving me an opportunity to laugh at my silliness and get my mind on a different track. Thus I lasted about a decade and a half on the promise that I'd just somehow find a way to accept death.

For some, acceptance comes as an activistic denial — seizing on the hope that Angier offered to her daughter: well, "they're inventing new drugs," and they'll keep you going long enough to realize that you don't want to live forever. You'll get so sick of life that you'll welcome oblivion! Again, this is a matter of personal impressions and experience, but I've come to suspect that there is a chasm between the cavalier atheists of mature age and the children that they raise.

People who were raised with the understanding that there is — or legitimately could be — a God, build their atheism on the subconscious foundation thereby laid; moreover, they have a sense of community; their formative years were spent in a more traditional, and traditionally religious, society. People raised as atheists lack both the subconscious sense and the social experience. The appeal to the claim that, in Angier's words, "[m]atter is neither created nor destroyed, and we, as matter, will always matter, and the universe will forever be our home" cannot tap into the religious comfort of eternity because that comfort has never been experienced. The earthy scent in the graveyard doesn't evoke memories of comforting feelings; there are no memories, so the scent becomes associated with the graveyard. The child "will have none of it."

Just so, it may work for discrete individuals to leverage the ego as an external anchor for morality. Carvin claims to be "morally mature" — not needing the crutch of religion, "useful for moderating the behavior of the morally immature." Angier expresses pride in her daughter's second reason for liking atheism (after not having "to waste Sundays going to pray"): "I'd rather do things myself than have somebody else do them for me. If somebody gets sick, I wouldn't just pray to god he or she gets better, I would try to buy some medicine for them, to help them get better." What happens when there are no religious believers to whom to match morality? More importantly, what happens when the tone becomes set by those who don't care whether they're called "morally immature" any more than a desert scorpion cares about the "river of life"?

Those raised in a society that sees its cultural, moral, and emotional heritage as an academic interest, and often with scorn, have no recourse to the strength that their elders in the previous generation or two don't even realize was imparted unto them. We can no longer hear God's whispers, so we must instead listen for His call.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:59 AM | Comments (41)

February 22, 2005

What Lies Beneath the Titillation

I find myself curious about Providence Journal editorial boarder M.J. Anderson. I know from some brief reviews of her brand-new book, Portable Prairie: Confessions of an Unsettled Midwesterner, that she's the daughter of South Dakotan journalists and went to Princeton in the '70s. I know from elsewhere that she began as a reporter for the Providence Journal in 1981. But the things that I'd like to know are of a more personal nature.

I don't wonder such things out of voyeurism or twisted lechery. Rather, it has seemed to me, as I've grown older, that much of the sexual revolution is built on personal lies — distortions, at least — and I wonder what might linger behind Anderson's recent celebration of Alfred Kinsey. One can imagine, for example, the feeling of titillation mixed with pride at superior knowledge that a Midwestern Ivy Leaguer must have felt in an academia in the thrall of revolution. Closer to the Velvet Underground than to "Okie from Muskogee." Considering her shared hope, with Kinsey, "that we might throw off a crippling sense of sin, and understand how profoundly we are not just moral beings but physical ones," one wonders what crippling sins Anderson has thrown off, and what were the effects. After all, we're talking Kinsey, here — a man "appalled at how little [literature on human sexuality] was based on empirical evidence."

As a man born around the time that Anderson walked the halls of my (then-future) home state's most highly acclaimed school, I grew up and learned about sex entirely within the culture that was the legacy of Kinsey and the sexual revolution. In high school, as a college dropout, and then as a frat boy, I've witnessed the escalating perversion that can result when the assumption is that everybody is, and should be, living "normal" sex lives (which is to say, without limits). Ironically, I found it a great relief to discover that it simply wasn't true that everybody was living more promiscuously and managing to be better adjusted than I was.

I've learned that, of my '60s-nostalgic elders, many evince a self-inflicted ache at having lived fairly mundane lives; although contemporaneous with a supposed mass liberation of the libido, they have no experience outside of the dreaded traditional structure. Either they are bitter at being cheated, or they take on faith that one could live more wildly than they and achieve the same degree of contentment (think Al Gore, with his stable nuclear family and his radical views on what family should mean for others). Either way, they have no personal basis to advise Kinseyism.

Others of my elders appear, having been hurt by their lifestyles, to be striving to further justify them, rather than correct them. The deceptive hope is that the deviancy in their own lives — whether divorce or infidelity or homosexuality — can simply be defined as "normal," thereby washing away the sting. And still others are simply perverts. Kinsey, from what I've read, was one of these last.

I realize that Anderson's is an opinion piece, but certain sentences beg for journalistic exploration. Among Kinsey's latter-day supporters, one often hears the blurring admission that he was a "flawed man," but perhaps a word or two could have been spent explaining this:

Around the same time, owing to difficulties he and his wife encountered when first married, he began studying the literature on human sexuality. ...

He and his wife were both openly intimate with other partners (men included, in Kinsey's case). Their example led to some irreparable wounds among his associates, whom he encouraged to experiment.

To understand the humorous turn of those last two sentences, one must have read a 2003 piece by Janice Shaw Crouse:

In his personal life, Albert Kinsey was promiscuously bisexual, sado-masochistic, and a decadent voyeur who enjoyed filming his wife having sex with his staff.

Encouraged to experiment, indeed! Returning to Anderson for more serious matters, consider the disclaiming passive voice with which she begins the following:

Although his methodology was later faulted, he induced millions to consider that the range of "normal" behavior was much broader than they had assumed, and included homosexuality.

Faulted for what, pray tell? Well, we can turn to Janice Shaw Crouse for enlightenment:

He used over 300 children, including babies, in his studies of female orgasm. Some critics legitimately accuse Kinsey of child molestation. The American Board of Pediatrics argues that his data are not the norm; that he used unnatural stimulation and, even then, did not prove his point. Using pedophiles, he charted the length and frequency of infants' and children's supposed "orgasms." ...

In terms of subjects, Kinsey used volunteers — a practice that scholars decry because of the selection bias it introduces. Many psychologists say that exhibitionists and unconventional sexual experimenters are the most likely respondents, thus distorting the results of the studies. A quarter to nearly half of Kinsey's subjects were prisoners, hardly reflective of the general population. Plus, over 1,400 of his subjects were sex offenders. Kinsey's samples were skewed in other ways as well: His subjects were overwhelmingly single when less than a third of the population was single during the 1950s, and they were also predominantly college educated.

Perhaps the most offensive aspect of Kinsey's supposedly "scientific" method was his definitions. He classified prostitutes and cohabiting females as "married" women, and then claimed that 26 percent of married women committed adultery.

Such are the subjects whom Anderson applauds for having redefined "the range of 'normal' behavior." She writes that "post–sexual revolution, it is almost impossible to imagine the relief Kinsey's reports must have inspired," and the wry reader might think to agree that many a pedophile, prisoner, and prostitute must have been much relieved to be blended with the prudent suburban housewife.

So, I can't help but wonder what induces the likes of M.J. Anderson to raise up Alfred Kinsey. Is it a deliberately blind adulation of a cultural icon — a better-informed version of the ignorance from which Che Guevera benefits? Is defense of Kinsey really just the outward manifestation of defense of the waning side of the culture war? Or is there something more personal, psychological, behind the spin? To be sure, Anderson is far from the only person to whom this applies, but the habit of defining the cultural norm without offering empirical evidence in the form of personal experience can be, as Kinsey might have agreed, appalling.

In this respect, a more balanced study of Kinsey himself might benefit our body of knowledge, if only we could push beyond the reflex that leads us to blame "a repressive society" when even a flawed, faulted, adulterous, sado-masochistic scientist becomes depressed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:04 AM | Comments (17)

February 11, 2005

Practicing Safe Gangbanging

A few days ago, reader Nosy emailed me the following in response to my posts on sex ed. (here and here):

Here is something to ponder. There is no one teaching "safer gangbanging". That is, no one even for a minute suggests that children and teenagers should be taught "Don't get into a gang, but if you do, here's some suggestions that might keep you from becoming a drug addict or getting killed..."

No, what is taught is something else: "Do not join a gang. Do not socialize with people you know to be in a gang. Do not go to places where gang members are known to hang out. If you are in a gang, get out now, we will help you leave."

Isn't that "Gang Abstinence"? Shouldn't we be more realistic, and accept the fact that some teenagers will experiment with gangs, and teach them how to have a safer gang experience, rather than just teach this simpleminded "Don't do it" stuff? Aren't we just setting our kids up for failure, when they are tempted to join a gang and don't know how to be a gangbanger safely?

Well, a post by John Hawkins doesn't quite prove the new maxim that contemporary society undermines the possibility of satire, but it comes close:

The story of young Devin Brown should be a cautionary tale about what happens when you fall in the wrong crowd, but is instead being used as a way to attack the police. Brown, a 13 year-old "eighth-grader at a magnet school for gifted youth," started hanging out with gang bangers,
"Friends and neighbors said the teen had recently begun skipping school and spending time with gang members after his father's death last year. They insisted, however, that he wasn't in a gang.

"It's a bad crowd he was starting to hang with but he wasn't a gang member yet _ and I say yet," said Kevin Mitchell, a gang prevention specialist who knew Brown and himself a former gang member.

... Instead of carping about the police, who's asking what this kid's parent was doing while he was hanging out with gang members? Why aren't we hearing calls for the police to crack down on the gangs?

Here are the details:

According to police, Garcia and his partner were on routine patrol near Gage and Grand avenues when they saw the driver of the maroon Toyota Camry run a red light. The officers followed the car onto the Harbor Freeway and then tried to pull the driver over.

A three-minute chase ended when the driver lost control of the Toyota and drove onto the sidewalk. The officers then parked their patrol car behind the Toyota.

A 14-year-old passenger fled, but was later apprehended. When Devin, who was driving, allegedly backed into the officers' car, Garcia opened fire.

One can hear the thought in the air: if only he'd been taught how to conduct safe grand theft auto. Truly, I'm not making light of this heartbreaking incident, but whether the misguided reaction to tragedy is to blame the police or to offer but-if-you-do guidance to other children, the result will be more loss, not less.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:17 PM | Comments (3)

February 5, 2005

Fanaticism in Rhode Island

Without requiring a lawsuit or public debate, and almost without the knowledge of its mayor, the city of Providence removed a Ten Commandments monument that had stood in Roger Williams Park for more than four decades. I've explored the fanaticism involved over on Anchor Rising.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:25 PM | Comments (13)

February 3, 2005

Drinking to Your Health... Literally!

Whether or not they're correct, I love coming across intriguing explanations for sayings and traditions such as that explained by Ukraine president Victor Yushchenko and reported by Jay Nordlinger:

Then he claims that the toast — the act of toasting — originated in Kiev, anciently. You see, the most popular method of eliminating one's opponents was poison. (This, of course, is all too meaningful, coming from Yushchenko.) So you clinked your glasses extra hard, so that some of his drink would spill into yours, and some of yours would spill into his.

Tell me if you've heard another explanation, but this one may be too good to check.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:55 PM

January 27, 2005

Yeah, Imagine That

I'm putting off high dudgeon regarding the latest on the terrorism-related interrogation front, but an email that Jonah Goldberg paraphrases makes me wonder how far from any sense of real life the entire debate has drifted:

One reader argued that we should be bothered by any attempt to separate a man from his God. How would you feel, he asked, if American soldiers were forced to witness a crucifix being desecrated or a Torah being destroyed?

As Goldberg suggests, it's an interesting question. I'd suggest that it's one that American Christians are universally qualified as experts to answer. Well, having subjected myself to such torture afresh, I'd suggest that if we're going to become so concerned about the religious sensibilities of potential enemies of our country, then we'd best abolish the National Endowment for the Arts.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:09 PM | Comments (3)

Morality's Exchange Rate

Multiple angles of the following spin from Pamela Madsen, executive director and founder of the American Fertility Association, "an advocacy group for fertility patients," is head-thrashingly hard to swallow:

Isn't it a travesty that American couples are forced to leave our great nation because only 14 or so states require insurance companies to treat infertility? Less-developed countries, nations struggling with war, understand the importance of family. What does it say about the value we put on families and children?

But I'll leave aside the implication of requiring — by law — anybody who offers insurance to cover particular services or treatments in order to hone in on this morally contemptible attempt at a social guilt trip:

Less-developed countries, nations struggling with war, understand the importance of family. What does it say about the value we put on families and children?

The specific context is a trend toward Americans' seeking in vitro fertilization treatments to other countries to cut expenses:

... help came through a call to Dr. Sanford Rosenberg, a fertility specialist in Richmond, Va., who had started a program capitalizing on lower medical costs overseas. By using an egg donor from Romania and having the eggs fertilized in Bucharest and shipped back to the United States, the Butuceanus cut their costs to $18,000, including enough fertilized eggs for repeated efforts. ...

The vast majority of Americans who are infertile look for help close to home. A small number, though - no one keeps an official count - are seeking help in places like South Africa, Israel, Italy, Germany and Canada, where the costs can be much lower, becoming in essence fertility tourists.

The New York Times article by Felicia Lee from which I've drawn the above quotations emphasizes countries that make Madsen's "struggling with war" comment a little inapt, but "places like" is an extremely open phrase. As difficult as it may be for many in our secular culture, take both sides of the long-running debate between progressives and traditionalists seriously for a moment: What relevance does the fact that 44.5% of Romania's population lives below the poverty line have?

One particularly compelling moral thicket with any IVF that involves egg donors is the treatment of women as egg farms. That women should not be dehumanized in service of the procedure is almost universally understood, and in the United States, it would hardly be unreasonable to suggest that women's dominion over their own bodies has pushed public opinion over the line to legality. There remains something, well, creepy about taking advantage of poverty or the less devastating financial need of young college students to acquire their eggs, but most Americans will understand their right to consent.

Now move this moral balance to Romania, where trafficking in women is widespread and "children in Bucharest are easy prey for child prostitution tourists." Among those willing to sell entire women, separating their eggs is merely maximizing profits. Under poverty so crushing that children must turn to selling sexual favors, the ability to freely consent to egg donation cannot so easily be taken for granted.

Ms. Madsen would surely qualify her statement, if asked, and one must always be wary of extrapolating views from short quotations placed in a specific context in newspaper reports. Nonetheless, to step on such people in order to fling advocacy rhetoric concerning the value that Americans "put on families and children" raises questions about the value that the advocates place on such moral considerations as human dignity.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:25 PM

January 25, 2005

Wait'll TV Real Estate Is Up for Grabs!

Something in a recent Catherine Seipp piece sounded familiar:

Still, there are talented writers working on unsuccessful shows as well as hits. So what goes wrong?

"Promising shows are cancelled immediately if they don't get good numbers," a TV writer friend, who's currently employed on a successful network drama, griped to me when I asked about this, "never getting the chance to find their voice and audience, as Cheers, Hill Street Blues did under [former NBC programming chief] Brandon Tartikoff, largely because he was in last place then and had little to lose. Sadly, these days even a last-place network has itchy trigger fingers, so thick is the fear in the business today."

Back in the feudalistic days of the 1990s, a common complaint among musicians — famous and anonymous alike — was executives' lack of willingness to allow, let alone help, an artist to develop, slowly building an audience and defining a personal style. Instead, the complaint went, to get into the business often required a built-in following, and to stay in the business required the avoidance of sales lulls during periods of artistic experimentation.

Then came the Internet to stir up the business model. From the musician's point of view, the Internet provides a way to build that necessary following and perhaps to circumvent the industry altogether, depending on priorities. From the audience's point of view, the Internet provides a means to explore beyond the big-budget packaging, as well as to circumvent, legally and illegally, the exorbitant prices to acquire the desired material of artists who aren't sufficiently compelling to justify whole album purchases. If artists are going to attract listeners online, in part through free samples, and if fans are going to insist on being persuaded to spend money by the music that the artist makes available, then the need for the various stages of middlemen diminishes.

In light of their differing sales models, the television industry is, if anything, more vulnerable to the technology and ethos of the Internet. The music business requires purchases, tickets, and attendance, requiring physical activity on both sides of the transaction. The television business requires nothing more than continued habitual usage of a living room fixture; revenue comes through advertising or, at most deliberate, through subscription.

Now imagine a world in which the initial viral marketing of South Park had involved URLs, instead of bootleg videos, being passed from dorm room to dorm room.

As somebody who's fiddled with video blogging (vlogging), I'd suggest that the TV folks aren't as immune to the flattening effects of the Internet as they may think. With lower costs for disk space and bandwidth, as well as production software that's mostly already on the market for reasonable prices, as well as the business models developing around blogging, online television shows are probably inevitable. First among amateurs, then malcontents, then mainstream writers et al. frustrated with the business. The threat doesn't end there, though.

Among the most intriguing developments that I've noticed in my five years of editing high-tech market research has been the efforts of such players as Microsoft to get computer content onto the family television set. Whether wireless or through cables, television is only streaming video, after all. Why not use similar technology for various applications, most significantly Web access? The same result is progressing from the other direction, as well, with a desire to make movies and television "clickable" to enhance the content and to open up a channel for related sales. (Like a Desperate Housewive's blouse? Click on her and order one.)

As the technology advances, viewers will be able to watch streaming online content right on the very same televisions that they use for big budget schlock. Furthermore, the big companies may help to transform the feel of television viewing toward that of Web browsing.

This future may — or may not — be distant, but the suits would be well advised to make a cultural asset of their ability to open space for talented people to develop their art now, while that remains only one of the advantages that their money can buy.

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

January 19, 2005

Giving a Name to the Orientation

The comments to my post about Andrew Sullivan's then-and-now rhetoric have taken a turn that I didn't anticipate, but that merits a response. To get right to it: I don't think homosexuality is a disease. Disease implies a cure, and I think such a thing is neither possible nor desirable to seek.

Most folks who don't believe that homosexuality should be "favorably acknowledged" will likely agree that "disorder" is more apt. This is not the least because, rather than a "cure," it implies "reordering," suggesting a painstaking process that, by necessity, entails voluntary participation on the part of the subject.

Over the years, the gay movement has woven counterculturalism into its self image, so pushing too strenuously for participation in, essentially, deconstruction of their own identity only affirms gays' inclination to withdraw. That's the tough part of the discussion (and it ought to be a tough discussion), and in my view, it's the best argument for same-sex marriage.

Of course, I believe that the argument is still inadequate, given current circumstances (in part because of that countercultural streak).

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:52 PM | Comments (5)

January 15, 2005

The Kook's Self-Perception

It's a healthy habit to always keep in mind that kooks, generally speaking, probably don't believe themselves to be kooks. You'll get poseurs, of course, but honest-to-goodness kooks think what they're saying is plausible. I find it particularly important to recall this truth when something that I find interesting — provocative, even — generates absolutely no response. You know, sort of like the previous post.

Certainly some thoughts therein sound kooky. But that could be the shorthand that I used to describe a general progress in the future. "Secular nihilism" and "Islamic fundamentalism" are not actual entities battling over the soul of Europe. Scientists aren't (probably) going to begin rounding up fundamentalists and zapping the zeal out of their faith.

That isn't how things that seem kooky but prove true come about; rather, each step looks perfectly plausible — perhaps a stretch, but plausible nonetheless. Imagine scientists isolate the region of the brain that physiologically results in psychological fortification through faith and learn how to manipulate it. At the same time, the demographics of the continent change such that nations finally are forced to discard their multicultural fetish.

The discarding will come with especial ease if unhappy nihilists begin seeking to fill irreligion's gap. Under such circumstances, and given Europeans' leavened version of free speech, it isn't inconceivable that fundamentalism-based actions or declarations could be defined as "extreme" and trigger mandatory treatment. (It would be for the fundamentalist's good, of course.)

This is only one quickly conceived storyline; I'm just speculating... and trying to figure out how far from the kook border I currently stand.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:45 PM | Comments (2)

January 14, 2005

Toward Religious Armor in a Pill

Believers have long wanted science to return to an internal culture with proper respect for religion, but this isn't quite what they've had in mind:

Top neurologists, pharmacologists, anatomists, ethicists and theologians are to examine the scientific basis of religious belief and whether it is anything more than a placebo.

Headed by Baroness Greenfield, the leading neurologist, the new Centre for the Science of the Mind is to use imaging systems to find out how religious, spiritual and other belief systems, such as an illogical belief in the innate superiority of men, influence consciousness.

A central aspect of the two-year study, which has $2 million (Ł1.06 million) funding from the John Templeton Foundation, the US philanthropic body, will involve dozens of people being subjected to painful experiments in laboratory conditions.

Jeff Miller and his commenters have highlighted two disturbing aspects of the experiment. The first is the impression, the subjects' consent aside, that "scientists" are torturing Christians presumably with impunity. The second is to be found in this paragraph from the news story:

The study is considered of vital importance in the present world climate, given the role of religious fundamentalism in international terrorism. A better understanding of the physiology of belief, the conditions that entrench it in the mind and its usefulness in mitigating pain could be crucial to developing counter-terrorist strategies for the future.

The obvious implication is that those who think this study is "of vital importance" wish to discover "the physiology of belief" in order to reduce it to what might be seen as acceptable levels through scientifically developed techniques. But see if the impression doesn't deepen — and darken — while you ponder a question that Paul Cella posed to his readers:

What is preferable — that Europe continues on its path of secular nihilism, with the crushing weight of multiculturalism descending in an ever-drearier enervation; or that Europe becomes Islamic?

Perhaps we American theists, watching from the sidelines, have been too quick to assume that secular nihilism would passively prostrate itself to Islamic fundamentalism. We all understand secular nihilism (or whatever you prefer to call it) to be a faith in its own right — its greatest lack being the fortitude that positive* faith provides. It seems to me that the envisioned "counter-terrorist strategies" (whatever they are) could evolve to remedy this weakness in two ways: The mettle can be sapped from theistic faiths. Or it can be artificially generated in an atheistic faith, whether for political or military combat.

This is the stuff of science fiction, to be sure, but cultural clashes of continental proportions seemed, until recently, to be the stuff of historical fiction. Either way, maybe our culture's dabbling in surrealism was part of a divine plan to prepare us for the future.


* I use "positive," here, in the descriptive sense, opposite "negative," not in the sense of attributing value.

ADDENDUM:
A graph of E.U. demographics that Dan Drezner posts on his blog gives some perspective about what the future holds for Europe — and not mitigating perspective.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:09 PM | Comments (1)

January 9, 2005

Kid Rock and the Price of Cultural Debasement

Far and away the best argument for allowing Kid Rock to play at inauguration-related events is, as expressed in an email that I received this morning, "he's good enough to play for US armed forces on his USO tour; so he's good enough to play for the President of the United States."

Our troops certainly deserve our support and admiration, and anybody who offers that support in tangible ways deserves acknowledgment. Still, I don't believe that the acknowledgment originally extended to Kid Rock is as simple a decision as many have suggested. And it's made all the more difficult by the fact that conservatives and Republicans don't exactly have expansive representation among household-name entertainers.

The bottom line is that there has to be a cost for debasing our culture as Kid Rock and his ilk have done. It's unfortunate, in my view, that the marketplace does not exact that price, but outside of a certain range of Republicans, the marketplace is not invested with inerrancy. The cost for preying upon and thereby encouraging the rebellious immaturity of the young (and some among the older) has got to be — at the least — a loss of respectability.

In the case of entertaining our troops, exceptions must be made for the reason that the focus is on them, not the performer. Considering the sacrifices that they are making and the work that they are doing for the benefit of us all, much more weight should be given to the principle that what they want is what they get.

But when it comes to celebrations of the President's reelection, respectability — and the statement that each facet of the celebration makes about the President's principles — has to be considered. Moreover, we must foster the sort of culture in which those who've made the choice to trade respectability for lucre understand that to have been a real and actual choice.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:18 AM

January 6, 2005

A Look Around the Corner of PCism

Paul Cella notes a case in Australia that ought to act as a red flag in all areas currently or potentially afflicted with the multiculti PC cult of "tolerance." Rober Spencer reports:

One of the pastors, Daniel Scot, is Pakistani. He fled his native land seventeen years ago when he ran afoul of the notorious Section 295(c) of the Penal Code — which mandates death or life in prison for anyone who blasphemes "the sacred name of the holy Prophet Muhammad." It's a treacherously elastic statute that has been and is often used to snare Christians: cornered and made to state that they don't believe Muhammad was a prophet, they then find themselves charged with blasphemy.

Scot went to Australia, only to run afoul of that nation's new religious vilification laws. Last Friday, Judge Michael Higgins of The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal found him guilty of vilifying Islam in a seminar hosted by his group, Catch the Fire Ministries. The judge noted that during the seminar, Scot stated that "the Quran promotes violence, killing and looting." In light of Qur'anic passages such as 9:5, 2:191, 9:29, 47:4, 5:33 and many others, this cannot seriously be a matter of dispute. Muslims have pointed to verses in the Bible that they would have us believe are equivalent in violence and offensiveness, or have claimed that the great majority of Muslims don't take such verses literally; but it takes a peculiarly strong resistance to reality not only to deny that such verses are there, but to charge one who pointed them out with religious vilification.

In the comments to Cella's post, Australian reader Dave defends Higgins's decision on the grounds that "the two plantifs did not distingush between extreme Muslims and the Muslim religion in general, thus inspiting hatred against the Muslim community as a whole." That strikes me as a dangerously fine line to force people to walk in assessing other groups' religious doctrines. What, for instance, should the judgment be if the "extremists" of a religion have strong arguments that their method of practice (to be euphemistic) is rooted in foundational texts? Is Daniel Scot a criminal merely for lack of a disclaimer?

Attempting to answer a question that Cella posed to him concerning Christians' ability to judge variations of Muslim theology, Dave merely brings the problem into sharper focus:

In terms of judging, here's a simple rule of thumb: Extremists kill others and justify it in terms of religion. Moderates discuss religous ideas without killing people.

But where's the line? A mullah could "discuss" with his followers the glory that awaits those who sacrifice themselves in violent jihad. Would that be moderate? One could follow threads of culpability multiple degrees of separation from the actual coreligionists who "kill others and justify it in terms of religion."

At the very least, what "vilification" laws do is to prevent people outside of a religion from applying pressure to supposed moderates both to repudiate the extremists and to explain to them (and the world) why their interpretation of the shared texts and traditions is wrong.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:58 AM | Comments (2)

January 5, 2005

A Threat to the Secular Eucharist

The Washington Post's Ceci Connolly is fretting that, as Jeff Miller puts it, more women "during childbearing years are actually at risk of bearing a child." Connolly reaches the heart of the cultural matter in this paragraph:

Although unintended pregnancies can be welcome surprises, the danger from a public health and societal standpoint is that many of the women are financially or psychologically unprepared for parenthood at that point in their lives.

Jeff is correct to note that it bodes ill that a segment of society thinks that "pregnancy is a danger to public health and society." Even accepting the "danger" characterization, however, there's a more basic issue that arises when it becomes front page news that "the number of women who had sex in the previous three months but did not use birth control rose from 5.2 percent in 1995 to 7.4 percent in 2002" — especially when no effort was made to determine how many of those women were hoping for or at least open to pregnancy.

The fundamental issue, here, is the practical dimension of ensuring that even women who are or might be open to childbearing use contraception every time they have sex. The culture would either have to increase the priority given to not having children, or it would have to ensure that contraception and sex are so thoroughly associated with each other that potentially procreative sex seems unnatural.

Come to think of it, that actually sounds like a cultural movement that's been around for quite a while. Self-centered, youth-worshipping people who find it necessary for both spouses to work in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle are easy to categorize as "financially or psychologically unprepared for parenthood"; make birth control absolutely free, as the Post article goes on to promote, and folks will have less reason to even think of ceasing it.

Alternately, we could strive for — oh, I don't know — a culture that promotes emotional maturity and a morality-based value system founded in religious faith and that privileges an economic system that makes parenthood more universal in its financial viability.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:46 AM | Comments (6)

December 30, 2004

The Walls of the Trap

Barbara Nicolosi has noticed the furtherance of some related themes:

The thing with evil is, it never relents. It never sleeps. It never retreats. It never pauses to catch its breath.

That's what I was thinking last Thursday while watching the last half of ER which featured an absolutely compelling and iron-clad dramatic defense for euthanasia....

I don't believe in media conspiracies, but it is amazing how everybody in the worlds of mainstream media and entertainment seem to get "on message" so fast. So, this week, for example, on Wednesday, I heard House minority leader Nancy Pelosi note on CNN that there really isn't any looming crisis in Social Security, and that the whole thing has been raised by the GOP to scare young people. Then, most of Wednesday and Thursday, AOL has the lead headline, "Bush says There is a Looming Social Security Crisis." "Hmmmm..." I thought. "Since when, don't we all agree that Social Security is in trouble?"

Then, I catch the ER episode on Thursday night, and I started to see the next horizon. It all fits together for anyone who wants to see it.

You see it, I trust?

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:36 AM | Comments (1)

Gonna Anyway

Rebecca Hagelin makes a good point:

When it comes to other topics -- smoking, drinking, drug abuse -- we don't hesitate to give our children the benefit of an unambiguous "no." We tell them flat out that they shouldn't do it. If anyone said, "But kids are going to drink any way, so let's show them how they can minimize the effects of a hangover," most parents would suggest that that person have his head examined.

Yet who can deny that the same logic (or lack thereof) lies behind the push for "comprehensive" sex ed?

I'm actually for lowering the drinking age and, in the interim, using a bit of common sense when it comes to older kids and drinking. But Hagelin's basic point applies to any number of topics. They're going to cheat anyway... they're going to drive recklessly anyway...

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:27 AM

December 28, 2004

"Once You Submit, There Won't Be Any Need for Them to Intimidate You"

Be sure to watch the video linked in this WorldNetDaily article about the arrest and prosecution of Christian demonstrators at an event for Philadelphia homosexuals:

The four are part of 11 demonstrators who went before the Philadelphia Municipal Court in a preliminary hearing this week. Judge William Austin Meehan Tuesday ordered four of the Christians to stand trial on three felony and five misdemeanor charges. If convicted, they could a maximum of 47 years in prison. ...

Eight charges were filed: criminal conspiracy, possession of instruments of crime, reckless endangerment of another person, ethnic intimidation, riot, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and obstructing highways.

As far as I can tell, almost all of the charges apply at least in equal measure to the gay activists, none of whom were arrested or charged with anything. First, the Christian group required police to break up an arm-linked human barrier to the event that spanned the sidewalk (obstructing highways). Next the Christians were followed around by a cluster of activists sporting huge pink signs — to enclose the Christians within moving walls — and blowing whistles to drown them out (possession of instruments of crime, ethnic intimidation, failure to disperse, and disorderly conduct). And apparently, the treatment of the Christian demonstrators was planned and announced beforehand (criminal conspiracy). As for reckless endangerment and riot, those seem completely without merit all around.

The "ethnic intimidation" charge is the most outrageous. A handful of Christians were entirely surrounded by stone-faced activists and moving amid shouted quips from the crowd, including from a speaker on the stage of the event. Furthermore, the Christians were the clear and singled-out focus of the authorities on the scene. The Orwellian twisting of principle is best consolidated in a statement from one of the police officers to the Christian group's leader: "There's going to be no need for their pink signs, because you're not going to have your signs."

ADDENDUM:
Robert Walker-Smith makes a point in the comments that is worth further discussion:

At the major local such event (in San Francisco), such protestors are given a clearly demarcated area to pray in, wave their signage from, and so on, separated from the parade proper by barricades and a line of police officers. Thus, no such incidents - which seems to bother the parade participants and organizers not at all. And the protestors are there every year.

That seems to me a perfectly legitimate strategy for a municipality to balance the demands that are justly made of public space. In fact, it's probably advisable, given the extreme differences in worldview of our nation's citizens. In developing the policy, all people who think it likely that they'll want to either host a public event or protest one will be able to participate in the public debate with a view toward what they'd find acceptable from either position.

What isn't legitimate is an ad hoc solution such as conveyed on the video — with one officer following the group around telling the protestors that they can go anywhere because it's a public walkway, then telling its members that they can stand in a particular spot, and then other officers' coming in and arbitrarily ordering the protestors to retreat to a particular street.

As mentioned in the comments, WND clearly isn't an unbiased source, and the video could have been edited to exclude important factors. But as it appears on the tape, it looks as if the police were attempting to corral the group away from the event not in accordance with any particular law, but using various and shifting demands without assertions of law.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:37 PM | Comments (12)

Divine Inspiration in the Arts

One of my fortunate discoveries, this fall, after I'd come to the stunning revelation that not all music with an explicitly Christian message is saturated with a trying-too-hard unctuousness, was Who We Are Instead by Jars of Clay. A review by Mark Joseph that I'd read in early August was absolutely glowing, and it ended by pointing to another revelation:

Among these [fans], ironically enough, is U2's front man Bono, who recently noted, "I've had their version of the song 'Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet' in my car for a year now, and you know what — it never has failed me yet."

Not surprisingly, given my past, I'd never heard U2 described in a Christian context before I began sifting through the Christian neighborhoods of the blogosphere, but apparently the theme has been there all along.

In the time since I read Joseph's review of Jars of Clay, the more-famous of the two bands has released what is being declared its "most conspicuously Christian record," and I can't help but wonder if there's been a Christian music equivalent of what the business folks call "upward management." Is the mainstream, commercial success of such bands as Creed, Sixpence None the Richer, and Jars of Clay beginning to make it acceptable again for pop/rock stars to express their faith? To come out?

That may or may not be the case, but the possibility does indicate a damaging bifurcation of faith and public life that has spread across more aspects of society than music. In a review of a previous album by Jars of Clay, Mark Joseph noted the band's fight to be treated "in the category that describes their music (pop/rock), not the category that describes their faith (gospel)." For too long, now, there has been religion and there has been culture, and one could fully integrate with one by becoming a stranger to the other.

That reality detracts from both aspects of our society, and it would be a mistake to see it as the work of only one side. Doug Giles describes the issue from the other angle:

Since God is the self-existent Lord of the universe and accountable to no one, he could have made the world in which we live completely beige. He could have been a minimalist who only shops at West End. He's God and can do what he wants. Instead, God dumped a lot of unnecessary splendor on us, expressly for our enjoyment. And you know what ... this freaks out the altar-call-driven, number-crunching, pragmatic, no-taste Church-goer because it seems that such expenditure is a waste of time, space and energy.

It sounds oversimple to say it, but at least part of life's purpose is to live, and arts and culture enhance that experience. The opposing reflection of this truism is that arts and culture lose their force without meaning and lose their coherence when disengaged from philosophy. Religion and culture oughtn't be kept distinct any more than they ought to be self-consciously melded. Each is ubiquitous in a person's life, and if we return to the practice of peering through life where they overlap most visibly, we will surely bring about a renaissance in the decades to come.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:00 PM | Comments (1)

Call Off the Culture War

Back when Janet Jackson's Super Bowl striptease and Howard Stern's usual antics inspired the Senate to increase the fines for indecency to a level at which media corporations wouldn't sniff at the penalty,* Jeff Jarvis began a post titled "The Daily Stern: Taps for the First Amendment" as follows:

TEARING DOWN THE BILL OF RIGHTS: Religious fundamentalists, organized as a Dumb Mob, just dealt a deadly blow to free speech in America with legislators, cynical hypocrites, as their henchmen and media standing idly by, the short-sighted quislings.

Jarvis titled another post, specifically about reaction to the Super Bowl incident, "Book burners." To this rhetoric, somebody who disagrees with Jarvis's general position might be inclined to respond thus:

There is no religous war in America. That ended more than two centuries ago. And now we enjoy the benefits of that struggle. We should be grateful for that and stop squandering it with squabbles.

I didn't write that; Jeff Jarvis did. When religious citizens insist on a standard of propriety in the public square, their expression is "the organized effort of one Dumb Mob." When the argument is over religious displays in the public square, both sides need to "grow up and count their blessings" — and quietly put their creches "anywhere else." If only we could all develop Jarvis's fine-tuned sense of what is "silly" and what is "ridiculous." (Disallowing "an instrumental version of a Christmas ditty" receives the first adjective, but what about disallowing the lyrics to be sung?)

In Jarvis's view, "we are fortunate enough to have a First Amendment that guarantees our freedom to worship... yet we squander that fortune, that blessing, with silly, egotistical, show-off squabbles." I wonder what religious freedom amounts to, though, if the extent of worship — of religious expression — is not an open question. Jarvis (a Congregationalist whose sect's expression of theism is not generally targeted for restriction) has an understanding of the church-state relationship that is not incompatible even with radical secularism. But what of those who disagree fundamentally about the appropriate roles both of religion and of the law? Is it squandering the fortune of religious freedom to insist that citizens have a right to make their religion visible in their public capacity, even when others strenuously disagree, or does it contribute to that fortune?

There is no more expedient way to kill religion than to treat it as a private taste, a fashionable sensibility. Religion dies from silence. Among my most startling discoveries upon opening myself up to the possibility of faith was that people actually believe that stuff. What's more, thoughtful, reasonable, intelligent people believe that stuff! How is it possible that I could grow up not understanding this in a country in which 96% of citizens celebrate Christmas? I'd say that the answer is not unrelated to the willingness of people in '80s–'90s Northern New Jersey to be accommodating enough to say "happy holidays" so as not to offend.

Jarvis makes a puzzling statement when he says "millions around the world would die -- yes, die -- to enjoy" our freedom of worship. I'd suggest that submitting to death would be a counterproductive approach to enjoying anything in this life. As for securing religious freedom — broadly speaking — for others, accepting death has what might be called an extramundane precedent. The more insidious danger to religion and expression thereof is that we'll all learn to keep our lips prudently sealed about God out of concern that "He would roll His eyes"... you know, if He really existed.


* Jarvis argues that the amounts are such that he "can be bankrupted for making what is, in fact, political speech." Putting aside the what and whether of political speech, a wry chuckle is in order with the application of perspective. According to the Washington Post piece to which Jarvis links, the fine had been $32,500; frankly, that's more than enough to bankrupt somebody in my circumstances.

If Jarvis wants to argue that such fines ought to be relative to the person or organization that violates a particular rule or that there ought to be an explicit procedure for seeking mitigation, that would certainly be a reasonable suggestion — one that I'd support. It mightn't even be adequate that Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) added language to the penalty change in order to allow "the FCC to consider [smaller-market broadcasters'] size when assessing fines." But somehow, I think Jarvis would rather push for the removal of all fines than consent to making existing fines more fair.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:53 PM | Comments (3)

A Note on the Previous Post

The previous post has elicited recriminations to the effect that comparisons between homosexual activists and Islamicists are beyond the pale. Often, such reactions seem designed merely to shut down a sensitive debate. Be their intentions as they may, there's an important point to be made about them.

Mike Hubbard writes that it "seems especially repugnant, given that Islamic fundamentalists try to stone and murder homosexuals at every turn, for you to compare the two." His suggestion might be an appropriate response if I'd made a general equivalence between the two groups, but what I actually did was to address each group in the context of a particular issue. No matter how much any two groups despise each other, they still share the same world, and the actions of each will affect the other, as well as society at large. As commenter smmtheory puts it, ruling comparison of any sort out of bounds removes the ability to ask "what the possible outcome could be when two such totally divergent ideologies seek the same goal of redefining marriage."

Joel Thomas takes a moderately different approach from Hubbard: "You[, Justin], as a fundamentalist Catholic, may have more in common with Islamic fundamentalists than do gay activists." Putting aside the ambiguity of what constitutes a "fundamentalist Catholic" and my skepticism that the term applies to me, I'd say that Joel's assertion is possibly, if not likely, true.

Along a general spectrum of worldviews, I might be somewhat closer to Islamicists than is the average advocate for same-sex marriage. In such a case, it would be even more dangerous for me to bristle dismissively at delimited points of comparison. It might be true that taking certain of my views to a distorted extreme would approximate the views of Islamic fundamentalists. How else am I to find the line — and keep well away from it — unless I'm willing to be candid about comparisons?

The other option, one that is all too common in the modern West, is to be the deliberate opposite of a hated group. Unfortunately, as I began by pointing out, opposites can come around to supporting the same ends. I can only hazard to guess this, not knowing his politics, but there may be evidence of "coming around to the enemy's side" at the very beginning of Hubbard's comment:

Striving to change the nature of society, which both Islamists and gay activists are trying to do, is sometimes a necessary and useful process. The abolitionists of the 19th century were radically altering society, but I think, Mr. Katz, you agree with me that so terrible a society that allowed slavery needed to be changed. Indeed, it was the Christian thing to do.

That, to my eye, looks like a far more problematic comparison than anything I wrote. The question that ultimately arises is which of the two disagreeable camps — Islamofascists and Western conservatives — Western radicals choose to align with.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:35 AM | Comments (26)

December 16, 2004

Steps Toward Making Us All Non-Persons

Not knowing what else to do with a comment from Stephen Gordon to a previous post of mine, I thought I'd just reprint it:

Chairm:
Does the "theoretical person" have some person-like aspects but lacks a key component?

The sole person-like aspect present at the moment of conception is a complete unique genetic code. Unlike the DNA in the gametes that came together to make the fertilized egg, it is not a direct copy of either the mother or the father. It is a new unique combination. It contains the complete instructions for making a new body.

One might argue that another aspect of this special cell is that it is human life. That it is alive, and human. Well, the gametes that came together to make the fertilized egg were alive and human too. Few pro-lifers would extend protection to those cells. The blood I have drawn for a physical is alive and human. I presume nobody here has a problem with testing blood.

I think the essential difference between the gametes before conception and the fertilized egg afterward is this new unique code.

There is another thing special about this cell. It is young. My child was born just as young as I was born. This is obviously very important. If age accumulated from generation to generation life wouldn't be around for long. But it doesn't.

This youth is one of the reasons that scientists are so excited about the possibility of embryonic stem cells. Let's say the day comes when we can grow replacement tissues with embroyonic stem cells. If the doctor used therapeutic cloning he could give the patient perfectly matching tissue that is youthful. I think that's pretty cool.

If a unique DNA code is sufficient to assign personhood status to this cell, then the debate is over. We agree that one person shouldn't be sacrificed to save another.

Mike S. said:

What criteria do you use to determine whether someone is or is not a person? When did you become a person?

I don't think that this cell amounts to a person because a fertilized egg is simply genetic code plus a small amount of raw material. We are more than genetic code. My genetic programming would prefer me to spend every waking moment seducing as many pretty young women as I can - wedding vows be damned. But I don't. Why not? Because I am a person capable of making decisions independent of whatever urges biology gives me. The same cannot be said of that fertilized egg.

Something happened that made me a person sometime between now and back when a certain fertilized egg began dividing in 1969. When? I'm getting to that.

The issue is (and I've tried to frame this as neutrally as possible) "theoretical person v. the suffering person in front of us."
No, the issue is, "is an embryo a theoretical person or is it a person?"

How about: "Is this fertilized egg a person or not?"

The fact that you have good intentions and are a nice person doesn't change the fact that you are wrong. I could be, too, but you'll have to try and persuade me of that.

Fair enough. I doubt I can. Not because I think you're too stubborn to see the light. I just recognize that it is very difficult to change minds on something a fundamental as when personhood begins. Reasoning through these things in a debate is a good way to understand our own positions too. So it's not a waste even if I fail to persuade you (or vice-versa).

By the way, that phrase "to see the light," refers to a point that societies have traditionally recognized personhood - birth. Seeing that first light or taking a first breath is still required in most places before a wrong that affects a baby is considered a wrong against the baby as a person.

For example, a drunk gets in his car and plows into a minivan carrying a pregnant mother. The mother lingers in a coma until she gives birth to her child and then she dies. If the child never takes its first breath, most states will not charge the drunk with two vehicular manslaughters.

That's a pretty arbitrary thing, isn't it? Let's say one man is driving at 0.1 blood-alcohol level. He has the accident I described, but isn't too drunk to hit his brake just prior to impact. Hitting his brake meant that less force was applied to the unborn child. The child was, therefore strong enough to take that one magic breath. The drunk gets charged with two manslaughters.

A second drunk has a 0.2 blood-alcohol level. He's passed out at the wheel when he hits the pregnant mom. The baby never takes a breath and so the drunk gets charged with one manslaughter.

Which drunk is guiltier?

It's partly in recognition of this sort of absurdity that states have begun passing laws that punish people who harm unborn children "as if" they had harmed a person. I think that's a good thing. In fact if it were up to me I would protect the embryo as a person all the way back to the point of differentiation.

Differentiation is a point about two weeks after fertilization where cells begin to be assigned specific duties. I mentioned in an earlier comment about how a fertilized cell can become one person, two people, part of a person, or no person. That commitment (to become 1, 2, half, or 0 people) is made at the point of differentiation.

Differentiation obviously occurs much earlier than Rowe v. Wade's first trimester. Most women don't even know they are pregnant at this early stage. Would I deny women who don't discover their pregnancy until later the right choose? Yes I would.

Mike, you are uncomfortable with the idea that society could decide whether a fertilized egg is a person. Who else is going to decide? God may have decided, but He's keeping it to Himself. Even if everyone in our country accepted the Bible as the inerrant word of God, there is no passage that specifically deals with this question. You seem to have decided there is some objective way to know that this cell is a person. Do you have some reason to believe it?

Both the difficulty of knowing what to do with this comment and the belief that it is worth addressing derive from my impression that Stephen has laid his weight on various arguments often made in the service of views with which I generally disagree. Like hopping from stone to stone across a stream, the various points skip over the currents of truth until they reach a headland adequate to declare the stream crossed.

The heart of the problem, it seems to me, comes at the end of Stephen's comment: "God may have decided, but He's keeping it to Himself." Is He? I'm feeling a little silly, so forgive my lapse into fiction:

Hedia tapped urgently on Simon's shoulder. Simon turned from his never-ending project and snapped, "What?" Hedia pointed to her throat and threw her mouth open as if taking a breathless gulp.

"Look, Hedia, if you've got something important to say, spit it out. I've got to get this project to the next stage soon, or I may have to change the whole idea. What is the matter?"

While Simon spoke, Hedia tugged relentlessly at her collar, almost stretching the fabric far enough that Simon thought the whole show bordering on indecent. But still she said nothing, merely clutching at her neck and whacking her palm on the bare skin above her breasts.

"Just tell me what is bothering you!" Simon demanded.

In attempting to discuss moral matters with Christians, and not just dismiss them using their own argot, one must understand their perspective. God is not silent on matters of moral weight. Rather, as St. Paul put it, His "invisible attributes" — from which we can derive morality — can be "understood and perceived in what he has made." The question, therefore, is not whether God has anything to say about a particular matter (despite popular belief, God and the Constitution do not function identically). The question is what He's already said via that which we can observe. And from that perspective, the gap between Stephen's logical stepping stones is conspicuous.

The effective equivalence of the fertilized egg and the gametes is a case in point. The fertilized egg is not unique merely in that it "contains the complete instructions for making a new body." It also sets about making that body. It is an organism that will, of its own volition, progress toward stages at which it is more recognizably a human being. Note Stephen's subsequent admission that "most women don't even know they are pregnant at this early stage." The young human being is not advancing according to the will of the mother, or the father. It advances on its own. The embryo, clearly, is "more than genetic code," as well.

I would suggest that this realization — this understanding of what God has made — is embedded in Stephen's privileging of differentiation. Since he's deprivileged the unique genetic code of the fertilized egg, then one could suggest that the egg and sperm are also differentiated cells of the same potential organism; Stephen knows something important happens at fertilization. Furthermore, since he's emphasized a grown person's ability to make "decisions independent of whatever urges biology gives" him, then differentiation is clearly no less arbitrary a milestone than the formation of unique DNA.

Stephen's more directed argument for aligning personhood with differentiation — that, before that point, the embryo "can become one person, two people, part of a person, or no person" — is an interesting one. In fact, I responded to the suggestion when he first made it, but apparently neglected to actually post the comment. Here, we return to the post by Phil Bowermaster with which this discussion began (emphasis in original):

Each time one of these procedures was done, this living human tissue would grow into a human being. Why would anyone insist that it has to grow into a different human being? Says who? My twin brother can't demand that he has a right to exist. I never have to create a clone in the first place. And if I do create one, I assert that I have the right (before it grows into a separate and distinct human being) to decide that it will be me, rather than him, when it grows up.

Bringing this notion back into the current context, it is clear that a human being's loss of his or her ability to split into multiple human beings at the stage where Stephen would begin personhood is merely a function of our limited technology. With cloning, even adults "can become one person, two people, part of a person, or no person." The cultural function of cloning, therefore, would appear not just to be the removal of the embryo's personhood, but the removal of everybody's personhood, unless that quality is simply made synonymous with the state of being a human being and begun at fertilization.

Especially when the air is filled with promises of miraculous drugs, arbitrary lines are simply not tenable. The conclusion that there's really no such thing as personhood, although obviously ridiculous, is one that atheists and postmodernists have come to for quite some time. As postmodernists understand, absent an absolute morality, the only measure becomes power, and the assertion of power is even less amenable to arbitrary restraints. Ultimately, there are two options: the one that God has left for us to see in what He has made, and the wrong one.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:04 PM | Comments (7)

December 13, 2004

Risking Squeamishness for Morality

No doubt about it, this potential alternative to embryonic stem cell research, as described by Ramesh Ponnuru, can raise feelings that something must be immoral about it:

William Hurlbut, a member of the Kass council and a Stanford Medical School professor, suggests mimicking the results of a defective fertilization. Nature sometimes produces "teratomas," eggs without male genetic contributions that begin to divide and grow, even growing body parts such as hair and teeth. But these teratomas are not organisms: They lack the ability to organize themselves and to direct their own integral functioning and development. They are disordered growths, like tumors. Hurlbut suggests that we might be able to produce teratomas artificially and derive from them usable stem cells that are functional equivalents of embryonic stem cells.

I've italicized the sentence that, unless I'm misunderstanding the science, makes the proposal a morally licit one. Ponnuru expands on that critical point in his subsequent piece:

Some pro-lifers seem to be under the impression that a teratoma is a disabled embryo, so that Hurlbut is proposing deliberately to create disabled embryos. If what Hurlbut has in mind were the creation of embryos that have the capacity to direct their own organization and develop but, let's say, were designed to be unable to implant, they would have a point: those would be severely disabled embryos. Hurlbut's proposal, however, involves a scenario with no embryo at all.

Still, there's much to be said for weighting gut feelings of repugnance. Ponnuru acknowledges this, but he doesn't go far enough:

Repugnance can embody good reasons for objecting to something that we are not immediately or consciously aware of. When we feel repugnance, we should stop and try to think through whether it is telling us something. But repugnance does not always have something to teach us, and if we cannot find anything we have no reason for objecting.

The missing consideration, here, is that overcoming repugnance where there is no moral reason to object tends to decrease the healthy repugnance that accrues to similar instances in which there is a moral reason to object. Becoming acclimated to the creation-for-destruction of near-autonomous human life demystifies the same usage of actually autonomous human life to some degree.

The intellectual flip-side is that the principle that underlies the repugnance can be better defined if we manage to properly identify its source. Emphasizing the sentence that I italicized in the first blockquote above clarifies what makes a human being a human being at the point of conception. Winning that point not only whittles away at the argument and emotionally compelling rhetoric of advocates of embryonic stem cell research, but it also has implications for related debates, such as abortion.

I could be persuaded that I'm missing something key, either on a scientific or a moral basis. At present, however, I'd suggest that such proposals as Hurlbut's become associated, in the pro-life platform, with adult stem cell research. If we are right, in an ethical sense, then increased specificity in our explanations and our definitions is an ally, not an enemy. And if we can overcome squeamishness to reach the point at which right becomes wrong and offer compromise on the right side of that line, then we gain the ground of reasonableness.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:31 PM | Comments (21)

December 12, 2004

Safe (in What Way) Sex

Warren Throckmorton makes a good point:

In other words, 10th graders, we will tell you that applying condoms may prevent disease and pregnancy but we will not tell you that your long term sexual and emotional satisfaction may be enhanced by saving sex until marriage. The curriculum says in places that the only sure way to prevent disease and pregnancy is through abstaining but there is no mention that one's overall well being might be enhanced by waiting.

Since you won't hear this in school, here are a few survey findings from research concerning abstinence. According to 1996 data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, lower sexual activity among adolescents is correlated with higher levels of well being. In fact, sexually active girls are over three times as likely to report depressive symptoms than their abstaining counterparts and sexually active boys are over twice as likely to report depressive symptoms. Amazingly, these two groups report higher incidence of suicide attempts; boys in particular are at 8 times the risk for a suicide attempt if they are sexually active.

It's certainly possible that I chose not to absorb the information, but I don't recall ever hearing anything about the emotional benefits of waiting. Of course, the picture becomes less simple upon introduction of such information as this:

Fewer teens are engaging in sexual activity than in the past, and those that do are more likely to use contraceptives, the government said Friday.

The National Center for Health Statistics said that for girls aged 15 to 17 the percentage who had ever had intercourse declined from 38 percent in 1995 to 30 percent in 2002.

For boys, the agency said, the decline was 43 percent to 31 percent.

One plausible suggestion is that Throckmorton and I are insisting on repeating a message that is already getting through, one way or another. Even to the extent that this is the case, though, I'd suggest that the need for more promotion of the benefits of waiting is advisable. The premises for this suggestion derive from two observations from the complete data (PDF).

The first is that it isn't, strictly speaking, true that "fewer teens are engaging in sexual activity"; in 2002, 1,089,000 more teenage girls and 1,101,000 more teenage boys reported having had sex than in 1995. It would be more accurate to say that the number of teenagers who have not had sex increased more than the number who have. That could represent a sexual trend, or it could represent a more general trend.

Which leads to the second observation: the leading reason for abstaining from sex was that sex would be "against religion or morals." (Surprisingly, this reason outstripped the second one, "don't want to get [a female] pregnant," by a greater margin among girls than among boys.) And among females who had experienced intercourse, 5.3% of those who declared religion as "very important" were "cohabiting, engaged, or married," compared with 3.0% who declared it "somewhat important" and a number too low to report who said "not important."

In other words, the data corresponds very neatly with the generally accepted trend of increasing religiosity. It also corresponds with the comparatively high fertility of religious families as opposed to secular families. It's possible (I'd say probable), then, that the improving statistics aren't a function so much of successful sex-ed programs as of cultural shifts. Referring back to Throckmorton's piece, it begins to look as if his advice is most needed by the segment of American society that is least likely to heed it.

Our nation's cultural divide is deepening, and I, for one, have no hesitation about which side I'd prefer my own children to grow up on.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:03 AM

December 11, 2004

The Nature of the Choice

A while back, Marty McKeever wrote on his now-defunct Vigilance Matters blog that homosexual activists have to maintain an unsustainable degree of ambiguity between their orientation's being a fact of nature and its falling somewhere within a range that might appropriately be called "choice." If it's a choice, then it's tougher to argue for civil rights in the way that racial minorities can. If it's a fact of nature, then we might develop a cure, or at least preventative measures.

The latter "if" is a bit more difficult to conceptualize and to discuss, in part because one suspects that the vehement preference of homosexual activists would be to treat the orientation as a fact of nature that we choose not to unravel. I don't attribute undue credibility to a recent study, but it does help to bring the "fact of nature" possibility into focus. (It brings the controversy into focus, too; note that it's an American study, but reported in a British newspaper.)

Women who take slimming and thyroid pills during pregnancy are substantially more likely to have homosexual children, according to research. ...

The mothers of homosexuals were found to be up to eight times more likely to have taken such drugs, with the effect being strongest with daughters whose mothers took the drugs during the first three months of pregnancy. The discovery, to be published by researchers in America, backs claims that human sexuality is determined by genetic and biochemical factors at work during early pregnancy. ...

The results suggest that the effect of the drugs is strongest with female babies and when taken during the first three months of pregnancy, which accords with previous studies showing that sexual orientation is decided during this period. ...

Dr Glenn Wilson of the Institute of Psychiatry, London, and author of a forthcoming book on the origins of homosexuality, said: "These types of medication could have an effect on brain chemistry and research suggests that this is a major factor in determining sexual orientation."

Here's the question, to be asked and answered honestly: If women were made aware that a particular drug could cause homosexuality in their children, would they be less likely to take that drug? Some ultra-radicals might attempt to cast such a choice as homophobic, but I imagine even a majority of gay people would say the answer is "yes," less likely, and that that is an understandable decision.

Personally, I don't believe the "brain chemistry" is so directly determinative. For one thing, I'd suggest that the diet-pill finding, at least, could represent a skew in the study's sample in ways that go beyond the medication. And probably more importantly, I think it's likely that the brain chemistry is significant in that it affects various attributes — from mannerisms to abilities — that contribute to socialization that disposes a person to homosexuality.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:55 AM | Comments (4)

December 10, 2004

Skirting the Precipice

I'm looking forward to Ramesh Ponnuru's Tech Central Station follow-up to yesterday's piece about some newly proposed scientific techniques to which opponents of embryonic stem cell research don't know how to respond. In my previous post, I suggested that engaging in the artificial creation of life through cloning will lead to the presumption that we have dominion over that life, even to the point of dictating its value purely with reference to ourselves.

The first of the technologies that Ponnuru cites seems likely to effect the same end from another direction:

The first, by two Columbia University scientists, claims that some of the embryos frozen at fertility clinics are already dead -- that is, they are no longer capable of directing their own integral functioning as unitary entities, nor do they any longer possess the capacity for development, even in the most hospitable of circumstances. But it may be possible to take usable stem cells from these embryos. Since they are already dead, the taking of the stem cells will not kill them (whereas taking stem cells from a live embryo would kill it). The proposal is for more research into figuring out how to identify which are the dead embryos and how to take usable stem cells from them.

Ponnuru suggests that this would create an immoral incentive, but that seems an understatement to me. It is currently legal to create embryos and to let them die. Insisting that they die of natural causes (if that term is appropriate) before scientists can harvest them barely adds a step to the sequence. As for the time limit that he suggests as a possible solution, I'll merely say that I hear echoes of the amnesty for illegals debate. The "wasted stock" of dead and dying embryos will simply mount again, and the same logic will apply.

The first procedure gives the cultural impression that it is merely looking for ways to tiptoe lightly over a principle, rather than avoid it. The second procedure, I'll agree with Ponnuru, "raises more complicated issues":

Nature sometimes produces "teratomas," eggs without male genetic contributions that begin to divide and grow, even growing body parts such as hair and teeth. But these teratomas are not organisms: They lack the ability to organize themselves and to direct their own integral functioning and development. They are disordered growths, like tumors. Hurlbut suggests that we might be able to produce teratomas artificially and derive from them usable stem cells that are functional equivalents of embryonic stem cells. Since human teratomas are not human beings, this research would involve no killing.

My gut reaction is that this technique is still a step too close, but I'll hold off on declarations until I have a chance to read Ponnuru's part two.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:39 AM

December 9, 2004

On the Agency of Satan

I'm glad to see, in the comments to a post in which I responded to some of his thoughts on cloning, that Phil Bowermaster takes others' speculation about the disposition of his soul seriously enough to take offense. I'm even more glad to hear that he now thinks that "there's plenty to regret" aboutthe post of his to which I'd responded. (However, I will note that the time for mitigation would have been when he republished it, or at latest when he saw the Instalanche heading toward him.)

The objection that he (understandably) maintains speaks to a difference of perspective that to Christians appears obvious, but to atheists and agnostics may seem obscure, nonsensical, or obviously false:

I am characterized as a monster, an advocate of slavery, a fiend who would casually redefine humanity to serve his own selfish purposes, and (if I read your last line correctly) Satan's agent here on earth. Not surprisingly, I take exception to these characterizations.

I won't respond on behalf of other readers, but Bowermaster is correct about the allusion in my last line — although he takes from it a connotation that I don't attribute to it. It seems to me a pretty clear consequence of life in a fallen world that each and every one of us is, at some point, an agent of Satan. To be sure, there are degrees, the worst being deliberate rejection of God for rejection's sake — self-aware enlistment with evil. I suspect such a thing is rare, and I don't think it's a suggestion that can be found in a fair reading of my post in Bowermaster's case.

In his case, the degree is akin to a grievous error. In seeking good, he inadvertently chooses evil. Real life, unfortunately, rarely presents us with the stark choice of a bluesman at the crossroads; rather, at some point, an error in motivation or in analysis steers us down the wrong path.

But we can always go back. There is no irredeemable evil. In this light, when somebody writes, as I did, that a particular line of advocacy "steers us toward playing" the Devil, it is a warning, not a condemnation.

The opposite end of the spectrum — the notion of "playing God" — falls to a similar difference in perspective:

At one point, only God had ever made a limb. Was it "playing God" to invent the first prosthetic leg? There was a time when only God had ever started a heartbeat. Was the first doctor who used electric resuscitating paddles "playing God?" And I can only assume that you think that in vitro fertilization is "playing God."

Well... yes, yes, and yes. But it was Bowermaster who treated the assertion that cloning "isn't playing God" as if that question were decisive. "Is," then no cloning; "isn't," then yes cloning. I was arguing from within his construction. As a matter of fact, in an important sense, I think we're called to play God. (We're created in His image, after all.) Forget limbs and heartbeats; when you uphold love for your children even when they appear to reject you, you're "playing God."

There's a point, however, at which playing God in a good way slides quickly to playing God in a bad way. At that point, doing as God does (potentially good) corrupts our thinking such that we believe we can claim the privileges of the divine (bad). In keeping with my previous post, one such claim is the right to "assert" dominion over the humanity of a twin whom one has created. The essential argument of many of those who oppose cloning is that the jump from deliberately creating life in an artificial fashion to asserting God-like control over its destiny is less a leap than a stumble.

I'd suggest that raising personal offense to the status of persecution is one of the ways in which modern society has eroded the barriers that keep us from such soul-slick turf. So I repeat: I'm glad that Phil cared to take offense, and I'm even more glad that he's "inclined to say let's go with [my] definition" of when life begins. But I'll still insist that harsh characterizations of his position are not so much a judgment as reminders of the one that is God's prerogative.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:38 PM | Comments (14)

Christian Group, Secular Leadership

With the arrival of tomorrow's (Thursday's) edition of the University of Rhode Island's student paper in my emailbox, I discovered a barely broken story that might turn into a big deal, but might simply fade away. Thinking that it oughtn't fade away, I posted about it on Anchor Rising.

The Student Senate at the school made a last minute (before the break) move to change its rules about recognizing student groups. Simultaneously, it's begun cracking down on at least one Christian group that wears its religion on its bylaws, so to speak.

From the little that's available on this story, I suspect it's the sort of thing that justifies a bit of an uproar (even if only Rhode Island–sized).

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:05 AM

December 8, 2004

Oh So Impressed with the Unimpressive

Listen to the sweet sound of the crack of James Lileks' bat:

If you believe that puddle-deep self-obsessed people engaged in two-backed beast construction is somehow the most illustrative example of the human condition, I suppose the movie will strike you as high art, but the notion that trivial people screw a lot and argue afterwards is as illuminating as the fact that dogs don't get married after they knock paws.

Periodically, you'll hear an artsy (yet well paid!) type try to spin his/her wares as a commentary about the superficiality put on display. I've stopped buying the spin; sheer volume has made it all too clear that the artistes are mining triviality for lessons — or perhaps excuses — beyond "don't be like this."

(It doesn't help that one rarely learns that the authors and producers of the supposed cultural commentary live in such a way as to suggest a critical perspective on their material.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:34 PM | Comments (6)

December 7, 2004

Shaking the Statue-Givers

Patrick Hynes has started up a Web site to campaign on behalf of The Passion of the Christ for the Oscars.

It's a shame that such campaigns are necessary in general, for ostensibly merit-based awards. So much more so when the uphill battle is caused by something other than obscurity.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:54 AM | Comments (2)

December 6, 2004

Fighting Fire with Coal

I like Michelle Malkin's Christmas crusade idea:

I am hereby launching the Lump of Coal campaign. Later today, I will box up a lump of charcoal, mark the package "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" and send it to the Denver Mayor in protest of his idiotic policy. Please join me in doing the same (and if you take a photo of your creatively designed package, I will link/post).

You know, that ought to be an initiative from either one of those groups already in place to work to preserve our Christian heritage or a new group. (I notice that lumpofcoal.com is still available.) As Michelle's follow up reveals, the nascent movement has already met with success.

The only thing I'd worry about is that the organization would come under investigation for terrorism. After all, the Post Office asks, with every package, "Anything breakable, flammable...?"

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:13 PM | Comments (3)

Sin Like an Addiction Grows

Greg Wallace tells the story of a man whom he's been solicited to help recover from a sex-related collapse of his life (part one and part two):

"You know this guy," he said. "He works for the State Police. He got involved in pornography years ago, graduated to the Internet, hooked up with someone there and about five years ago she left her husband to be with him. After five years of him living a double life, he couldn't handle the pressure anymore, tried to break it off, the woman told everything to his wife, who wound up in the Stress Center yesterday for around-the-clock observation."

A whole range of factors have to bleed together for somebody to let his life get to this stage. It's the fashion to redefine sexual "addiction" in terms akin to substance addiction, but that obscures the degree to which the problem is psychological and, therefore, spiritual — in a series of bad decisions and the willful stirring of sensation. As Greg writes in part two:

He became sexually active at a pre-pubescent age; the Song of Songs says "don’t awaken love before its time," and while I believe that has a specific context in scripture, I believe it also applies to God's plan for our sexuality – that there is a time and place of His intention for us to discover what he has designed as a gift for us. When that plan is derailed, then all bets are off. The young man's sexuality – already supercharged by premature exposure to sensation – was heightened by exposure to pornography, which continued unabated for many, many years.

Prolonged exposure to pornography dulls the senses. It takes more and more stimulation over time to achieve satisfaction. What started out with magazines and videos graduated to the Internet. And as the senses continued to shut down, he began to look for more effective ways to achieve the same level of satisfaction. When he hooked up with a woman on the Internet, it was like striking a match to tinder.

Psychological association, I've come to believe, is part of the reason pornography viewing escalates and voyeurism makes the leap to action. One of the reasons advertisers pay so much money to associate pop songs with a product is that the song will thereafter evoke thoughts about the product. Similarly, a person's emotional reaction to a particular scene in a movie will affect how that person feels about something reminiscent of that scene in life.

The more scenes, plots, sounds, and so on that we — individually and socially — associate with sex, the more there is in the average day to arouse sexual feelings. Those feelings build up, and temptation, being more constant, becomes more difficult to resist.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:35 PM

December 5, 2004

A "Tiresome Argument"? No Kidding!

Phil Bowermaster endeavors to "straighten" the public out on two issues on which it is "desperately misinformed." Well, not to be shy about admitting my state of mind, I've been feeling askew, lately, so let's see what Phil's got to say about issue #1, cloning:

It isn't magic. It isn't playing God. It isn't new.

Nature creates human clones all the time in the form of identical twins. Reproductive cloning would be nothing more than producing a late-arriving identical twin. Not the same person. The camera doesn't steal your soul, and neither will a clone. As I said, there are social reasons why this might not be a good idea, but can we please for the love of God get the idea that there is something uncanny or "spooky" about cloning out of our heads? There isn't.

Okay, so let's follow it straight through. Phil begins with three assertions, the middle of which is that cloning is not "playing God." His first bit of supporting argument is that... hmmm... I can't claim an inside view of Mother Nature's ontology, but as a theist, it looks to me as if Phil is suggesting that cloning isn't playing God because, well, God clones twins. Curious; doing as God and only God has done is not playing God. Noted.

Moving along, while I'll agree that it would be harmonious with the love of God to refrain from describing Him in such pagan-sounding language as "spooky," it seems to me that Phil's argument that doing as God does is not "playing God" raises a question: can cloning be "new" and "spooky" because we've never done it before? We lack the capacity to unleash a force approximating a supernova, but I suspect even Phil would agree that the technology would be "new" when it first came about. And I for one think the human race's having access to such a power would be somewhat beyond spooky.

But perhaps this sort of thinking is just an indication of the "desperately misinformed" foundation of my logic. So let's forge on, taking the straightened out path and understanding that doing as only God does is not "playing God," that doing something that we've never done before is not "new," and that doing something arguably "a: seeming to have a supernatural character or origin... b: being beyond what is normal or expected" (M-w.com) is not "uncanny."

Issue #2 is "the human development cycle," about which Phil quotes another blogger as follows:

In my book, a human is someone you can converse with, who can think, feel pain, and suffer the effects of Alzheimer's or heart disease. An embryo has none of those characteristics.

Again, excuse my askew thinking, but that seems like an awfully limited definition of "human." Most loosely understood, it would seem to exclude anybody who is currently unconscious; strictly understood, it would also seem to exclude anybody who isn't currently suffering "the effects of Alzheimer's or heart disease." I suppose the blogger, with the pseudonym of "Reason," means to imply a modifier akin to "possibly at some future date." But if that's the case, I have to admit that I don't see why an embryo wouldn't count. One needn't wait much longer to converse with an embryo than with a newborn. Maybe Phil can clarify:

It [an early-stage human being "a mass of undifferentiated stem cells"] doesn't have a head or a heart or a nervous system. Those things start to kick in around week five, and take recognizable shape somewhere around week eight.

I see. The "it" isn't a human being until somebody adds a head or a heart or a... hey, wait a second. Who does add those things? Well, inasmuch as the it develops those parts of its own volition, it seems to make the most sense to give the it the credit. But if it can advance itself along the stages, what justifies drawing the Line of Personhood before an accomplishment that the it just hasn't managed to get around to, yet? Phil's next paragraph appears to begin with the intended answer:

If we, as a society, can define humanity as starting somewhere after the fourth week of embryonic development, we open up the possibility of tremendous medical advances.

Okay, I think I'm starting to catch on now. It isn't some stage of development whereby either the new life or nature draws a line; rather we, "as a society," draw the line because it suits us to do so. Just get over that hump of believing that lines ought to lie where we find them drawn, and it's all easy moral sailing from there. Or is it?

A few years from now, it may be possible to create an embryonic clone of myself. ... Let's consider that embryo at four weeks. If I put it in the right environment, that blastocyst might grow into my identical twin brother. It isn't my twin brother now. It's just some growing tissue taken from my body and an egg I borrowed from somebody else. ...

... If I am injured or get sick, part of this collection of cells will be reintroduced into the organism from which it came — that would be me — to help it recover. As I age, more of the cells might be introduced to help counteract the effects; still others might be put on a new developmental path towards being a finished "part": a heart or a set of lungs or a new pair of eyes.

Here's a question: what if we discover that it's more effective to allow the it to get "a head or a heart or a nervous system... or a set of lungs or a new pair of eyes" started? Can we do that? Can we, as a society, just decide that a clone's life starts after the eighth week... or the eighth year? It'd be for all the right reasons; we don't want real (i.e., suffering) persons to die. And after all, the fact that a clump of cells begins to breathe at a certain point "doesn't mean it's the only place where the line can be drawn, or even the best place."

Well, I think I'm straightened out, now, and frankly, I'm a bit spooked by the small number of paragraphs that it takes to get around to this:

Why would anyone insist that it has to grow into a different human being? Says who? My twin brother can't demand that he has a right to exist. I never have to create a clone in the first place. And if I do create one, I assert that I have the right (before it grows into a separate and distinct human being) to decide that it will be me, rather than him, when it grows up.

Perhaps a refusal to offer free will to life that we create is what steers us clear of "playing God." Forgive my "superstitious dread," but I can't help but feel that it steers us toward playing somebody else.

(via Instapundit)

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:02 AM | Comments (5)

December 4, 2004

A Political Sex and Money Cult?

I certainly do wonder what drives the anti-abstinence crowd. I don't mean the general impetus — that's easy to give a name to — but the specific ideas of which they are in pursuit. To what degree is sex, per se, their motivation? Looking at the picture accompanying the Washington Post's article about the Rep. Henry Waxman's crusade against abstinence programs, I shudder to imagine lasciviousness as his motivation. Perhaps the true motivation is money; in one way or another, every profession from the entertainment biz to the welfare industry is invested in sex.

Some would surely object that Waxman is merely investigating the allocation of federal dollars to groups that misinform their young charges, and I'm sure he's managed to uncover legitimate errors in some materials somewhere, as well as suggestions with which he disagrees. Still, the degree of spin involved within such reports themselves and then, further, in the media raises the question of what one couldn't taint with the same treatment. On top of the highlighting of the absolute-worst findings, consider this sentence from Ceci Connolly's WaPo piece:

The report concluded that two of the curricula were accurate but the 11 others, used by 69 organizations in 25 states, contain unproved claims, subjective conclusions or outright falsehoods regarding reproductive health, gender traits and when life begins.

The previous paragraph explains that each curriculum is used in at least five programs, of unknown type. Washington Post readers have no way of knowing which are most egregious, how frequently those are used, which of the three types of flaws were discovered in each, what those flaws represented, or in what capacity the curricula are even used. Turning to the full report (PDF), for one example, we observe that an erroneous claim mentioned twice in the WaPo article, once in the very first paragraph — that half of gay teens are HIV positive — came from a misleading chart in a curriculum that just barely made the study. It was used by five organizations — precisely the arbitrary minimum chosen to achieve the arbitrary number of 13 "commonly used curricula."

As for the report itself, there's just too much that could be dissected to address, but here's one of my favorite bits:

Although religions and moral codes offer different answers to the question of when life begins, some abstinence-only curricula present specific religious views on this question as scientific fact. One curriculum teaches: "Conception, also known as fertilization, occurs when one sperm unites with one egg in the upper third of the fallopian tube. This is when life begins." Another states: "Fertilization (or conception) occurs when one of the father's sperm unites with the mother's ovum (egg). At this instant a new human life is formed."

First, note the glaring absence: the report explains that "religions and moral codes differ," but what does "scientific fact" have to say on the matter? I've found this to be among the most frustrating elements of the abortion debate; as a point of fact, the unique human life begins at conception. The organism formed at that time will move through various stages that together represent the human life.

But back to the boundaries of this report. We've just heard a complaint that the curriculum teaches a religious view, but if we back up a few pages, to the description of the groups that are using these curricula:

The eleven curricula are used in 25 states by 69 grantees, including state health departments, school districts, and hospitals, as well as religious organizations and pro-life organizations.

Stop the government! Religious and pro-life organizations are using materials that support a religious and pro-life worldview!

Here's another gem:

Instead, some of the curricula provide distorted information on cervical cancer, suggesting that it is a common consequence of premarital sex. For example, the teaching manual of one curriculum explicitly states: "It is critical that students understand that if they choose to be sexually active, they are at risk" for cervical cancer. Another curriculum asks, "What is the leading medical complication from HPV? Cervical cancer." Neither of these curricula mentions that human papilloma virus (HPV), though associated with most cases of cervical cancer, rarely leads to the disease, nor that cervical cancer is highly preventable when women get regular Pap smears.

Other curricula advise that condoms have not been proven effective in blocking the transmission of HPV and that "no evidence" demonstrates condoms' effectiveness against HPV transmission. According to the CDC, however, evidence indicates that condoms do reduce the risk of cervical cancer itself, a fact which both curricula omit. These curricula also say nothing about the importance of Pap smears.

First paragraph: some curricula are wrong to suggest that HPV leads to cervical cancer. Second paragraph: other curricula are wrong to say that condoms prevent HPV transmission... because condoms do reduce the risk of cervical cancer... somehow.

Keep in mind, by the way, that all of the material for these curricula — from books to teachers' guides to accompanying newsletters — were pored over for this 22-page report. I spent a short while working in the textbook industry, and I'd suggest that a government-sponsored fact checker could produce at least that length report checking any dozen curricula on any given topic. That would include, as implied by Emily of After Abortion, the "standard obstetrics textbook" that supposedly proves wrong a claim about abortion and infertility.

An interesting tangential question is how weighty a report a government probe could accumulate fact checking the mainstream media. Here's Ms. Connolly:

Nonpartisan researchers have been unable to document measurable benefits of the abstinence-only model. Columbia University researchers found that although teenagers who take "virginity pledges" may wait longer to initiate sexual activity, 88 percent eventually have premarital sex.

Actually, as I discovered back in March, that 88% of abstinence-pledgers who fornicate corresponds with 99% of non-pledgers who fornicate. One wonders whether the cause of researchers' difficulty measuring benefits is the person wielding the ruler.

Representative Joe Pitts only gets it partly right: Waxman's study was ideologically driven, but the Washington Post and other media groups probably weren't naive in their touting of it. They've products to sell, after all, and a worldview of their own to bolster.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:21 AM | Comments (4)

December 3, 2004

A Backlash for the Boys

Keep up the push Senators!

Senate Republican leaders plan to move legislation next year to protect the Boy Scouts of America from attacks by liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union over government ties to the organization, which has an oath that acknowledges God.

Based on my limited knowledge of the actual legislation, it looks like the right thing to do, a proper assertion of the relationship between government and religion, and a political winner.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist introduced legislation this month stipulating that no federal law, directive, rule, instruction or order should limit any federal agency from providing support to the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, including meetings held on federal property.

"To this legislator, the ACLU's continued attacks on the Boy Scouts is starting to become its own form of persecution," said the Tennessee Republican, a former Scout, in a floor speech Nov. 20.

He tried to get the measure through the Senate by unanimous consent in the waning days of the congressional session, but Senate Democrats rebuffed him.

It's unlikely that the Democrats will have the last rebuff, on this one.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:45 PM

December 1, 2004

Not a Culture to Emulate

You've probably seen this, but it's the sort of thing that ought to be passed along even beyond what its palpable immediate importance might require:

A hospital in the Netherlands -- the first nation to permit euthanasia -- recently proposed guidelines for mercy killings of terminally ill newborns, and then made a startling revelation: It has already begun carrying out such procedures, which include administering a lethal dose of sedatives.
Posted by Justin Katz at 12:46 AM | Comments (5)

November 19, 2004

A Crack in the Egg Shell

Of all the pieces about Theo Van Gough assassination, Andrew Stuttaford's "How Enlightenment Dies" is among the most compelling:

Crucially, the Dutch appear to have abandoned teaching the mutual tolerance, however rough-and-ready, that is essential to the functioning of a free society. Instead they opted for the walking-on-eggshells sensitivities of multiculturalism, and a state of mind in which open debate, if someone somewhere could deem it offensive, was a danger, not a delight. In a country that was drawing many of its immigrants from traditions where notions of tolerance had little or no part to play, the consequences should have been obvious. If liberal democracy is to survive in all its noisy acrimony, all of its citizens — even the most disaffected, even the most devout, even the B's — need to develop a thick skin. In Holland, nobody showed them how. To Van Gogh, multiculturalism was farcical. And for Van Gogh it was a farce that turned lethal.

I offer that quotation by way of partial response to a comment that Zein Cesar Majul made upon my previous mention of Van Gogh. The truth is, with its patchwork excuse making and accusational reversal, I'm not sure how to respond to this:

Perhaps the reason we don't have incidents such as the killing of Van Gogh is because as a society, we are much more "accepting" of how other cultures behave. Moreover, most thinking people make a distinction between cultural modalities and general ideal constructs such as Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Van Gogh chose to generalize from a specific cultural practice common to many societies both muslim and non-muslim and label it as "Islam." Muslim jusrists have over the years spoke out against forced marriages and female circumcision. This has had little effect, as most educational institutions in muslim countries have become secularized and those that are not, will not deal with issues that are socially controversial. The muslim community (over a billion strong) has more than its fair share of fanatics. By definition, a fanatic may not be reasoned with and will adhere only to his own code of conduct. Van Gogh left himself open to all comers in this regard. Perhaps the Netherlands should institute polygraph tests for immigrants and asylum seekers to ascertain if they are of firm intention to abide by the laws of the society they are moving to and pledge fealty to its government and institutions.

As an afterthought, perhaps we are just more used to this kind of stuff. The USA is a rather violent place where perhaps more killings like this occur than we are aware of or care to remember. How long will it be before we all forget what the Oklahoma bomber's motive was?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:52 AM | Comments (2)

A Foot in the Door for the Itinerant Salesman

Wesley Smith's piece on NRO a few days ago is worth the time of anybody concerned about euthanasia — particularly those who lean toward supporting it in some cases:

But beneath the weirdness, the shenanigans of Nitschke and his suicide groupies should serve as a warning to the rest of us about the potential consequences of legalizing assisted suicide. United States advocates like to pretend that legalized facilitated death will always be limited to the actively dying when nothing else can be done to alleviate suffering. But this is highly unlikely. Once one accepts the noxious notion that killing is an acceptable answer to the problem of human suffering, how can it possibly be limited to the terminally ill?...

In fact, this is precisely what has happened in the Netherlands. After more than 30 years of permitted euthanasia, the category of the Dutch killable has expanded steadily; it now includes the depressed, the chronically ill, and the disabled, including infants who are born with birth defects. And now, the Dutch parliament seems set on lowering the age of consent to be killed to twelve years old.

Westerners, particularly Americans, have a tendency to approach problems with a practical view toward facilitating people's happiness. We're rule-benders and latitude-givers. That attitude is wonderful — Christian — but only if we maintain firm footing on first principles when we put it into action.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:36 AM | Comments (2)

November 15, 2004

Well, I Feel Safer Now

It's a good thing we have the ACLU. Otherwise, the military might be able to offer explicit support to an organization that teaches uniformed boys teamwork, survival skills, and... reverence. (Yeah, the type that involves God.)

The Pentagon has agreed to warn military bases worldwide that they should not directly sponsor Boy Scout troops, partially resolving claims that the government has improperly supported a group that requires members to believe in God.

The settlement, announced Monday, came in a 1999 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which says American military units have sponsored hundreds of Boy Scout troops. ...

The settlement does not resolve other ACLU claims involving government spending that benefits the Boy Scouts, such as money used to prepare a Virginia military base for the Boy Scout Jamboree and grants used by state and local governments to benefit the Boy Scouts, [ACLU legal hit-man Adam] Schwartz said.

These aren't even lawsuits to secure similar recognition for similar groups; they simply target the Boy Scouts for the reason that it has a religious foundation. By what insane definition is that not religious discrimination? Here's a quick and easy test for anybody who's in doubt about the objective, here: would the ACLU object to a similar group that didn't have the religious principles? No.

So when are people going to get sick of these radical fundamentalists?

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:00 PM | Comments (19)

November 9, 2004

The Rashes of Failure

Suggesting to fellow conservatives that enabling a Kerry presidency would have been a too-risky attempt at "creative destruction," John Derbyshire writes of the "wreckers loose in our own society":

It is those wreckers that most concern me: the arrogant judges, the academic deconstructors, the teacher-union multiculturalists, the media guilt-mongers, the love-the-world pacifists, the criminal-lovers and family-breakers, the inventors of bogus rights and destroyers of cherished traditions, the haters of normality and scoffers at restraint, the enterprise-destroying litigators and pain-feelers.

I do not fear that American civilization will be brought down by Osama bin Laden, or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, or any foreign force at all — not even (if you will permit me a quick sarcastic poke in the eye to my paleo friends here) not even by the arch-fiend himself, Ariel Sharon! I do fear that this country might be made unfit to live in, as the country of my birth has been, by a misguided and corrupt humanitarianism, sentimental wallowing in past wrongs both real and imagined, and class and race resentment petted and nurtured by opportunistic tax-eaters.

As it happens, there's yet another study out today in the land of Derb's birth that brings home for this father of two young girls what Derb's emailer meant in suggesting that England is "unfit to live in or raise children in":

The number of Londoners suffering sexually transmitted diseases has risen by more than a third, new figures reveal.

They show that cases of infections soared between 1997 and last year, from 169,721 cases to 228,641. The final figure could be higher as some clinics have still to submit information.

That article alludes to the higher rates of chlamydia among men and women in their early twenties. A 2002 study (that I noted at the time) of a clinic in London is a bit more specific (emphasis added):

The study also revealed that girls under 16 were three times more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases than older women.

One in five had chlamydia, a symptomless disease which can cause infertility, and almost one in 10 had gonorrhoea, which also poses a threat to fertility by damaging fallopian tubes and can increase the chances of suffering an ectopic pregnancy.

And in 2003:

The highest-rate of infection was among 16- to 19-year-old women and 20- to 24-year-old men but health experts fear it is "the tip of the sexual iceberg".

As much as sorely losing liberals, such as Marcia Lieberman of Providence, might suggest that my attitude isn't "truly modern" and is typical of our "backward nation," my fatherly instinct is to prefer the U.S. — with its backward progress — in a comparison of trends, at least in the symbolic area of sex. Encouragement of oral sex, attractive perks for teenage pregnancy, and parent-avoiding morning-after pills distributed to eleven year olds at school don't seem to be working out too well elsewhere in the Anglosphere.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:58 PM

November 1, 2004

Muddy Vision

Glenn Reynolds quotes as follows from an article about a developing medical procedure:

Three years ago Elisabeth Bryant believed she would be blind for the rest of her life. “I couldn’t see anything,” she says. Now, although her vision is not perfect, she can see well enough to read, play computer games and check emails.

Bryant has retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that has blinded four generations of her family. What has saved the sight in one of her eyes is a transplant of a sheet of retinal cells. The vision in this eye has improved from 20:800 to 20:84 in the two-and-a-half years since the transplant – a remarkable transformation. . . .

There is a catch, of course. The sheets of retinal cells used by the team are harvested from aborted fetuses, which some people find objectionable.

Professor Reynolds seems to believe that this undermines certain pro-lifers' debate points, although his source doesn't follow the blog etiquette to provide at least one example of a so-called "It's not as though fetal tissue grafts are really medically promising" argument. (The link that Colby Cosh provides on that quotation actually goes to the above-quoted article.) Personally, I find the paragraph following the blockquote to be the most relevant, both to the moral issues and to Cosh and Reynolds's reaction:

One accusation of those opposed to using fetal tissue is that women might be tempted to have abortions to provide tissue to restore their own sight or that of relatives. "People are going to claim that we are promoting abortion," says Norman Radtke, the surgeon who carried out the transplants at the Norton Audubon Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.

When it comes to medical technology, of one thing we can be sure: the next one hundred years will present us with plenty of situations in which we must decide whether desirable ends justify immoral means. As emotionally difficult as it will be to insist that some radiant paths must be left untrodden, we must acknowledge, now, that blindness to moral demands is a degenerative disease.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:21 PM

October 27, 2004

... Then They Came for the Urinals

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry at an email that Mike Adams shares today:

Based on the facilities that we have in (deleted), our recommendation and request is that both gendered bathrooms on the second floor of (deleted) be made gender-neutral. By this we mean that people of all genders be able to use either of the multi-stalled restrooms on the second floor. The urinals that are currently in one of these bathrooms will be shut down.

I'm also not sure whether to despair or hope. It's sad that the question can even be asked with a straight face (no pun intended), but don't you find it at least conceivable that some not insignificant number of men who are disinclined to join the battle over marriage — for whatever reason — would decide that the "tolerance" movement has just gone too far the day they walk in what used to be a men's room and discover cardboard barricades on all of the urinals?

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:02 PM | Comments (12)

October 19, 2004

Don't Bring It Up

Why is it that those who place "tolerance" toward the top of their personality résumés seem so often not to understand what the quality actually entails? Being tolerant of another person — interacting with that person so as not to cause offense — means understanding his views and considering them in how and when one approaches sensitive topics. It isn't toleration, for one thing, to tell somebody whom you've hurt by poking a sore spot that you ought to be able to poke because he oughtn't consider the spot to be sore.

Another Jonah Goldberg emailer (a group that's beginning to become a candidate for its own NRO-moderated blog) offers the latest instance of what has been a common example, lately:

I think a better example would be if Cheney's daughter happened to be a convert to Islam or Judaism, and the Bush administration was pursuing laws that somehow limited the rights of religious expression. (I know we're playing with some way out there hypotheticals right now, but bear with me.) If Kerry pointed out that Jews/Muslims were human beings with the right to express their religious affiliation and pointed to Cheney's daughter as an example of that, would that be shameful? There's nothing wrong with being a member of a religion, and there's nothing wrong with being gay. The difference in opinion on this issue stems from whether people think being gay is shameful, embarrassing, or unfortunate in the first place.

Before addressing the point, we must clear up a couple of slips or sleights (whichever they happen to be). Note, first, the equation of supporting the codification of the status quo (traditional marriage) with pursuing laws that would do something that is not currently done (further infringement on religious liberty). This conflation is characteristic of the arguments of those who advocate for same-sex marriage: they act as if it wouldn't be a change, speaking as if the Federal Marriage Amendment would remove a right that homosexuals have historically enjoyed.

Note, second, that the emailer lists two specific religions in his analogy but names the affront as against "religious expression" generally. The difference may seem minimal, but the emotional tug of the thing changes if we correct for this problem: suppose John Kerry were a Muslim, Atheist, or even a Protestant and his daughter were notable for being a Roman Catholic. What would be the reaction if, asked about school choice in a debate, President Bush brought up her name in a response suggesting that Kerry favors anti-Catholic discrimination by excluding religious schools from voucher programs, insinuating that he and the daughter were united against Kerry? Or up the emotional ante: what if the moderator had asked about fuel efficiency, and President Bush had mentioned John Edwards's son, who died in a car accident, as a presumed supporter of large, solid automobiles? (Goldberg gives some other examples toward the end of a recent column.)

Getting back to tolerance, it seems to me that a person who is compassionate with respect to differences would avoid the arsenal of logical leaps, anachronisms in cultural reality, and (especially) fundamentalist insistence that all arguments must be approached as if that person's view were undeniably correct. Now, I don't know how the Cheney family handled Mary's coming out. I don't know what their Thanksgiving dinner discussions involve. Nonetheless, I can say that Jonah's emailer shows utter contempt for the other side and its ability to think in something other than black and white when he writes:

There's nothing wrong with being a member of a religion, and there's nothing wrong with being gay.

Is there no religion for which membership would be something wrong? More precisely, is there no approach to religion that could be wrong? Even just a sensitive topic within a family? Apparently, a great many part-time spokesmen for gay rights believe there to be something wrong with subscribing to a religion that believes homosexual impulses ought to be resisted and treated as an urge to sin. And apparently, that particular something is so wrong that to so much as leave the possibility open indicates hypocrisy, at best, and bigotry, at worst.

There's nothing wrong with having feelings of attraction toward people of one's own sex, and there's nothing wrong with wanting to define one's own view as objective reality. The difference of opinion on the former count stems from whether people think the attraction is contrary to what is evident in the way in which God formed us. The difference of opinion on the latter count stems from whether people are even willing to admit that that's what they're doing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:51 PM

October 18, 2004

Why Do They Stay?

That's the question that crosses my mind when I read such letters as that which Mr. Benjamin Morton of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, sent to the Providence Journal to offer his fellow citizens a refresher on a certain brand of history, popular among elite academics. I've italicized a couple of choice sentiments:

Imagine historians in a world where Hitler had won World War II excusing him for the slaughter of millions by extolling his vision of gaining new territory for a superior race. The genocide of Native Americans claimed far more people than the Holocaust, but this is easily written off by the morally certain culture that carried out the atrocities.

Contrary to Bowden's rosy picture, the United States has not ended war but, rather, made it more violent and prevalent. It did not end slavery until after much of the rest of the world did so. And it is still immersed in religious fundamentalism as groups bomb abortion clinics and try to bring back prayer in public schools.

Bowden's outright racism toward Native Americans and Muslims deserves the violent response now brewing across the Muslim world. This racism is not the answer to terrorism -- it is the cause. When I read words like his I fear for our world, just as much as when I hear a tape from Osama bin Laden.

Bowden's whitewashing of America's cruelty and his incitement to violence will bring both upon us.

Speaking of OBL, didn't one of his tapes say something about people's reaction to a strong horse and to a weak horse?

ADDENDUM:
By the way, remember when it was all the rage for Morton's ilk to say such things as, "Of course terrorism is horrible, but..."? Well, it occurs to me that they never — or rarely, at best — qualify their anti-Americanism in that way, as in, "Of course America has done some good things in the world, but..."

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:26 PM | Comments (1)

October 16, 2004

This Is the Way the World Ends: Not with a Bang, with a Coo

One of my students complained, yesterday, when I informed him that, if he wanted back the remote control car that I had just taken away in the final minutes of the day, he would have to walk down the stairs with the class and then back up with me. Apparently, he had to walk home, and this extra bit of exercise would be just a bit too much, making him "collapse halfway home." Two relevant flashbacks:

  • The feel of jeans almost literally frozen to my legs after the two-mile bike ride to the junior high school in the dead of winter
  • The day my mother had to leave work to bring me dry clothes because the same bike ride ended with me saturated, just about requiring the janitor to follow me around with a mop

In a fantastic rant, Michele Catalano pinpoints the moment when Western Civilization decided to smother itself to death:

You know when the world went to hell? When Coca Cola decided to teach the world to sing. The second that commercial came out, a death knell sounded across the playgrounds and schoolyards of America. Parents everywhere, suckered in by the feel-good lyrics and hand-holding sappiness of the commercial felt an awakening of sorts. All those who missed the hippie train of the 60's were going to jump on the Free to be You and Me train of the 70's, and ride it hard.

Ride it hard, but with fifteen layers of padding.

ADDENDUM:
In a confluence of thought and scenery, as I put this post together, I just happened to catch a bit of the lyrics of "Apple a Day" from David Wilcox's excellent CD Into the Mystery (of which I have an autographed copy):

When you get there life is easy
Winning every game you play

But every day is just the same
Nothing lost and nothing gained
Same old re-run on some child-proof stage
So they say: Vacation in Eden
Bring an apple a day

(Dust in the Light, where angry rants lay down with Christian folk-rock.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:22 AM

We Hold These Truths to Be Wishes

In a reflection upon the ten-year anniversary of The Bell Curve, John Derbyshire runs afoul of the principles of our nation, I'd say, when he writes:

We Americans are averse to inquiring too deeply into human abilities, for fear that what we might find would contradict the founding principles of our nation, principles we naturally hold dear. In that sense, the human sciences are in their very nature un-American. Science doesn't care what you wish. You may wish that the sky were a crystal dome, or the earth hollow, or the living species unchanging through all time; science calmly, patiently, and irrefutably tells you that none of these things is the case.

I suppose certain points could be raised as evidence on that argument's behalf, although they'd be recent and superficial for the most part. It's indisputable, for example, that a certain feelgoodism has swept the land, but as is evident in our capitalism, Americans tend to consider success — at whatever — to be its own proof of human abilities. Many Americans like to believe, as Derb suggests, that "anybody can be anything," but in its purer form, the declaration is results-driven, and never divorced from effort. Work hard enough, the promise goes, and (perhaps more importantly) find your own path to an end, and you can achieve success in reasonable proximity to an ideal.

Tiger Woodses are a special breed, to be sure, but making them the disproof of the anything that anybody can be takes a narrow view of what we mean by "anything." The American dogma — and yes, it involves idealism — requires that one find a strategy for playing golf that fits one's unique talents and expend enough effort in practice to allow that unique approach to become decisive. The odds improve greatly, obviously, the broader "anything" becomes, whether clubhouse champ is adequate or, taking a different tack, starting/funding/running/covering a professional golf tournament counts as having "made it" in golf.

The distinction is foundational. I reply to Derb that the fact that human beings are differently abled is in no way contradictory to "the founding principles of our nation." Note what those principles state:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...

The equal endowment is the rights. We are self-evidently equal, even as we are self-evidently not equally capable of any given task. Human abilities — endowments of brain, brawn, or bucks — are not the measures of value or of importance. This is why, beyond his odd hint that America's self-evident truth is just a wish about which science doesn't care, the contradiction that Derb cites does not exist:

Personally I believe that the contradiction between core American ideals and the results now pouring in from the human and biological sciences is resolvable, and that a properly scientific approach to the human sciences, and a widespread popular understanding of them such as Herrnstein and Murray attempted to promote via their book, would strengthen and improve our society, not weaken it.

The "contradiction" is not "resolvable" in exactly the same sense that the "contradiction" between science and religion is not "resolvable." These problems are not resolvable because they are not problems. In the American vision, which has, admittedly, blurred in recent decades, human equality supercedes anything that science could possibly tell us, just as God incorporates material reality and is felt mostly in the Why that science cannot touch.

It is a shame that the American intelligentsia smeared Herrnstein and Murray's book before their message could sink into the national psyche to help form a strategy for addressing disparities that may arise in the future. But the basic truth of the matter is that, while science can help us to identify and solve problems, the conviction that they are, indeed, problems must come from elsewhere.

Science, therefore, is only "un-American" to the extent that it presumes to tell us what equality means, not in a narrow context, but as a measurement of value. The reason that The Bell Curve met with such a heated reception was that the book's opponents believed its yardstick to offer a measurement of just that, value, rather than simply of intelligence. To their everlasting credit, the authors took the different approach of beginning with the American principle that all men are created equal and then looking to their research for ways to avoid Americans' forgetting it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:15 AM | Comments (1)

October 12, 2004

Reformulating a Party via Guilt Trip

Jonah Goldberg posted an email earlier today posing a question that, as Jonah mentions, one hears often from homosexuals with some conservative leanings on particular issues:

What's a gay conservative to do? See, I agree with republicans on things like low taxes, free market reform, privatization, smaller government, foreign policy, and the war on terror. Unfortunately. the party caters to a constituency that pretty much defines me as an abomination and takes every effort to cast the "homosexual agenda" as anti-family and anti-american. In election years, this rhetoric becomes even more hateful, and now there's an entire constitutional amendment trying to keep me in my place.

Upon taking a moment to notice that the emailer is pretty much defining religious/social conservatives as hateful and bigotted, it becomes clear that he wishes to play the guilted compassion card in such a way as to marginalize an opposing, but larger and more historical, Republican constituency. It's not an argument from principle; it's an argument from emotional pressure. Granted, that's an approach that has accumulated undue force in modern times, but how does one respond to the following except with a wry "boo hoo":

They make it crystal clear they don't care about my vote under any circumstances. It's like the republicans labor under the illusion that we will all eventually go away and not have to be dealt with.

That's an intriguing construction. The first sentence is flatly untrue; Republicans would welcome "the gay vote" — as long as it is based on shared principles rather than capitulation to demands that the party simply cannot afford politically. Then, contrasting with the woe-is-me appeal, the second sentence offers a veiled warning. That implicit refusal to compromise isn't the only thing that's veiled; note what also lies behind the gay rhetoric:

On the other hand, I disagree with almost every "non-social" policy (I agree on abortion, death penalty, gay rights, and school vouchers with the democrats; pretty much whatever the religous wing of the republicans is for, i oppose) on the democratic platform.

The parenthetical at first caught my attention because it made me muse at the complete social platform with which the "gay thing" seems so often aligned. But there seems to be a deeper current, here. The complaint is of gay conservatives' political homelessness, and the plea is to treat homosexuals as people — as people who matter enough to address. However — if I may disassociate a word from a cliché — the homosexuality appears to be a wedge to open the way for an entire worldview that is wholly incompatible with the religious conservative perspective. Since the orientation is taken as immutable, it follows that the opposing perspective must go.

This factor plays in multiple directions, but it very often seems that sexual matters have this effect. Encouraging a narrowly linear way of thinking that accords with strong urges, they allow fundamental shifts to pass as a matter of course, the gathering earthquake unnoticed beneath the rocking of the bed.

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

October 7, 2004

The Life You Save May Be...

Earl of the many blogs has been cross-posting an appeal to assist with some legal research intended to help preserve Terri Schiavo's life.

Remember her? She's the disabled woman in Florida whose husband is so intent on starving her to death that he's pushing the state's judiciary to go toe to toe with Governor Jeb Bush.

Frankly, I'm ashamed to have gone so long without mentioning the case. Even in the face of travesty, it's difficult for enough people to stay on top of any given issue for long enough to thwart those who have a permanent, non-negotiable interest in pursuing the immoral option. That's no excuse, of course. Until somebody tells Mr. Schiavo and the Florida judiciary that enough is enough — their countrymen have deemed them wrong — the moral side of the battle must maintain its strength.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:50 AM | Comments (1)

September 29, 2004

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

September 28, 2004

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

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 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)

September 3, 2004

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

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)

August 26, 2004

Tolerance in, Tolerance out

Although it's a broad veer from the specifics about which I was writing, and although the person to whom I was responding (Jeremiah Lewis) is by no means a secularist, Ben Bateman's comment to my first post about the Roman Catholic requirement of wheat in the Eucharist raises an interesting area of thought:

You've got a good point on the secularists' urge to redefine and reduce everyone else's traditions: Communion bread can be anything that looks vaguely bread-like. Marriage can be any coupling of two human beings. We can recognize no distinction between adoptive parents and biological parents. Procreation means maximum numbers of babies. Homosexuality must not only be tolerated, but normalized.

Wasn't there a story a few months back where either California or the feds were trying to punish Catholic churches or hospitals for refusing to provide employee benefits that include birth control? And wasn't there a story about the State of New York trying to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions?

There's a common thread here, but I can't quite articulate it properly.

Given the totality of Ben's previous comments, here and elsewhere, I'm somewhat suspicious that he's being facetious in professing an inability to articulate a common thread. In essence, it's that secularism has become a form of religious fundamentalism itself, and in its "neutral" disguise, it is crowding out all theologies that disagree. Others can nominally believe in that God thing... as long as they don't insist on behaving as if He really exists, particularly as long as they don't insist on founding public behavior on that belief.

The particular threat of creeping tolerance lies in the power of what can be seen — without denying their goodness when rightly applied — as the three fronts of a perfect storm:

  1. Political: the ideal of individual rights and freedom.
  2. Moral: the ideal of respecting others' differing moral conclusions, treating them as brethren, and evangelizing through compassion and understanding.
  3. Visceral: the core of the secular faith, which although intellectually developing out of the other two has come into its own enough to abuse its forerunners. In intellectual terms, it permits one to believe that we can intuit all truths, or that truth is whatever we intuit it to be. In emotional terms, it gives license to believe that what feels good — in whatever way it feels good — is right.

As these three fronts have coalesced in modern times, the thinking goes something like this: a person wants to do something and convinces himself that there is no reason that he oughtn't. According to individual freedom, he has a right not to be forcibly restricted by law from doing it, and according to the code of "tolerance," others must respect his decision and not use any social, economic, or even personal means to force him to reconsider, even to the point of disallowing expression of disapproval.

Complexity enters the picture when one realizes that everything involves tradeoffs; one person's individual freedom inherently restricts other people's individual freedoms. Often others' freedoms are expressed as group rights — as in holding that the individual has a right to live in a group or society that adheres to certain principles. As Ben has suggested before (if I may paraphrase a comment that I'm too tired to seek, just now), group rights find their most fundamental form in the central principles to which we must adhere on a national level, involving the validity of our system of government (founding documents included) and some basic agreement about the structures of reasoned debate.

What has happened is that sensibility and emotion (visceral) are twisting and redefining tolerance and good will (moral) in such a way as to demand that the law guard against etiquette's being breeched (political). People who don't feel that others are sufficiently following the moral dogma of respect for differences — which really codes an ideological sameness behind superficial distinctions — are trampling on freedom in order to force compliance. To be fair (and charitable), most of them probably don't realize that they are doing so; they think they're just expanding the universe of niceness, and if we all just respect other people's space (in each other's own reality), then we can all live together and do everything we each want to do... if only those intolerant people will relent on the things that they want to do, which are very mysterious (superstitious, even) and not very gratifying.

Striving to step outside of the inescapable assumptions on which our worldviews are founded, and simplifying the sides into competing claims of rights, what is happening is that the breadth of activities that must be tolerated as individual freedoms for one side keeps expanding, while for the other side, it keeps shrinking. For example, we all should agree that homosexuals have a right not to be persecuted. Recently — and I agree with the result, if not the mechanism — they cemented their right to do what they wish, sexually, in the privacy of their own homes.

Now, however, the definitive expression of homosexuality itself is being broadened to require tolerance for same-sex marriage, to the extent that the public sphere not be permitted to make any distinction between such relationships and opposite-sex relationships. Denial of this tolerance — refusal to redefine the institution of marriage, for example — is pushed under the growing umbrella of "persecution," where it joins, in the partisan's mind, the continued resistance to the inclusion of sexual orientation within hate-crime laws (hate speech in some contexts).

Switch directions. Of course Christians don't have a right to force others, by law, to adhere to their particular religious practices or to persecute them for not doing so. But now they're coming under attack for allowing their religious beliefs to inform the way in which they wield whatever force they carry as members of society — whether in determining who they'll hire or what benefits they'll offer, deciding what projects they'll take on or what services they'll offer (as in hospitals), or judging the application of law to moral issues such as abortion.

As Ben alludes, the California Supreme Court has ruled that Catholic Charities isn't sufficiently religious to qualify for exemption from a state requirement that employers offer contraception if they offer prescription coverage; the Salvation Army of New York faces the loss of millions of dollars in city contracts unless it offers domestic partner benefits; similar stories increasingly pepper the modern landscape. Essentially, the definitive expression of Christianity itself is being constrained from including the right to act publicly according to one's conscience.

The range of life in which a religious person is allowed to act as if what he believes is actually correct is being constantly cut back. So, as the respect due to homosexuals moves from tolerance for their desire, to tolerance for their acts, to public recognition and approval of their relationships, the respect due to Christians is slipping back from tolerance for the public acts informed by their religion, to tolerance for their private-sphere decisions based on religious belief, to tolerance for their profession of belief. You can believe that God frowns on homosexuality, but you aren't allowed to conduct yourself as if that's actually true.

So, in that sense, Ben's expansion on my complaint about some people's treatment of the wheaten bread controversy is entirely appropriate. (It would be unfair to include Jeremiah in what follows, I think.) Catholics are free to believe that Christ is literally present in the Eucharist; they are free to believe that the Holy Spirit has guided the institutional Church in its deliberations about what its religion requires (although, of course, our humanity often gets in the way). But if the Church invalidates a girl's rice Communion (chosen in lieu of the available, and valid, alternative of the wine) because its institutional precedent suggests that Christ mightn't have been literally present in the Eucharistic simulacrum, well, that's just taking this belief thing too far.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:20 AM | Comments (41)

August 18, 2004

Elite Post-Modernism, Thy Posterboy McGreevey Be

Adjusting the picture of the modern world to incorporate the value given to otherhood and orgasms, one might come to see James McGreevey as the representative of a last minute coup against egalitarian progress. The white, male lawyer turned politician, with a BA from Columbia, a law degree from Georgetown, and a master's degree from Harvard, was nothing if not ambiguous in his coming out announcement. From the full text of his speech (linked by Patrick Sweeney):

Throughout my life, I have grappled with my own identity, who I am. As a young child, I often felt ambivalent about myself, in fact, confused. ...

Yet, from my early days in school, until the present day, I acknowledged some feelings, a certain sense that separated me from others. But because of my resolve, and also thinking that I was doing the right thing, I forced what I thought was an acceptable reality onto myself, a reality which is layered and layered with all the, quote, good things, and all the, quote, right things of typical adolescent and adult behavior.

Yet, at my most reflective, maybe even spiritual level, there were points in my life when I began to question what an acceptable reality really meant for me. Were there realities from which I was running? ...

At a point in every person's life, one has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world, not as we may want to see it or hope to see it, but as it is.

And so my truth is that I am a gay American.

So, when a boy, he was in a state well known to males at that stage: confusion. At "points in" his life — not always, not hounding him at every step, weighing on his every decision, only at his "most reflective, maybe even spiritual" moments — he wondered whether he had run to, I guess, an unacceptable reality. Now, at 47, he has "decided" his "unique truth." At the risk of asking a question with an answer that is supposed to be obvious: by what definition is this man "gay"?

He's offered a number of allusions to the "gay narrative"; he's apparently had the implicated sexual encounters; he's made an assertion. But then again, there are those two wives and a daughter with each. He mentions loving them. His juggling of "truths" doesn't quite come around to an admission of having "lived a lie," as the saying goes. Would anybody (who is not intellectually chained to an agenda) be surprised if this manifestly corrupt lawyer-politician announced a different truth in a few years?

But let's exclude political calculation in order to think more generally. If traditions and community can box a homosexual into living the '70s, '80s, and '90s as a straight, procreative man — one for whom divorce is not apparently beyond question — why couldn't lust and a different community, as well as the differing response to infidelity when committed across "orientations" and the politically convenient "victim class" status, give a heterosexual the license to live as a "gay American" for a time?

This is why, as much as I might agree with most of her conclusions, I have to wonder whether it is accurate for IrishLaw to write, of McGreevey, "at least he's being honest." Now, for my purposes here, I don't wish to enter the field of topics ranging from other homosexuals' experiences to the proper course of action for McGreevey to take with his family (see the addendum below). However, in clicking through IrishLaw's discussion with fellow law students, I came across exactly the statement around which skepticism ought to begin to center. From Chris Geidner:

I do not at all think his adultery can be written off, however, as the same as a heterosexual man cheating on his heterosexual wife with another heterosexual woman. This is not because gay relationships are somehow different, but rather that the reasons -- as many former spouses of gay people could discuss -- why a closeted gay man cheats on his wife are different.

I submit that this asserted truth of sexual politics is pervasively accepted and known in our society. Moreover, it needn't be a consciously cut escape hatch for a midlife affair in order for it to have an effect. In a culture that has endeavored to diminish the inherency of the link between sex and procreation and to erase the stigma of sodomy and homosexual sex, the differing reaction to a particular form of infidelity surely factors into a man's mullings as he struggles with temptation.

That considered, step back and view the fullness of the picture of the modern aristocrat, appropriately tinted in accordance with the power of otherhood and orgasms. Doesn't it look like James McGreevey (if not the actual man, then at least the public perception of him)? Having benefited, imagewise, from his marriages, having fulfilled the instinctual demand to create future generations, having experienced the family-man life, this posterboy for elite post-modernism has opened the way for a subsequent life of renewed bachelorhood — and perhaps evaded public anger at his corruption, to boot.

ADDENDUM:
Obviously, one's judgment of McGreevey's proper course of action from this moment on is jumbled up with one's views on marriage, family, and even life. For Geidner, who uses the "living a lie" language that McGreevey did not, the ideal of honesty that the governor would be teaching his daughters by henceforth living as a gay man is a positive benefit to them, far outstripping any benefits that they might garner by his proximity and fulfillment of a traditional role.

McGreevey, to put it mildly, has complicated the abstract discussion by introducing a second marriage and giving each daughter a different mother. However, it seems to me that the bottom-line, can't-be-trumped reasons to treat marriage as sacrosanct — sickness and health, riches and poverty, and realizations of orientational otherhood notwithstanding — are twofold:

  1. The children's subconscious sense of self. This means ensuring that the children (or, in McGreevey's case, at least his two year old) know that they were and remain the products of two parents equivalently, all bound in a familial love and mutual respect of needs that transcends any worldly conveniences, desires, and even sexual "identities."
  2. The children's understanding of the significance of marriage. Geidner says that it is only through "honesty and trust," including the honesty of admitting one's sexuality, that "a true relationship" can be built, presumably implying that the children will not repeat the mistakes of their father. But, even accepting the standard storyline, there's more to the mistake than the orientational lie: there's the erroneous entry into a lifelong commitment. However much it might be true that the children will learn to privilege honesty and trust, doesn't the necessity of working through confusion and looking "deeply into the mirror of one's soul" before making promises to a spouse and children diminish if failure to do so, or realization of error, is an absolute excuse to void the spiritual contract?

Geidner doesn't so much as entertain the possibility that somebody in McGreevey's position could remain married to his wife without being "a lying, closeted gay husband" (and father). Conveniently, that leaves out the path that I consider to be the moral, if most difficult, one. Namely, whatever one's sexual identity might be, entering into marriage and having children are, themselves, declarations of identity that, for the sake of progeny and public, stand above whatever epiphanies might follow.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:38 AM | Comments (16)

August 17, 2004

If You Don't Deserve It, Give It to Me

About a year ago, Rush Limbaugh suggested on his radio show that what makes a certain segment of the wealthy espouse destructive liberal policies is that, deep down, they don't feel as if they deserve the wealth that they've got. Although, running through a mental list of top-tier actors and pop stars, one mightn't be inclined to argue against their feeling that way, it seemed to me a little too easy of an assessment, the way Rush put it.

Well, if subtlety of thought — or at least of expression of thought — was the deficit that I felt needed to be addressed before I'd accept the claim, Will Wilkinson has contributed the necessary amount, albeit from a different direction:

[John] Rawls' conception of desert leaves us with a picture of society where all the rewards have been spread around essentially by chance. Some folks are conceived under the lucky star of Pitt-like looks, Hawkingesque IQs, Gatesian trust-funds and Brazeltonian baby care. But most poor souls were born under uglier, stupider, meaner stars. Those of us who won the genetic and social lottery will naturally try to rationalize our great good luck. We will turn up our calloused palms and tell of the blood and sweat on our every red cent. Yet from the "perspective of the universe," in which self-serving appeals disappear into the vastness of impartiality, the distribution of rewards in our lotto-world appears entirely arbitrary. If a bag of money falls into your lap, that doesn't mean it's really yours.

Wilkinson goes on to argue that where Rawls went wrong was with his "claim that it is our 'considered judgment' that the consequences of our natural endowments are not deserved, because our natural endowments are not themselves deserved." Our considered judgment, which is ultimately determined by our horse sense (forgive the too-apropos cliché), is just the opposite. Ability and work do create desert. Thus derives our opportunity to play psychoanalyst of philosophers and limelight socialists: What skews them away from a principle that seems so obvious to the rest of us?

There are other routes to the same aversion, of course, than the guilty neurotic's conclusion that filmed dress-up oughtn't an emperor's fortune make. Some folks understandably like the argument that they deserve equivalent income because those who earn extra don't deserve extra. Others like the comfort of espousing socialism disguised as philanthropy. Others just take the ideological fashion without worrying about whether it's correct.

And then, if I may step a bit far out on the plank of speculation, there is the group from which those who devise the fashionable anti-meritocratic logic likely come. These are the people who believe that their merit has been overlooked. In a world in which such broadly accessible qualities as optimism, affability, confidence, and a willingness to exert one's self are the components of (quote/unquote) "merit," surely the very notion of merit must be ill conceived.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:03 PM | Comments (3)

August 16, 2004

The Silence in the Searching

Perhaps I'm betraying a sort of naiveté in admitting it, but I found a short piece by Ramesh Ponnuru, related to stem-cell research, absolutely astonishing. As with the family featured in the episode of Primetime that I described last week, the Kallsen family found their way toward advocacy for embryonic stem-cell research when their children — two girls, in their case — were diagnosed with diabetes. They even went so far as to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with their congressman, Republican Mark Souder. And then:

Souder was "very, very gracious," says Kallsen. But he said that he supported adult-stem-cell research, not research that killed human embryos. The fact that embryonic-stem-cell research involved destroying human embryos came as news to Kallsen and his family. "Basically, it was a learning experience for us. We were not well informed about all of the issues. We're all pro-life and...we had not done enough research on our own to understand that if we were promoting embryonic stem-cell research that's the opposite of pro-life. We were so interested in finding a cure that we weren't looking at how it's done." Kallsen also now believes that adult-stem-cell research is more promising than he had thought at the time of the meeting.

I'm not faulting the Kallsens, but really: think about that. Think about the extent of misunderstanding, or only partial understanding, that must surround this issue if it is possible for those actively pushing for one side, in the year 2004, not to know the alternatives that the other side supports. More than that, imagine the perplexing gap of silence that people must perceive when they don't even know the opposition's reason for opposition!

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:39 PM | Comments (4)

The Enemy Underneath

As a general matter, I'm inclined to agree with Nicholas von Hoffman that one ought to be suspicious of bipartisanship, "because 'bipartisan' really means a put-up job, a behind-the-scenes deal, something in which the fix is in between the two political parties," as he puts it in the New York Observer. However, any consonance is snuffed out with his closing paragraph, which is stunning in its sudden revelation of the declaration toward which all that came before seems to have been built:

Much of the [9/11] commission's writing revolves around misunderstanding Muslims or presuming to understand Muslims on the thinnest of evidence when some effort might have been spent understanding ourselves. Less attention should have been paid to Muslim "extremism," which is hardly an undiscussed topic in the United States, and more devoted to Judeo-Christian extremism. Christianity is a one-god-one-truth-and-we-Christians-own-it type of religion. Leaving aside abstruse arguments over the separation of church and state, a more immediate danger to the peace of the world is an America whose policies are controlled by the intolerant spirit which lurks in this religion and from time to time dominates the civic life of its practitioners. You don't have to be a Muslim to wonder if the highly organized Christian elements in the United States hold the levers of power and drive policy. It sticks out all over this report, which seems to neutral, agnostic eyes as a battle plan by one religion to destroy another. That's all fine and well, but when holy wars are fought, there is hell to pay.

Ah yes, those "neutral, agnostic eyes," when this species of agnosticism clearly stands, if not as atheism, then as a strong faith that everybody else is wrong and oughtn't behave as if they might be right. This is not to say that I believe von Hoffman to have assessed the global culture war correctly. In fact, I'd suggest that his adherence to the dogma asserting Christian intolerance (while Islam is merely misunderstood) taints his analysis.

Chillingly, a correspondent happened to bring von Hoffman to my attention shortly after I'd come across Barbara Nicolosi's comments after researching for a screenplay about the Spanish Civil War:

The divisions in Spain which set up the war were very complex, but the real crux came down to secularism vs. Christianity. Fueled from the social Darwinism of the universities, the intellectuals in Spain went around for a few decades before the war insisting that religion was anti-modern and an enemy of progress. For many of these folks, "Christian" became a hated adjective, synonymous with ignorant. The greatest fury was directed against the moral authority of the Church. How dare the Church constrain anyone in any way with the outrageous suggestion that some things are good and other things are evil?!

In the elections of 1931, the secular side finally obtained some power, and within days, a disgusting and violent attack on the Church was unleashed. Over 100 churches were burned and gutted. Mobs desecrated cemeteries, convents, seminaries and religious schools. Priests, nuns, and anybody displaying religious devotion were assaulted.

Then, the laws started coming. A call was made for "complete separation of Church and State"...which, on the lips of secularists always means stomping all over the citizenship rights of religious people. The Church was forbidden to operate educational institutions. Church property that was not directly connected to the maintenance of the members of a religious institute was confiscated. No fault divorce was legalized. All cemeteries were secularized. (What is it with Spain and cemeteries? So much of the rage of the secularists was directed at cemeteries. They really got off on exhuming dead nuns and priests and desecrating the bodies. Something in the air maybe? Somebody help me...). There was other stuff too, like suppressing the Jesuits and withdrawing clerical wages.

What's next when "intolerance" becomes the marker of lessened humanity, a gap for the crowbar of restriction? I suppose defining "intolerance" is next, then defining it again, and again.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:05 PM | Comments (4)

Lovers of Gray Demand Black and White

Since the American Bar Association's attempt to force its not-so-nuanced worldview on the rest of the country has come up, this would seem worth noting:

In order to permit Catholic and other faith-based health-care providers to remain religious while serving critical public functions, state and federal legislators have often provided "conscience" protection that permits religious-based health-care providers to opt out of programs or treatment that they find objectionable. For example, even though they often treat patients receiving Medicare or Medicaid, religious-based hospitals are permitted by federal law not to provide abortion services or referrals.

It is this core exercise of religious conscience — and the government's accommodation of it — that the ABA finds so objectionable. Citing studies with titles such as "When Religion Compromises Women's Health Care: A Case Study of a Catholic Managed Health Care Organization," the ABA argues that the religious practices of Catholic health-care providers, both individual and institutional, deny needed health services and information to patients, especially women. Its singles out certain Catholic health care-providers, such as Fidelis Care New York, a Catholic health-care system that provides Medicaid services to the residents of 33 New York counties — services that might otherwise not be available were it not for the faith-based outreach. What crime has Fidelis committed that merits the attention of the nation's bar association? It refuses to provide certain "family planning services" to its patients or refer patients for such services — services that contravene the core teachings of the Catholic faith.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:23 AM

Rolling Over Speed Bumps Can Be Addictive

Marty McKeever took the plunge and answered the question, "How will marriage be destroyed, and what part will gay marriage play?" The post was certainly worth Marty's effort to write, and it's worth others' effort to read. However, apart from recommending the essay, something that an opposing commenter, Scott, wrote tied with another aspect of the larger debate that I've been meaning to mention. The following blockquote spans two comments, at the ellipsis, the first part directed at Marty, and the second to another commenter, Jim Price:

If you do not like gay marriage, then don't marry a man. Instruct your kids not to marry the same sex. ...

Grit your teeth all you want Jim, in the end, I win.

Your morals aren't mine, you see, thats your problem. You see the world in black and white only. I'm smart enough to understand gray.

Whether or not you like it, I will be married, to a man and in the end you'll be a George Wallace footnote.

Its harsh but its the truth Jim.

You can type on a message board until your fingers turn blue but I will win, and you know what, heterosexual marriage will survive. I'm sorry you're not smart enough to see through the fundraising doomsday scenarios that you've been fed but keep sending those checks to James Dobson if it makes you truly happy.

You're a speed bump, not a wall.

The personal insults and active belittling of his opposition suggest to me a mindset that won't stop at the equilibrium of "you do your thing, I'll do mine." Indeed, most of Scott's comments to the post at hand include some reference or other (in aggregate) to "the unwashed simpletons in flyover country." The rhetoric may be of mutual liberty, but the language is of the sort that brings into question the worthiness of the other side to possess their share. To the extent that those people continue to have power in one form or another — whether influence or property — in a post–same-sex marriage world, it's easy to imagine Scott and his ilk thinking it not overbearing to impose correction of their errors.

For further exploration of this point, we can turn to no less un-stupid a person than Eugene Volokh:

But in any event, one should acknowledge that the "It doesn't hurt you, so why should you object?" argument omits an important point: The broad array of gay rights proposals would restrict the liberty and equality of those who oppose homosexuality -- and this array is more of a package deal than we might think, since the more proposals the gay rights movement wins on, the easier (generally speaking) it would be for it to win on other proposals.

We might be able to envision a regime of optimal liberty, where the rights of both homosexuals and those who oppose homosexuality are equally respected -- many libertarians, for instance, would do so by distinguishing restrictions on government action from restrictions on nongovernmental action. But even if we can identify a point that we ourselves endorse, that point may as a practical matter be politically unstable, so that if the gay rights movement gets to that point (wherever the point is), it will in practice end up also getting more, and cutting into the liberties of others.

The Marriage Debate blog post that quotes from Volokh's entry also links to his follow-up entries, which branch in different directions. It would seem that there are aspects of grayness quite apart from the dubious accuracy of Scott's assertions about heterosexual marriage's future.

Indeed, the claim of a reasoned complexity of perspective among those who advocate for further normalization of homosexuality is beginning to appear as an easily removed robe. And perhaps those opposing the process can be forgiven for wondering whether the American Bar Association let the cloak slip a little, and prematurely, when it proposed changing its ethics policies in order to ban judges from joining groups that "discriminate" against gays. As the relevant commission leader, Mark Harrison, put it, the object is to "make sure that judges aren't viewed as bigots." What groups would make such a view possible is up in the air. The National Guard? The Boy Scouts? The Catholic Church?

Volokh dubs it "pretty sad" that "[m]aybe we do have, as a practical matter, a choice between a regime that suppresses the liberties of homosexuals and benefits those who don't approve of homosexuality, and a regime that benefits homosexuals and suppresses the liberties of those who don't approve of homosexuality." Sadder still, in my view, is that society's choice between these two paths is appearing more and more likely to be made not on the basis of which tilt is ultimately better for future generations, in the complicated summation of effects, but which group has the power and will to force the wheel and make of the opposition a speed bump — rather than a legitimate marker of a speed limit.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:43 AM | Comments (15)

August 11, 2004

A Matter of Focus

I intend this post merely to offer a quick reply, without expectation of further discussion, to Eric Muller's response to my post about Michelle Malkin's exchange with him. Mostly the point worth making is that we continue to speak with different emphases in ways that complicate dialogue. Writes Muller:

I'll say little about Justin's speculations and assumptions about my politics, my tone ("breathless aggression," "untempered condescension," etc.), my approach to history, and the appropriateness of my shouldering the respresentation of my cohort of "so-called scholars" on The Academic Left.

Rereading my post, I don't see a single instance of speculation about Muller's politics or approach to history. Given my interests and area of most competence, my emphasis is on the way in which the various parties approach their debate and the likely effect that those approaches will have on the more immediate public discussion. In essence, I'm lamenting, in accord with Glenn Reynolds, that the historical argument is "hijack[ing] the discussion of what to do today" and hoping to redirect what's already been said.

The first step toward doing so is to make the participants cognizant not only of their relative locations along the spectrum of understanding, but also of how the public will perceive them. Tone, in short, is not something about which a reader offers "speculations and assumptions," but something about which he testifies. Indeed, the sentence after the one from which Muller draws his parenthetical quotations explicitly disconnects how something reads from the author's frame of mind while writing it.

As I suggested at the close of my initial post, Malkin's turf along society's path toward assessment and reapplication of its past inherently makes her genre of writing more action than review. She has determined that the internment of Japanese people in America plays centrally in a cultural aversion to the sort of measures that the War on Terror necessitates — in a phrase, ethnic profiling. To overcome that aversion, she has to challenge a popular perception of history's lessons fostered, in large part, by scholars (who are, yes, predominantly Left-leaning).

To be sure, I'm at a disadvantage in that I haven't read Malkin's book, and I intend to do so when possible. (Funds and time remain tight.) It may be, therefore, that I'm not being balanced in my criticism, but with a view toward the book's effect, it seems to me that Muller has helped to ensure that those who lean toward Malkin's position will be repelled from, rather than drawn toward, a thorough understanding of history and its implications. They are less concerned about the past than the present; they have less time for reiteration of the cautions that the past has rightly instilled than for the overcaution that has wrongly accompanied them.

Suggesting, as Muller does, that "Michelle could defend narrowly-tailored profiling measures without taking on the additional burden of defending the wholesale eviction and detention of an entire ethnic group from the West Coast during World War II" evinces (surprise, surprise) a rather academic application of historical argument to political debate. Similarly, insisting that Malkin must be judged primarily as an historian because she devoted the bulk of her book — which genre and purpose require to be something less than an academic tome — to the historical accounts that she's questioning is to ignore the setting of the debate.

As I understand Michelle's intention, it was to spur the realization that the received wisdom in this area can be challenged — in turn, that the sense, in our collective gut, of what can and cannot be justified under current circumstances can be questioned. We're a long way from being a society in which In Defense of Internment could plausibly be put forward as stealth advocacy for gathering up American Muslims. And Mullen's dark insinuations that Malkin must be doing so are sure to evoke the impression that laymen, rightly or wrongly, have that scholars might withhold the truth about history because they believe that the rest of us will take it as an excuse to repeat its worst parts.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:42 PM | Comments (18)

Malkin v. the Academe

In response to some sparring between Michelle Malkin and a couple of academics, Lance McCord writes the following:

[Eric] Muller wrote the way that he did because he's a blogger, and a scholar. As a blogger, he's writing what's happening. What was happening in this case was a guy who knows an awful lot about the Japanese-American internment reading a book on that subject, and thinking while he's reading. As a scholar, he's likely more interested best understanding the subject than in winning some ideological point.

Leave aside contrary evidence as to Muller's inclination toward point scoring. Although I've done no controlled studies of the matter, I've a strong suspicion that the great majority of American citizens — particularly those who take an interest in academics' fare — have quite a different impression about scholars' ideological motivation. The existence of a market for Malkin's book about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, which sparked the bickering, ought to be evidence enough that this is so. And frankly, neither McCord's assumption of transcendent interests nor Muller's method of debate is likely to do anything but further the impression.

Consider the outright exhortative tone into which Muller lapses during his first spate of complaints about the book on the Volokh Conspiracy:

When you think of the Japanese American internment, what do you picture? People living in the desolate high desert, in tarpaper barracks, under military guard, right?

Do you know how that happened? Do you know how it happened that Japanese Americans ended up spending years in desert camps under military guard, unable to leave without clearance?

One hears either a breathless aggression in response to verboten dissent or an untempered condescension, or both. Whether or not these qualities of his writing grew from his actual state of mind — and subsequent posts on his own blog suggest that they might — Muller's tone can only remind the public why it has been gradually losing esteem for men and women "of learning." Consider, for example, his emphasis on the speed with which Malkin researched and wrote her book (italics Muller's):

I can't imagine how Michelle--or, indeed, anyone--could have done the primary research necessary to understand the record, let alone "correct" it in the manner the book attempts to do, in five or six years, let alone in one. Especially while doing anything at all in addition to researching the book (such as writing a nationally syndicated newspaper column). To tell the story correctly, a person would need to sift through thousands and thousands of pages of archival material from all over the country and then piece bits together into a coherent story.

What Muller has done, here, is to disallow every stage through which a society interprets its history and applies it to the present except the most exhaustive — and therefore the most exclusive — stage, the one on which he concentrates. I don't think it presumptuous to suggest that there might be a degree of turf-protecting in Muller's approach, and there may be some jealousy at Malkin's likely sales figures. Such reactions are misplaced, and in failing to respect the different roles that people can take, they contribute to general distrust of academics.

Nobody can deny that so-called scholars, who lean overwhelmingly to the Left, have influenced the public perception of the episode of American history at question, and that the perception, in turn, has influenced current policy. Commentary is therefore mandated across the spectrum. Although he quotes a paragraph from Malkin's book saying something different, Mullen harps particularly on the notion that Malkin intends to "correct the record." Perhaps that phrase carries differing connotations in the history biz, but one needn’t rewrite the entirety of something to correct it; pointing to an omission can suffice.

On the other end, nobody will mistake Malkin for an historian. As far as I can tell, it is clear within the book — let alone within the broader context of Malkin's career — that she is a political writer. Coming from political commentary, her emphasis will be on the areas of the complete picture that most affect current policy. And frankly, she will find a lot of public sympathy for her sense that those are precisely the areas in which the "historical narrative" has been most skewed.

Unless they wish to further alienate a populace that already harbors suspicions that professionals who study the past are selective and politically motivated in their work, those experts who believe Malkin's summary to be incorrect and who fear its implications for current policy are going to have to treat her more seriously. If she is so easily dismissed, they should have no trouble incorporating her contrary findings into the pictures that they advance. Forcing the "experts" to do so is, I suspect, a key motivation behind Malkin's book; her genre of writing is more action than review, after all.

ADDENDUM:
If you've not yet hit the end of your interest in this exchange, Mullen responds here, and I address his post here.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:36 AM | Comments (36)

August 9, 2004

Reason Overruled

Moral culpability is not entirely lashed to a measurement of distance, and finding excuses not to look along the line of likely outcomes of a given decision, far from absolving one of responsibility, is itself an immoral act. That, in a nutshell, is my response to a point in the comment section of this post. After I'd suggested that knowing homosexual couples is irrelevant "to whether same-sex marriage is intelligent or dangerous public policy," liberal periodic commenter Angie wrote:

I believe that people who are arguing against SSM do not know any gay couples. If you socialized regularly with gay couples--benefits, dinner parties, workplace--you would not be too popular if they knew you were writing hundreds of thousands of words on the computer daily about why THEY should not get married while you yourself are married and enjoying the benefits of that. And besides that, you'd have a face and a personality to add to the subject matter. Not just a logical analysis. Similar to how I believe most pro-life advocates either cannot bear children or they have a loving partner who will support them emotionally and financially should an accidental pregnancy occur. Just another way to think about these issues which leaves out the legal/logic/ethic speak and brings real humans into the picture.

Reread this sentence:

If you socialized regularly with gay couples--benefits, dinner parties, workplace--you would not be too popular if they knew you were writing hundreds of thousands of words on the computer daily about why THEY should not get married while you yourself are married and enjoying the benefits of that.

I have no doubt that this is true. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if confronted with evidence that those hundreds of thousands of words have contributed, directly and indirectly, to my current state of semi-employment. But unless Angie is offering an enciphered explanation for her taking the wrong position, the reality of interpersonal influence is irrelevant both to the substance of the issue and to the moral responsibility to take the right position. It is a sign of the apathetic turpitude of our times that precisely her formulation likely underlies the tacit responses to this sort of matter across our society. One would think that liberals, of all people, would applaud a principled stand against the demands of social pressure.

Furthermore, it's simply to state the factual to note that the activists and their friends in the media have ensured that the same-sex marriage cause will not lack for sympathetic faces and personalities, piled on top of decades of cultural-elite effort to normalize homosexuality generally. And that's entirely apart from the people who've contacted me personally over the past few years, as well as those whom, yes, I do know. I can only ascribe it to a baseline spiritual desperation, in our society, that so many have brushed off the wisdom that broad decisions can be skewed if made while embroiled, or by those who are embroiled. Whether the topic is homosexuality, abortion, or any other matter with emotional weight, it remains true that we ought not — cannot — leave out the "legal/logic/ethic speak" that becomes more difficult as we approach the adverse consequences of choosing the correct path.

Look, reason tells me that human life begins at conception and that, for the sake of society, for the sake of humanity, we must hold to the moral principle that human life is uniquely and individually valuable. Destitution, much less inconvenience, is not sufficient justification for taking another's life — no matter what rhetoric we might employ to depreciate that life. Similarly does reason tell me that marriage is central to the health of our society as well as — and this is important — the well-being of those most dependent upon our social foundation. Reason also suggests that same-sex marriage, especially within our modern context and considering the mechanisms through which it is being thrust into the law and the culture, will further the corrosion of the institution.

If any group that must be factored into these decisions lacks for the sympathy that flows from "a face and a personality" it is those who have yet to be born. (Consider the enthusiasm with which pro-lifers have met increasingly detailed sonogram pictures.) It is easy to respond to the pull of loved ones' desires; it is somewhat less easy to hear the pleas of the countless people who will inherit whatever society we manage to bequeath. To blind one's self to the latter through deliberate focus on the former compounds moral travesty upon moral error.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:05 AM | Comments (25)

August 6, 2004

A Vaccine for Inhibition

Although the interior link leads to paid-registration content, Michelle Malkin's summary in a post about vaccinating children caught my eye:

On a related note, I was quite interested in this story about a scheme being considered in Britain to mandate vaccination of children against future drug addiction. The vaccines are currently under development; they are expected to become available in two years, at which point they could be required.

This scheme has the too-sweet smell of an idea that is sure to have unintended consequences — a seemingly good-hearted "initiative" that winds up having the opposite effect than intended. As a man with what might be characterized as a moderately addictive personality, I can attest that the threat of addiction can be a significant disincentive to drug use.

When crack hit the scene in the '80s, it was certainly well understood among my young peers that part of its danger was the associated Russian roulette of instant addiction. The shadow of that prospect always lingered around the drug and, I'm sure, bled into gut feelings about other drugs, particularly generic cocaine. Except for marijuana, one had the sense that experimentation with drugs was potentially life changing and permanent before it even became a question of deliberate habituation. What is the likely effect when that daunting impression is no longer a reality?

I suspect that experimentation will increase, and that physical addiction's conjoined twin, emotional addiction, will prove to be the tougher monster to defeat. What cure will be available when a nation of adolescent druggies thinks it can stop any time it wants?

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:40 AM | Comments (3)

August 2, 2004

The Closet with an Open Door

From the Providence Journal:

The teens came from as far away as Maryland and from nearby Pawtucket, numbering more than 2,700, wearing T-shirts, body art and baseball caps and looking very much a cross section of American youth.

But many of these teens are different. They define themselves, not by their tattoos or nose rings, but by daring, they say, to do what is considered in many high schools to be unequivocally uncool: Being openly...

You know, the adjective that I've left off the end of that quotation certainly isn't the one that those who define our popular culture would lead you to expect. But then, such expectations have been drastically disconnected from actual experience for many years, at least in the Northeast, and at least since I was in high school in the late '80s and early '90s — and even throughout my time in elementary school. The quality that those kids are compelled to diminish in their young public lives is — of course — being religious:

[Philip "P.J." Shea, 18, of Pawtucket,] plans to keep this most recent card locked in a safe in his bedroom. "I made a promise to myself that I would stay a virgin until I'm married," Shea said.

Some of his high school friends don't get it. Shea doesn't care. What's important is that most of the boys under that tent understood the need to fight the temptations of alcohol, pornography, premarital sex and all the other "lies the devil whispers," as Righteous B put it.

Welcome to Steubenville East, a two-day Catholic youth conference at LaSalette Shrine.

Toward the end of the conference, a priest asked anybody considering entering the priesthood or religious life to step forward. He then asked the crowd not to single them out when they returned to their schools so that they wouldn't be discouraged. I know that, when I was that age, I wouldn't have been afraid to mock them, nor would I have expected any consequences for doing so, through either social pressure or disciplinary action. Little would I have known that believers have a source of support of which the approval of peers is but a faint echo:

A stocky teen with a surfer's air, [Geoff] Edwards said he has been religious since he was a child. He said some people tease him about being religious. "But it's nothing compared to the suffering that Jesus Christ went through."

Actually, it's probably more true that a tacit understanding would have been my motivation.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:40 AM

July 31, 2004

Who's Got the Problem?

Michelle Malkin directs attention to a Mark Steyn column in which Mr. Steyn quotes an interesting reaction to Governor Schwarzenegger's comment, "If they don't have the guts to come up here in front of you and say, 'I don't want to represent you, I want to represent those special interests, the unions, the trial lawyers, and I want them to make the millions of dollars,' if they don't have the guts, I call them girlie men":

Up in Sacramento, they weren't happy. The governor's remark was 'as misogynist as it is anti-gay,' complained Mark Leno, a San Francisco assemblyman and chairman of the legislature's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus. 'By playing to certain voters' discomfort with gender and sexuality, the governor has exposed himself as a divider, not a uniter.' 'Blatant homophobia,' agreed state senator Sheila Kuehl, also of the LGBT Caucus. 'It uses an image that is associated with gay men in an insulting way, and it was supposed to be an insult. That's very troubling that he would use such a homophobic way of trying to put down legislative leadership.'

Apart from the pro forma outrage, the comment that I italicized seems a good example of that sort of modern thinking that gets reality exactly backwards. How is it that the man who is basking in his strong masculinity and mocking a presumed lack thereof in his opposition is playing to "discomfort with gender and sexuality"? It would seem that the governor is more comfortable with those concepts than are the whiners and that his comment would appeal to voters who are similarly secure in their belief that men ought to be men.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:38 AM | Comments (5)

July 28, 2004

A Generation with Stuff to B**** About

I upset more than a few acquaintances, a while back, by voicing the theory that, as an underlying cause, Kurt Cobain killed himself because he realized that he didn't have the talent to make the kind of music that he wanted to make. I mention this less to evoke ire or agreement than to show that I'm not defending a personal hero when I suggest that Marc Comtois is a bit hard on Nirvana's deceased front man. In tandem, Marc is a bit hard on the generation in which we are both included (although I think I'm closer to its tail).

I recall that, even as a huge Beatles fan, I never really understood Sting's described experience of hearing "Love Me Do" for the first time. Sitting by the pool when the song came on the radio, he and his friends spontaneously began to dance, and they knew that something new had arrived. Although Soundgarden and Alice in Chains had paved the way for the Seattle bands, it was Nirvana that managed the big breakthrough, and I imagine the feeling of hearing the band for the first time was much the same — albeit expressed with moshing rather than dance.

I was sitting in my leather swivel chair, attempting to study for finals, chatting with my friend Rich on the telephone, when the video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" came on the computer monitor that I had wired to receive cable TV. We both stopped talking. Something new had arrived.

Marc is entirely correct that Pearl Jam was a better band in just about every respect, but it is perhaps for that very reason that Nirvana claimed the movement. I've never taken the time to explore the specifics as a matter of music, but the aptly named "grunge music" caught something that other genres couldn't reach. It was full of angst, yes, but it was an angst in contrast to the direct aggression of other variations of hard rock. It was almost like '70s singer/songwriter meets heavy metal.

The added element, which Nirvana personified, might be as simply characterized as having to do with confusion. That's why it was such a big deal — a "cool" thing — that nobody could understand what Cobain was saying. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" centered around unintelligible vocals expressing indecipherable lyrics, over chords distorted beyond recognition. Even Cobain's hair, granting mere glimpses of his face, was part of the message.

So, certainly, both those who "got it" and those who didn't are justified in suggesting that the generational experience to which grunge was the soundtrack was frustration at having nothing to be angry about — adolescent energy without anything on which to focus. That analysis is justified, yes, but I'm not so sure it's accurate. Marc, for example, in listing some issues from which Gen X was free, overlooks the entire range of society from whence derived the angst:

This is especially because Cobain's fan base was mostly comprised of a generation that had nothing to REALLY get upset over (like in the past with "The Bomb" and "Vietnam" or now with "Terrorism") so they focused on those aspects of Pop culture that made them feel like part of a larger "movement." The cynicism and "reality" espoused by Cobain, et al spoke to a generation that really didn't have much to b-i-t-c-h about. The Berlin Wall had fallen down, Communism was kaput, Clinton was president and believed in a place called "Hope," etc. Self-righteous angst influenced by postmodern relativism became the new "it" thing.

The fact that the Boomer Generation still largely controls the public discussion is likely contributing to a lethargy of revelation, so our entire society is still a bit confused about the source of all of that angst. But I submit that its real — and legitimate — origin was precisely that area of revolution for which geopolitical turmoil offered cover.

My generation was the first to grow up in a culture in the process of dismantling itself. Divorce, abortion, an ever-increasing emphasis on sex coupled with an epidemic of a mysterious and deadly disease, relativism, ingrained opposition to organized religion and other sources of moral ballast, among many others across the spectrum of daily life. And yet, we were not offered the opportunity to be angry about the sources of our pain and confusion, because they continued to be promoted as good things. There was nowhere to turn for rebellion, because it was rebellion that ailed us, although we did not see it then, and many still do not see it now.

But I think the lengths to which Gen X collectively took its angst woke many of us up, and even here, Cobain played his destined role. He died at twenty-seven, like those Boomer martyrs Jim, Jimi, and Janis. As I recall, his mother lamented that her son had "gone and joined that stupid club." Much more profoundly than breaking the first-name pattern, Kurt claimed the list not through the symbolic excesses of the Sixties, but in a violent suicide... probably resulting from the drug culture that grew out of those excesses.

Moreover, if I may revive my theory, his limited talent furthers the shift. From the selfish point of view of the popular culture, his wasn't the death too soon of the guitar genius or the classic voice or the (debatable) poet rocker. He was spent — too much the personification of the zeitgeist to redefine himself.

The trend that he did die too soon to fulfill was the reclamation of those priorities that had been sold to his generation as inconsequential choices. He married young for a superstar. He had a daughter. Would the man who wrote "I wanted a father, but all I got was a dad" have failed to live up to his responsibilities? His suicide — the ultimate parental failure — provided one answer, cutting through the jumble of drives and desires in a final rejection of them all.

But his generation may yet provide another, more hopeful answer. Marc asks:

If the predominance of teen pop and rap are an indicator of what sells, could this mean people of my generation, the old looking-for-a-reason-to-be-angst-ridden Gen Xers are simply not paying attention? If not, what are we paying attention to?

In the sense that he means the questions, Marc's answer is, essentially, "the news." He answers in a slightly different sense, just before that, when he implies September 11 as our cause. These observations are probably correct, but for my part, I think it covers more of the truth to suggest that we're paying attention to growing up, to tracing our parents' path back toward home, picking up that which they discarded along the way so that we can stop feeling "stupid and contagious."

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:02 AM | Comments (4)

Strolling Temptation Aisle

Jeff Miller notes something that has only recently begun to attract my attention, so to speak:

It use to anger me the amount of skin displayed on magazines as you approach the checkout lane or what I call "temptation aisle." Taking possession of my eyes looking neither right or left like I was being sung to by the sirens. I read a tip on a Carmelite list serve where they suggested instead of getting angry that to spend the time praying for the publishers and those involved.

I do wish that stores had a policy that posters and full sized advertisement displayed would have to conform to the same clothing standard as the shoppers.

Of course, it's an "old man" thing to be stunned by magazine covers, although I'm far from old, yet increasingly stunned. Also of course, that characterization is a component of the movement that Jeff calls "the slutification of our socieity." Really, not so many decades ago, the magazine covers that now stand at child's-eye level at the checkout counter would have been considered little short of pornography. That the magazines are ostensibly geared toward women just makes their marketing that much more bizarre.

Praying for the publishers might be one way to redirect one's thoughts upon noticing the defined curve of some starlet's inner thigh, but there are plenty of others who could use those prayers. Perhaps it's being a father — perhaps it's being a father of girls — but I find myself reacting like an antiquated feminist. All those full-color glossy photos, those interchangeable heads above interchangeable figures, they're just bodies. To the extent that they're actual people, they are actual people consenting to be just bodies.

A thinking person might be forgiven for noting the big-budget facilitation of profitable psychoses, phobias, and complexes. A religious person is sure to be forgiven for seeing something more sinister, even, than unethical pursuit of corporate revenue.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:32 AM | Comments (1)

July 21, 2004

Mrs. Dad

In a comment exchange about discrimination by gender in, yes, that same post, Gabriel Rosenberg writes:

I do not get upset when men are turned away as surrogate mothers provided that women who cannot carry the child are also turned away. I do not get upset when women are turned away from a sperm bank, provided that men who cannot ejaculate or also turned away. In these cases the line is not being drawn on gender, but rather on the ability to do something. As I noted, in the marriage case it is not the inability to procreate that is the cause for refusal.

At a certain point, it seems to me, matters of discrimination come down to identity. Can a woman be a husband? A father? Of course not, and in neither case is the inability limited to the matter of procreation. If it is the identity that is under attack, we move toward Prof. Rosenberg's next paragraph:

It is not irrational at all for you to suggest that men make better male role models, and if you are looking for a male role model I would suggest you find a man. Being a good male role model is not a legal requirement of spouse. And some people might prefer to find a person who is a good role model as a human being--a person who models what a human being should do, and not what certain gender roles should be.

Ah, how we go 'round and 'round in this debate. Spouses may not be required to be "good male role models" in order to marry, but it is currently the law — rightly so — in most places that one of the two who enter into the relationship culturally most full of the potential to land the members in the central-role-model position of parents be a male role model. Those "some people" who prefer other arrangements are free to make them, but society is "looking for a male role model" in one member of each married pair. Moreover, society would confirm that intention if allowed to vote on the matter.

This would be particularly the case, I imagine, were the question phrased in these terms. Perhaps the public could be made to see the extreme underbelly of the ideology that same-sex marriage will usher in. The example embedded within the professor's quip is of a world in which one cannot impose views about "what certain gender roles should be" because the society demands that we ignore what the gender attributes actually are.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:15 AM | Comments (22)

July 9, 2004

The One and Only Voice Splits

As far as I can tell from coverage to date, Maggie Gallagher has found the one adult child of same-sex parents who feels this way:

Why does she oppose same-sex marriage? "It's not something that a seal of approval should be stamped on: We shouldn't say it is a great and wonderful thing and then you have all these kids who later in life will turn around and realize they've been cheated. The adults choose to have that lifestyle and then have a kid. They are fulfilling their emotional needs -- they want to have a child -- and they are not taking into account how that's going to feel to the child; there's a clear difference between having same-sex parents and a mom and a dad." ...

A few years back, she watched "20/20" interviews with children like her. "They were asked questions like: 'Are you happy? Do you love your parents?' I don't think it's fair to ask them those questions. These are their parents. They aren't going to say they are suffering, because they don't want to make their parents feel bad."

For some reason, while I did the dishes this morning, I recalled that after-school special with Scott Baio, The Truth About Alex. A very similar film came out a few years later about another masculine jock who proved to be homosexual. I wonder, if one did a broad study, how homosexuality would rank against other issues about which the entertainment and education industries sought to indoctrinate my generation. My guess is that the environment would be number 1 by a wide margin. The next two would probably be race and homosexuality, although in what order, I honestly couldn't say.

The more my worldview shifts away from the one with which I emerged into the adult world, the more I see how the various influences on me as a child shaped my understanding of the proper ideas and positions. It would be interesting to find some way of developing a rough picture of what has happened to the politics of my generation as it has aged. It has seemed to me that there's a dramatic split, although leaning toward the conservative side, as the gloss spattered across the world begins to tarnish in the air of real life. In opposition are those who've chosen to layer propaganda on pabulum.

Could the "many worlds" feel of modern society come down to a simple matter of several indoctrinated generations growing up and either coming to believe that what they'd universally been taught was wrong or continuing along the same path of thought? Whatever the case, this is part of why I'm skeptical of claims about the inevitability of same-sex marriage when those who are currently in formation take society's reins. They're still in the machine, and just as importantly, they're still in a land of moderated responsibility.

And here, again, we see an edge of the Big Issue that is too large to describe except in pieces, where various discrete matters come into contact. For one thing, perhaps there is something related in the fact that the socialist systems of more-liberal Western nations serve to moderate the responsibility of adults by softening the consequences of decisions and failure. For another thing, we might have the opportunity to form some inkling of opinion trends in a world with drastically expanded lifetimes and the extended adolescence that would likely follow.

I'm aware that I'm drifting, here, but perhaps I've found a tangle worth sorting out while I paint, today.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:56 AM

July 5, 2004

Activism Sans Thought (Among Other Things)

Yeah, what better way to fight AIDS than to further cultural salaciousness by performing in the nude:

Singer Macy Gray has promised to perform naked to raise money for charity.

The outrageous star says she will appear in nothing but a pair of Jimmy Choo heels at her London gig today!

She will reveal all to raise cash for the Elton John Aids Foundation.

Next up: supporting world peace by mauling the drummer on stage.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:06 PM

June 30, 2004

Gambling on Gambling

Gambling, of itself, isn't sinful as far as I'm concerned. Yes, having a somewhat addictive personality, I've noticed the aftertaste of the temptation that it represents. Yes, the first notable scene that I came across upon entering Foxwoods Casino's parking lot in Connecticut when I was in college was an older couple — cusp of retirement, I'd say — crying in each other's arms.

Still, a night of roulette, blackjack, and slot machines, with a reasonable expense cap, isn't wrong or corrosive in the way that a night costing the same amount at a brothel would be. For some patrons, the all-you-can-eat buffet is the more seductive opportunity for excess.

So, I've been more or less ambivalent about the matter of allowing a Rhode Island tribe to build a casino on its land. For one thing, I know families that have suffered the consequences of a gambling addiction facilitated by just the Jai Alai enterprise in Newport, so any state policy toward a full-blown casino can't stand on anti-gambling principle. If the objection is to the greater draw that a casino would have, then it seems to me that regulating size is the logical answer.

For another thing, as much as I don't believe gambling to be an undeniable sin, I'm not comfortable with governments' seeing it as a source of revenue. Whether or not a casino yields a public profit seems to me irrelevant to the yes/no question of whether one ought to be allowed in the state. Of course, as Marc Comtois points out, Connecticut is finding that its casinos are expensive for the surrounding areas. This, however, seems another cause for creative regulation, to pass the expenses on to the company. Making area security, road repair, and adequate employee housing and education direct costs of doing business would prevent shuffling of the bill to local communities that receive inadequate reimbursement from the state government, which collects the revenue.

Perhaps the strongest argument against a casino is that it would attract a bad element from elsewhere and would concentrate Rhode Island's homegrown hoodlums. To be honest, I'm not sure that this wouldn't be true of any major attraction, regardless of its nature. Moreover, I was amazed at the distance that Foxwoods-goers had to travel through town roads to find the joint, so it could be that choice of location and direct access to a highway would answer most of the concerns of nearby towns.

It's probably a flippant attitude to take, but I have to admit amusement at the degree to which this issue traps various parties — many already corrupt — in their own decisions. From what I understand, other gambling facilities have been buying not just legitimacy, but special deals from the state's politicians. For its part, beyond the addiction to revenue from gambling in the form of lotteries endemic among states, Rhode Island has mainlined its fixes from Jai Alai and the Lincoln Park dog track. On top of this must be layered the strange arrangements that America and its states have made with Indian tribes over the centuries.

So, ultimately, I agree with Marc that it is for the people of Rhode Island to decide whether they want a casino to be a partially defining aspect of their state. And it's for the various parties to either regulate or find ways to compete as they're able. Which way I'll vote, I'm not yet sure. Allowing a casino could prove to be a bitter pill of disruption that will help to knock the state back on track.

ADDENDUM:
Sorry if this post isn't as strong and/or clear as it probably should be. As you can tell, I'm still working out my thoughts.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:59 AM | Comments (6)

June 28, 2004

Competitive Dating

Leveraging her perspective as a coastal, urban, lawyer, Christian woman, Kimberly of IrishLaw has taken up the online conversation concerning what women want in men (and why they aren't finding it). One issue that Kimberly notes as false is the notion of competition: "If men embody traditionally masculine virtues, that must threaten women's ability to also be successful, independent, and strong." This dynamic within the job marketplace nicely encapsulates a matter of society-wide self-deception: if masculine qualities are thought to make for success, those qualities must be suppressed as a factor among men and encouraged among women.

One of my wife's friends, arguably the most attractive among them, considers herself to be in competition with men to a sometimes ridiculous degree. A running half-joke between us, for a few years, was that she intended to beat me in an arm wrestle. For that to have ever been possible, either I would have had to deteriorate beyond recognition, or she would have had to take extreme biological measures, destroying much of what is feminine in her physique. (She claimed to have beaten sturdy men in the past, but she blushed when I wondered aloud how many had asked for her phone number afterwards.) It may be harder to admit, because it's easier to deny, but surely this general difference isn't limited to physical attributes.

My anecdote isn't meant to suggest that men don't exist whom my wife's friend couldn't best palm-to-palm, nor that there aren't women who could beat me. Similarly, most careers don't lend themselves exclusively to one gender or another. However, they may require qualities that come more naturally to men or to women. We've grown accustomed to wincing at the notion that our sex or gender might affect who we are in ways that, in turn, limit some choices, but what we seem to have overlooked in inculcating this reflex is that limiting choices can mean expanding others.

In reverse, the more-constructive question isn't whether women can out-male men, but whether womanhood can be made an asset. As Kimberly writes:

Women can be feminine and still be strong and independent; men can be masculine and not threaten the success of others... Was there a way to just be successful women and not act like men? Is there a way for men not to fall into the stereotypes of promiscuity, or the faux confidence of the metrosexual, and be good men?

It's a matter of developing ourselves as who we are, rather than redefining who we ought to be. Therefore, Kimberly puts her finger directly on the problem with an insight that didn't occur to me in this context (whether because of gender or personality is up for debate):

The difficulty, of course, anymore is that it's hard to find the right models for how to be confident women and honorable men. Children who grow up without fathers desperately lack role models for how to become real men, and no matter how loving mothers are or how hard they work, it's hard for women to provide that model.

Mothers and fathers can, through effort, diminish the detrimental effects of a child's lacking a parental mirror, but at parents' incalculably subtle degree of influence, women aren't as naturally suited to the occupation of fatherhood, and vice versa. And it is this very subtlety — indescribable, but detectable — that seems to be the certain something that the questing singles have been at a loss to articulate. In other words, dating and its shifting difficulties, although often portrayed as frivolous, connect with our individual and collective essences.

Hugo Schwyzer, whose thoughts I found via Marriage Debate blog, adds another piece toward comprehension of these tumbling matters of gender, parenthood, friendship, competition, and attraction:

Opposite sex friendships are especially appealing to the young, and not merely because they often offer the "spice" of sexual attraction. What is most appealing is the freedom from the competition and the judgment that so many young men and women feel in the presence of their same-gender peers. But invariably, those who have no close friends of their own sex feel at a loss at certain critical life points. In order to lead healthy lives, we have to work to overcome our own fears about being judged by those of our same sex. We're going to need folks beside us who know what it is like to live incarnate as a man or a woman. What makes me a man is more than my Y chromosome and my genitalia -- it is a thousand thoughts, feelings, experiences that so many of my brothers know so well. Men need each other, desperately.

And if there is one thing I have come to know with near-certainty, it is that men who have other men (not just boys) in their lives to love them and hold them accountable make much better husbands and lovers, fathers and brothers to the women around them.

In that respect, one might justifiably suggest that Kimberly's (and my) appeal to Christ as a male role model is partly, or especially, necessary in a world of androgynous wishful thinking in the service of lust and egos. Far from diminishing the Divine Role Model to a sort of second best, this observation provides some explanation for why there is so much overlap between traditional and religious. If we follow our roles — our callings — to the fullest extent, we will naturally complement each other, and our material world will naturally complement the spiritual one to which we've been so busy building barriers. We deny this, as we have for decades, at our peril.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:02 PM | Comments (5)

June 20, 2004

Does It Start with Wrongful Death Suits?

Look. I'm not going to express the first thought that came to mind when I read this front-page article from the Providence Journal, because if I did, I'd be sure to raise ires all over the place. Nonetheless, that at which we laugh today tomorrow can bring our tears:

BEAVER, the animal psychologist who is president-elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association, says that years ago, the dog was "the protector of the farm. Then it became the dog in the backyard; now it's the dog in the house. And as we are living closer to them, their relationships with us become much closer."

And as the culture has changed, legislatures and the courts are now starting to amend the way they look at companion animals. Historically, courts have allowed a pet owner who brings a lawsuit to recover only the "market-value" of the animal. But in 2000, Tennessee became the first state to pass a law giving a pet owner the right to collect damages for loss of companionship. Two years later, Illinois passed a similar law. A bill has been introduced in the Colorado legislature to allow people to seek damages of as much as $100,000 for loss of companionship of a pet.

Ah-hum. Read the whole article for a more-thorough sense of how creepy this could get.

ADDENDUM:
Martin Grace quotes the part of the Projo piece that hints at the leap from "clearly... not a relative" to, well, I guess to "close enough."

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:14 PM

June 18, 2004

A Job for the Sexy Man

Star Parker, president of the Coalition for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE), sees the ACLU and — if I may coin a term — other ACLUddites as in ideological competition with her organization:

My constituency is the poor, particularly the African-American poor, and I have a far different sense of what this community's problems and needs are than does the ACLU. ...

As the civil-rights movement became politicized by ACLU-type liberals, values and personal responsibility were displaced by victimization politics. The result has been a social catastrophe in the African-American community. Thanks again to ACLU-type liberals, public schools that black children are forced to attend have purged all traditional values from education and, as a result, children have no clue why they are there and what the point is in education. These children are already most likely severely disadvantaged by coming from broken homes, also the product of the political purge of traditional values.

Acknowledging that it's on the same Web site, I can't help but wonder whether a piece by Maggie Gallagher indicates that a movement is afoot:

Hear, for example, the extraordinary remarks by Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., at a recent Brookings Institution conference on marriage and the black church. Calling attention to the low rates of marriage among African Americans, Norton warned:

"My friends, we are seeing a sea change in African-American life. It cannot continue or we will not continue as a viable people. I just want to put it as starkly as I can. We've got to get the attention of our community and our country. It is impossible to overestimate what has happened to our community in only a single generation or two and what might then happen in my son's generation if it continues at this pace."

She said it. I didn't. When the marriage idea becomes weak enough, the very idea of perpetuating ourselves as a people is called into question.

Gallagher goes on to suggest — predictably, but no less correctly for being so — that increasing the number of church-going men will do much to remedy the problem. You can read both of these women's articles for specifics, but I want to leap to a different topic that's come up, of late, because I think there's a larger point to be made, pivoting on this passage from Gallagher's column:

Men are supposed to model for their children the love of God, for their wives, the love of Jesus Christ. Men who recognize a critical "masculine" role in family life are probably freer to enter into stereotypically "feminine" realms, such as emotionally expressive family life. If you want to turn men into good family men, you have to tell them that men matter to women and children.

Brace yourself for a bit of a cultural atmosphere shock. Although the topic feels a bit less weighty than the matter of fatherless children in poverty, consider Marilyn Zielinski's complaint:

I think almost any man can be sexy, can become a good flirt, can learn to attract women, if he is truly willing to. Like most social skills, the general principles aren't that mysterious, and are quantifiable if you pay attention.

... But most men don't really want to be sexy; they want sexy to be them.

Essentially, Ms. Zielinski's assessment is that men don't give any indication that they care enough about potential mates to improve themselves. They settle in to who they are, and the opinion of a hypothetical future spouse isn't sufficient motivation to become someone better:

Instead, single men in my experience behave as if the only life possibilities are being the way they are, or acting. The idea of growth and change don't make the radar.

I don't think that's as true as Zielinski suggests. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that it is more true than she supposes. She notes single females' openness toward asking themselves, "What am I doing wrong?" The answer, to my personal experience, is usually pursuing the wrong guys. Although it's often my advice to single female friends, I'm not necessarily talking about looking for hidden diamonds by observing a table of men and gravitating toward the quiet-but-not-shy one in the middle of the group. Look at Zielinski's examples of some men's deficiencies: don't listen, don't have a "real job," boring, not fashionable.

As one of Eugene Volokh's male friends writes, it's not surprising that men seek to conform to the ideal that they've observed women to want. Volokh's friend concentrates on success/money/power, but one can find a modern male stereotype developed in response to each of Zielinski's complaints:

  • Don't listen: Phony ponytail man.
  • Don't have a "real job": Cocky career guy.
  • Boring: Pointless rebel dude or artsy male.
  • Not fashionable: Mirror-seeking dandy.

Of course, as Volokh himself notes, for "professional coastal urban women," the demand is that these all be layered on top of success. Nonetheless:

Those women also want more: A certain kind of behavior, attitude, whatever it is that they see as sexy (still a mystery to me, by the way).

Lastly, Geoffrey Murry chimes in with the gay perspective, approaching the same conclusion from a slightly different angle:

I find it is often a man's resoluteness in the face of what I shall call here adversity that makes him sexy. It is his adamantine surety of place as he strides into a room that makes him noticed. Were he to be engaged in the constant questioning of himself that Marilyn suggests, I reckon it might be more difficult for him to pull this off. ...

The straight man (the metrosexual and Marilyn's dream men aside) rarely goes to this length, and it is the imperfection in his appearance that gives it the veracity of the virile.

Dare I suggest that the conclusion to which all of these people are gravitating is that rich women want what poor women so desperately need? The educated professionals of Volokh's correspondence will likely reject the idea, including protestations from the women (for all I can say) that they are most definitely not interested in such men, but that need only mean that the oversight is mutual between the seekers and sought. Aren't the women looking for a certain mold of the religious man?

It's difficult to see because our culture has disconnected the markers from the substance. As a consequence, women isolate the various qualities and misconstrue their import. Men respond by donning the shadow of real self-improvement.

Volokh notes the seemingly unattainable state of being in which one adjusts "oneself so successfully that it looks like one isn't trying to adjust oneself at all." I see ultimately the insouciance of manifest self-improvement as it derives from a focus on something higher. Men will not lose motivation if they are striving for the approval of God, rather than of a woman, and yet, if that God demands a sacrificial devotion to the woman, the man will listen, will see through her eyes, and will seek to provide for her.

The key, therefore, is a sense of responsibility that transcends contractual obligation and a faith that challenges will be met. The same view must permeate couples' lives that becomes flesh and blood in the form of the child begotten (not made) through them. Men and women need to remember that they matter to each other, not as mutual prey, but as mutual support toward a state of grace. And in this way, they bring vibrancy to an impotent culture flaccid with displaced victims.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:44 AM | Comments (4)

June 16, 2004

Living Forever Minus One

In a follow-up to "How Long Should People Live?," Glenn Reynolds addresses some of the concerns that I'd raised. Most significantly, he reins in the discussion, giving the range about which he's talking:

Short of immortality, though, it wouldn't be surprising to see people's healthy lifespans extended well past the century mark. A doubling of the biblical threescore-and-ten is certainly not beyond reason. But would such an accomplishment be a blessing, or a curse, from society's standpoint?

For my part, I was responding to lives' being much longer than that, considering that Reynolds's first piece spent the first few paragraphs talking about the reversal of aging. The second concern to which Reynolds responds is meatier, engaging in, rather than just setting the terms of, the discussion:

... perhaps a dramatic lengthening of lifespans would yield stagnation and resentment. Older people would entrench themselves in their positions, while juniors would fester with no real hope of getting ahead. Progress would dry up as creative minds wasted their best years in uncreative apprenticeships, under the sour scrutiny of their elders. The result: a dull, uncreative gerontocracy.

Suggesting that "we've pretty much done that experiment already," with no ill effects, Reynolds points out that life expectancy has increased by thirty years since 1900. The lesser tweak that I would apply to that statistic is that, given the history of the last century, a good portion of that gain has probably been among the groups less likely to have access to leadership positions in which to settle.

Data by economic class is understandably difficult to come by, but breakdowns by sex and race (PDF) offer a suggestion of what might be found. From 1900 to 2000, women gained 3.4 more years than men did; blacks out-gained whites by 8.9 years. I don't think I'm assuming to much to suggest that the poor/rich split would be at least that large. In other words, the entrenchment "experiment" hasn't been run to the degree that a similar gain over the next century, to 103 by 2100, would entail — let alone Reynolds's outside number of 140.

More significantly, perhaps, there are at least two substantive differences in the decades of life that have been gained versus those that would henceforth be gained. First, most of the improvements thus far have had to do with illness and basic health, not deterioration, and one need only look to Ronald Reagan to see that human beings are capable of active, creative contribution to society through their seventies. Will the same be true when a 100-year-old has as many years left as a 70-year-old does now? Second, even if capability increases with life expectancy, not only would new generations face a longer wait for existing career vacancies, but the number of people who would live to the age that once was "old" would increase tremendously. Not only would 70 become 100, but the number of 70-year-olds would explode.

The notion of making younger generations wait longer ties into an indication that these profound changes open holes even as we try to grasp certain aspects. Note the parenthetical:

One might object to longer lifespans on other grounds -- perhaps Leon Kass's argument that death is a "blessing," and that the finitude of life is what inspires us to achieve great and daring things. And maybe that's true (though the young are famously unreflective of death, and yet also the ones most likely to attempt great and daring things).

As I asked last time, how long do we want adolescence to extend? Do we really want 40-year-old teenagers? This problem overlaps with the previous: if careers are going to extend outward at the high end, we'll have to find some maturing occupation for those at the other end. Put differently, I'm not sure how much responsibility there is to go around, and I have to confess apprehension about the type of adults who would emerge from post-post-post-graduate education regimes.

All of this converges in a threat to the only irreducible requirement that Reynolds mentions: "I think that the fear that longer lives will lead to more rigidity and less creativity is unlikely to come true, at least so long as we continue to embrace democratic capitalism." Whether we add decades to early life or late life, or both, we end up with large segments of society that require some degree of public support and wield significant political force.

Reynolds mentions increasing turnover among CEOs, second and third careers, and older law-school students, but surely that's an exclusive cut of society. Will those over 65, representing nearly half of the total population, accept late-life careers handing out stickers at Wal-Mart, or will they attempt to rig the system in their favor? Perhaps society could attempt to buy off the older half with promises of healthcare and retirement subsidies, but somebody's going to have to manage the social scheme. At some point, as the elderly are displaced, the power will shift to the younger population, who may see the bribed seniors as an unjust drag on the system. Herein lies one potential source of the "death aplenty" that Reynolds mentions.

I've only offered a handful of issues that came quickly to mind, but many more exist, and some that will emerge are impossible to guess from our current vantage point. At the end of the day, it seems to me that dramatic economic and cultural adjustment will be an inevitable consequence of rapid increases in life expectancy. That democratic capitalism will survive the transition is by no means ensured. Neither is our humanity.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:11 PM | Comments (1)

Pedophile Checkers

I've been intending to note Gabriel Rosenberg's response to my post that pointed out two "of the trail markers along the slippery slope that supporters of Lawrence assured us did not exist." One of those markers was a footnote in an ACLU brief that referred to teenagers' "well-established" right to make personal decisions about sex and marriage. Rosenberg quotes a sentence from the first paragraph of the footnote and writes:

Note that this is still an equal protection argument. Under federal law there is generally two ways in which an equal protection claim can force a heavy burden on the state to justify its unequal treatment of individuals. One way is if the differential treatment was based on some suspect classification like race, or in this case, gender. That is the main argument being made here. The other way, though, is if the subject matter of the unequal treatment concerns a fundamental right.

We're dealing with shades of rhetoric, here. I merely claimed, following the Kansas Attorney General, whom Clayton Cramer quotes, that this is a glimpse of an argument that may be brought into play later in the culture wars. Here's the paragraph of the footnote that Rosenberg doesn't provide (see sheet 23 of this PDF):

In addition, the exclusion in the Romeo & Juliet law must satisfy heightened scrutiny because it provides gay teenagers with differential access to a fundamental right. While a teenager's constitutional rights are more limited than an adult's rights, and while the state is more likely to have a significant or compelling state interest that justifies intruding upon a teenager's rights, it is well established that teenagers — including gay teenagers — have a due process liberty interest in being free from state compulsion in personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships and sexual intimacy; it is also well established that laws that burden a teenager's liberty interest must be narrowly tailored to advance a compelling governmental interest unless they advance "a significant state interest that is not present in the case of an adult."

Returning to Rosenberg's post, I was pleased to see that frequent commenter Ben Bateman had already made the core of the rebuttal that I intended to offer:

The concern is not that the ACLU is literally arguing for legalizing pedophilia in the Limon case. It doesn't work like that. It hasn't worked like that. The point is that footnote 4 attempts to introduce the foundation for a future move to legalize pedophilia. If a court agreed with and cited the above quote as a correct statement of law, then it would be much easier for some future court to extend that logic just a little further and conclude that laws against pedophilia aren't narrowly tailored enough, don't meet a rational basis test, or whatever excuse they want to use. ...

I think you're too smart not to understand how that language could be used to legalize pedophilia. You just don't think that the courts would actually do it. And just like in Lawrence and Goodridge, the courts won't tell you that they're going to do it until they've done it. So I guess you won't believe it is happening until it has already happened.

I would add that the subsequent citations in the ACLU footnote claim precedent for two points. First, that "minors have liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Second, that Lawrence established "that liberty interest in personal autonomy includes matters of private, intimate conduct and protects gay people just as it protects heterosexuals."

Responding to Ben, Rosenberg admits that he thought Lawrence "would be [decided] on equal protection grounds and expressly not overturn" Bowers v. Hardwick, a case upholding sodomy bans. It seems to me that much the same move is coming together for age-of-consent laws. As much as he insists on keeping the footnote in context, Rosenberg ignores the other "marker" in my post, which pointed to a comment in a judge's dissent to a statutory rape case involving a mentally retarded adult. The judge wrote:

Expert testimony at trial also suggested an invitation to apply one's own moral framework to JH's sexual choice. In explaining why JH's consent was not valid, the prosecution's non-medical expert on sexually abused, mentally retarded individuals testified that whereas JH sees "sex" as merely a physical act, "If you ask, you know, anyone else what sex was or what intercourse is you see an entire picture. You see the candles, the wine, the dating, you know, whatever else goes on. With her sex is just one quick spur of the moment thing."

That the state may not burden a particular sexual choice out of distaste or disagreement is the central holding of Lawrence.

Now look back at the precedent in the ACLU footnote. The first confirms minors' due process rights; the second specifically extends those rights to include sex, which, in essence, is the expanded ruling that Rosenberg hadn't expected in Lawrence. They may not, ultimately, prove necessary, but we can add in a couple of other factors to give an idea of areas from which the "unthinkable" ruling might come.

Consider, first, the possibility that the judge's dissent in the adult rape case may someday be vindicated in another ruling elsewhere. Consider, second, parental consent laws for abortion; the ACLU footnote lumps procreation and contraception with intimate conduct. In 1990, Hodgen v. Minnesota, the Supreme Court found that a state could only require notification of both parents if a court could bypass the requirement. Justice Stevens opined:

The State has no legitimate interest in conforming family life to a state-designed ideal by requiring family members to talk together. Nor can the State's interest in protecting a parent's interest in shaping a child's values and lifestyle overcome the liberty interests of a minor acting with the consent of a single parent or court.

So, if Lawrence is found to invalidate laws that step in when mentally retarded adults consent to sex, mental capacity (much less maturity) becomes less rational of a basis to render consent legally impossible, the bias being construed as merely inapplicable "distaste or disagreement." Justice Stevens diminishes "a parent's interest in shaping a child's values and lifestyle" in comparison with the child's liberty interests in the context of abortion. And the ACLU lashes contraception and procreation with sexual conduct, while arguing that minors' due process rights cover "private, intimate conduct."

Suppose a case like the Kansas one for which the ACLU submitted its brief reaches the Supreme Court. Hop, hop, hop. Lawrence Jr.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:45 AM | Comments (4)

June 14, 2004

Accepting the Limits of Time

We're still searching for the Fountain of Youth, we humans, and given that they are less and less a silent constituency, it isn't surprising that secularists are leading the charge. Last week, Glenn Reynolds took up the cause.

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what his argument is with respect to Americans' desire for radical life extension. He notes that "although a few bluenoses sniff at such efforts to hold back the clock, it's pretty obvious that an awful lot of people feel otherwise." On the other hand, the ideas that "human beings are somehow bad, and that death is somehow good... are, [he's] sure, fairly widespread," without even exhausting the "room for the willies."

So, bottom line, are people for it, or are they creeped out by the idea? Or is it that the government should make people pay for the technology before they want it so they can realize that they really do want it when it's a done deal? I'm not sure, but if somebody of Glenn's politics is arguing that the government should fund something for the reason that nobody will voluntarily contribute enough money, the topic merits investigation.

Perhaps one reason pharmaceutical companies aren't investing in research for this prize is that they believe that their chances of maintaining the ability to sell — at a profit — would be next to nil. Could such a technology withstand the pressure to provide it to all? I won't pretend to have a basis even to guess how that would play out, as an economic matter, but it is very easy to imagine the manufacture and distribution of the product becoming a central focus of our society.

Viewed at that level, it seems to me that Reynolds misconstrues the substantive objection. It isn't that "death is somehow good," but that it simply is. To humanity, mortality is central. It isn't that living through the last days of loved ones and facing the inevitability of our own doesn't "suck," but that it makes us who we are. As true as it may be that we continually change who we are, changes of the magnitude about which Reynolds seems to be speaking raise an important question: how inhuman are we willing to become to become superhuman?

As a man of faith, I believe loss thereof to be the greatest threat of all, and the potential for eternal life on Earth certainly changes the immediacy of seeking eternal life with God, to say the least. Michael Williams suggests that, "since many Christians believe in what is called 'eternal security'... the chances of any individual eventually accepting Christ go way up as they live longer." Without delving into Michael's theology, with which I disagree, long, highly manipulatable life begets a frame of mind. Suffice to say that believing that one cannot become "unsaved" in a life that extends toward forever is a perilous combination.

Whether explicitly or implicitly, however, many people don't accept such arguments from faith. Nonetheless, as often is the case, something inadvisable for reasons of religious faith also manifests perniciously in other ways, and the potential for turmoil socially and culturally with radical life extension is tremendous. Will emotional and intellectual adolescence, for example, extend into our fifties? For how long would people work? If you think the AARP is powerful now, imagine the first decade during which there are more people — more generations — over 65 than under! What happens when society's various leaders — in government, in business, in scientific fields — live forever? What will the ambitious folks who would have risen to fill vacated positions do, and how inextricable will the prejudices of their elders become?

Even the premises of Glenn's own argument lose their substance in the presence of their conclusion. Consider his assertion that "birthrates have a much bigger impact on population growth than life expectancies." It makes sense that this would be the case, because births compound, within the count of living people, while deaths do not. For one thing, as far as I'm aware, longevity, not being the consequence of immediate action, doesn't vary as much.

More significantly, even if a generation is born that will live for an additional ten, or even twenty, years, it will not overtake the previous generation. In other words (just picking a number), if the average life expectancy for the parents birthing a new generation now is 80, and the next will live to 90, the previous will be gone long before the subsequent reaches even 80. In contrast, ultra-longevity means, essentially, that birthrates would compound indefinitely. All births would effectively represent one continuous generation.

Simple economics provide additional reason for concern: the more of something we have, the less value it has. This applies to years of life. One reads of survivors of traumatic events who take each day to be a gift. If those gifts stretch out beyond our sight into the future, how precious will each be?

I suspect, too, that we'd become more hoarding of our lives as a whole. The more emphasis we put on mounting years, the less we'll sacrifice for others, but the more we'll demand. Without the tangible inevitability of death, anything that conceivably impedes our lives is elevated by lack of comparison. Perhaps this will be limited to health issues, adding fuel to the ideological conflagration currently consuming the tobacco industry and with sparks stinging fast food; I'm inclined to predict that it will extend to the incidentals of life, those lesser things that we hoard, as well.

This ties into a second point, one that belief in God makes more poignant, but that can ring true without it. The ills of a society already pawing around in dark to fill its emptiness can only be exacerbated when there is much, much more emptiness to fill. The depreciation of each year may inflate the perceived value of diversions, benign and malignant.

I don't share Clayton Cramer's emphasis on death as an escape from the future. Still, the potential is tremendous for communal corrosion when individual desire effects fundamental changes to what it means to live. We who choose, one day, to forgo the waters of material eternity may be justified in having as our epitaph: "Mourn not for me, but for yourselves."

When such decisions are a reality of life, we will make them individually, and I don't think I'd support laws setting life limits. Governments could institute any number of policies toward that end, and experience suggests that they would tend to be arbitrary, unjust, and indicative of nothing so much as unequal influence. In the meantime, at the very least, our government oughtn't be used to make objections irrelevant in retrospect.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:54 AM | Comments (7)

June 11, 2004

An Important Shade of Prejudice

This afternoon, Ramesh Ponnuru opined:

I didn't much like President Bush's eulogy. The best example of the kind of false note he struck was the following line: "He believed that bigotry and prejudice were the worst things a person could be guilty of." I doubt that Reagan believed that proposition, and if he had, his holding of that view would not have been praiseworthy. I am sure, on the other hand, that Bush believes this proposition, or thinks that he does.

However, in his tribute Lane Core quoted something similar from Reagan's debate with Bobby Kennedy:

Now, I happen to believe that the greatest part of the problem lies in the hearts of men. I think that bigotry and prejudice is probably the worst of all man's ills the hardest to correct. ...

... people in positions like ourselves like the Senator and myself, like the President of the United States, can do a great deal of good, perhaps almost as much as proper legislation, if we take the lead in saying those who operate their businesses or their lives on a basis of practicing discrimination and prejudice are practicing what is an evil sickness.

A couple of hours after the original post, somebody emailed Ponnuru pointing out that President Bush's sentiment was a direct quote from one of Reagan's letters. Personally, I think he put it better in the debate — in subtle, but extremely important ways.

In the formulation from the debate, Reagan's notion of "ills" and the view toward correction makes of prejudice an error to be righted. And that accords with Reagan's subsequent prescription of public pressure. The formulation that Bush quoted puts forward the idea of prejudice as an action worthy of guilt, to be punished. This is the difference between culture-honing argument and hate-crime legislation, which ends specific discussion and encroaches on the next point and the next, until it's a crime to disagree on tangentially related matters.

I like to think that, had the question been put this way to Ronald Reagan, he'd have clarified in the direction of his debate statement. But then, I'm biased.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:24 PM | Comments (2)

The Right to Abuse

Craig Henry points out the first peep of an — shall we say — unforeseen consequence of the Supreme Court's Lawrence decision. Clayton Cramer explains (bold added):

For all that supporters of Lawrence talk about love, commitment, and relationship, the fact of the matter is that by scrapping all notions of sexual morality between adults, Lawrence is opening the door to scrapping laws intended to protect an adult with the mental capabilities of a child from exploitation by a guy who barely knew this woman. Does anyone find it unlikely that the same reasoning won't be applied to strike down child molestation laws (as the ACLU has already tried--and failed--to do)?

The internal link goes to a post that highlights a footnote in a man-boy statutory rape case in which the ACLU opined that "teenagers have a well-established 'liberty interest in being free from state compulsion' in making personal decisions about sex and marriage." With these two arguments, we glimpse some of the trail markers along the slippery slope that supporters of Lawrence assured us did not exist. (Note, particularly, the conflation of "sex and marriage.")

This is the danger of activism — and ultimately legislation — through the judiciary: laws created by a legislature can discriminate in the scope of their terms; the application of them cannot. So, when the judiciary rejects or redefines the stated scope, the flimsy wall of words is breached. The sad, human truth, I suspect, is that we've so lost our sense of what "discrimination" means that many of those pushing to strike sodomy laws in the courts probably didn't realize that they were doing so.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:18 AM | Comments (1)

June 6, 2004

The Clash of Forces in a Post-Christian World

As a comment to my post linking to his TCS piece on war in Sudan, Andrew Morse poses some questions:

As I was writing the Sudan piece, I had some thoughts that you may be better suited to run with. From a purely political perspective, there is no reason why Sudan cannot be stable. The climate is not so harsh that people are fighting one another to get the means needed for basic survival. There is a fairly strong semblance of regional/local organization. There is a bunch of competing interests, with no one group able to gain an overwhelming edge, ala the Baathists in Syria or Iraq. So why has civil war grown out of this situation, as opposed to some sort of civil pluralism?

As best as I can figure, it's because of the absence of a simple idea: loving thy enemy.

If the idea of loving your enemy is indeed the missing piece, the ramifications are frightening. Is this planet truly headed to some kind of post-Christian era? If it is, will the idea of loving your enemy disappear from the general population? And if that idea is disappearing, is the war in Sudan a relic of the past, or a harbinger of the future?

As a Christian believer, I don't foresee an entirely post-Christian future as a matter of faith. Happily, that faith corresponds with my intellectual suspicions.

A core support of the belief that we can move beyond Christianity is that we don't need it. To believers, obviously, the effort is doomed as a matter of reality; to deny Christ, one must submit to an ever-expanding series of delusions, or at least distractions. To non-believers and quasi-believers, distractions are the central requirement — distractions not from the reality of God, but from the reality of death and meaninglessness. However, perhaps the more relevant requirement is to construct a system of belief that either makes morality moot or creates some other plausible basis for it.

Mootness of morality, in its turn, requires either infinite intricacy of exceptions or stubborn cessation of questioning at some arbitrary point. Similarly, the option of an alternative basis for morality, also being arbitrary, must expand essentially toward God or stand rigid on a "just because." Within Christianity, a strain exists that corresponds to post-Christian notions, and it is exactly "love thy neighbor" (or "love thy enemy") that facilitates it, as an excuse against action — "love" as worldly indulgence.

All of these approaches carry a more basic requirement, rooted not in our intellectual life, but in life itself. The prerequisite for a post-Christian society, ultimately, is that no threat can reach such a point of urgency as to necessitate struggle. This applies to our love for ourselves and our battle with sinful and dangerous urges; a post-Christian view cannot exist where the consequences of laxity are intolerable. On the level of whole societies, the fallen nature of mankind will result in the need to fight, kill, die. But will an ideology that shies even from making others feel ashamed — indulgent love — think anything worthy of death? No, and people will need one that can meet a mortal threat.

Back when folks could say such things, when I was in either grade or middle school, a history teacher explained that Islam, taught a certain way, is the perfect war religion. Submission to God is coupled with eternal rewards for forcing others to submit to God, or killing them if they refuse. From a Christian perspective, this fanaticism is like an insurmountable desire, justifying the gravest sin. The First Commandment is "thou shalt have no other Gods before me."

In the modern West, the most corrosive tendency is to fight for the acceptance of base urges. The greatest sin is to strive to redefine sin as neutral or as virtue, to make a god of desire. In the case of radical Islam, the god is God. The sins involved in imposing the religion are not just neutral, not just virtues, but commandments themselves. Allowed to spread, this ideology will win by its disproportionate determination.

One can imagine those who oppose the war to push back this conflagration, or who are using events for political gain, thinking that they will (or would) fight for what they believe in if it proves necessary. If the neocons turn out to be right about the necessity of war, then these people will support it when it becomes clear. The truth is, however, that they assert this at a safe distance, across which lie skewed ideas of what is real in the world. When the fight becomes sufficiently palpable, they will cave, because whatever lust they had — whether a lust for political power or for aberrant sex — will not be as strong as the lust for Allah's reward.

So, Sudan. "Relic of the past" and "harbinger of the future" bleed together in our cyclic history. Perhaps Sudan is the past reasserting itself as if intending to become the future. If that past isn't folded into our present while still limited in its geographic scope, then it will be the future. I don't think that will happen, but neither do I believe this to be the worst fight to come. Radical Islam is a stark enemy to battle. Even if it advances beyond the boundaries I would predict, the result will be dark days, but not permanent darkness, because freedom would be understood by contrast.

The real threat will arise when "love thy enemy" is not a missing piece, but a hollow talisman. A large segment of Western society is living off the moral capital of its Christian roots, getting away with immorality, but that won't last through generations. As lust and greed begin to seep through seemingly caulkless boards, society will sink to a point at which a critical mass seeks to right it. Others will fight back. There is no half-sunk; sin becomes addictive, requiring ever greater acceptance, placing ever greater demands not only on the sinner, but on those who would deal with him.

In this respect, liberals themselves have done the most to undermine their, and our, greatest strength: discourse. Without an a priori value placed on honest, frank, and intellectually open discussion, right and wrong become a matter of power, which in this case means strength of desire. Sins breed strong desire, and they expand in definition. We're already seeing human life being cast as a commodity. At some point, traditional ethics will transform, for some, into a mortal threat worthy of death, but in the name of life. This will infuse the post-Christian ethos with a mortal cause, a motivation, making it anti-Christian.

For those who hold fast to faith, the time of that threat's manifestation can be filled with more promise than despair. Still, we are called to work against it. And we've more immediate concerns, anyway.

ADDENDUM:
Speaking of struggling, I did with this post. In a nutshell, what I was trying to say is that post-Christian ideologies are unstable and weak. If they are dominant for multiple generations, the society will crumble. More likely, in our case, they will face an external threat and will either submit or make recourse to Christianity (or another established, strong religion, such as Judaism).

What we're getting in Sudan and the Middle East, according to my construction, is a view of a pre-modern clash of cultures. The southern region of Sudan is largely Christian, as I understand, and was assisted by Christians around the world, particularly in the United States. What if, to be somewhat ridiculous, southern Sudan had been populated by post-modern relativists? I'd say that, if sheer lopsided power doesn't stop the expansion of radical Islam, it will overwhelm nations that don't have — or reclaim — firm, transcendent belief in God.

The more significant danger, in the long run, will be a turn of events that infuses post-Christianity with motivation on the order of belief in God. The lingering sense of charity and inalienable rights will be perverted in such a way as to justify drastic measures to expand. It's easier to fight an enemy who declares his hatred for you; it's more difficult to fight one who speaks in terms soothing to the Western ear.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:18 AM | Comments (26)

June 5, 2004

Deliberate Ignorance in the Service of Self-Justification

Ocean State Blogger Marc Comtois quotes some comments about the United States' "losing the peace" in post-WWII Europe. He then suggests that certain people consider lessons from history — even the facts of actual, flesh-and-blood current events — to be absolutely irrelevant:

The media and much of the elite academics did not want this war. They view war throught lens of Vietnam and can conceive of nothing good to be gained from war. They hold rhetoric dear and can conceive of no situation in which force is necessary. Failure to persuade is never the fault of the intransigent antagonist, it is always the failure of wronged protagonist. Deep in their hearts, they hope for failure in Iraq so that they can say "I told you so."

And if all works out as well as it will if such people fail in their schemes, will they understand — just as deep in their hearts — what their breathtakingly selfish pessimism says about them? Or will they just throw another layer of paint on the cracking edifice?

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:07 PM | Comments (9)

Communicating Nose to Wall

Ben Bateman responded to this post in a way that deserves elevation above the comment section:

The communication gap runs deeper than most conservatives realize. The gap between right and left has grown to the point that they're effectively separate cultures. The problem is not just that right and left begin the discussion with different premises and arguments. Right and left don't even agree on how the discussion itself should work.

Western Culture has specific ideas about how we should resolve disputes. It starts with the idea that truth exists, and every reasonable person's goal is to act in accordance with it. The trouble is that people disagree about what the truth is on any particular subject. So we try to move closer to truth through intellectual discourse. We present facts and arguments. We try to persuade the other side and at the same time leave ourselves open to being persuaded. Ideally, we don't care whether our side wins or their side wins; what's important is that one side, and usually both sides, are better off from the effort because their opinions moved closer to truth.

This idea of intellectual discourse is one of the proudest achievements of Western Culture. It's so axiomatic to conservatives that they have trouble imagining how anyone could reject it. Yet it's almost unique to Western Culture. Most cultures do not share it. They believe that the side with more power will—and should—prevail in a dispute.

And a growing number of Americans agree with some form of that view. For decades it has been fashionable for academicians to deny that truth exists at all. They have convinced a great many Americans of that view, despite its obvious internal contradictions. A natural consequence of that idea is to destroy the traditional understanding of intellectual discourse. If truth doesn't exist, then there's no point in pursuing it. For these people, everything is about power, including conversation.

If your only goal is power, then it makes sense to pretend to engage in traditional intellectual discourse. Doing so softens up your targets and makes them more receptive to what you're going to say. But that doesn't mean you're actually participating in the discourse in the sense of opening your own mind up to what the other side is saying. You're like a missionary in darkest Africa: You're glad that the other side will let you try to convert them, but converting to their view is simply not possible.

Most liberals don't consciously agree that there is no such thing as truth, but they often believe it subconsciously or hold views that amount to the same thing: Truth is defined by whoever has the power; truth exists but we can't know anything about it; truth exists but it's different for each person; or truth exists but it doesn't matter in a moral sense. These and many variants amount to the proposition that truth doesn't exist. The mind's capacity for self-deception is limitless.

The painful conclusion for conservatives is that there's no point pretending to have a traditional intellectual conversation with someone who doesn't share your idea of what an intellectual conversation should be. They are not part of your culture; they have rejected it. They have embraced the much more primitive and historically common idea that the only important goal is power. If facts will get them power, they're happy to embrace them. But if the facts are inconvenient, then lies, half-truths, and personal insults will do just as well.

To keep your sanity as a conservative debating liberals, you need to be ready to rise above the specific topic and look at the conversation itself. You need a clear idea of the rules of traditional intellectual discourse. If the liberal you're talking to won't abide by those rules, dump 'em and find another one. As conservatives desperate to preserve the country, we don't want to admit to the depth of the divisions within it. We would like to imagine that every reasonable-sounding American shares our cultural traditions, especially those as fundamental a intellectual conversation. But the fact we can no longer ignore is that a great many do not.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:16 AM

Lots of Space, but Nothing to Say

In an entry (which is worth reading on its own merits) about the media's and others' disregard of history, Marc Comtois quotes a perspicacious observation by Peggy Noonan:

It occurs to me that all young people who graduate from elite American universities now want to go into communications. It's a whole generation that wants to communicate. ...

I see no sign they are going to start thinking anything truly unusual for their time and generation--that religious conversion can be a wholly beneficial and life changing event, for instance, or that breaking with liberal orthodoxy might be the beginning of wisdom.

It must leave them finding it a challenge to speak of their beliefs in an interesting way. They often seem to fall back on attitude--wit, irony, poking fun at the thick-witted--in place of sustained thought, or meaning. And still they want to communicate for a living. I think of this problem as "big mike, no message." They are trained in the finest points of communication, but when they turn on the microphone, they have nothing serious to say.

Marc mentions Bill Maher as typical and suggests:

The problem for these new graduates is that, while they are aware that spouting tired clichés won't set them apart and get them noticed, they don't have the means, the intellectual or critical training, to question the "liberal orthodoxy" they were taught in academia. All of their training has been one-sided. Conservativism and tradition have been chastised, belittled and demonized. How could any thinking individual even consider them?

Both Marc and Noonan refer to the necessity of "Deeply Held Beliefs" for powerful communication, but I think a lack of it is more extensively relevant than either implies — as a cause as well as a difficulty. What the big-mike-no-message type wants, as evidenced in practice, is not so much to communicate as to declare — to proselytize. That urge, paradoxically, results from a lack of belief.

There's a self-defeating neurosis that I've noticed in myself and others whereby one mimics a behavior that follows from an understanding or quality that one lacks. Since the quality does not derive from the behavior, the person begins to feel as if everybody is similarly faking it and forecloses the possibility that the content exists apart from, let alone prior to, the medium.

They speak because they wish to hear, but in speaking so persistently, they can hear only themselves.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:08 AM

June 4, 2004

Legislation Through Litigation

Even apart from the explicit attack on Christianity, that the ACLU has succeeded in dictating modifications to the L.A. county seal makes me furious. It went without even a fight! Well, if government by litigation is going to be the standard, the people of L.A. county should threaten to sue for disenfranchisement and violation of due process rights. Something.

That some sort of response wouldn't lack for public support, location notwithstanding, is indicated by the fact that the case has even James Lileks taking the Christian-conservative side, unprompted (emphasis in original):

Imagine if the seal had two female mythological symbols of Peace and Progress, holding hands, and a religious group sued because they said this was a clear example of the state promoting lesbianism. "But, um, historically and allegorically, that's not what it's about." Don't care! We're offended! We bleed, you heed: Take it off! No one would give them a second thought, nor should they. But when the ACLU musters a phalanx of lawyers to erase a historical symbol from the city seal, the burghers quail. The burghers fold. In the end the national anthem is John Cage's "4'33," which gives everyone an interval of empty silence in which they can construct their own appropriate sentiments.

Lileks wonders who "can look at world where some madmen want to shove a crescent down our throats and decide that the most important thing they're going to do is take the crosses off the city seal." The answer is ideologues with an agenda that is larger in scope than defending the sensibilities of two heterodox, but vocal, citizens in a county.

As I said when I first noticed this story, such ideologues need only twist an issue around to phrase somebody's desire in terms of rights, and no democratic principle can stand in the way. We're seeing it with the erasure of Christianity from the public square of the United States, we saw it with abortion, and we're seeing it again with same-sex marriage.

It's probably true that arguments about disenfranchisement would be wide of the mark. But this isn't too small of an issue to bring into the voting box; a spine that proves absent for relatively minor matters is more likely than not to be just plain absent.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:12 AM

June 3, 2004

Filtered Through the Filthy Lense

The blogging duo over at Banterings has taken up the topic of modest clothing. Gary notices that the hipsters at Seventeen magazine have the fashion-world version of the libertine's inability to understand the abstentious. The internal blockquote is Gig Solif Schanen, fashion editor of the magazine, addressing a trend toward less-revealing clothes among some girls:

We like to call this new girl Miss Modesty. It's such a different feeling but still very pretty and feminine and sexy. It's just a little more covered up. It's kind of like a sexy take on a librarian. I think people are tired of seeing so much skin and want to leave a little more to the imagination.

Uh, hello? What are you talking about? You're completely missing the point! It's not another way to look sexy. "Sexy" is the problem. Just let them be girls. Of course, if Seventeen magazine were to see the light it would be the end of their magazine.

That's a bit like the nutrition editor at a fast-food industry magazine calling a trend toward home cooking "the new unhealthy." "It's kind of like the glutton's take on a nutritionist."

Two posts later, Banterer Nick points out a company in Utah called Modest by Design. It may be that I haven't been shopping for a while, mostly just wearing what's given to me, but the men's line, at least, looks pretty standard. Still, the company's name alone is a selling point; perhaps they should brand their clothes more conspicuously.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:57 PM

May 31, 2004

In Service of the Nation

Austin Bay's farewell entry of May 18 has been much on my mind ever since:

Removing Saddam began the reconfiguration of the Middle East -- a dangerous, expensive process, but one that will lay the foundation for true states where the consent of the governed creates legitimacy and where terrorists are prosecuted, not promoted. The job of building New Iraq falls on the Iraqi people, but they have a precious opportunity, one supported by government civilians and contractors, volunteer workers and, of course, the uniformed military personnel serving with the U.S.-led coalition.

It is my privilege to join that group for the next few months. I know the hardest burden in this deployment will be borne by my wife and daughters. I thank them for their sacrifice.

Because I was born with two clubbed feet, there has never been a time when I wasn't aware that I was 4-F; as Merriam-Webster puts it, that means "classification as unfit for military service." In other words, it has never even been a matter of choosing not to enlist — a matter of rejecting the call to serve. For most of my reckless youth, I considered that to be an instance of good fortune. And I still do, although in a different way: in the way that the cleansing from sin of an adult baptism makes it a matter of luck to have once been an unbaptized atheist. The good fortune is in not having to face the reality of unmitigated shortcomings, whether cowardice, selfishness, or sin.

Just as one must remember, however, that being an unbaptized atheist surely contributed to sin, which contributed to misfortune, which defined much of the starting point for adult life, one must understand that never having had to consider the most potent form of service to one's country contributed to a larger attitude of service's avoidance. Put more simply, 4-F was — and continues to be — an excuse, at least on my part, piled on top of many others, until what is excuse simply cannot be peeled away from what is reason.

To each his own, and we're all called in different directions. But a citizen who sacrifices less profoundly must sacrifice more, and for longer, until every excuse has been hammered into a reason in retrospect. The life not risked is not thereby absolved of the responsibility to be a life given over. If my legs prevented my carrying what burden a commanding officer might have place upon my shoulders, then my mind and fingers must work until an equivalent service has been rendered.

So, on this Memorial Day, we who have not served ought, by duty, to thank those who have — not just for their sacrifices, but for setting the bar so high. What they have given — what you have given — is an example of such weight as to inspire a lifetime of continual striving according to the individual callings of the rest of us.

Whether he intended it or not, Austin Bay speaks more broadly than just the war against the terrorists when he writes that "every American, in some form or fashion, is part of this war." And although each of us contributes to humanity's larger struggle, we rightly pause to thank and to honor those who have fought directly to establish the foundation from which the battles of the mind may be waged.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:07 AM | Comments (1)

May 30, 2004

Eccentricity to Truth

Music critic Dave Marsh makes a culturally telling comment on the back cover of the Ted Hawkins CD — The Next Hundred Years — with "Ladder of Success" on it:

When [Hawkins] declares that you can't get anywhere without "connections," in his "Ladder of Success," he's speaking a simple truth which becomes more convoluted only when you realize how utterly simply he means it: He genuinely believes contact with God possesses more power than contact with mammon. This complex simplicity lends his songs their sense of strangeness and eccentricity.

Personally, I get more of a sense of strangeness from the fact that this comment was printed in full promotional view on the CD in question. And what eccentricity it indicates in an industry when it apparently stands as an oddity that somebody actually believes God to be more powerful than money.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:51 PM

May 28, 2004

Gods — Virtual, Ancient, and Human

I'm behind today because I got caught up with a long, but absolutely fascinating, piece about the degree to which online virtual-reality fantasy games are becoming almost small nation states:

[Economics professor Edward Castronova] gathered data on 616 auctions, observing how much each [virtual] item sold for in U.S. dollars. When he averaged the results, he was stunned to discover that the EverQuest platinum piece was worth about one cent U.S. — higher than the Japanese yen or the Italian lira. With that information, he could figure out how fast the EverQuest economy was growing. Since players were killing monsters or skinning bunnies every day, they were, in effect, creating wealth. Crunching more numbers, Castronova found that the average player was generating 319 platinum pieces each hour he or she was in the game — the equivalent of $3.42 (U.S.) per hour. "That's higher than the minimum wage in most countries," he marvelled.

Then he performed one final analysis: The Gross National Product of EverQuest, measured by how much wealth all the players together created in a single year inside the game. It turned out to be $2,266 U.S. per capita. By World Bank rankings, that made EverQuest richer than India, Bulgaria, or China, and nearly as wealthy as Russia.

It was the seventy-seventh richest country in the world. And it didn't even exist.

As the self-contained worlds of such games have aligned with real-world systems and attitudes, they've not surprisingly moved toward the core influences on society. As the objects and "lives" in them begin to have real value, the games seem to me to be moving out of the phase during which it was possible to talk about a utopian reality in which everybody begins from equal footing and advances based on effort and merit. Human nature is too complicated, and intractable.

In some ways, the virtual worlds can be likened to a newly discovered, inhabited and intellectually modern, country — like an island paradise. Whatever tenuous dreamworld has been enabled by the absence of physical pain and mortality is drained through interaction with the wider world. The major difference, although the article doesn't go this in depth, is that these worlds have powerful "gods" — the designers and administrators — with control over every detail of the internal reality. One doesn't expect, for example, that a jealous god will wink an island nation out of existence as external economies make inroads, but such a thing is still possible in the games.

The formulation of the people who run the games as gods points to an interesting trend. The common (simplified) view of theology's progress in human history is from sort of mechanical gods spiritually connected to specific things in the world; through the concept of powerful deities who aren't much different than comic book superheroes, replete with human-like foibles and passions; followed by distinct, often competing, "forces"; and ultimately to the all-powerful God of the monotheistic faiths. The virtual gods have gone in the reverse.

At present, they are like the ancient Greek gods. They can dictate certain rules of nature, transform objects, make things (like money and goods) appear and disappear, but the medium in which they work imposes restrictions. However, as our legal system begins to assert rights to regulate — if the game owners choose to continue to allow the expansion of the games — they will become somewhat less powerful, even, than world leaders. If a head of state pushes a button and annihilates a civilization, he faces only what consequences other nations or his own people are able to force. Were the game owners to do the same, they'll eventually be criminally liable, at least for lost money.

What this really means, though, is that, as the gods of the games shift toward their actual humanity in power, as the games become more a component of this world, the God of the games becomes the real God. And that raises some intriguing ethical questions. Primary among the answers, I would suggest, even before the questions begin to be asked, is that excessive immersion in a virtual world threatens one's soul, inasmuch as it moves one's consciousness an implementation of reality further from God.

How significant would charity within EverQuest be if it came at the expense of, for example, depriving children of an active father? Not very, I'd say. But turn that question around a bit, and an answer to the real-world parallel must be more intricate: how significant is charity of the body that comes at the expense of the soul?

Economics isn't the only field that can find a model in these games, but I don't know how much our secular society will like the theological and philosophical conclusions to which the virtual worlds may lead.

(via Shiela Lennon)

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:33 PM | Comments (6)

Evil in Their Eyes

It looks as if, since I felt compelled to say something, I should have just gone ahead and made my point about comparisons between the Family Research Council and the Nazis. Trey, the blogger who suggested the comparison, has clarified, but without answering my unvoiced concern:

Do I believe the rhetoric of hate and demonization that the FRC uses has the possibility to increase violence and legal discrimination against my family? Yes, most defininitely. Just as I believe child pornography endangers children and extreme violence on TV numbs us to real violence (I'm sure Mr. Katz would agree.. as would the FRC, so why doesn't the FRC see what they are doing?), the speech the FRC uses against gays is a danger both now and in the future. Their rhetoric is indeed comparable to that the Nazis used against Jews.

I wonder if Trey has actually read through the disgusting Nazi propaganda from which the selective quotes of his source for the comparison were drawn. If he has, I'm at a loss to understand how he could fail to see how the equivalence abets evil through its diminishment with one hand and inflicts unjust harm with the other. Here's a taste:

When the agricultural Egyptian population prepared to defend itself against these foreign usurers and speculators, they emigrated once again, and plundered their way into the "Promised Land," where they settled and mercilessly pillaged the lawful and culturally-advanced inhabitants. ...

Here, the ultimate mixed race that is the Jews developed over the centuries from the oriental-preasiatic racial mixture, with a hint of the negroid - foreign to us Europeans, born from totally different kinds of racial elements, different from us in body and above all in soul. ...

In the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, they spread from Eastern Europe like an irresistable tide, flooding the towns and nations of Europe - in fact, the entire world. ...

Then (1918/19) the Jews seized their chance. They came to the forefront, pretending to be faithful citizens, deeply disturbed about the fate of the German people. ...

While millions of established Germans were unemployed and in misery, immigrant Jews acquired fantastic riches in a few years - not by honest work, but by usury, swindling, and fraud. ...

Supposedly their so-called religion prevents the Jews from eating meat butchered in the ordinary way. So they let the animals bleed to death. ... It would otherwise been inconceivable, considering the well-known German love of animals, that Jews until recently were able, without being punnished, to torture innocent and defenseless animals. ...

Under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, Germany has raised the battle flag of war against the eternal Jew. ... "but rather the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!"

One doesn't know whether to laugh or vomit. During the part about suffering animals, the image is of laughing men. Other images are of maps plotting the Jews' infiltration of the world. According to the film, Jews are responsible for just about every crime. "The common language of international thieves comes not without reason from Hebrew and Yiddish."

The film, in short, creates an extended, mythic history of the perfidy of Jews, with sickly humorous juxtapositions of images and text, with lies stoking a paranoia such that annihilation is presented as a reasonable option. For Trey's "evidence," aligned next to the various statements and false statistics are comments from people involved with the FRC. All are out of context; many deal with demographics; many express opinions about behavior; many are indistinguishable from sources that can't be called anti-gay by any stretch. Here's another Nazi nugget:

Fifty-two out of every 100 doctors were Jews. Of every 100 merchants, 60 were Jews. The average wealth of Germans was 810 marks; the average wealth of Jews 10,000 marks.

That's aligned with Robert Knight of the FRC (from 1994):

Homosexuals are among the most economically advantaged people in our country. Research by marketing firms shows that as a group homosexuals have higher than average per-capita annual incomes ($36,800 vs. $12,287), are more likely to hold college degrees (59.6 percent vs. 18 percent), have professional or managerial positions (49 percent vs. 15.9 percent...

And here's the Providence Journal reporting on the first-ever survey — by a pro-gay group — of Rhode Island homosexuals:

81.1 percent have obtained a bachelor's degree or higher, versus 25.6 percent of all Rhode Islanders. ...

77.2 percent work full- or part-time, versus 64.7 percent of all Rhode Islanders.

The specific numbers are debatable, to be sure, but the point is that citing them in the context of testimony that a group doesn't need special protections is quite another matter from citing them to instill fear and promote annihilation. Trey's source goes on like that. To Nazi claims that Jews essentially orchestrate global crime, the source compares quotes about pedophilia and sodomy. Included is a sentence from Robert Knight, saying, "Twenty-one states have laws prohibiting sodomy," which was true at the time.

Having reaffirmed the comparison, Trey offers a hypothetical:

A national media-exposed political advocacy group which has a prominent purpose (large portion of its web site and media appearances) of opposing Christian rights to marriage, employment protection, and discrimination. To oppose these rights to Christians, this group make many claims about them. Christians have an agenda to undermine the national and social structure and destroy the nation. They must be stopped. Christians are violent and cruel people and are known to physically abuse their spouses. Christians are a a danger to children and a very large portion of them are pedophiles, abusing their own children and others' children both sexually and physically. Christians are disease-ridden and spread diseases throughout the population. Christians are increasing in number and recruiting others to their peverted lifestyle when we should be converting them away from their vile beliefs and eliminating them.

Were I in the mood to joke, I'd suggest that Christians face such a group — the ACLU. Were I feeling philosophical, I'd suggest that, even in the extremity, Trey has removed the heart of what it means to be a vibrant and variegated society by conflating the elimination of beliefs and the elimination of people.

But the truth is that I'm exhausted by the impossibility of resolving even what ought to be a simple matter of observation. I'm exhausted by the amorphous meaning attributed to "discrimination" — by the idea that it could make me a Nazi not to believe in "employment protection" for homosexuals when, in all but very narrow circumstances, I don't believe in "employment protection" for anybody.

Look, the reason I didn't go through this the other day is that I have a strong suspicion that doing so publicly will negatively affect my job search, considering my region and the sort of work I'm looking for. Owing to distortions very much like those comparing the FRC to Nazis, it's all too easy for "right-thinking" people to quickly section off those who disagree. Maybe in some nuanced way I'm not a patent bigot, the hirer might concede, but perhaps the suspicion is enough to save the hour of an interview.

So, as I sit here, before wrapping up a day spent auctioning CDs to pay bills and sending letters and email to anybody who might be able to help me find work that will, in some tangential way, further my career rather than put it on hold, wondering whether I wasn't better off without a public platform, back when I could divulge my opinions only to those whom I trusted with the information, I empathize with Trey's concerns:

... the words used by the FRC demonize me, my partner and my daughter and by doing so increases the dangers we have to face as individuals and as a family.

Until Mr. Katz and others recognize the hateful speech and rhetoric of demonization the FRC uses and calls for an end to it and acknowledges the danger it can and does pose for me and my family, then civil discourse becomes difficult if not impossible.

If they do not recognize the danger the FRC's rhetoric poses to me, then they become just another person who stands aside and says 'I didn't do it'.

I empathize more than he knows.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:42 AM

May 27, 2004

Frank and Honest Discussion Is Worth a Try

Columnist Eugene Kane recently criticized Bill Cosby for the star's remarks about personal responsibility in the black community:

In recent years, Cosby seems to have eschewed his role as "America's Favorite Dad" in favor of "Black America's Favorite Curmudgeon."

There are more than a few reports of Cosby acting cranky at public affairs, as he criticized black rappers, black actors, black people in general for failure to live up to his standards. ...

Still, there's always a sense of uneasiness whenever somebody like Cosby uses the same language some whites use to justify their racism. ...

Sometimes, beating up on defenseless people is just being a bully.

Well, Mr. Cosby gave Mr. Kane a call, and the resulting column raised my admiration for both men and offers some reason to hope that racial divisions and the problems that they help to perpetuate are on the slow path toward resolution:

So when the phone rang and it was none other than Cosby on the other end of the line, frankly, I was pretty intimidated.

That didn't last long.

"Mr. Kane? First, what I want to say is this is not an argument, this is a discussion." ...

At 66 years old, Cosby said he had become frustrated at the dysfunction of some blacks, and the downward path many black communities have traveled. ...

A man who has donated millions of dollars to charity - much of that in the name of educating black children - shouldn't have to defend himself to someone like me.

Perhaps, however, Mr. Cosby's having done so will be a small furtherance of one role that he has played throughout his career — as a bridge between cultures. Hopefully folks like Mr. Kane — of all races — will see that the bridge goes both ways, and the views that Cosby is espousing aren't necessarily cover for racism when voiced by whites.

For our part, we can always benefit from reminders that others come to discussions with their own presumptions, and they aren't necessarily unjustified.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:11 AM

May 26, 2004

Erasing Us from History

I'm beginning to think that the objective, indicated in its name, of the American Civil Liberties Union is to unify all judgments of civil liberties under the control of a limited few. The organization is truly beginning to let slip the fanaticism according to which it operates:

The American Civil Liberties Union wants to take religion out of the Los Angeles County seal. ...

At issue is the seal designed by the late Supervisor Kenneth Hahn that contains a tiny cross symbolic of the Catholic missions that are so much a part of the county's history.

In a letter to the supervisors, ACLU Executive Director Ramona Ripston says the cross is unconstitutional and has given them two weeks to act.

The ideologues who have taken control of the ACLU (assuming they haven't always had it) will not be satisfied until they have erased Christianity from American history. Eugene Volokh has more on the seal in question, including a picture. Personally, I think a county ought to be able to display religious symbols as religious symbols, but that's a fair debate, and one that can take its time resolving. But when a powerful, well-funded organization persists in picking through the documents, symbols, and monuments in every crack of the American governmental system, it's time for reasonable citizens to disavow the group.

The frightening part is that the L.A. county controversy is a parlay, for the ACLU, of success at changing public self-definition through raw intimidation:

The genesis of the spat began with a controversy about the city seal of Redlands, which contained a cross. Last February, two Redlands residents complained to the ACLU that the cross was a religious symbol. ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner wrote to the city that the U.S. Supreme Court had declared such symbols on government logos and seals unconstitutional.

Redlands capitulated when faced with a lawsuit and ordered the cross removed from every city logo.

Here's more on that controversy, including a picture. The objection of two residents was sufficient to modify the shared symbol of the town. Civil liberties for two means that all process, all votes, all consensus is moot. Twist some matter around to phrase one's desire in terms of rights, and no democratic principle can stand in the way.

The only pertinent question is how we begin to wake up our neighbors to the creeping legistopoly.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:18 PM

May 24, 2004

But Bucking Morality Is More Fun

Wesley Smith's piece, "The Wrong Tree," makes so important an argument that I've refused to let it fall off my To Blog list since May 13:

Fortunately, embryonic stem cells are not the only potential source for regenerative medical treatments. There are also adult stem cells, umbilical-cord-blood stem cells, and other cellular-based treatments that do not use embryos at all. Here we see a completely different picture emerging. Under-reported by the ESCR-besotted mainstream media, many of the diseases that embryonic cells are supposed to treat may be ameliorated with adult-stem-cell and related therapies far more quickly. ...

The thrust of the research now seems indisputable: While certainly not yet a sure thing, and noting that much work remains to be done in animal and controlled human studies, barring unforeseen problems adult-stem-cell and related therapies may be potent sources of new and efficacious medical treatments in the years to come. Just as significantly, these therapies are likely to be available far sooner than embryonic-stem-cell treatments, since adult and related therapies do not appear to cause tumors, would not be rejected, and do not have to be maintained indefinitely in vitro, because they would come from patients' own bodies.

It's certainly possible that I've missed some of the coverage, but it seems as if there's a peculiar devotion to the more morally objectionable form of stem-cell research. If that impression is correct, it could be that this debate brings with it all the baggage of the Culture War. Or perhaps there's an element of insistence among a certain crowd that they can't be told what they are allowed to do. Or perhaps there's something more sinister at play.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:11 AM | Comments (1)

May 15, 2004

The Strange Price of Anti-War Victory

I knew Dale Munschy, a piano-playing employee of the music department, when I was at the University of Rhode Island. I found him very friendly and always quick to encourage student musicians. However, his politics look to be a whole 'nother matter:

While addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, of Nebraska, argued for the restoration of compulsory military service, stating that such a move would compel "our citizens to understand the intensity and depth of challenges we face."

Senator Hagel asked, "Why shouldn't we ask all of our citizens to bear some responsibility and pay some price?"

I would ask George W. Bush -- who couldn't think of having made a single mistake -- the same question.

Although I can guess some of the ideals that he likely holds and policies that he likely prefers, I don't know enough about the rest of Dale's politics to say whether this applies to him. But it's been one of the strange twists of this thirty-year echo of the Vietnam anti-war movement that the same class of people — probably some of the very same folks — who fought so hard to end the draft are now beginning to call for its reinstatement.

Do you think it's been discussed, in some Lefty meeting somewhere, that succeeding in ending the draft is turning out to have been a long-term tactical failure? It just doesn't have quite the emotional force to stoke fears about the possibility of the possibility of the possibility of being sent off to war.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:32 PM | Comments (3)

May 13, 2004

Let the Strong of Spirit Be Oppressed

Susanna of Cut on the Bias has given some thought to trends in the movement to normalize homosexuality:

I've watched over the last two decades as homosexuality has been aggressively pushed into the public scene as not just an acceptable alternative lifestyle, but actually one that is not alternative at all - just another way of being, as legitimate and unremarkable as heterosexuality in all its benign and not so benign manifestations. The tragedy of the spread of HIV and AIDS was seized upon and used relentlessly as a tool to force acceptance of homosexuality in the name of compassion. For those interested in such things, and we all should be as it affects our daily lives, it's been a textbook case of social engineering.

And now the final phase of normalization is moving toward completion - legal sanction of gay marriage. Once that's been accomplished, there really are no more official steps needed. There will continue to be major pockets of objection, but those will be marginalized by the mainstream media and the social liberals in power in government and education.

Susanna isn't optimistic about the way in which the movement's momentum will manifest once the most prominent of the laws that homosexuals consider oppressive are erased. In particular, she believes that those who continue to refuse, as a private matter of freedom, to normalize homosexuality will begin to draw the spare fire. "The sanctity of the individual's right to make choices about where to work and what to do is [in the present culture] greater than the sanctity of someone else's religious beliefs."

While I'm not as pessimistic as Susanna about the chances of halting the charge for SSM, or at least redirecting its subsequent thrust, previews of the next phase are on the rise:

Before they could get one of their trademark 10-foot wooden crosses fastened together, two men were arrested by Dayton police officers on charges of disorderly conduct at yesterday's Gay Day gathering. ...

Both also expressed concern because they say they were arrested on private property, across the highway from the gathering at the park, and without being read their Miranda rights.

To be fair, I don't know the specifics or the background of this particular instance, but circumstances that would justify the arrest are far from obvious. Moreover, it's a story on a growing list.

Despite it all, though, it bears asserting: sometimes it's easier to be Christian where being Christian isn't easy. Susanna notes in an update that we should remember prayer. I would add to that we should also remember promises.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:12 PM

Unbelievable Sex

Can we talk candidly, here?

I remember the day that Mr. Keith foiled the plans of every boy in his eighth-grade sex ed class by informing the girls that "blue balls" isn't all that painful and goes away quickly. With that inside information arriving on top of the graphic pictures of genitalia infected with various painful-looking diseases, we young males came to believe it was Mr. Keith's objective to scare us away from sex — or, more specifically, to scare the girls away from us. (And that was before he showed us home video of his child's birth...)

Apparently, the "experts" in Britain have found that Mr. Keith had it all wrong:

Encouraging schoolchildren to experiment with oral sex could prove the most effective way of curbing teenage pregnancy rates, a government study has found.

Pupils under 16 who were taught to consider other forms of 'intimacy' such as oral sex were significantly less likely to engage in full intercourse, it was revealed.

Not to beat around the... umm... not to put too fine a point on it: until I've had a chance to peruse the currently unpublished study, I simply don't believe its conclusions. For one thing, the language involved is all-important. Is oral sex included in statistics about children who are "sexually active"? If not, it could be that rates of children engaging in non-intercourse sexual behavior have skyrocketed. That could increase the spread of disease and lead to a subsequent explosion in full sex and pregnancy, as teenagers continue to experiment and, not accustomed to condoms in their "usual" activities, don't bother with them.

Indeed, according to This Is Exeter, every high school in Exeter is participating in the program, yet the city's pregnancy rate for girls between fifteen and seventeen was 44.4 per 1,000 women in the latest study, above the national average of 43.8. Although, how this relates to the "A Pause" program is difficult to say:

Dr John Tripp of the Department of Child Health at Exeter University said: "We can't show reductions in pregnancy rates because it is not easy to collect that data.

"But we can show precursors which you would expect to be linked to reductions in teenage pregnancy rates.

"For example, we can show that young people who have taken the A Pause programme rate sex as less important in relationships, are likely to have better information about sexual issues and are less likely to have experienced intercourse by the time they are 16."

On the basis of these generic tidbits, subjectively offered by teenagers, the Guardian piece that is linked above reports:

Now the government will recommend the scheme, called A Pause, to schools throughout England and Wales following the success of the trial in 104 schools where sexual intercourse among 16-year-olds fell by up to 20 per cent, according to Dr John Tripp of the Department of Child Health at the University of Exeter, who helped to design the course.

The article isn't clear about the method of discerning that drop. The program provides an evaluation survey in the final year, but This Is Exeter also mentions data from anonymous national surveys of 16-year-olds. It's difficult to say, then, how direct the findings are. It isn't difficult to say, however, that said findings are blurry, even at the level of hard numbers. Pace the Guardian, what looks to be the same category of data from This Is Exeter is a bit different:

The 'A Pause' course - which has been piloted at 130 schools around the country including all the Exeter high schools - has been criticised for encouraging promiscuity among the under 16s. ...

Results showed the number of sexually-active teenagers from schools where the A Pause course had been taught had fallen by up to 12 per cent.

More schools, less improvement. What explains the difference? Don't know. I do know, however, that these stories ought to serve as a wakeup call to parents everywhere, whose duty it is — I must concur with Michael Williams — to teach their children how to behave responsibly and "what true intimacy means, not how to get each other off to slake their momentary lusts."

But parents are part of, and giving kids options other than intercourse doesn't address, the problem. As I pointed out in January, 45% of single pregnant teenage girls in Britain wanted to become pregnant or didn't care, thanks largely to benefits for teen mothers. In that post, we met seventeen-year-old mother Katie and her friend from Swindon:

"We are not like your generation," her friend says. "We get taught how to do it. When I was 14 we were shown a video in school that told us all about sexual positions. And it said that we should consider oral sex if we were a bit unsure about going all the way."

How far into this thicket are the "experts" going to march their country in an effort to avoid the obvious?

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:20 AM | Comments (4)

May 12, 2004

Who Fired the First Shot?

PROEM:
Thanks to Prof. Reynolds for linking to me in a post that was already must-reading. For anybody new to this blog: for an easier-to-read page layout, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.


Wednesday is off to a slow start, mostly because of time spent attempting to process a post from Sheila Lennon on her Providence Journal blog. It's about Nick Berg's murder — or partially about it:

Nick Berg, according to first reports, died for the sins of the Abu Ghraib.

To those who are sorry only that the photos came out, I can only say there were no photos from German concentration camps, but truth came out anyway. Germany has never recovered from what was done in its name in secret there.

There's not a lot of high ground left for anybody to claim right now. If Donald Rumsfeld was having a bad week already, Michael Berg is going to make it a lot worse.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the tape shows the "true nature of the enemies of freedom." He said those responsible have "no regard for the lives of innocent men, women and children." It sounds hollow and simplistic in the light of Abu Ghraib.

I fear that we are on the brink of an ideological civil war in this country far worse than the one tore families apart -- over Vietnam -- in the '60s.

Al Qaeda isn't mentioned. Berg "was beheaded in Iraq"; he died for America's sins, as if to balance some cosmic scales. What that indicates about the murdered and desecrated contractors in Fallujah, I don't know; the latest video is treated in isolation from everything except Abu Ghraib and the Patriot Act. The only appearance of the word "terrorist" comes when Ms. Lennon quotes Nick's father, Michael, from a radio interview after he had heard about his son's death:

It goes further than Donald Rumsfeld. It's the whole Patriot Act. It's the whole feeling of this country that rights don't matter any more because there are terrorists about.

Well, in my opinion "terrorist" is just another word like "communist" or "witch" -- it's a witch hunt. This whole administration is just representing something that is not America. Not the America I grew up in.

That's simply... stunning. Look, we all should rightly have a high threshold to criticism of the Bergs, at this time, and to an extent, that means letting anti-war (and anti-Bush) forces leverage Mr. Berg's words for their own cause. To be sure, Michael Berg was among them even before his son was detained on March 24. Lennon notes a Free Republic posting that reprints a March 20 list of people endorsing A.N.S.W.E.R.'s call to "End colonial occupation from Iraq to Palestine and everywhere!" Michael Berg, in conjunction with his son's business, is on it.

Ms. Lennon pivots on Free Republic, quoting a post from the site that dismisses Abu Ghraib in context of Berg's murder, to move toward the "ideological civil war" point quoted above. Apparently, she was unable to bring herself to provide her readers with a link to the post, itself, but searching it out, one might notice that the second comment to it was an objection. In contrast, I can't think of a single instance in which Ms. Lennon has criticized the zealots on the left. Ted Rall, for one example, has escaped censure. So has Air America hostess Randi Rhodes, who suggested that President Bush ought to be shot (while reciting the Hail Mary). Civil war, indeed!

One wonders what, precisely, Lennon fears about a civil war, considering that she blithely compares the misconduct of some soldiers at Abu Ghraib with centrally orchestrated mass murder in Nazi concentration camps. If Iraq is "tearing America apart," Ms. Lennon, you and other members of the mainstream media, with your constant blaming of America and nostalgia for Vietnam, are certainly tugging hard on one side of the rift.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:29 PM | Comments (68)

May 8, 2004

Abu Ghraib University II

You may have come across it, already, but Linda Chavez's column about the co-ed military in the context of Abu Ghraib prison is definitely worth reading:

Military service has become heavily sexualized, with opportunities for male and female soldiers, sailors and Marines to engage in sexual fraternization, which, though frowned upon -- and in certain circumstances, forbidden -- is almost impossible to prevent.

So what does this have to do with those pictures of mistreated prisoners? Take a look at the faces of those soldiers again, especially the female soldiers. They look less like sadists than delinquents. They look like they're showing off at some wild party trying to impress everybody with how "cool" they are. What they are doing is despicable, but they seem totally oblivious.

Very well put: "They look less like sadists than delinquents." That sentence gets to the essence of the mixture of emotions that the pictures evoke; in some ways, this particular dark side is peculiarly American. It isn't just what the soldiers are doing, but that they're enjoying it — not like a torturer relishing his work, not even like Alex and his droogs out for a little twenty-to-one, but like partiers out on an pseudo-innocent tear, as if the prisoners were statues at an S&M tourist stop.

This seems to be a rare topic on which both the institutional military and the Left are in line, neither wishing to accept the questions as legitimate. Nonetheless, as Rich Lowry observes, it's getting difficult to ignore:

Consider Pfc. Lynndie England, who is famous for holding the leash over the naked Iraqi detainee. Well, it turns out she wasn't supposed to be mixing with detainees at all, but ended up doing so in visits she paid to her boyfriend. This is how the New York Post reported it today: "There, the young reservist was not supposed to oversee detainees, her family claims. Her role was to process and fingerprint Iraqis."

She would regularly visit her fellow reservists assigned elsewhere in the prison, including her boyfriend, Spc. Charles Graner, 35, one of six reservists from the Maryland-based unit now facing court-martial.

Army officials confirmed yesterday that she is pregnant. The baby is known to be Graner's child.

ADDENDUM:
Pregnant? Wasn't she smoking in one of those pictures?

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:58 AM

May 6, 2004

Abu Ghraib University

Look, I agree that the military, especially, is such that the responsibility for errors and problems climbs pretty easily up the chain of command. But I think Seymour Hersh let slip, on O'Reilly, a major cultural differentiator that speaks volumes about the worldview of a segment of Western society:

I believe the services have a -- look, the kids did bad things. But the notion that it's all just these kids [doing these things]... The officers are "in loco parentis" with these children. We send our children to war. And we have officers like that general, whose job is to be mother and father to these kids, to keep them out of trouble.

The "kids" and "children" talk I'm sure wouldn't be appreciated among the men and women serving our country, and it's a standard talking point of the Left to hammer the terms. The more dangerous implication is that the military — war — is like some campus excursion.

If Americans want to infantilize their sons and daughters as they enroll in ever-elongated academic pursuits, that's fine. I think we've gone too far in erasing real childhood and extending adolescence well into midlife, but I can understand the impulse. However, the error is exponentially more grievous when that ethos is transferred to our warriors.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:53 PM | Comments (2)

May 3, 2004

Promoting Thoughts on Censorship

Nick Schulz, editor in chief of Tech Central Station, has continued his pattern of requesting that some of the better posts in the blogosphere be submitted to him as articles. Such is the case with Paul Cella's piece therein, slightly modified (I think) from a must-read blog post suggesting that complete freedom to drag our culture toward the stained sheets of prurient insanity is actually a perversion of our Constitution.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:39 PM

Marching and Dancing (And a Little Dragging, Too)

I'm delayed in noting the second installment of a scientific, photographic inquiry by Bill of INDC Journal. Worth a look, especially if you could use a laugh. (Macroglossius lunarius afrikanusbadcreditus... ha!)

A bit less funny is his photo-rich account of the "pro-choice" rally that ended in a bloody foot for one pro-life crasher. This exchange, in which Bill engaged with a would-be censor as he chased after the forcible removal of the pro-lifers trying to get pictures, is creepy on many levels:

Me: (with quite a bit of aggression) Get your f***ing hands off of me right now, and yes, I can take pictures!

Her: Are you with THEM?!

Me (Pushing past her and continuing to snap away): NO, I'M NOT WITH THEM!

Her (Continuing to follow me): You can't take pictures of me, I've gotten death threats, been on death lists!

Me: I don't want to take pictures of you, and you're going to be on another one in a second if you don't get the Hell away from me ...

Had I the presence of mind, I think I'd have suggested to the woman that a large portion of my generation has been on death lists. And many will never know how close they came to being included.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:26 PM

April 29, 2004

Not on the Cost-Benefit Sheet

Back in September, I mentioned the U.K. youth trend of "sex texters" — kids sending text messages to arrange rendezvous. One might think that mobile phone companies would prefer to disassociate themselves from stories with titles like "Huge rise in sex diseases." To the contrary, Marty McKeever notes that at least one such company seems to have decided that the profits will be greater taking the opposite tack:

In scenes reminiscent of Meg Ryan faking an orgasm in When Harry Met Sally, Christina [Aguilera] arches her back and screams. She was paid a reported $1million for four hours' work. The singer simulates sex in the ad for Virgin Mobile which is so risque it won't be shown in America.

Marty puts the increasing... ahem... textual behavior in context of larger trends in England, such as gang activity, particularly involving sexual assault. Perhaps I'm overtired, but I can't help but think that limitless text messaging is a great way to pass along limericks:

In Britain, the phone comp'ny, Virgin
Will shrug off the crimes it is urgin'
To just make a buck
It'll teach kids to huck
And turn clueless par'nts into sturgeon
Posted by Justin Katz at 10:29 PM

April 26, 2004

The Behavior of an Imbecile

Paul Cella has written a must-read post about depravity and the First Amendment. It's too good to pull out quotes, but here's a little flavor and a point worth independent consideration:

In short, the class of people that still, even at this late date in the progress of egalitarian leveling, retains a considerable bulk of the political power in this country — that is, traditional families with children — got a good look at what awaits their children from the entertainment industry, and reacted as sober citizens of a republic do to brazen depravity. The revelation could not be undone by all the silver-tongued rhetoric about the First Amendment in the world. Clear-headed parents will not be argued into enslaving their children to vice. A predator is not beheld with equanimity by the prey. ...

The faction that captures through some beguiling sophistry the legislation of the country, and removes a large and crucial issue from consideration by placing it above the public debate, has subverted the Constitution; and made of itself the nation's illegitimate Legislator. It is not that free speech should be obliterated, but rather that its lineaments should be subject, like every other issue between men of good faith, to the deliberation and scrutiny of the Republic — as, indeed, it has usually been — with the attendant imperfections and errancy of any activity of men here below.

(via Craig Henry)

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:51 AM | Comments (1)

April 25, 2004

Don't Teach Your Children Well

Jeff Miller offers yet another example that Canada continues to slip into surreality:

Homeschooling parents in a Canadian province have been ordered to stop using religious-based materials or other "unofficial" resources when they teach their children at home. ...

The British Columbia Education Ministry insists the order is merely a "clarification" of the rules it laid out in September 2002, which said distance-education students had to follow the same rules as regular students. ...

With regard to faith-based resources, it stated: "Districts must ensure that students are not using religious materials or resources as part of the educational program and that parents are not being reimbursed for using religious materials or resources with students."

Doesn't this seem like exactly the sort of outcome that would be dismissed, if predicted beforehand, into the "don't be ridiculous you paranoid religious nut" category? What has apparently happened is that the Langley school district created a program to enable it to continue collecting per-student funding of $5,408 by offering homeschooling parents about $600 (or about 11% of the money attached to their children) and a provincial certificate upon graduation.

Only in an environment of bureaucratic greed and secular fundamentalism is such a statement as this possible:

"If a district receives full funding for a student, the student is not being home-schooled," the [British Columbia Education Ministry ] stated.

Fair enough. How about sending the full $5,408 directly to the home-schools?

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:04 PM

April 24, 2004

See No Good Versus See No Evil

Joseph D'Hippolito quotes, in the Jerusalem Post, Civilita Cattolica vice-director and political commentator, Fr. Michele Simone:

For Simone, invading Iraq "lent support to the impression that the West... intends a new colonization of Islamic countries, aimed at taking control of their oil, on the pretext of wanting to bring 'democracy'... without realizing that, at least for Islamic fundamentalism, 'democracy' takes the sovereignty away from Allah and transfers it to the 'people,' which for a Muslim believer is an act of 'impiety.' "

Joseph's article focuses on an "intellectual schizophrenia" within the Catholic Church, but the same struggle plays out across Western society. The difficulties that the West is having concocting an approach to the Islamic world may be, in large part, the result of people's tendencies to see among others what they see among themselves and to believe that others are behaving as they, themselves, would behave.

To the extent that those in the Middle East believe the West is bent on dictatorial rule, it is because that is the regime under which they have lived. Similarly, those who have been such rulers, believe that we seek to take over their dominion for our own benefit, just as they would like to conquer the West for their own. If democracy "takes the sovereignty away from Allah," it does so by taking power from Allah's self-appointed spokesmen.

On our end, folks who encourage a soft approach for handling the Middle East believe that blather about universal equivalence and respect for differences, by which the Western elite has conquered its own masses, will wend its way into the struggle with Islamic society. At best, this strategy would require centuries of sitting through low-grade casualties; with the advent of technologies to murder thousands and millions of people at a time, the "at worst" is much more likely.

Luckily, the wall of blather had already been proving ill suited to the United States, which was beginning to push back against the pressure of creeping socialism even before 9/11. Belief in absolute truths, if maintained, is proof against artificial enclosure. Unfortunately, the elite view has overtaken many of those who are meant to be the caretakers of our Truth. In a broad view, it is the stark choice between possible responses that radical Islam presents to the West — precisely along lines of internecine discord — that makes our decision of such critical importance.

Religious leaders should be resolute in a belief that God's sovereignty exists through "the people" — and impressions be damned. Unfortunately, the West has already been using a pretext of democracy — involving its form but not its substance — to chip away at this sovereignty in the name of material wealth and physical comforts (symbolized, if you like, in oil).

As for the struggle across cultures, sometimes the only way that understanding can bridge a barrier of mutual incomprehension is for one side to act. Think of a dog with a thorn in its paw; only after the stranger holds it down and removes the thorn will it realize the good intentions. That outcome is much preferable, all around, to the opposite intention of shared pain.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:32 AM

April 23, 2004

A Star Among Heroes

In addition to posting a touching statement by John McCain, Marc Comtois writes:

[Pat Tillman's] death is no more tragic than the hundreds of others, but his is an example of someone who had it all, but gave it up to serve his country. He is only one example of those who fight for us.

The reminder is well taken and important to make. However, a compatible point that I haven't seen made is that it's probable that Tillman played, for the average enlistee, the same role that stars play for the average American, when a real or perceived connection exists. Although their decision to serve their country requires no additional objective or social validation, that somebody leaves a privileged life behind in order to stand at their side surely helps to validate that decision on a personal level.

It may be his name and his face that will be seen everywhere for the next few weeks, but it is no less all of the rest of our bearers of freedom whom we honor.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:25 PM

April 20, 2004

Actual Goodness and Inactual Bigotry

Michael Williams put something so well that it demands quotation. The boldface is his:

Many of the problems with our government arise from well-meaning people who reject the quaint notion of morality. They just can't encourage people to behave morally, so they chip, chip, chip away at the tiny freedoms that make immorality dangerous. They want to prove that the benefits of goodness can be separated from actual goodness. But they're wrong, and the result of their belief is the ridiculous, contradictory mess we've got now.

It's a bit like treating the symptoms; the disease will eventually manifest in a more dangerous form that is untreatable. Having not thought it through, I have to put this vaguely, but it may be that Michael's diagnosis points to the central difference between libertarians and small-government conservatives.

Libertarians, generally speaking, don't think it's the government's place to regulate people's behavior because they don't think it's anybody's place to do so. Conservatives understand, even if not explicitly, that handing responsibilities to government removes them from people; the government is almost invariably a poor administrator, and citizens are only too inclined toward a poverty of responsibility.

However, we're pretty far gone down the wrong path through this minefield, and I believe that the law is required, in some limited cases (drawn with maximal specificity), as a crutch to help our moral legs to heal. Most directly, a difficult balance must be struck between adhering to principle and struggling to block enemies who aren't so restrained. More subtle a reason can be found in another post on Michael's blog.

The Christian Pepperdine University turned down two proposals from student Grant Turck to create pro-gay campus groups. Michael writes:

Pepperdine doesn't hate Mr. Turck, but they don't want him to form an organization based around excusing/promoting/glorifying behavior they see to be morally wrong. The administrators would likewise certainly reject clubs whose purposes were to promote the acceptance of extramarital heterosexual sex, theft, lying, gossip, or any number of other behaviors that are contrary to standard Christian theology. Not because Christians hate or fear people who do these things, but because they don't want to contribute to their acceptance.

In a way of looking at it, what Turck is doing is demanding that Pepperdine behave as a government, in the ideal, would behave. Indeed, Aaron, to whom Michael links, raises the increasingly malignant factor of public funds. In a society setting aside special punishments for "hate crimes" and posting a list of groups protected from discrimination even in private capacities, one side, withdrawing its hand from legislation on pure political principle, will eventually find that hand cuffed, if ethical principle is to be maintained.

This brings us back around to the quest to procure the fruits of goodness without the quality's actual existence. Turck wants access to the school's resources without having to change that environment such that resources would be offered. Others want employment with companies or apartments from landlords without the company's or landlord's actual approval.

Something quite the opposite of good would seem the likely result of this practice, which transforms freedom into little more than a right to hurt or superficially help one's self.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:56 PM | Comments (8)

April 16, 2004

Why They Hate and Fear Us

Because the gulf between American Christians and even moderate Middle Eastern Muslims is sufficiently wide to prove fallacious the direct comparison that some insist on making nonetheless, this is the sort of thing that one does well to back into. In exploring the incompatibility of Western and Muslim culture, Rev. Donald Sensing offers an opening:

There are many points of contention and conflict between Arab Islam and the West, but the chief religious contention is not really between Islamic Arabs and Christian or Jewish Westerners, but between Islamic Arabs and scientific-materialist Westerners.

Because of the supremacy of the sciences in western thought, western culture has become caught in a cycle of ever-increasing changes. Western societies contend with an exponentially increasing pace of cultural changes. However, the pace and kinds of changes that we adapt to (with greater or lesser difficulty, to be sure) are exactly the changes that fundamentalist Arab Muslims correctly believe would destroy basic structures of their society which they believe are the divinely-commanded.

Sensing veers toward the faults of Muslim culture, citing the Allah-ordained treatment of women. But it seems plausible to me that the extremes of decadence in our modern culture exacerbate the differences to such a degree as to hinder progression toward equality and democracy in the Middle East. With Western pop culture achieving levels of effrontery that go far beyond what even mildly traditional religious Americans will accept, it is all too easy for Muslims who might otherwise constitute a basis for democratic reforms to turn away out of a sense of fatalism.

I'll admit that, in all the recent argumentation about pornography, I came close to suggesting that, to some degree, cracking down on smut would assist the War on Terror. This suggestion might draw the response that placing any sorts of limits on obscene "speech" in the context of that war would be giving in to the terrorists. But that's surely the opposite of the truth. The terrorists and the tyrants want nothing more than for the United States and Europe to remain frightening lands of debauchery from which even the most quiescent Muslim would recoil.

I daresay that our own ancestors mightn't have taken some of the eminently just steps toward equality and freedom had there been as dramatic an example of where that path could lead as we now represent.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:54 PM

April 15, 2004

What Looks B&W in the Distance Will Prove Gray

In the same Impromptus, Jay Nordlinger notes an email from Holland that deserves its own post. I'm quoting pretty extensively, but I don't see any way to capture the enormity of the thing without doing so:

Indeed here in Holland there is a discussion at the moment about bestiality, and I think I know your view on this matter. Because of my work, I know an elderly man living alone in an apartment (the institution of marriage has been practically dead since the Sixties, so we are confronted with many aging singles). I know you know it's coming, so, yes, here it is: This man has a dog. ...

Now, Diana always sleeps on his blankets, but I am quite sure she sometimes sleeps under his blankets. So what have we here? A pervert, a criminal?!

Here in Holland there are many intensive pig-breeders (I hope this is the right word!). They keep thousands of pigs in appalling conditions, and after a short unlife these pigs are slaughtered. I am sure God the Father never wanted His Creation to be perverted like this.

I wrote you this (I always read your column, I sometimes agree) because you think too often in black and white. Of course this does not mean that I condone bestiality; in fact, it makes me rather ill. But after the dog for the blind and the dog for the handicapped, I think the time has come for the dog for the lonely.

Every single issue as it arises in its progressive turn will be possible to cast in casuistry that appeals to common principles. It simply isn't possible to throw one's analogistic net out far enough to capture an example for which this isn't true. Homosexuals may be offended when others suggest that the legal, federal toppling of behavioral standards laws for their benefit will lead to such things as bestiality, but they'd better be prepared to explain why the inevitable arguments put forward by Mr. Nordlinger's correspondent won't stand. We put animals to work — and worse — so why ought the impossibility of consent prevent other activities?

I wish it weren't so, but I think we're just about out of room to wiggle around the basic question of whether it is even legitimate to claim that accepting spiritually corrosive behavior as beyond reproach (even if not beyond nausea) will harm our society in palpable ways. People seem to believe that, when others approach with requests that seem implausible at present, their arguments will be laughably simple to dismiss by any standard. Not so.

Who wants to tell a lonely old man that he's a disgusting pervert? Far from that, Western society's problem, in this vein, is that it's beginning to legislate to prevent anybody from even giving the emblematic old men the idea that there could possibly be anything wrong with lifting those blankets.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:47 PM

April 13, 2004

Where the Slope Begins

There's certainly a disparity of expertise between myself and David Bernstein, so it's probable that my objection to the following paragraph from a post on the Volokh Conspiracy is more directed at the events to which he makes reference in Canadian law than at him. After mentioning a column by John Leo that notes the pending ban on statements conflicting with the homosexual agenda, Bernstein writes:

Fifteen years ago, when I was in law school, supporters of hate speech rules argued that there were no slippery slopes, that Holocaust deniers' and pornographers speech could be restricted without damaging the First Amendment. In Canada, they started making exceptions to their constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech just fifteen years ago. Those cases involved Holocaust deniers and pornographers, and now it's illegal to quote biblical condemnations of homosexual acts. No slippery slopes, indeed.

"Hate speech" and pornography are different in their fundamental natures. The slippery slope from restricting Holocaust denial to restricting religious objections to homosexuality is clear, requiring only the expansion of what is considered to be a hateful opinion. Pornography is generally understood to involve images, and laws can be constructed to specify it as such.

It's true that the difficulty in differentiating pornography from artwork can mirror similar difficulties arising from the use of language (such as incitement to violence against versus legitimate criticism of), but that doesn't justify, much less necessitate, legal leaps from one to the other. So, I'd need more concrete explanation of the slope in Canada to believe that the inclusion of pornography with "hate speech" isn't superfluous. For one thing, our experience in the United States places the two potential restrictions in opposition, as part of the conflict between religious traditionalists and behavioral libertines.

Bernstein may very well be among those more intelligent and principled First Amendment absolutists who are consistent in their application of arguments. If so, that makes him exceptional. Many of those who assert a right to do and say whatever they want extend that right to include a freedom from unsolicited criticism. Although I would respond to warnings not to break some sort of "no law" barrier regarding freedom of expression by declaring it delusional to believe that barrier not already breached, I do hold the government to be a potentially dangerous mechanism through which to enforce such public standards. That doesn't mean that our current circumstances can't be such that recourse to government is justified.

When the public finds itself no longer able to assert its principles and create reasonable restraints on behavior through religious expression, those who hold individual liberties above all else — up to (and perhaps including) the end of the world — shouldn't be surprised when that public begins believing it worthwhile to express those principles and assert those restraints through the only means that remain: laws and law enforcement. Libertarians can't simultaneously seek to drain religious, and other ethics-based, institutions of their public power and insist that government isn't the best public institution through which to manage ethical standards.

When a Church that attempts to reinforce its teachings — through its own practices and speech and for a politician who ostensibly cares — is treated as if it is overstepping boundaries of church and state, don't be surprised when followers of that Church begin voting to translate their beliefs into legal statutes. When freedom of speech and religion begins to be treated as freedom from censure and from others' declarations of morality, and when government begins to be leveraged to enforce the expanded freedom, don't be surprised that the moral majority will begin to push back.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:50 PM | Comments (1)

April 9, 2004

Follow-ups on Bigotry in the Bluest State

Apparently, there's actually a national precedent for white supremacist groups' "advertising" by littering leaflets. So perhaps my skepticism about such an incident at URI turned out to be potentially unfounded, this time:

The National Alliance Web site encourages visitors to print copies of racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic fliers, similar to those found on the Kingston campus, Drapeau said. Fliers from a German-based neo-Nazi organization, the NSADAP, were also found scattered on the Kingston campus, Drapeau said. ...

Residents in several towns north of Boston awoke last month to find National Alliance fliers opposing gay marriage and Israel scattered throughout their neighborhoods. Several other Massachusetts towns received white-power and "love your race" fliers last year, according to the Web site of a local newspaper, the Georgetown Record.

Similar National Alliance fliers have appeared within the past two years in Kennebunk, Maine, near St. Petersburg, Fla., and in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, according to Web sites.

I'm still a bit discomfited by the reaction to the fliers. The unhealthy fear is highlighted by the pathetic strategy of the group and the marginal status that it indicates. As New England ADL director Robert Leikind notes:

"The power is the shock value, confirming that there are people out there with this kind of hatred, working to spread these views," he said. "But it's important to keep it in perspective. Proponents of these views are very marginal in our community."

It's the inherent granting of power to foolishness that makes the ultrasensitive campus temper so potentially harmful.

Keeping with foolish tempers and potentially harmful power, the Newport Daily News follows up on a story that I thought I'd blogged, but that I can't find, now. For background, Castaways recently made news when it opened as the first gay bar in Newport, and this occurred shortly thereafter:

Lionel Pires, 48, and Alan Dillabough, 39, were in their second-floor apartment above Castaways, located at 28 Prospect Hill St., when they were wakened March 13 about 2:35 a.m. Dillabough called 911 while Pires opened a window and looked outside. He saw a man, who ran up Prospect Hill Street toward Spring Street when Pires yelled to him.

Police were at the nightclub within minutes. They found nine holes punched through the two 4-by-8-foot windows at the front of the building. The glass, which was reinforced with diamond wire, lay in jagged pieces on the sidewalk and scattered throughout the bar.

The case was assigned to Rosa, who interviewed neighbors and other potential witnesses. One neighbor reported hearing a man making "anti-gay remarks," Bestoso said.

Breaking windows, for any reason, is just dumb, offensive, and unsettling. What caught my interest with the vandalism story when I first saw it was that, in this region, any anti-gay animus would have been barely less of a fluke than a random window breaking. We're informed that the arrested suspect is a 23-year-old automechanic, but the only mention of motive is that he'll likely be charged with a hate crime:

"I believe the prosecutor will be asking to invoke the Hate Crimes Sentencing Act upon conviction," Lt. Norman G. Bestoso, the Police Department's public information officer, said this morning.

That means that if Lungarelli is convicted of vandalizing the nightclub, and a judge finds beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was motivated by hatred for homosexuals, Lungarelli will serve at least 30 days in the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston.

I oppose hate crime laws, particularly with mandatory jail time. Frankly, I can't think of a better way to push somebody down a wrong track that he may or may not have already started on and to increase his hatred — generally and for the specific group regarding which he was sentenced — than to send him to prison for the first time.

Nonetheless, to gain some perspective, I looked at the Rhode Island statute covering vandalism. There's a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or incarceration of 1 year, with the only mandatory punishment for first-time offenders being 100 hours of community service. However, there's also a provision that this particular statute applies only to vandalism not specifically covered elsewhere, and here's the statute covering breaking windows:

Breaking lamps or windows. — Every person who shall willfully break any lamp, lantern, or window shall, for every lamp, lantern, or window broken, be fined not exceeding two hundred dollars ($200).

So, breaking the window merits a relatively small fine. However, if that one neighbor is believed, or if Lungarelli confesses that he uttered aspersions, a full month in jail will follow automatically, with no hope of suspended sentencing or probation. What Lungarelli did was wrong, obviously, as well as exceedingly stupid, and $200 might actually be light (although I imagine he'd be made to pay for the damage, as well). But because of the group status of the bar's owners, he could face a 30-day nightmare.

I wonder if littering is a misdemeanor.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:22 PM

Still Swatting the Issue

Well, despite my staying up way too late honing my response to Eugene Volokh's post on the future "what if" of a government crackdown on porn, it looks like I only reached the level of linkless "several other correspondents" in his follow up post. That'll learn me.

Instead, Volokh addresses a post by Clayton Cramer that more or less accepts the terms of the debate: that the central objects of the crackdown are the determined porn viewers. The broadest view Cramer takes is at the end:

Professor Volokh has fallen into the traditional libertarian trap: the assumption that a law must be 100% effective to be worthwhile. It only has to influence people at the margin to change their behavior in a positive direction, without introducing counterproductive behaviors. I am not convinced that the Justice Department's current efforts (assuming that they are accurately portrayed) are necessarily the best way to do this--but I am also not convinced that they are intrinsically doomed to failure.

Volokh acknowledges the argument that the crackdown will limit "the availability of porn through non-Internet commercial channels," answering, "But so what?" Again, he shifts the perspective back to seekers of porn:

But the respectability of the channel is not, I think, high on many porn consumers' lists of desired characteristics. And any tiny decrease in consumption may well be offset by an increase, for instance as people who are used to seeing porn videos on cable will find they need to get good Internet connections instead, and, once they get them, will realize that they can get much more online than they ever could from the cable company.

As I've already suggested, the argument of the first sentence actually stands in opposition to the complaints that obscenity prosecutions will infringe on the individual liberties of those consumers. If the exit of Fortune 500 companies and mainstream media conglomerates from the porn industry makes only a "tiny" difference in the level of those customers' consumption, then they've got no reason to object to it.

However, the second sentence does put forward a new point that relates to my argument: that removing porn from cable will drive people toward better Internet technology, through which they'll discover more and worse material. But forces unrelated to pornography are bringing that technology to American households, anyway. Those already hooked on smut will doubtless find their way to its online providers. Meanwhile, fewer people will become acclimated to the material through traditional media, and forcing it into a lawless realm will likely translate into a starker difference between people's comfort and the porn that remains available.

Is Volokh really stating that cutting something from the public square will make no difference? Probably not. However, he is claiming the inevitability of the objectionable outcome that he described yesterday. To salvage that point, he writes, today:

Still, my post wasn't just about that: Rather, I was asking what the government's likely next steps would be. One possibility is that the government prosecutes some U.S. pornographers, sees some apparent success as hotels and cable channels stop running porn, notices that people are still using lots of Internet foreign-distributed porn, and decides "OK, we've done all we really can. Sure, all our prosecutions aren't really changing people's consumption, but that's fine. We'll either keep going with the futile prosecutions, or close up shop."

The other possibility, though, is that the government isn't going to be happy just with the limited effects that Cramer and the others describe. Remember that the planned prosecutions are of the producers, not of the cable companies and hotels, which after all are also distributing porn and thus potentially legally liable -- this makes me doubt that the government's ambitions are limited to blocking the hotel and cable distribution.

First of all, I'm not sure from where Volokh draws the notion that "planned prosecutions" are limited to producers. The article that everybody's been citing seems strongly to imply the opposite — or at least that distributors will be made aware that they aren't secure. Beyond that, these paragraphs may represent a fundamental difference of worldview, in that libertarians view government expansion as inescapable and, therefore, invalidating all government action. If that's the case, then there isn't much utility to engaging in debate, because the possibility of expansion is always available from their point of view. Of course, the flip side is that the possibility of expansion of abhorrent trends in society is always available to those who wish to place a governmental barrier somewhere along the spectrum.

But assuming that discussion is possible at some middle point, it seems that Volokh has overlooked an important contributor to what "the government" is going to accept for results: citizens. Surely, as the tendrils of smut pull back from venues that the average American encounters everyday, everywhere, support for broadly intrusive measures against an unseen, behind-closed-doors proliferation will diminish. When the crackdown reaches the point of which Volokh warns, in other words, the perceived need to continue will no longer exist, because the objective of the majority of Ashcroft's supporters will have been met — just about 100%.

In that respect, it seems to me that those wishing to secure individual rights to access any desired content err in placing their blockade so far beyond the door. Making the disagreement one of first principles from the very outset will only diminish their weight down the road should the effort go forward — which it is and which it will.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:44 AM

The Fly Distracts the Driver

Honestly, pornography is not high on my list of topical priorities. Nonetheless, believing my opinion to be correct, a sufficient challenge merits an escalation. Mark Kleiman provides such a challenge when he proclaims, "Using Eugene Volokh's mind to figure out why a crackdown on porn is a bad idea seems a little bit like using a howitzer to swat a fly." It's an interesting simile. Under most circumstances — against most flies — a howitzer probably wouldn't be a very effective tool.

Knowing Professor Volokh's intelligence to be difficult to overstate, I nonetheless see some hope for the fly. Here's the ostensibly unanswerable rhetorical with which Volokh ends the post in question (which Glenn Reynolds calls must-reading for the Justice Department):

I'm asking: How can the government's policy possibly achieve its stated goals, without creating an unprecedentedly intrusive censorship machinery, one that's far, far beyond what the Justice Department is talking about right now.

Unfortunately, Volokh never explains what he's taking those "stated goals" to be. He opens with the acknowledgment that there is "porn of all varieties out there on the Internet," he talks of blocking "cyberporn," and his scare scenario — wherein married couples are lured to phony Web sites and thereafter jailed — is built around the Internet as the playing field. However, the article that caused the uproar yesterday characterized the "goals" thus:

Nothing is off limits, they warn, even soft-core cable programs such as HBO's long-running Real Sex or the adult movies widely offered in guestrooms of major hotel chains.

Department officials say they will send "ripples" through an industry that has proliferated on the Internet and grown into an estimated $10 billion-a-year colossus profiting Fortune 500 corporations such as Comcast, which offers hard-core movies on a pay-per-view channel.

Unless Volokh intends to argue that Comcast would substitute foreign suppliers for its porn needs, his entire analysis would seem to be founded on a false premise. In defending the latter party in Community Standards v. the Individual, Volokh presumes that the former's goal is the inverse of the latter's desire — that the crackdown's motivation is defined by a desire to limit the individual. In his entire post, the only mention of anybody besides porn creators and their determined customers is an unexplained reference to "the viewers' neighbors" toward the end of the post.

Individualizing the harm that the Justice Department seeks to prevent certainly would change the calculation. I would agree with Volokh, in fact, that an effort to actually prevent anybody from watching porn ever would require measures that are much too intrusive for whatever net gain in morality such an overly exuberant policy might seek to bolster. It is reassuring, therefore, that Justice Department anti-porn lawyer Bruce Taylor evinces a more measured, strategic objective:

Once it becomes obvious that this really is a federal felony instead of just a form of entertainment or investment, then legitimate companies, to stay legitimate, are going to have to distance themselves from it.

If that plays out as it likely would, there would be no need for Volokh's hypothetical future in which the government becomes "outraged by the 'foreign smut loophole.'" Any loophole would not open out onto the field of basic cable; it wouldn't enable commercials for the illegal products; it wouldn't erase the boundary for magazine content. In other words, the investments driving porn's mainstreaming would dry up. Moreover, accidental viewers, viewers who watch only when they come across it, and viewers who are only willing to make minimal effort to find it will drift out of the audience for porn.

Therefore, unless Volokh predicts the utter failure of the Justice Department's efforts — which he does not do — it would seem incorrect to declare as inevitable a future in which "U.S. consumers keep using exactly the same amount of porn as before." The only way that prediction could hold is if he limits the definition of "consumer" strictly to devoted users of Internet porn. Happily, for those folks, Volokh offers an argument that their individual freedoms wouldn't be objectionably limited:

And even if overall world production of porn somehow falls by 75%, which strikes me as nearly impossible, will that seriously affect the typical porn consumer's diet? Does it matter whether you have 100,000 porn titles (and live feeds) to choose from, or just 25,000?

So, parents and people desiring to avoid corrupting material will no longer face the forces pushing them toward isolation or capitulation. And, as Eugene Volokh argues, those who wish to acquire porn will not face negatory limits on their choices. Sounds like a win-win scenario to me.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:19 AM | Comments (1)

April 8, 2004

More Racist "Acts" at URI

As longer-term readers may recall, back in October, the University of Rhode Island had an instance of anti-Semitic graffiti on a Jewish girl's dorm room door. Although they apparently caught some of the culprits, I've never been able to find any information about them, and as I noted at the time, the treatment and explanations of the administration raised some questions of their own.

Well, the student paper today reports another incident:

University of Rhode Island Police said that they had found literature promoting hate towards black, Hispanic and Jewish people on campus yesterday, but had not identified any potential suspects.

Robert Drapeau, URI director of public safety, said that police received their first phone call about the flyers targeting the groups shortly after 11 a.m. Officers began removing the literature, which Drapeau said was only found on campus roads. Drapeau himself had found the flyers on Beard Hill and the intersection of Lower College Road and West Alumni Avenue.

It appeared as if someone had dropped the flyers on the road from their vehicle, he said. He said there were no witnesses and there were no reports of any person-to-person distribution or any pamphlets being posted anywhere.

Drapeau said that police had not determined if URI students were involved in the act. ...

Drapeau said police were looking into action that could be taken against individuals involved, but were unsure if they were protected by free speech.

The nature of the content — at least as conveyed in the article — seems more explicitly to point to white supremacists. Of course, these things have to be viewed with suspicion, these days, and it does seem a peculiar way intentionally to distribute sincere literature, but there isn't enough evidence to say, yet.

More importantly, however, it ought to be shocking that a college director of public safety is "unsure" whether fliers are protected by free speech. One shudders at a university atmosphere in which students' reaction to opinions, even propaganda, that they don't like, conveyed through littering, is to call the police rather than just throw it out. The student reporter didn't even think to call a political science prof. to ask about the puzzling matter of free speech!

It's astonishing, and perhaps dangerous, the level of fear that the students — and the entire university — must have of hostile and stupid rhetoric. Be wary, ye academics; some among your herd may be attracted to the mysterious power of the unmentionable, and others may become so meek as to succumb quickly when first they encounter it for real.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:37 PM

April 7, 2004

Smut in Smut Out

Sorry for the absence of posts during the day, today. It was a bit of a blur, between work, illness, and all the talk about pornography. There's much worthwhile discussion in the comments to the previous post, if you're interested. It seems to be the topic of the day (or "days"), too.

Greg, the Hobbesian Conservative, catalogues some of the instances of inappropriate material seeping into the culture, from comic books to commercials. and outlines some answers to the question of who is hurt. Meanwhile, Craig Henry collects some links on the topic, including this from Jessica's Well:

What say we get together an organized campaign to mail to Mr. Jarvis' home one Playboy, Penthouse, or Hustler every day? I mean, he doesn't have to open his mailbox, does he? If he does he can always not look at what is there. And if he can't be there 24 hours a day to keep his kids from getting at the stuff, well.....I guess a little more supervision is in order at the Jarvis household.

Better yet, let's start spam, flier, billboard, commercial, and PR campaigns pushing hardcore religion — not only dogmatic material, but encouragements toward foreign missions — into the homes of libertarians and libertines. We all know how well received the pushers at the airports were. For me, unfortunately, the "larger meaning," "personal revelation," and "restrained proselytizing" things can be a bit of a handicap in the escalation of effrontery.

And here's Bryan Preston explaining why the anti-anti-porn whining is misguided and suggesting that winning the War for Porn by electing John Kerry might just prove a Pyrrhic victory:

Now, as to the porn effort itself, it's probably worth noting (though the libertarians probably won't acknowledge it) that all the Bush administration is doing is returning to enforcing laws that the Clinton administration did not enforce. In their 30 year history, the relevant laws that the FBI is using here have been enforced for 20. The Clinton administration stopped enforcing them ten years ago, and porn exploded into the gigantic global enterprise it is today, with the porn spam and pop ups on the web and all that assaulting behavior. The Bush administration is restoring enforcement, nothing more. If you don't like that, libertarians, get the law changed.

And vote for Bush. He's still the best chance you have at winning the war and thus maintaining your rights.

I'd add to Bryan's analysis that we don't have to lose the war against Islamism for our rights to fall away. If Kerry were to pull back the War on Terror, and if terrorists were to follow the troops back within our borders, civil liberties would be the first casualty. (And the socialists in the Democratic party are more substantively censorious, anyway.)

The more-difficult surprise comes from Michael Williams:

The government won't be able to eliminate pornography; there will always be "earthly things" to distract us from the holy thoughts and purposes God created us for. As a Christian, I must depend on God daily to give me the strength to focus my mind on the course he has laid out for me, ignoring the tempting scenery that could so easily lure me off the path.

For the fully formed adult, this might be true. (Although, even then, the problem can get to the point of such constant bombardment that one can barely take the prudent steps to avoid temptation during times of weakness.) However, our entire culture contributes to the formation of future generations, and easing the difficulty of doing so in a moral way clearly ought to be among the various factors that we balance in constructing our society.

There is a line at which the individual spirit becomes a personal matter, capable of being assisted by others only within relationships of various sorts. However, this view of the whole admits that, on the other side of that line, action through our sole institution that is entirely shared, our government, comes into play. I would prefer that religion weren't struggling to remain in the public square. Many of us would prefer that more leverage had been left with states to accommodate irreconciliably stark differences in worldview within the borders of the United States. But that's not the world that God has given to us to inhabit.

Everything Michael suggests is correct, in other words, but it's true as a foundation, not as a self-contained political and philosophical structure.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:50 PM | Comments (2)

Risking the World for Porn

PROEM:
Thanks to Prof. Reynolds for the link; his willingness to facilitate broad debate is one reason he's at the center of it all. Let me offer just a quick note to any newcomers that the design of this page can be changed for readability by clicking "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.


Glenn Reynolds thinks a Baltimore Sun report on Justice Department efforts against pornography indicates a poor political decision for the Bush administration. According to the Sun:

Lam Nguyen's job is to sit for hours in a chilly, quiet room devoid of any color but gray and look at pornography. This job, which Nguyen does earnestly from 9 to 5, surrounded by a half-dozen other "computer forensic specialists" like him, has become the focal point of the Justice Department's operation to rid the world of porn.

In this field office in Washington, 32 prosecutors, investigators and a handful of FBI agents are spending millions of dollars to bring anti-obscenity cases to courthouses across the country for the first time in 10 years. Nothing is off limits, they warn, even soft-core cable programs such as HBO's long-running Real Sex or the adult movies widely offered in guestrooms of major hotel chains.

Frankly, without a direct quote, I'm not inclined to take claims about the extent of the effort — branching into soft-core stuff on HBO — at face value, particularly when put forward by a reporter, Laura Sullivan, who would write this paragraph:

The law itself rests on the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision in Miller vs. California, which held that something is "obscene" only if an average person applying contemporary community standards finds it patently offensive. But until now, it hasn't been prosecuted at the federal level for more than 10 years.

Got that? The law's existed for more than 30 years, and "until now" federal prosecutors haven't leveraged it... except during the first two decades. But the substantive point, as Reynolds puts it, is that those computer agents would be better allocated elsewhere:

I blame John Ashcroft. No, really, this time I mean it. And if the Administration thinks that this is a good use of their "computer forensics" experts, then they must have decided that terrorists aren't a threat any more.

Six "specialists" are working on something other than terrorism, and that's a signal that the War on Terror has been abandoned? Ms. Sullivan doesn't give us more of an idea of the cost than "millions," which is a pretty broad range, but how many millions not devoted to the multibillion-dollar effort of national defense indicate unduly skewed priorities?

Be the price tag whatever it is, it seems that the Justice Department isn't the only party that can be accused of thinking pornography more important than the war. Reynolds quotes from an email:

I voted for Bush and donated to his campaign and have been looking for reasons to support his reelection. But when I saw your post, I snapped. I just made a small donation to the Kerry campaign...and, living in Massachusetts, I have no reason to be thrilled about Kerry.

Apparently McCain's odd (political) comment about Kerry's not being "weak on defense" has given this emailer license to think that the porn/war decision isn't really a tradeoff. That's quite a bit of weight to put on a politician's Thursday-morning-TV equivocation, if you ask me.

So here's a thought: if the public really is as enamored of smut as Ashcroft's critics believe, why not campaign to change the law? If porn is such an obviously good, or at least neutral, thing, why sidestep the actual issue — involving those six guys and some unknown millions of dollars — by substituting rhetoric about the war? Come out from behind the computer desk and lance the issue head on.

Sullivan describes one of the effects of the law's non-enforcement over the past decade thus:

The strategy in the 1980s resulted in a lot of extreme pornography - dealing in urination, violence or bestiality - going underground. Today, with the Internet, international producers and a substantial market, industry officials say there is no underground.

Rather than funding a ridiculously horrible candidate for President on the hopes that he won't enforce the law, supporters of this activity should redirect their funds toward a campaign to leave no law to enforce. The effort ought to make for some interesting signage.

ADDENDUM:
To comment on a related post over on Instapundit, I don't believe the AMA has found any evidence that watching other people have sex reduces one's risk of prostate cancer. Moreover, by looking for ways to strengthen and encourage marriage, the Bush administration is actually protecting the prostates of American men. Studies show (and experience confirms) that married men are much more sexually active.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:02 AM | Comments (55)

April 6, 2004

More than the Munchies

Dogs will eat just about whatever they are thrown, and Scooby Doo was a dog. Most adults will know what Shaggy's excuse was. In fact, that knowledge is one of those "discoveries" that make teenagers so willing to believe that the Beatles put backwards messages on their albums. From speaking in spelling, to writing in script, to Bugs Bunny's innuendos, grown-ups communicate over the heads of children so often and so deliberately that the adolescent can't be entirely sure when he's reached the end of the deception.

Bill Hobbs notes that Hollywood's adults are apparently no longer content to leave subversion unstated:

Blake Wylie spotlights the unconscionable decision by Warner Bros. to include a scene in the new Scooby Doo 2 movie that portrays "huffing" - inhaling nitrous oxide - in a humorous light. Wylie provides a link to a clip from the movie. In the scene, "Shaggy" huffs nitrous oxide from a whipped cream can.

Yeah, everybody's joked about Shaggy's zonked demeanor. But only the pathetic losers who run the entertainment industry would trample the joke — and give children dangerous ideas — by explaining it in context.

It's one thing to include puzzling dimensions that require explanation and may spark curiosity. It's another to provide instruction. This should be a big deal.

ADDENDUM:
Wylie has noticed that the people involved in the first Scooby Doo movie pulled back from the edge. Here's the actor who plays Shaggy about the first film:

Is Velma gay? Is Shaggy high? Are ( Fred and Daphne ) hooking up? All those jokes were in there, but we found at the end of the day it was more important to go the other way ... and that was to be more family oriented.

I guess they figure they've gotten past the parents' firewall by the time a sequel is released.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:14 PM

April 5, 2004

Creeping Toward Gomorrah

John Leo makes some observations constituting a reminder to be careful what groups you support:

Call this mission creep. A group starts out with a clear mandate that commands respect across most of the political spectrum. Gradually it moves to a broader and vaguer agenda, typically heading left. John O'Sullivan, columnist and former editor of National Review, offers us an explanation, which he calls O'Sullivan's First Law: "All organizations that are not actually right wing will over time become left wing." As examples, he cites the American Civil Liberties Union, the Ford Foundation, and the Episcopal Church. ...

Leo's amendment to O'Sullivan's First Law: Any organization with "women" or "girls" in its title will tend to become part of the cultural left in general and the abortion lobby in particular.

So what do you do when your daughter's Girl Scout troop begins honoring Planned Parenthood chiefs and preaching the normality of abortion, masturbation, and homosexuality? Personally, I'm praying that things turn around some before I have to face that particular struggle. However, it would seem most constructive, and at least plausible, to work toward the initiation of other — even more fun and cooler — groups or events that just happen (oops) to overlap with scheduled events of the offending troop.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:18 PM

"Art" Imitates Seinfeld

In episode 146, "The Millennium," of Seinfeld, George Costanza endeavors to get himself fired from the Yankees in order to accept a job from the Mets. In one of the masterful pairings of subtext with plot that made the show so good, George remained true to his characteristic desperate, yet laughably pathetic, approach to challenges by streaking across Yankee Stadium during a game. The pitiful part was that he wore a flesh-tone bodysuit, resulting in the moniker of Bodysuit Man and exactly the opposite outcome from his intention.

Michael Williams notes a Drudge report indicating either that a certain star is watching too many reruns, or that she's not watching enough:

... feisty rock singer Alanis Morissette poked fun at Janet Jackson's notorious breast-baring episode by stripping on stage to reveal cartoonish fake nipples and pubic hair.

Morissette, hosting Canada's annual music awards, said the stunt, in which she appeared in a provocative skin-hugging body-suit was intended to expose US "censorship."

The singer, renowned for her angst-ridden lyrics, told the audience at the Juno Awards in Edmonton "we live in a land where we still think the human body is beautiful and we're not afraid of the female breast."

Morissette let a dressing gown fall to the floor to reveal her "nudity" after an announcer warned : "we can't show nipples on national TV," in an obvious dig at US outrage fanned by Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the Superbowl.

Perhaps it would be wasted effort to point out, to a woman who misconstrued the meaning of the word "irony" in one of her hits, that she censored herself in this rebellious act, which didn't actually threaten the audience with a female breast. I agree with Michael when tells Ms. Morissette:

It may be hard to believe, but we're not afraid of you, we just don't like you. We find your nakedness and superfluous cursing to be aesthetically unpleasing. We don't want our kids to grow up to be like you, because absent the publicity machine of the fading music industry you're a pathetic, angst-ridden loser.

Didn't George have a running "thing" against rock stars? Perhaps it was self-recognition.

ADDENDUM:
Great minds... yadda yadda.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:27 PM | Comments (2)

April 1, 2004

The Marketplace QED

I wasn't sure how to react when I first came across Tyler Cowen's post saying, essentially, that Hollywood makes about as many "wholesome" movies as the market will bear, ipso facto:

While some bias may be present, enough moviemakers are simply greedy. The study shows that many wholesome movies are in fact made and succeed financially. So if more wholesome movies would make more money, we would get them. They are not shut out of the market. So in financial terms I doubt if the bias can be a large one.

Part of the problem is that the organization that put out the report hasn't made it available online. Some of the summary data can be found on WorldNetDaily, and some actual numbers can be found here, but it's difficult to form a complete picture from what's offered. Still, Cowen's conclusion that there "is only room for so many wholesome pictures in the market," beyond which "consumers demand sex and violence in their movies," overlooks some of the factors that affect relative data.

For one thing, nothing in the information that we have — or probably even in the full report — gives direct basis for guesses about "what if" questions. Cowen seems to rely on the assumption that "enough moviemakers are simply greedy" that they would make a larger number of moral films, even if it went against their own immoral principles to do so. Far from being self evident, that assumption would seem to require additional substantiation to refute the argument that even the greed motivation isn't being heeded. Moreover, a predisposition to naked greed would exacerbate a problem that Craig Henry notes:

Markets are efficient information processors, but they are not omniscient. Buyers can only purchase what is presented to them by producers. Since producers are not gifted with perfect foresight, they often miss opportunities. That is why innovators and new entrants can reap high returns. As Clayton M. Christensen shows in The Innovator's Dilemma, established firms usually are locked into existing customers and are blind to the profits to be found in new or underserved segments.

More problematic to Cowen's hypothesis is that moviemakers have tended to flood the market with working formulas. At the very least, one would expect the industry to make more of the types of movies that sell most. Were that the case, the average earnings would seem likely to even out, as more "moral" movies were made, with the bulk making less money, thus bringing down the average. (This also may suggest that moviemakers will only make "wholesome" movies that are sure to succeed, while they're willing to take financial risks with "unwholesome" movies.) Consider this chart of data drawn from the actual numbers link above:

The solid lines are the actual numbers (left axis), while the dashed lines are earnings (right axis). Without knowing the distribution of the films being averaged, one can only speak generally. However, all things being equal, according to Cowen's explanation, the lines of the same color should be relatively parallel and less steep. The former because the industry would make more movies of the type that made the most money; the latter because making more movies means more movies that can flop and more that share the same niche.

The dashed green line represents the average earnings of "movies with very strong moral content." Unfortunately, I don't know how many movies this includes, but drawing on the inverse proportions between "no sex" and "no nudity" movies, whereby the 15% fewer "no sex" movies earned 15% more, my best guess is that 62 or 63 strongly moral movies were made.

The bottom line is that, whatever the reason, Hollywood would do well to make more moral movies. (That will surely require some new hires of higher-ups who can create such movies without seeming insincere.) And as for Cowen's bottom line that people "demand sex" after a certain number of wholesome movies, I'd suggest that the slight uptick of revenue for movies with "excessive" sex and the coalescing trends between revenue and number for excessive nudity give a pretty good indication that this is the only market that is adequately covered... well, not adequately covered, but you know what I mean.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:09 PM | Comments (5)

March 26, 2004

Take a Moment This Weekend

I had to come across excerpts in a few places before I actually made time to read David Gelernter's piece about the intellectualization of the elite. It's too good to excerpt. If you haven't read it, yet, make time to do so.

I'm cognizant that Gelernter's message hits me at an opportune time, just now, but even adjusting for that, I found the essay downright inspiring.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:59 PM | Comments (1)

March 25, 2004

The Atheist Fundamentalists Attempt a Coup

Jonah Goldberg has shared with Corner readers an email from a professor who explains his opposition to the inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance thus:

The beauty of our country is that it evokes great loyalty precisely because it doesn't demand it. The Pledge is a pointless and anti-American exercise. The fact is, the intention of the fundies is to try to force their God on the rest of us (and why shouldn't they? wouldn't you, if you felt you had access to the ultimate truth?) and we have to fight it where we can. How exactly would it be a 'slap in the face' to take God out of the thing?

While there's a degree of truth to the professor's explanation of America's "beauty," it's a slender abstraction of precisely the sort that intellectuals are so inclined to inflate to the point of hot-air entirety. For most Americans, the "beauty" of the United States of America — what evokes undemanded loyalty — is that we can work to change its laws according to our beliefs about what would make it a better country. Note the professor's parenthetical suggestion that he understands this to be true.

To mention, in non-coercive ways, a God who does not exist is simply silly. To refuse to acknowledge, in any capacity, a God who exists (as the vast majority of Americans believe He does) would be beyond silly, into a realm of enforced, disrespectful dementia. To insist, as Michael Newdow is arguing before the Supreme Court, that the U.S. must do the latter, and that no amount of advocacy and consensus building will be sufficient to change it, is indeed to slap Americans who disagree in the face. Worse, it is to erase exactly that which makes our nation so much more than an aristocracy with pro forma rituals of empty democracy. And not demanding devotion does not of itself result in its being offered... as any atheist should know.

This professor is — knowingly or not — engaging in exactly the strategy for which I faulted a talk radio caller yesterday: he is attempting to substitute, ipso facto, America as he would like it to be for America as it is. Frankly, I think Goldberg had it right in the post that elicited the professor's email:

I'm sorry but this country may have been established to protect individual rights, but it wasn't founded to cater to the feelings of every individual. Newdow is unconcerned by the fact that if he got his way he'd be slapping, literally, hundreds of millions of Americans in the face. He thinks that's fair because of his ego and because his capacity for abstraction affords him the ability to shove his head up his own butt and mistake the darkness for a temple of reason.
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:48 AM | Comments (1)

March 22, 2004

The Indoctrination Library

Don't miss Jeff Miller's recent copywriting stint for Slippery Slope Publishing:

Investigative reporting for children uncovers the real reason why Mother Hubbard had nothing in her cupboard. Children will learn the reasons why low cost housing is not available and some people are forced to live in a shoe!
Posted by Justin Katz at 8:34 PM

March 20, 2004

Please, My Brotha, May I Play?

Rev. Sensing takes a look at a sports writer who penned the following:

''The audience at ESPN is presumably a sports-savvy audience which means that in terms of basketball they know the code, ethics and culture of basketball, which is, in case anyone is new to the game like some of these idiots that apparently have responded in a negative fashion, the code is it's a black man's game and the white man is privileged to be allowed to step on the court,'' Ryan said. ''That is known by both blacks and whites."

At least Ryan didn't insult Condoleezza Rice.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:09 PM | Comments (1)

March 19, 2004

One Way, Turn Back, or Go Around

Boyd Garrett comments on pessimism about the fate of marriage and (if I may extrapolate) our culture:

Marriage has been severely damaged over the past several decades, but the optimist in me refuses to believe that this is a one-way trip. The current state of marriage cries out for us to rescue it, not abandon it.

There is certainly reason to be optimistic no matter the outcome, inasmuch as the best can be made of any circumstance and positive progress can always be pursued. To be sure, my faith is such that I believe the "rescue" to be the purpose, no matter the immediate success of the attempt. But still...

We have to adjust for our historical point of perspective. The United States, for example, will cease to exist as currently constituted. The social forces pushing from inside and out will necessitate such a change, no matter how unforeseeable the specifics may be.

Moreover, those social forces never reverse along the same path. The question, then, becomes whether the circuitous necessity will loop outside of our culture as we know it. It's too early to tell, at this time, but we can nonetheless suggest — optimistically — that such principles as those crystallized in traditional marriage seem to have a way of coming around again.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:25 PM | Comments (6)

March 18, 2004

The Burden of Profit

Tom R comments to this post about Mel's mills:

(1) Gibson makes The Passion and doesn't care if he loses his shirt on it (no pun intended) ==> Gibson is a religious nutter.

(2) Gibson makes The Passion and makes millions ==> Gibson is a cynical exploiter of religious devotion for his own profit.

(2-A) Gibson makes The Passion and makes millions, which he is publicly seen to give away to charitable causes ==> Gibson is an ostentatious publicity-hound, who's violating Jesus' command not to perform your good works in public for the admiration of men.

(2-B) Gibson makes The Passion and makes millions, which he is not publicly seen to give away to charitable causes ==> Gibson is a cynical exploiter of religious devotion for his own profit.

He can't win, whatever he does. Other, of course, than making a film depicting Jesus as an "Episcopalian social worker with progressive views".

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:19 PM | Comments (2)

The Premise Must Stand

The Providence Journal's connection to the blog world, Sheila Lennon, who is syndicated on Web sites around the country, didn't give any indication that she noticed that Rev. Donald Sensing is a relatively popular blogger when she addressed his piece on Opinion Journal, even though there's a link in his byline blurb. Perhaps partly because she didn't explore Sensing's work, she didn't notice that her assumptions about his view of civil same-sex marriage were incorrect. Apparently believing that he was tracing support for a federal marriage amendment back to a previous battle that cultural conservatives lost by way of the judiciary when the Supreme Court (see addendum below), in Griswold v. Connecticut, granted the right to contraception, she dusts off her side of the argument about the Pill.

In doing so, Lennon reminds us that the major divide in our country reaches down to individuals' fundamental beliefs. Thus, she apparently sees Sensing as striving toward his opposite vision of reality by bringing up the long-settled matter at all. As with so much from the Left, in these times, downsides to the preferred conclusion are forbidden to be seriously entertained, particularly if they are broad and cumulative.

Nobody with even a modicum of compassion will deny that the burden of childbirth and (preferably) rearing is a heavy consequence for a few moments of pleasure, and almost anybody will admit at least some sympathy for a young woman's wish that something had interfered before the situation had shot to the next level of sticky morality. But what if, as the years go on, taking measures to avoid that "unfair" consequence contributed to ever-increasing corruption of society, affecting more and more people, damaging lives from shore to shore? Well, best not to think about that; best, instead, to hack away at the arguments on which such an idea might rest (even if the ax that chips one point actually hammers in an even stronger one).

To this end, when Rev. Sensing writes that the "impulse toward premarital chastity for women was always the fear of bearing a child alone," Lennon responds:

No, the fear was of becoming pregnant instead of going to the prom or going to college, and of incurring parental wrath. Bearing a child never inevitably implied raising a child. Many went away to "maternity homes" and gave up the child for adoption, or their mothers raised these children as their own "change of life" babies. Others sought -- or were forced into -- illegal back-alley abortions, sometimes with tragic results.

This litany of worries represents a valid argument on behalf of the Pill, as far as it goes. However, Rev. Sensing was arguing that the drug "removed this fear." It is the emotional barrier to premarital sex that he is describing, and it hardly serves to disprove him that Lennon can name additional bricks that were once part of it. Apparently not realizing this, Lennon shifts her grip to swing at Sensing's assertion that "women have also sadly discovered that they can't reliably gain men's sexual and emotional commitment to them by giving them sex before marriage":

You can't gain love by blackmail, then or now. Withholding sex to force men into marriage is hardly a path to "sexual and emotional commitment" either.The Pill permitted both sexual expression and family planning.

Well, to be sure, access to sex is not the most firm foundation on which to build a marriage, of itself, but that hardly refutes the suggestion that granting such access beforehand is any better. It certainly removes that mutual mystery, excitement, and pleasure from the independent entity — the marriage — formed at the altar. I shudder to consider what Ms. Lennon's view of men is that she believes them so enslaved by the prospect of fleeting orgasms that they would enter into lifelong commitments with a particular woman purely on that basis.

However, to the extent that regular sex does act as a motivator (and that extent may be considerable), one would think that even Lennon would concede that withholding it has some utility toward ensuring that the relationship has other reasons for being than "sexual expression," in or out of marriage. This differing perspective carries into the matter of infidelity. Lennon apparently agrees that any relationship built on sex alone will be susceptible to cheating, only she prefers to emphasize spousal affairs, and she is, let's remember, concentrating on the wonders of the Pill. To Sensing's suggestion that the ideal of marriage "ensures that her kids are his kids," Lennon writes:

Mr. Sensing, before the Pill there were plenty of children sired by "milkmen" and brought up by unknowing cuckolds as their own. Unless they were dead ringers for friends of the family, sometimes no one was the wiser.

How much better off we are, therefore, now that cuckolds need never know! (Unless, of course, the "milkmen" are carrying diseases along with their deliveries.) Of course, we're human, and marriage will never be absolutely perfect — or its ideals perfectly followed — and any children born of extramarital affairs are "plenty." But is increased ability to get away with such sex really likely to have a strengthening effect on marriage? Moreover, aren't "milkmen" all the more likely when couples don't even get married?

This is a precise example of the degree to which some in our society don't realize just how much proposed changes rely upon the very foundation that the changes will corrode. It is as if Ms. Lennon sees the Western idea of marriage as some obvious ideal written into human nature. To the contrary, civil marriage is a mechanism to encourage relationships toward an ideal — to battle, as it is Sensing's objective to explain, individual urges that can be damaging not only to individuals, but to their families and society as a whole. If marriage, as an institution, can only be expected to endure when "the people in them are committed to each other" already, why does society need to encourage it?

Lennon writes that the "societal strictures that the Pill loosened were artificial to begin with," but a similar argument can be made about any "stricture" meant to dampen the echo of the animal in us. Tolerance of difference — particularly when it comes to speech? Not a natural inclination. Leaders' stepping down when their time is up? Artificial. A system of laws? Only necessary because people will tend to break "natural" rules if unenforced.

It is exactly because the Pill made it possible to argue that the opposite-sex requirement for civil marriage is artificial (by removing the natural consequence of sex) that it is relevant to the current debate. As Sensing writes, "When society decided... that society would no longer decide the legitimacy of sexual relations between particular men and women, weddings became basically symbolic rather than substantive." Following the threads of each side of this debate, it is striking to note just how closely they agree about the specifics, differing only in emotional reaction to them — in whether they are harmful or beneficial (or at least neutral).

So, for example, Lennon's comment about enduring marriages' resulting from personal commitment, not social strictures, is presented as if in opposition to Sensing's quip that, "Men and women today who have successful, enduring marriages till death do them part do so in spite of society, not because of it." Where Sensing writes:

Sex, childbearing and marriage now have no necessary connection to one another, because the biological connection between sex and childbearing is controllable. The fundamental basis for marriage has thus been technologically obviated.

Lennon writes:

Of all the reasons gay people may wish to marry -- be they romantic, economic or wanting to be part of a historic movement -- the Pill seems least relevant of all: Gays need not even take it.

My suspicion is that folks who argue this issue in Ms. Lennon's way understand, almost instinctively, that if they allow themselves to agree with the specifics, they'll have to address the principles behind the argument. And if they have to address those principles, they'll have to make judgments. And if they are forced to judge between their preference and a well substantiated analysis following decades-old trends, they will have to consider the piled up consequences of fundamental change. Consequences like shredded lives and an ever sinking sense of propriety as the very society that such people value so personally has its supports torn out one by one.

ADDENDUM:
Ms. Lennon has emailed to object that the first paragraph of this post is insufficiently clear that I inferred that she wasn't aware of Sensing's blog from fact that she doesn't mention it (although it would seem inherently relevant on a mainstream media blog with a heavy emphasis on online work and culture). The inference was bolstered — if incorrectly — by the fact that she brings up "mess[ing] with the Constitution" over gay marriage without noting that Sensing's view, presented at the end of his Opinion Journal piece and explained on his blog, conflicts with those who support an amendment. Not wanting that insufficient qualification to free those who disagree with me from addressing the rest of the post, I'm perfectly happy to add language to clarify this matter, and I have done so.

She also says that I "made up" the bit about her "believing that he was tracing support for a federal marriage amendment back to a previous battle." I've added an "apparently" here, too, but it might be useful for me to provide the comments that make it so:

Of all the reasons gay people may wish to marry -- be they romantic, economic or wanting to be part of a historic movement -- the Pill seems least relevant of all: Gays need not even take it. ...

Polls show most Americans share Mr. Sensing's opposition to extending marriage to gay people. I don't have a dog in this fight, but I don't think we should mess with the Constitution over it. And I don't think we should blame it on science. The societal strictures that the Pill loosened were artificial to begin with, and, as a woman, I experienced both sides of this as more than a theoretical argument. ...

[The pre-Pill era is] not a time I'd hold in a golden haze as the good old days.

Ms. Lennon has been cordial and helpful in the past, with the Redwood Review, so it is worth stressing that my intentions with this entry were limited to the topic at hand and opinions thereon. However, if I were to understate the degree to which I disagree with the arguments and beliefs of people in the Rhode Island media, I would hardly ever speak above more than a whisper.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:03 PM | Comments (3)

March 15, 2004

Did the Producers Read to the End of the Series?

Toward the very end of The Last Battle, the final book in C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, some dwarves are in an allegorical representation of Purgatory. They are physically in Heaven, but they can only sense the dark interior of the shed that they were in when the world ended. Victor Morton worries that Hollywood may have a similar affliction when it comes to working with Christian material:

The article ends with reference to the planned movie of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, a Christian allegory by maybe the 20th Century's most-beloved Christian author, in which a key member of team pontificates thusly:
Mark Johnson, one of its producers, said the film would not be a Christian project per se. "We are intent on not making this into a Christian movie," he said. "But it will be seen by many loyal readers as a very Christian movie."

Even before THE PASSION, it's was hard to see the point of making LION as anything *other* than a Christian movie? But afterward? Is Hollywood's very being invested in *not* getting it when it comes to Christian audiences.

One simple observation to make in the run-up to The Passion's release was that Christian backchannels are increasingly well developed. One can already sense that Christians will approach Hollywood's rendition of the Narnian tales with some trepidation. Prediction: crowds will be light for the opening week. If those who watch the movie, hoping beyond hope, emerge with thumbs down, it'll flop. Thumbs up — hit.

The very neat Web site for the Chronicles of Narnia suggests that the entire series is intended for release as movies. If the first fails, I can only hope that the sting is sufficiently bad to discourage defilement of the other books.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:30 PM

Cut Off from Hope

Because it's such a personal matter, discussions about homosexuality often impose varying presumptions, depending on context. For one, I've never come across a gay activist who won't admit that sexuality is fluid for some people — that some people are "waverers." Relatedly, even if they hold out hope that homosexuality can be genetically determined, they'll usually concede that for some people it's environmentally determined. Yet, it is somehow unconscionable for these waverers to seek help to steady the waver on firmly heterosexual ground, and it is dark bigotry for an organization to offer such help.

This perspective seeps out into the sympathetic mainstream press. Just consider the menacing imagery of Jennifer Levitz's description of a Courage meeting in the Providence Journal:

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

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

This segment of the topic separates quickly to fundamental worldview, and I've little interest in exploring the psychology of either side. However, this is the context into which the Catholic Medical Association's statement "Homosexuality and Hope" enters, and it's must-reading for anybody who takes an interest in the debate, whether one expects to agree or disagree with what the CMA has to say. (The bottom two-thirds of the html page are footnotes, so don't be discouraged by the slow-moving scrollbar.)

My developing suspicion, with respect to the origins of the orientation, is that it's largely environmental. However, inborn traits may affect that environment in undetectably subtle ways. For example, if it is true that lesbians' blinking response to noises is significantly closer to the male range than the female, it may be that parents and siblings picked up on this trait and reacted to it, either as obviously as encouraging sports activity or as vaguely as instinctive reactions to behavior or accidents.

According to the CMA, "treatment for unwanted same-sex attractions show that it is as successful as treatment for similar psychological problems: about 30% experience a freedom from symptoms and another 30% experience improvement." Nobody should have a problem with unhappy homosexuals' choosing their own path in this direction, and we who believe that the fullness of life can only be experienced through faithful devotion to a religion that precludes homosexuality's normalization ought to encourage those open to chastity to seek it.

This is not to say that we don't often react to homosexuality with an emphasis that goes beyond what is merited or helpful, and the CMA makes an important point that both sides of the debate have a tendency to forget, for this particular sin, from within Church doctrine:

There are certainly circumstances, such as psychological disorders and traumatic experiences, which can, at times, render this chastity more difficult and there are conditions which can seriously diminish an individual's responsibility for lapses in chastity. These circumstances and conditions, however, do not negate free will or eliminate the power of grace. While many men and women who experience same-sex attractions say that their sexual desire for those of their own sex was experienced as a "given" this in no way implies a genetic predetermination or an unchangeable condition. Some surrendered to same-sex attractions because they were told that they were born with this inclination and that it was impossible to change the pattern of one's sexual attraction. Such persons may feel it is futile and hopeless to resist same-sex desires and embrace a "gay identity". These same persons may then feel oppressed by the fact that society and religion, in particular the Catholic Church, do not accept the expression of these desires in homosexual acts. (emphasis added, internal citations removed)

All in all, it's a rough balance to hold, and the especial difficulty faced by those for whom it is life, rather than rhetoric, rightly earns an explicit call within Church teaching to accept homosexuals "with respect, compassion, and sensitivity." This, of course, has its reciprocal demand that gay Christians make effort to live up to the very same teachings.

C.S. Lewis was right, in my view, to declare sins of the body to be of less import than sins of the mind and spirit. Unfortunately, the former have a way of transforming into the latter, as we seek to justify them. Rephrasing the italicized phrase from the CMA to echo Lewis's theology, God understands our individual burdens and our shared humanity. But that doesn't mean that tripping ought to be rephrased as grace. Seeking to justify giving ourselves over to temptation is the starting point for ever-expanding corruption. A lapse becomes a routine, then disruption of the routine becomes a problem requiring remedy.

It's not an area of thought that would be pleasantly explored or discussed (and I have not done so extensively), but one can see this pattern borne out in the creation of Viagra. And as with many sexual matters, this ripple laps most powerfully among homosexuals:

Charles, who asked that his last name not be published, suffered from impotence during the months he spent addicted to crystal meth, and he took Viagra to compensate, he says.

The combination turned him into a veritable sex machine.

"That's part of what allowed me to be able to just concentrate on having sex with people," Charles says. "With the crystal I could stay up for three or four days and have sex with 30 to 40 guys easily."

Although I lack an inside view, one can certainly say that Charles represents an extreme, just as the two men whom I've known who bragged that, for one week at some point in their lives, they slept with a different woman each day are not representative of straight men. Still, it's a spectrum, and cutting it off too far toward the permissive end will push the extreme out. It is for this reason that we must push it back.

(Thanks to Lane Core for pointing out the CMA document.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:49 PM

March 13, 2004

The Wrath of the ACLU

Richard Lowry writes about the ongoing assault of the Boy Scouts:

Who knew that an institution pulled straight from a Norman Rockwell painting would become "controversial," the contemporary euphemism for "under assault by the Left," and therefore likely to be abandoned by the gutless and easily cowed everywhere? The Supreme Court just declined to hear a Boy Scout appeal of a Connecticut decision to single them out for exclusion from a list of 900 charities that were part of a state-worker voluntary-donation plan. This might endanger 150-something similar donation plans around the country. Meanwhile, United Way chapters are being pressured to stop donating to the Scouts, and roughly 60 have knuckled under.

As Lowry points out, the litigation mainly hurts the people most removed from the controversy and most in need of the benefits that the Boy Scouts can offer. They are the broken eggs in the quest for a religion-free public square:

The Scouts attackers are not seeking "neutrality" in how the government regards religion. They want to whip any organization with a serious commitment to morality out of the public arena, enshrining what Justice Arthur Goldberg once called "a brooding and pervasive devotion to the secular."

Children who are at the same time reverent, brave, and thrifty are, of course, the absolute worst kind.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:16 AM

March 12, 2004

A Quick Note on Passion Dough

Jonah Goldberg's been under fire all day for wondering what Gibson will do, and ought to do, with all of the money that he makes from The Passion of the Christ (read up from the link). Frankly, I think I agree with Jonah more than I disagree with him, and I think a lot of the people arguing with him would, too, if they thought about it.

The problem may be that Jonah has jumped on the matter so soon after the movie's release, as well as right on the heels of all sorts of accusations about Gibson's opinions and motivations. A year from now, if Gibson is still sitting on his pile of cash, questions would be much more appropriate.

However, Jonah just said something that illustrates a difference of perspective that might have sparked his earlier overstatements:

Acoustic guitar philosophers swear up and down they aren't in it for the money. They say they're in it for "the music" or "for their fans" and they often mock conventional business men for their "greed." But, it turns out, the second the possibility that more of their fans could get more of their music, they freak out at the thought they might lose their royalty checks.

As a proverbial "starving artist" who doesn't believe himself to be "in it for the money," I've given this suggestion quite a bit of thought. It's particularly relevant at this time, because I'm struggling just to dig out of debt and support a family, and all of my artistic projects have had to go on hold. I'm obviously a big believer in the ability of free music (or whatever) to kick off a career, but that's at the level of non-success where a day-job still pays the bills. If an artist is just getting by on his art, a musician's being undermined by shareware or a sculptor's undermining himself by mass producing his work would, in fact, affect his ability to pursue his art.

Gibson's obviously well beyond this stage, but I think something of the principle carries through. Suppose he held on to this money to ensure that he can live whatever he considers a reasonable lifestyle while making movies that represent a considerably greater risk. We can quibble over that lifestyle, and over whether there's enough money for some to be better spent. However, he's certainly got room to argue a need to hold on to a certain amount for the time being.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:02 PM | Comments (11)

March 11, 2004

The Joke's on the Audience

The end of the first season of Last Comic Standing was stunning. The winner, Dat Phan, just was not funny — certainly not as funny as many of the other comics. So, I can't say I'm surprised that Drew Carey, who was one of the pro judges for this season, has had cause to blow the whistle:

After comparing notes, the judges realized that their favorite contestant, who had also gotten a standing ovation from the audience, wasn't among the finalists. Meanwhile, a contestant who had, according to Carey, flopped during the competition, moved into the final round.

"Brett [Butler] walked out and Anthony [Clark] ripped his mike off in disgust," Carey told Variety. "No one could believe it. As far as I knew, we'd be judges to see who would go into the house. Turns out we're not." The Hollywood Reporter quoted Carey saying the talent contest "was crooked and dishonest."

"It was like somebody at NBC cast the show ahead of the event in Vegas. And they had 1,100 in the audience [for the semifinals competition] who saw how blatantly it was cast. If this happened on Survivor or any other reality TV show, it would be a major scandal."

Carey told the Los Angeles Times that an openly gay comic named Ant was apparently chosen because his sexual orientation made him a better fit than Carey's preferred wisecracker, Dan Naturman.

According to Carey, when he protested, the network pointed out that "a brief disclaimer, which runs among the end credits of the show, leaves the final decision on all matters, including voting and casting, up to producers." Personally, I'm not inclined to believe the network's statement:

Now that the 10 participants have been selected, the program will begin. As was the case last season, during the show, the comic elimination decisions will now be made by audiences who watch the comics perform, without any input from NBC, NBC Studios or anyone else associated with the program.

I don't think I'll be watching this season — not the least because the show's producers obviously have very little respect for their viewers, apparently counting on their memories' being short. This is from the "Weekly Recap" of the first episode last season:

ANT, an outspoken gay comic from New Hampshire, stirred the first controversy of the evening. Joe Rogan told him that he was using old jokes and that in fact one of his jokes was actually from a movie. Mo'Nique defended ANT, saying that the comic had technique and timing regardless. This started a ruckus that ended with Buddy Hackett yelling obscenities across the table at Joe!

I wonder how many other comics are getting a second shot. Last time around, ANT was moderately funny, but I remember thinking it odd how much off-stage camera time he was getting. I also remember thinking his material was a bit limited in scope, and I wasn't alone:

ANT exuded his trademark energy while performing mostly gay jokes. Afterwards, John Witherspoon advised ANT to broaden his routine to not just focus on the gay stuff.

Welcome to the "Quiz Show" of comedy. It's one thing to taint casting decisions; it's another to do so and lie that it's reality TV. Then again, what could be more real than the mainstream media lying?

ADDENDUM:
You know, it seems to me that every time I read about Drew Carey, he gives me cause to think, "No wonder I like this guy!":

"I thought the whole thing stunk, and I'm mad they had my name associated with it," he said. "I've got a certain amount of integrity in this business and I'm not going to be compromised. You can't use me and my reputation. Do it with someone else's reputation."
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:17 AM | Comments (4)

March 10, 2004

More Rhode Island Passion

Fellow Rhode Island blogger Marc Comtois brings his historian's eye to The Passion of the Christ. (Although, rightly I think, he made a conscious decision not to be persnickety.) Marc makes good points about the portrayal of Satan, anti-Semitism, and the effects of the film, but I think he hits on something particularly important here:

The torture scene was tough. Was it necessary for Gibson to go that far? I have mixed feelings, though I have theories as to why he did. Could it be that in today's culture, so inured to scenes of violence, that Gibson felt he had to raise the bar to convey the degree of savagery to a contemporary audience? Could the over-the-top torture and pain be simply there to make us wonder how any man could endure it, only to realize that Jesus was more than man? I'm not really sure. I don't know if I'll ever be sure, but it is what it is. I can understand why people would not agree with Gibson's approach on this, though ascribing nefarious or perverted motives to him is to go way too far.

It's under-noted that Gibson does, in fact, cut away from the scourging, but despite the breaks, it remains in the background, and I think it's important that audiences experience the duration. As Marc writes, moderns are "inured to scenes of violence"... at least in video. That's an important distinction; we get our violence in short fight scenes and clips that jump from violence to non-violence. Even when it is portrayed in "real time," the nature of modern violence is different. A gun fight involves a whole lot of noise, but the blood and gore comes in a flash.

People complain that "no human could have survived that beating," but what do we civilized folk know about the level of trauma required to manually inflict death in that way? It's interesting to note, from the infamous New Yorker piece about the movie, that in 1986, the AMA suggested that the scourging "probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock." However, in the context of cinematic violence, Gibson wasn't so much raising the bar, I don't think, as giving us a more realistic sense. I recall in one of the Lethal Weapon movies, Gibson's character underwent debilitating torture (most of it unshown) only to bounce back, kill his torturer, and effect a Houdini-like escape. Such recoveries (with perfect hair) are so common in film that we hardly notice the lapse in realism.

That, to me, is the justification for making the torture scene "tough." We're used to "experiencing" extended violence in paraphrases. Somehow, it seems of a kind with David Brooks's column defending, if not The Passion, then its contrast to "easygoing narcissism":

The flap over Gibson's movie reminds us that religion can be a dangerous thing. It can be coarsened into gore and bloodshed and used to foment hatred. But we're not living in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Our general problem is not that we're too dogmatic. Our more common problems come from the other end of the continuum. Americans in the 21st century are more likely to be divorced from any sense of a creedal order, ignorant of the moral traditions that have come down to us through the ages and detached from the sense that we all owe obligations to a higher authority.

The first two sentences of that paragraph almost have a double meaning. (Is Gibson doing the coarsening or depicting an instance of it?) The point, however, is that we are dealing with something quite different — more real — than what Rod Dreher calls "Our Lord in Dockers." Dockers aren't for venturing into the mire. A theological Polo shirt (if you'll indulge me in a bit of hamminess) offers excuse for reluctance to be the one to reach up and help take a bloody Christ off the cross.

Going a bit far, perhaps, when he says that the "Islamists hadn't counted on the courage and selflessness of Gibson's faith," Michael Moriarty hits on an interesting ambiguity:

In 33 A.D., the world's population was hardly what it is now. Today, six billion souls live on planet Earth. Obviously the weight of that cross and the depth of Christ's vocation have increased exponentially. I take no fault in Gibson's pointing this out. Those numbers, coupled with the breathtaking insensitivity and indifference to Christ's message that even the free world has shown, justify the film's shock value, to my mind.

To one who is entirely oriented around politics, this would be almost incomprehensible. How could a "metaphysical bomb" like The Passion be an appropriate remedy for the global root-cause of American indifference? But the bifurcation is an illusion. Compassion has too often meant writing checks, not soiling hands. Who wants to hand over her hand-washed scarf merely to offer a seemingly insignificant respite from persecution and to wipe away the blood and dirt on a human face for scarcely a glimpse of the Christ within?

It shouldn't be a surprise, really, that Christians leave this movie, which William F. Buckley calls "the most prolonged human torture ever seen on the screen," wanting to help others and to lead better lives. Just for a moment to be looked upon as Jesus looked upon Simon of Cirene.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:49 PM | Comments (5)

Condoms Ineffective Against STDs

Given the New York Times's (and everybody else's) spin of a recent study of teenagers who had taken abstinence pledges, the title to this post seemed appropriate in opposition:

Among teenagers who pledged not to have sex before marriage, a majority did not live up to their vows, according to a national study reported here on Tuesday. The teenagers also developed sexually transmitted diseases at about the same rate as adolescents who had not made such pledges. ...

... [Dr. Peter Bearman] said, "After they break their pledge, the gates are open, and they catch up," having more partners in a shorter time.

Lack of condom use was an important factor in the higher-than-expected rates of sexually transmitted diseases among the pledgers, the study found. Only 40 percent reported having used condoms in the most recent year of the study, compared with 60 percent of the teenagers who had not pledged.

The storyline is that the young'ns may intend to wait, but they don't pay attention in sex-ed, and then they rush through the gates without protection and "catch up." So, if these kids "developed sexually transmitted diseases at about the same rate," it would seem that the condoms don't do much good... statistically speaking. Of course, there are problems with this analysis.

For one thing, in the paragraph just before the condom statistics, we learn that at "age 23, half the teenagers who had made virginity pledges were married, compared with 25 percent of those who had not pledged." So, as I read this, the number of pledgers who failed to use condoms during the previous year was only 10% higher than the number of them who had married by age 23. The corresponding disparity for non-pledgers was 15%. There are important gaps in information — How many had married after age 23? How many were divorced already? How many had been married during that year? How many were celibate during that year? — but assuming some legitimate comparison between the marriage numbers and the condom numbers, it would seem that the conclusion that abstinence pledges mean less condom usage is dubious.

Moreover, that's using the Times's numbers, which aren't accurately labeled. Reuters reports that the 40% is actually only males, and the 47% of pledging females who had used condoms brings the average to 43.5%, or 6.5% fewer than the number who had not married by 23. Reuters throws in another interesting twist. While female condom use was higher than male among pledgers, the opposite was true among non-pledgers. Only 55% of girls who hadn't pledged abstinence had used a condom in the past year. That brings the non-pledge average to 57%, or 18% fewer than the presumable unwed population. Keep in mind that the condom data appears to be for at least a single usage, not regular usage.

And that doesn't take into consideration that non-pledgers have been having sex with more partners for longer. From the Times:

But a pledge to refrain from premarital sex, the researchers found, did tend to delay the start of sexual intercourse by 18 months. The adolescents who took virginity pledges also married earlier and had fewer sexual partners than the other teenagers surveyed

A single pledge! The study tells us nothing about the other sexual education to which the respondents might have been exposed. The Associated Press offers further perspective by giving readers the actual data on the only factor for which the two groups were "statistically similar":

It found that the STD rates for whites who pledged virginity was 2.8 percent compared with 3.5 percent for those who didn't pledge.

For blacks, it was 18.1 percent and 20.3 percent. For Hispanics, it was 6.7 percent and 8.6 percent.

Bearman said the differences were not statistically significant. Overall rates combining all races wouldn't be valid, he said.

It may not be "statistically significant," but the recorded reduction of STD rates was 20% for whites, 11% for blacks, and 22% for Hispanics. It must be admitted that some of that reduction has to do with the fact that the 88% of pledgers who had premarital sex corresponded with 99% of non-pledgers. But hey, a reduction's a reduction even if it's largely attributable only to, umm, actual abstinence.

Obviously, it's very difficult to discern general patterns without access to demographic breakdowns. Also obviously, a one-time pledge is not an adequate abstinence program. I'll even call it obvious that such programs oughtn't be entirely silent about condoms and certainly should include information about diseases.

Nonetheless, it's a flashing indicator of the bias of the media that this data is being spun as it is. It's also peculiar that Dr. Bearman appears inclined to accentuate the almost-negative. Back in the closing days of the Clinton presidency, he had quite a different approach. From a CNN report titled "Teen virginity pledges surprisingly effective, study says":

"We didn't expect to see any effect from these pledges, but it was just the opposite," said Dr. Peter Bearman ...

"The average delay among pledgers is 18 months," Bearman told The Associated Press. "That is significant. And that is a pure pledge effect." ...

"A typical argument against our findings would be that the kind of kids who pledge are those who would not have sex anyway," Bearman said in a statement. But although that was true to some extent, the data proved "confidently that the delay we saw was real."

Note the word "delay," which indicates that lapses had occurred. What a difference a few cases of the clap can make.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:06 PM | Comments (1)

A Pinnacle Is the Tip of Equivalent Sides

Although not as predictable as researchers' conclusion that (funding for) more research is necessary, it seems at least very common that a scientist will tend to see her particular area of research as the single-greatest endeavor known to human beings. I've seen this most when scientists argue about such matters between themselves, but when somebody with a B.A. enters the room, they'll all agree that their way of thinking makes his studies appear as little but a glorified hobby.

Well, we're born, and we die, alackaday; it's all hobbies in between, from a certain perspective.

From another perspective, it's all profit, and in replying to my previous post, Michael Williams, although obviously not taking it to be the end-all-be-all, suggests that a "higher percentage of people who earn science degrees will go on to use those degrees to greater profit than will those who earn humanities degrees." Not so, says Eli Lehrer:

Finances may also influence students’ paths of study. And science students, it is true, do earn higher wages right after graduation, something which might be important to those with large student loan debts. Still, wages tend to equalize after a few years.

If Michael means that those with science will go on to use the specific skills that were the tangible commodities accompanying their degrees, I'd suggest that the same is probably true of those who go to trade school. The humanities don't bear their full fruits directly on the vine.

But seeing as standing on the shoulders of giants is rarely as lucrative as reselling their wares, I think Michael would agree with me that this isn't an adequate measure of "success." What of academic success? Michael writes:

Since we're mostly relying on anecdotal data, I know no one who has earned a degree in a scientific field who could not have obtained an equivalent degree in the humanities, should he have so desired. I know plenty of people with humanities degrees who couldn't possibly have earned a scientific degree.

Well, it is likely relevant to note that Michael is a Ph.D. candidate in a scientific field, putting him among a particular segment of people who have earned degrees in a scientific field. More to the point, however, his statement simply doesn't contravene the argument that people desirous of an intellectual challenge are currently being shuffled into the sciences. This disparity is exacerbated by the well-rounded nature of the humanities, which rightly attracts those who aren't seeking particular careers, and who, in search of general knowledge, would indeed be ill suited to technical studies. As my Grolier Encyclopedia CD-ROM explains in the entry on "the humanities":

The traditional purpose of education in the humanities was to instill qualities that were thought essential to citizenship and participation in public affairs. The ancient Greek notion of enkyklios paideia—meaning "general education"—influenced the Roman ideal of humanitas, the qualities that distinguish humanity from other animals.

In a sense, then, the giants of the humanities are those most steeped in humanitas. Often, their expression of this quality will be tacit or inherently embedded in the incidental language of a particular discipline. Often they will be able to apply it to a science in ways that scientists would never have considered. Michael writes of "the underlying philosophy" of the humanities and of the sciences, but the only unifying philosophy of the former is the search for Truth, and the latter is defined by process, not philosophy.

It mightn't be surprising that a Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science would declare that particular discipline to be "the pinnacle of both science and the humanities." To the extent that Michael's claim is accurate, I respond only that a pinnacle of multiple sides is definitionally equal parts of each. However, the extended quotation, by Marvin Minsky, that he cites as evidence suggests that Michael is switching from "the philosophy of the humanities" to the distinct discipline within the humanities called Philosophy.

It may well be that Computer Science will replace Philosophy to the extent that Philosophy addressed logic and the structure of knowledge. However, Minsky's mention of an operating system is interesting. What value would your computer have to you if it were nothing but an operating system? And what value hast a network without users?

This applies only in a limited way to Michael, but what worries me is modern society's willingness to see science as a philosophy of itself, an arbiter of morality, and to insist not only that it is an important contribution to humanity, but that other pursuits are hardly worth improving upon — or even pursuing, really, except as hobbies — by comparison.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:22 AM | Comments (1)

March 9, 2004

Science Is for People of Middling Intelligence

I don't really mean the title of this post, but I needed a sufficient rib for the Trackback section of this indulgence in science-guy hauteur by Michael Williams.

Michael takes from an Eli Lehrer piece comparing the broad fields of humanities and science that "bright students can succeed in any field, and tend to move towards those that are more profitable." It may have to do with my being a humanities fella, but I took Lehrer's central point to be something quite different. Here's Lehrer:

Starting in high school, the best American students can look forward to a rich and challenging science curriculum supported by significant opportunities for research, paid summer jobs, and prestige.

High school students in the humanities can look forward to little of this. Even in the most privileged secondary schools the study of the humanities is of far poorer quality than the science instruction available at "second-rate" high schools. A close look at the curricula pursued by some of the country's best high-school students shows the great pressure they face to forsake the humanities for the sciences. ...

None of this is to say that the prep schools teach poorly, just that the upper-level syllabi I looked at usually required less reading than college courses—roughly 100 pages a week as compared with more than 200 at the college level. And even the best students cannot be sure that they will read Shakespeare and Milton when they are in high school. No wonder teachers see some of the best humanities students slip away. "The students who do the best in our courses also tend to do well in just about everything else," explains Steve McKibbon, who teaches English at the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut. ...

But despite this all-too-common lack of academic seriousness, at least some evidence exists that the humanities are more "brainy" than the sciences. Study after study has shown that scores on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test correlate more closely with I.Q. than do scores on the math sections. "The verbal parts of the tests are more oriented towards the things that people have to do in life. They aren't coachable in the way that the math sections might be," says Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Lehrer's suggestion is that the humanities aren't treated with the same degree of academic rigor, and this factor, along with the appreciation that corresponds to greater rigor, push particularly bright students toward the sciences. It isn't that, as Michael concludes, "there are fewer people who can succeed in the sciences than who can succeed in the humanities." To the extent that Lehrer's analysis supports claims either way, the opposite would seem to be the case: fewer people can succeed in the humanities, but those people can also succeed in the sciences, so they go where the rewards seem to be.

Keeping within this narrow range of trends, a cause and effect of the draining of real, substantive talent from the humanities has been its politicization, and an effect of that has been the increasing acceptability of mediocrity, even vacuity, as long as it returns the correct echo. Michael doesn't see why Lehrer would advocate policies that would remedy the problem — which leads to the larger topic about the extent to which deficiencies in the humanities have harmed our society. By the same token, however, he also doesn't see that the difference in standards for success between the two fields doesn't indicate a higher ceiling for the sciences, but rather an artificially low ladder for the humanities.

One would think that a man of the sciences would have striven to ensure that he was comparing like to like. That a substantial portion of the population can string words into sentences doesn't mean that the same proportion has a notable aptitude in the humanities. That's the basic skill — a bit like arithmetic. The lesson isn't that the humanities are easier; it's that we're dropping the ball in encouraging students past that basic level.

Michael makes another Nobel to AmLit 101 comparison with respect to research:

Of course, assisting in research is more problematic for students in the humanities. "I can’t really send an undergraduate to the library to read an article because he might get something totally different out of it than I would," says Carol Kaske, an English professor at Cornell. "We can’t do undergraduate research the same way they can in the sciences."

Going to the library to read an article isn't real research. Real research is what you do after you know all the background information. Real research is the process of discovering or creating something new. Real research is standing on the shoulders of giants, not just looking around for giants. Going to the library (or the internet) can be part of it, but I get the feeling that what passes for research in most humanities departments is wholly different from scientific research.

Michael's comparing "standing on the shoulders of giants" with bringing a cow to the market for mom. Lifetime achievement with the low-level research that an undergraduate might do for a professor. To be sure, Prof. Kaske is pointing, in the included extract from Lehrer's piece, to an inherent difference between the areas of study, but it's structural, not qualitative. As Michael admits, reading material "can be part of" scientific research, but similarly, it isn't the sum total of research in the humanities.

An academic in the sciences could assign an undergraduate to go through an article and highlight any instances of a word, for example. Or he could instruct the student to write down the results of a particular experiment described in a text. The same level of research in the humanities isn't so defined. For a lengthy paper about Moby Dick, I read through a collection of Herman Melville's personal letters. Had I an assistant, I might have been tempted to hand him the tome with the instructions to write down any mentions of the novel, but then I would have missed those statements of Melville's that were much more relevant thematically — offhand characterizations of spiritual feelings, for example — because they weren't relevant explicitly.

Now, Michael might say that, even if he didn't make the connection clear, my larger Moby Dick project was what he meant by "just looking around for giants." Science, properly speaking, isn't researching the biographies of other scientists, and the full expression of science isn't the analysis of other scientists' experimental methods. Here again, however, he's comparing incorrect degrees of research that correspond only because our society has so hobbled the humanities.

Scientists, too, must look around for giants and feel around for their shoulders before they can pull themselves up to those lofty heights. The great composers studied the works of their predecessors so that they could express their own unique musical conclusions on the most firm foundation. Just so, those who master a discipline within the humanities can advance knowledge either by moving through the lines of forerunners' work or by tying those lines together in ways that haven't yet been tried.

Given their nature, the humanities involve more, and often more subtle, reading. They require broader understanding. They deal in variables that resist compartmentalization. Moreover, the conclusions reached thereby will often advance or supercede more-technical knowledge, either by suggesting new approaches or discerning dangers of advancing too far in a particular direction. It is here that society ought to find its greatest motivation for spreading out its best and brightest across the intellectual landscape.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:39 PM

March 8, 2004

Passion and the Pardon-Me Paragraph

A pattern is beginning to form whereby, in relation to The Passion of the Christ, a person with whom I generally disagree about the movie capture's my sympathy, only insert something, while looking for an example, that raises my eyebrows.

Amy Welborn notes a follow-up column by Michael Coren. As you may recall, on the basis of his review of the movie, I suggested that Coren seemed of the "Metrosexual Jesus" crowd. Well, reading the current column, which details some of the reaction that he received, I almost felt a pang of guilt about characterizing a portion of his review as nearly "obscene." Almost, that is, until I got to this paragraph:

I've often had these concerns about the American South, with its enormous number of supposed believers. I've wondered why, if this is the case, the southern states were not, for example, hotbeds of protest against the arms trade, against an often aggressive and immoral foreign policy, against the death penalty for people who are often poor or mentally ill, against the cutting of welfare payments to single mothers who can barely survive.

Perhaps some of the meaner notes were sent to him by folks in the South, although it's a bit jarring for a column lamenting the loss of Christian high road to throw out generalized aspersions. Nonetheless, that mush of political principles seems to weigh down a piece about personal Christian behavior. Thus does Coren confirm the suspicions of at least this one of his detractors.

Something similar arises with Gertrude Himmelfarb's blind review in the Washington Post. By blind, I mean that she hasn't seen the movie. Check out this strange use of quotation marks:

I hasten to say that I have not "personally" seen that film (rather like not having "personally" read a good many books that I have the illusion of having read from a multitude of reviews).

Shouldn't the marks be around "seen"? Typographical quirks aside, Himmelfarb did get my thoughts churning about the proper etiquette of religious folks in public, until...

How would we (Gibson and all the rest of us) feel if a Hollywood producer (a Hollywood so notoriously populated by Jews) made a film, in the same "over the edge" spirit vaunted by Gibson, dramatizing another historical event -- the auto-da-fé in Spain in February 1481, for example, in which six men and six women conversos (Jewish converts to Christianity) were tortured and burned alive at the stake, while richly robed prelates triumphally presided over the scene? Such a film, taking its cue from Gibson, might utilize all the devices of violence, sadism and malignity that he has deployed so skillfully, here as in his other films. It might be even more credible, and therefore emotionally powerful, than his because the contemporary as well as scholarly sources are more reliable. The effect would be to make of the auto-da-fé a defining experience in the relations of Jews and Christians.

Or, another thought-experiment: a film of the First Crusade produced by a Muslim. The venerable 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica describes, in relatively sober terms, the month-long siege culminating in the capture of Jerusalem: "The slaughter was terrible; the blood of the conquered ran down the streets, until men splashed in blood as they rode. At nightfall, sobbing for excess of joy, the crusaders came to the Sepulchre from their treading of the winepress, and put their blood-stained hands together in prayer. So, on that day of July, the First Crusade came to an end." An "over the edge" depiction of this scene would surely be as riveting, bloody and unforgettable as the scene of the Crucifixion, or of the auto da fé or, for that matter, of all too many episodes in our all too bloody history.

Not only wasn't I aware that the Post pays so poorly that writers must use 93-year-old encyclopedias, but I also wasn't aware that the auto-de-fé and First Crusade have much by way of "spiritual meaning" for Jews and Muslims, respectively — certainly not as much as the Passion has for Christians. This has been pointed out, already, in the Corner (read up from here). One emailer asked Ramesh Ponnuru, "how would the critics of [The Passion] respond to these films?" He appears to be talking about a comparable movie about Southern plantation brutality, but it applies as well to Himmelfarb's original "thought experiments."

And we may soon find out the answer to his question, with the release of Ridley Scott's $135 million, 20th Century Fox release of Kingdom of Heaven — all of the big-name, sympathetic stars of which seem to be on the Muslim side. (Orlando Bloom is a Muslim blacksmith-turned-warrior seeking to win a princess's heart while defending Jerusalem against the Crusaders.) Moreover, the film has already come under attack from British historians:

Mr. Riley-Smith added: "Guy of Lusignan lost the Battle of Hattin against Saladin, yes, but he wasn't any badder or better than anyone else. There was never a confraternity of Muslims, Jews and Christians. That is utter nonsense."

Jonathan Philips, a lecturer in history at London University and author of "The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople," agreed that the film relied on an outdated portrayal of the Crusades and could not be described as "a history lesson."

The italics are mine; perhaps this movie will be sufficiently to Himmelfarb's theological and historical tastes that she'll make an effort to "personally" view it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:50 PM | Comments (1)

March 4, 2004

Whispers of Hints of the Future

Now, I know nothing about Lithuania's apparent lowering of the age at which boys can consent to gay sex, so I'm not going to do more than note the story. However, commenter Alicia on Jeff Miller's blog asks a question that may echo well into the future:

haven't we been predicting this and getting laughed off?
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:44 PM

The Drawing of Sides

Michael Novak has a long, but interesting, piece on NRO about capturing the Catholic vote:

Bottom line: A political campaign that can blow through the blizzard of Catholic votes and drive some 3 to 10 percent of them in its direction, and away from the place they fell last time, can harvest a great many of the richest electoral votes available anywhere.

In a completely different vein, John Derbyshire examines another group of people:

If you tracked back through the life history of the average young white-shoe lawyer, you would not find military or National Guard or police service; you would not find stints of work in a logging camp, or on snowplow crews, or on construction sites or Atlantic fishing vessels. These are the pampered darlings of our educational meritocracy. George Orwell described the English boys' boarding-school education of his time as "five years in a lukewarm bath of snobbery." Here, in the sputterings of these whining brats, you see the end result of 20 years' immersion in a lukewarm bath of political correctness — a process that leaves one so exquisitely sensitive, one's skin bruises at a touch.

Which brings us to the Culture War thought for the day, Psalm 73:4-9:

They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.

Mark Steyn wipes up another bit of this crowd's spittle:

SO, WHEN metropolitan columnists say Mel's movie makes you want to go Jew-bashing, they're really engaging in a bit of displaced Christian-bashing.

Ever since 9/11, there's been a lame trope beloved of the smart set: Yes, these Muslim fundamentalists may be pretty extreme, but let's not frget all our Christian fundamentalists – the "home-grown Talibans," as The New York Times's Frank Rich called them, in the course of demanding that John Ashcroft, the attorney-general, round them up.

Two years on, if this thesis is going to hold up, these Christians really need to get off their fundamentalist butts and start killing more people.

Meanwhile, Citizen Smash has a vision of the future of the next attack:

A FEDERAL APPEALS COURT today ruled today that state recognition of clergy-officiated marriages is unconstitutional.

In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, said the use of religious officials to perform a civil function violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which requires a separation of church and state.

Not to worry, though. A Calvin & Hobbes site with a comprehensive database of the strips provides wisdom for those who would find it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:21 PM | Comments (1)

March 3, 2004

When the Obvious Isn't

Amy Welborn quotes from two reviews of The Passion of the Christ. You can follow the link(s) for that topic, but what caught my eye was an example that Peter Nixon uses in such a way as to indicate that he believes the suggested answer to be obvious:

It's one thing not to turn away from the reality of Jesus' suffering. It's another for the camera to appear to take sadistic and voyeuristic delight in that suffering. Is our understanding of the moral and physical evil of human torture really enhanced by a graphic depiction of it? Would a film depicting a concentration camp victim choking to death on gas and then having his skin removed by Nazi doctors really tell us a truth about the Holocaust that we don't already know?

Well... yes! Experience is a central determinant of perspective, and that includes the experience of watching a film. The truth "that we don't already know" is what it means, what it feels like. The question is whether, for a particular horror, that perspective is of sufficient value (and sufficiently lacking) to merit proximity to first-hand experience.

So, take the Holocaust: do we need such a film? Some do. Those Euro-elites who joke about that "shitty little country" of Israel could use a little taste of where their cocktail party quips can lead. When I was a teenager, my mother clipped an article in the paper describing, vividly, the effect on the human body of a seatbelt-less collision. It certainly drove home how little discomfort a seatbelt represents, comparatively. It also drove home that I wasn't immortal.

Does our society, generally speaking, need an unfogged view of the Passion? You betcha.

(For the record, in no way did the word "delight," sadistic or otherwise, come to my mind during the scourging scene.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:58 PM | Comments (1)

Culture War Thought for the Day

Psalm 59:7-8:

Each evening they return, growling like dogs, prowling the city
Their mouths pour out insult; sharp words are on their lips. They say: "Who is there to hear?"
Posted by Justin Katz at 5:57 PM

Precedent of Convenience

Something's been bugging me about what Jonathan Adler wrote in the Corner yesterday:

For years the Supreme Court has held, correctly in my view, that generally applicable laws that infringe on religious practice are nonetheless valid. If, as the California Supreme Court maintains, Catholic Charities does not fit into the statute's narrowly drawn exemption for relgious institutions, I do not see why it should be unconstitutional to impose the same requirement on Catholic Charities that is imposed on every employer in the state. In other words, conservatives should direct their outrage at the California legislature, not the California courts.

Now, that's a defensible position, and one of the reasons I've held my tongue is that I can't recall anything, specifically, that Adler has written about gay marriage and the courts. My sense is that he leans toward favoring gay marriage, or at least favoring individual states' right to have it, although he'll also stand up for states' right not to. That's a whole 'nother discussion, but poking around a bit, I came across a post of his that makes a point about federalism that relates to my unease in the present case:

Federalism is not about simply letting the states do what they want -- indeed, it's not about "states' rights." Rather, it is about the proper division of authority between the federal and state governments.

In other words, federalism is about balance, and the entire governmental system ought to be brought into play when determining issues that lie along the dividing line. The same principle, it seems to me, applies to the Catholic Charities ruling, only involving the balance between legislature and judiciary. Absolutely, we shouldn't allow the legislatures' practice of pushing their controversies out to the courts to go unnoticed, but that doesn't mean that the courts oughtn't take heat.

Is judging constitutionality in their purview or not? If so, and if the judiciary is supposed to be ideologically neutral, then it's more than fair — perhaps more pressing than voting out errant legislators — to raise a fuss when their judgments all seem to go in one cultural direction, whether striking down laws or upholding them.

In this case, David Bernstein is right (as is Richard Garnett):

It is hardly consistent with either the free-exercise clause or the American tradition of the separation of church and state for the government to be determining which parts of the Catholic Church are sufficiently "religious" to deserve exemption from antidiscrimination laws. As Brown put it, the government has no business "pars[ing] a bona fide religious organization into 'secular' and religious' components solely to impose burdens on the secular potion."

Particularly considering that the headlines of the day involve the court and not the legislature, it isn't enough for Adler and others simply to redirect attention toward the latter. They must address why the court was correct in its own capacity of determining constitutionality.

Approaching from the other angle, that of the Church, Patrick Sweeney notes how all the little steps that religious organizations have taken have slowly moved them toward their current vulnerability:

Catholic Charities in order to take Caesar's coin had to drop any evangelization of the Faith—and thereby become "secular."

That may have been the right call, at the time, both in terms of charity and evangelization, but it may be that we've leaned with too much confidence on the First Amendment's religious provisions. They're being sawed out from under us. What to do is a tough call.

On one hand, as Patrick suggests, it might be best, in this specific case, to reassert the religious nature of the organization, even if that means dissolving it and restarting another that makes fewer secular concessions for hiring, management, funding, and evangelization. On the other hand, it just feels wrong to cease good works as an essentially political consideration. But what is the purpose, ultimately, of those works? And doesn't the subversion of that purpose, at some point, tilt the moral scales away from the material service?

It's probably best left as a case-by-case judgment, at this point. Too sweeping a strategy might have the effect of ghettoizing religion. Hopefully, however, we can buy enough time to turn things around on other fronts.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:56 PM

Fronts: by Land, by Sea, by Air, by Bench

As you're likely aware, yesterday's must reading was a column by Dennis Prager:

America is engaged in two wars for the survival of its civilization. The war over same-sex marriage and the war against Islamic totalitarianism are actually two fronts in the same war -- a war for the preservation of the unique American creation known as Judeo-Christian civilization.

One enemy is religious extremism. The other is secular extremism.

One enemy is led from abroad. The other is directed from home.

The first war is against the Islamic attempt to crush whoever stands in the way of the spread of violent Islamic theocracies, such as al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Iranian mullahs and Hamas. The other war is against the secular nihilism that manifests itself in much of Western Europe, in parts of America such as San Francisco and in many of our universities.

Jonah Goldberg objects (and scroll up from the link for more):

... he glosses over the point which should supercede all others: "secular nihilists" -- or whatever you want to call them -- aren't murdering people. They aren't blowing up buildings, hijacking planes or shooting at our soldiers either. To date, no gay dudes have been caught on international flights trying to ignite their shoes.

In short, Prager equates a metaphorical war with a literal one and not once does he distinguish between the two. Moreover these are by no means "the same war." And to say so is to practice precisely the sort of moral equivalence we complain about when it comes from the left.

Perhaps it would have been prudent of Prager to include a line like: "One seeks to kill, the other to litigate," or something. Nonetheless, I think Goldberg overdraws his point in a way that highlights a perennial issue in short-essay writing. How much does a writer have to clarify distinctions?

Prager's clear that these are "two fronts," and surely, he can count on his specific audience to realize the different ways in which the battles are being fought. At any rate, there's certainly a distinction to be read in the difference between "crushing" and "manifesting," as the two foes are said to do. Moreover, Goldberg assertion that they "are by no means 'the same war'" glides over the fact that Prager immediately thereafter specified what war he meant.

Goldberg's reaction is entirely justifiable, and calls to arms like Prager's can certainly go too far (and very often do, particularly on the Left). However, in this case, I think audience, language, context, et al. keep Prager well within bounds.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:54 PM | Comments (1)

March 2, 2004

Spin and Cluelessness about The Passion

The AP's David Germain seems to have just taken a media bias seminar. The Passion is "grisly," "a personal vision offered up without the slightest concession to mainstream tastes or box-office commerce." It's really quite remarkable. Apparently, not a single religious figure with the same "personal vision" would go on record. (Maybe they were all out watching the movie again.)

The Big News, of course, is that The Passion had the biggest Wednesday opening of any movie — ever. That means, in other words, that the carpers have to find a way to explain it away and prevent it from catching on:

Because "The Passion" was a personal quest by Gibson, Hollywood observers doubt big studios will jump on the bandwagon with their own religious sagas.

"I hate to underestimate Hollywood's ability to imitate, but I kind of think that these executives realize that there is a unique alignment of the stars with this picture," said Kim Masters, an entertainment correspondent for National Public Radio. "I think Mel could easily decide to do more of these, and he would be guaranteed a certain return. But not necessarily on this level."

Personally, I hope they're right about Hollywood demurring. This wasn't a media/controversy fluke; this is an unserved market. The controversy was mostly important, I think, in the degree to which it alerted this market that there was finally something available for it.

What the "experts" are missing — choosing not to see — is that this film isn't just a dirty-masses saga; it isn't just a vessel for an ingenious marketing ploy; it's a cultural event. In addition to making a compelling movie, Gibson has given us religious folk a great big megaphone with which to reaffirm our existence. That includes pre-movie buzz. It includes first-weekend viewing. And it includes multiple visits to the theater — with friends and family — in part, at least, to make a statement.

If an entirely new and distinct industry arises, so much the better. Hollywood will imitate it eventually, anyway.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:37 PM | Comments (2)

March 1, 2004

Safire Confuses Religions

How out of touch with pop culture is William Safire? This out of touch:

Because the director's wallowing in gore finds an excuse in a religious purpose — to show how horribly Jesus suffered for humanity's sins — the bar against film violence has been radically lowered. Movie mayhem, long resisted by parents, has found its loophole; others in Hollywood will now find ways to top Gibson's blockbuster, to cater to voyeurs of violence and thereby to make bloodshed banal.

Of course, The Passion of the Christ is violent and will be more violent than any movie ever seen by many of the people who go to see it, specifically. (Not the least because many of them haven't gone to the movies in thirty years.) But Safire's not making a narrow point. The Passion will "make bloodshed banal" in Hollywood? Is he joking? This nonsense is getting unbelievable. Is this the strategy, now? To blame The Passion for an uptick in cinematic violence that predated it by decades and within which it actually represents a step back, and a step toward lessened gratuity?

Apart from that, I'm more than a little unnerved by the eagerness with which the comme il faut concludes that lust for revenge is the proper emotional response to violence. Here's Safire, speaking on behalf of an entire movie-going crowd:

What are the dramatic purposes of this depiction of cruelty and pain? First, shock; the audience I sat in gasped at the first tearing of flesh. Next, pity at the sight of prolonged suffering. And finally, outrage: who was responsible for this cruel humiliation? What villain deserves to be punished?

Memo to Jews: Forget the backwoods; avoid uptown Manhattan after showings of this movie.

Hand in hand with the reckless disregard for marriage laws and government processes, we now have the elite professing a puritan's shock at violence in movies, even as they show a puritan's predilection for retribution. Well, if they're going to start imputing anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial to Mel Gibson, allow me to do some imputing of my own.

I foresee a potential unintended consequence to these attacks on Gibson. It seems to me that any Christians so poorly versed in their faith as to react to this movie by seeking revenge against Jews will not, in fact, understand the history and the "dangerous" interpretations of some lines in Matthew. Until Safire learns 'em, that is. He even throws in an out-of-context, irrelevant-to-his-topic Matthew 10:34. It reads like he intends nothing so much as equivalence with certain lines in the Koran. But put this line in context, and it doesn't need, as Safire says, to be "reinterpreted... to mean that inner peace comes only after moral struggle":

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-- a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Family members everywhere are quaking at the day that makes it into a movie. In the meantime, Safire gives us another reason to tremble:

At a moment when a wave of anti-Semitic violence is sweeping Europe and the Middle East, is religion well served by updating the Jew-baiting passion plays of Oberammergau on DVD?

That line's a bit hard to take with sealed lips. The secular elitists of Europe are finding anti-Semitism all the rage. Meanwhile, their dilution of Western religion in their countries has left a void that radical Muslims are only too happy to fill, and the elite's secular dogma of diversity has left the door wide open. And a traditionalist Christian movie will be to blame for violence against Jews?

How convenient for secular elites. Still making wise fools of themselves in order to blame Christ for their own failings.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:21 PM | Comments (1)

Then Don't Have One

We've all heard from the liberally minded such constructions as, "If you don't like the show, don't watch it." The latest iteration is: "If you don't like gay marriage, then don't have one." Somehow, though, it doesn't apply to workers and their choice of employment:

Versions of the law considered in Monday's ruling have been adopted in 20 states after lawmakers concluded private employee prescription plans without contraceptive benefits discriminated against women. ...

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists viewed the dispute as a health issue, arguing that contraception gives families a chance to plan for a pregnancy, making for healthier mothers and babies.

Gee, no conflict of interest in that group's advocacy! But this is only the tip of this particular cultural iceberg. (This ought to have a familiar ring.) Once women have a right to contraception, then there's no reason that it should not be included in health plans that include drug benefits. And once that's decided, advocacy switches to ensuring that such matters as an employer's right to form its own morality or religious conviction doesn't stand in the way of the right to consequence-free sex. Take a gander at this marvel of judicial prudence in California:

The Supreme Court ruled that the charity is not a religious employer because it offers such secular services as counseling, low-income housing and immigration services to the public without directly preaching about Catholic values.

The charity in question? Catholic Charities. The next step, it seems more than obvious, is to argue that employees of a church, say, who aren't employed for the direct purpose of spreading its message deserve this "right" as well.

Civil rights groups, health care companies and Catholic organizations filed extensive position papers with the court. Most wrangled over the rights of a religion to practice what it preaches and the newly acquired rights of thousands of women employed by church-affiliated groups to be insured for contraceptives.

This is just a preview of things to come. As Jay Nordlinger put it today, "Those who want [gay marriage], want it very, very badly; and the majority who oppose it, don't do so with sufficient vehemence." For the majority of those on defense (which is to say, for the majority) it's a creeping imposition.

The other day Rod Dreher decried the liberal elite's apparent decision that it has a right to unilaterally implement "social revolution." What it's starting to feel like to me is the closing of a trap. Ensure ideologically driven jurists, fill the news media with a monolithic view, elect some mayors and other officials who are not only sympathetic to homosexuals but willing to participate in their cause, and there you go: (just about) plausibly deniable tyranny.

All of the various issues, the disparate concerns, really are starting to coalesce. From the first link above:

Justice Janice Rogers Brown dissented, writing that the Legislature's definition of a "religious employer" is too limiting if excludes faith-based nonprofit groups like Catholic Charities.

"Here we are dealing with an intentional, purposeful intrusion into a religious organization's expression of it religious tenets and sense of mission," Brown wrote. "The government is no accidentally or incidentally interfering with religious practice; it is doing so willfully by making a judgment about what is or is not a religion."

President Bush in October nominated Brown to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, but her appointment has been opposed by Democrats in the U.S. Senate who view the black jurist as a conservative judicial activist who would limit abortion rights and corporate liability and oppose affirmative action.

The Left simply can't allow the advancement of judges who will actually follow the law. First, they discover a right to privacy, then to sodomy, then to redefined marriage. Once homosexuals' registered relationships are called "marriage" or considered the equivalent thereof, employers who offer benefits to spouses will be illegally discriminating if they attempt to exercise their rights of free association and expression. Perhaps some states will pass laws offering exemptions for religious organizations, but that'll never stand, especially if the "right" to gay marriage comes at the behest of the courts — or as constitutional amendments creating civil unions.

I apologize to any readers who think I'm dipping into paranoia here, but Maggie Gallagher is exactly right in her concerns about a civil-union-granting compromise amendment in Massachusetts:

Far from reversing Goodridge, constitutionalizing civil unions will ultimately hand over to a court deeply hostile to marriage control over the legal expression of its meaning in the public square. Expect most of the negative consequences of gay marriage to issue from it immediately: Public schools will be forced to teach in sex-ed, home-economics classes, and abstinence education that same-sex unions are the legal equivalent of marriage; religious organizations will be forced to either treat same-sex unions as marriages or get out of the public square.

In fact, the consequences of constitutionally affirming civil unions are likely to be even more destructive than simply letting Goodridge stand. Affirming gay relationships becomes not a legislative proposal to address a social need, nor a mere expression of formal equality, but a substantive governing, constitutional principle: It will be open season on the Catholic Church and other religious groups and organizations that sustain a different vision of human sexual ethics. Hate-speech codes, yanking of broadcasting licenses, and termination of the tax-exempt status of traditional organizations — just a few of the legal threats looming. Far-fetched? In Europe and Canada it is already happening.

Honestly and truly, it tears me up that this struggle causes such extreme and personal pain for those on the other side. But I just don't know if there are any defensible borders after marriage. Sure, there will be the subsequent incremental skirmishes, but even as we fight for rights much more fundamental than the privilege of filing joint tax returns, the village will be set alight. For example, the ACLU will continue its crusade for adulterers rights.

I'll let you into my confidence: one of the effects that The Passion of the Christ had on me was to take away some of the fear that's been seeping into my conception of the culture war. In some ways, practicing our faith has been too simple — so easy that, for many, it's atrophied into an appurtenance. That doesn't mean, however, that we lock our doors and wait for the knock to come. Just as arguing on behalf of traditional marriage renews devotion to it for ourselves, so too does struggling for its protection in the public sphere renew our understanding of our faded worldview.

I'm rambling a bit, but here's the bottom line to which I've somehow stumbled: it is right that we struggle for this, although even in defeat we've no reason to despair. Most importantly, we should remember that our struggle isn't to vanquish the enemy, but to conquer its soldiers within our own walls and offer them sanctuary.

And hopefully they'll respect the terms we set for their health insurance.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:22 PM | Comments (1)

February 29, 2004

Passion Sans Distraction

[Note: There are "spoilers" here (as if you don't know the story), but they are meant to unspoil the spoiling of other reviews.]

So anyway.

When the end credits started, I didn't know what to do. There was no point in sitting through a running list of strangers' names, but what else? Just walk out the door? Well, that's what we have to do, I guess — out to Newport's cobblestones. On with life.

The first thing to say is that I'm astonished at the inability of the movie's critics to see it as artwork. I don't know if they want a documentary or a homily, but what they get is — tada — a movie, and a great movie, at that. Once my head had been cleared with fresh air, I shook it to think how much some critics have missed. The idea first came to me when Judas was being hounded by a gang of devil children. Depending on your point of view, the guy is either being driven mad by his conscience or set upon by demons (I would say they're the same thing); that he sees children mocking him through the hills and a maggot-ridden lamb is no stretch. Consider that he rubs his lips raw, having been stunned by Jesus' admonition about the betraying kiss. (To be honest, I thought Gibson's portrayal of Judas inspired.)

Anti-Semitism. Frankly and directly, if you sit through this movie looking for evidence of anti-Semitism, you've wasted whatever price of admission you paid. It is clear that Gibson did what he could to neutralize any ethnicity-specific blame. But mostly, it seems to me, he endeavored to prevent this controversy from distracting from the message, because, as I read him, the contrast between the Jews (from among whom Jesus came) and the Romans is absolutely central — as a mechanism to highlight qualities of the latter, not the former. Andrew Sullivan, for one, complained that there were "a few actors in those scenes who look like classic hook-nosed Jews." What did he want? Blond hair and slanted eyes? The entire argument over this aspect of the film represents, to put it bluntly, the worst of identity politics, supercilious disdain for our shared humanity. And I won't let my review be polluted by it any further.

Violence. Yes, Jesus is beaten, and he bleeds copiously. But perhaps based on the hype and loose associations with Quentin Tarantino, I found it less gory than I'd expected. I mean, come on. Whenever I hear "Stuck in the Middle with You," I picture that scene in Reservoir Dogs when the gangster cuts the cop's ear off and dances around the room with it ("Hello?"); in Pulp Fiction a kid's brains are casually blown out in a car (catching in Samuel Jackson's afro, as I recall), and an entire scene is devoted to its cleaning. What culture are these critics living in?

Yeah, when the whip actually got stuck in Jesus' side, I thought it was a bit much, but that was the only moment that (for me) even came close to the warnings I'd heard. Sullivan's description of the whipping scene makes me wonder if the theater to which I went got a censored version. "Skin flying through the air"? "Chunks [torn] out of a wooden table"? Maybe I need new glasses. Having read Sullivan's assertion that "no human being could sruvive [sic] it," when I saw the scene itself, I thought of the part in C.S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy, in which Aslan claws a princes, condemning her to days in bed, and later explains that her experience had been exactly the same as a girl whom she had caused to be whipped.

Sullivan also mentions "yet another money shot" in which a crow pecks out one of the crucified criminals' eyes. Perhaps it was overdrawn, but it isn't wanton in context. A while back I caught a late-night cable creep show in which a guy is handcuffed to a corpse in the middle of the desert and a buzzard comes and plucks the living guy's eye out — literally, you see it come out. Gibson isn't anywhere near that level of gratuity. It would have been more accurate to say, in the present instance, that the crow "attacks the criminal's face."

I've frontloaded these points to get them out of the way, because all they are are distractions. Allow them to slip away just a little (which far too many people seem unwilling to do), and the "artistic message" can begin to show through. Little moments about which people complain — that to some make no sense whatsoever — come into focus. And with such astonishing ease that I'm surprised that, even having read so few reviews, I haven't seen the message.

It seems to me that Gibson has picked up on something in the Gospels that, even when I was an atheist, I've always thought was underplayed considering its relevance to our times, John 18:38: "'What is truth?' Pilate asked." As others have noted, in the movie, Pilate's truth is one of bureaucratic responsibility. But what it ought to highlight — this single moment that is certainly among the most relevant of the entire Bible for our times — is that The Passion of the Christ was created within and for viewing from our modern perch.

Sullivan (whom, if you haven't noticed, I'm using emblematically, here) catches that he is supposed to identify with Pilate, but — tellingly — he takes from that identification that Pilate is portrayed as a saint. He's not; he's our representation.

Everything Pilate does is an attempt to avoid his fate. He sends Jesus away; he brings up a lunatic Barabbas in an attempt to trick the crowd into letting Jesus go; and then he makes a huge, dramatic show of washing his hands of the matter. It isn't the his fault, he declares, it's the Jews'. Jesus' blood is on their head, not his, he says, reaching for the towel to...

The towel? A white towel? Why yes, and thus we realize that he's wrong. Here we've a double irony with which to contend. The first is that Pilate doesn't realize that the very same towel that he uses to symbolically free himself from blame symbolically links him right back to Jesus' blood — because his wife gave Mary just such a towel, and Mary used it to sop up the blood left after the whipping. The second irony is that Sullivan interpreted Mrs. Pilate's towel-giving moment as an out-of-the-way gesture to excuse her husband, when it accomplished just the opposite.

If we keep our minds on the towels, Mrs. Pilate's concern throughout makes sense dramatically to enable the Christian soiling of the Romans' fine linen. It may go a little far, but if you're of a mind, you could further consider that the reason Jesus' blood finds its way into Pilate's symbolism is the very simple, human compassion of one woman for another.

Now, keeping this in mind, rewind a bit. Sullivan says that "the Roman torturers are obviously evil," but I saw them somewhat differently. They're base; some of them are just plain nuts. They are, in fact, the sort of characters to whom one would expect a departmentalized and regimented polity to assign the monstrous work of torture. With that minor adjustment, a subtext ought to click into place when Pilate's top guy, Abenader, comes storming in and yells (approximately, emphasis added): "Your orders were to beat him, not to scourge him to death."

What Pilate and Abenader don't see, for all their concern about Caesar's displeasure and the mob over whom they govern with contempt, is that their order and their organization cannot contain the madness in their own ranks. The representatives of Rome's dark side spilt the blood, after all, that implicates Pilate. They drag Jesus through the streets attracting attention to him, making his crucifixion seem extra significant — converting people along the way.

And that's why I was tempted to call an aspect of a review by Michael Coren, another Christian critic, obscene:

Indeed, the scene where a Roman soldier plunges his spear into Christ's side is, I am sorry, almost like something out of Monty Python. The soldier and those around him shower in the water and blood that cascades out of Yeshua's body.

But I can only feel a sort of vague sadness that Coren, for whatever reason, instinctively translated the movie into a cartoon. With his description in mind, I expected those mad torturers to prance under a tide of blood. In the actual scene, however, one soldier kneels before the gushing liquid, and he's a character that we followed all the way through the streets, increasingly taken aback by the scene unfolding around him, stopping to ask who Mary is. He, in other words, is the most fully drawn of a sketch we see increasingly throughout the cross bearing, which begins among an angry mob and ends among sympathetic witnesses.

A woman comes up to wipe Jesus' face; another woman urges Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus because he's "a holy man"; Simon goes from a plea that it doesn't concern him to active defense and support of Jesus. (He's another character whom Gibson renders masterfully, giving the audience [me, anyway] a real sense of what it means for this man to have walked with Jesus in those final steps; it happened quickly, but I think Gibson even has Simon get poked a bit by the crown of thorns.)

Gibson did make decisions that I would have advised against, some vociferously. The shot of Satan after the crucifixion seemed unnecessary, almost comical, and pulled me right out of the story. I'll definitely have to see the film again; there's so much to ponder. However, on first impression, I find myself wondering what movie some people watched and what they'd been expecting.

For your part, dear reader, watch the movie, and don't let all that nonsense that distracts us from Truth in real life cause you to miss the significance of the film — as a work of art.

ADDENDUM:
Disputations Tom beat me to expression of something regarding Pilate that I mentioned in the comments to this post and was just about to flesh out as an addendum. Now I don't have to:

I have observed, though, that portraying Pilate in this way is seen by many as tantamount to excusing him.

If, for a moment, we can set aside the history of Christian anti-Semitism, which is inextricably related to all this, I think we still have a phenomenon worth ruminating on. Presented with a man (or character, if you prefer) who, knowing the man before him is innocent, orders his execution for political reasons, some see a man all but free of guilt.

This is astonishing. It is as though they believe washing his hands actually removes Pilate's guilt. As though they believe Pilate's attempt to deny responsibility for Jesus' death actually transferred responsibility elsewhere.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:39 PM | Comments (7)

February 27, 2004

How 'Bout the Dots, Deroy?

The latest mention of Deroy Murdock on this blog was in the context of Christians, with whom I took issue, who were complaining that National Review didn't stick to the social conservative line. To be sure, I also disagreed with the argument with which Murdock set off his spark of the flare, but I saw it as a difference to be addressed, not dismissed. Today, he justifies my continued admiration for him by proving that, whether wrong or right, he stands on principle:

The ACLU's supporters should contemplate where this organization has placed itself vis-à-vis NAMBLA and the Boy Scouts. The ACLU seemingly believes that everyone deserves a lawyer, no matter how odious his case. Perhaps, although it would be nice to see NAMBLA siphon its own bank account rather than the ACLU's to justify its evil ways. The ACLU decides for itself where to devote its finite resources. Hence, its leaders freely chose to stand with cheerleaders for pederasty while torpedoing those who mentor rather than rape little boys.

Today's ACLU makes one wish it would find some whales to save.

Of course, I would point out to Murdock that he's coming close to connecting some of the very dots that lead social conservatives to differ from him on such issues as gay marriage. Also of course, such persuasion is not possible to the extent that those in my gang have pushed him away.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:06 PM | Comments (2)

February 26, 2004

Life Outdoing Fiction

Lane Core notes, from the New York Sun, a piece by Alicia Colon. This part is too eye-popping not to quote; it's one of those documents that sends you searching for signs of fraud or farce, even though it indicates something that you intuit could be true:

Over 40 years ago, Rep. A.S. Herlong of Florida introduced into the Congressional Record, January 10, 1963, excerpts of a book written by a former FBI agent, Cleon Skousen.

It was called "The Naked Communist," and the excerpts were "current communist goals." There were 45 in all, at least 40 of which have been achieved. These are some that need to be noted as apropos to what is going on in America today:

  • Break down cultural standards of morality by promoting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio, and TV.
  • Present homosexuality, degeneracy and promiscuity as "normal, natural, healthy."
  • Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with social religion. Discredit the Bible and emphasize the need for intellectual maturity, which does not need a "religious crutch."
  • Discredit the family as an institution.
  • Use technical decisions of the courts to weaken basic American institutions by claiming their activities violate civil rights.
  • Eliminate prayer or any phrase of religious expression in the schools on the grounds that it violates the principle of "separation of church and state."

After some quick research, I can't locate this portion of the Congressional Record on any Web sites in which I'm especially confident (e.g., with a .gov), but this page seems to present information according with every other instance of its mention. Here are a few more objectives that might cause a shiver:

  • U.S. willingness to capitulate in preference to engaging in atomic war.
  • Develop the illusion that total disarmament [by] the United States would be a demonstration of moral strength.
  • Promote the U.N. as the only hope for mankind. If its charter is rewritten, demand that it be set up as a one-world government with its own independent armed forces. (Some Communist leaders believe the world can be taken over as easily by the U.N. as by Moscow. Sometimes these two centers compete with each other as they are now doing in the Congo.)
  • Discredit the American Constitution by calling it inadequate, old-fashioned, out of step with modern needs, a hindrance to cooperation between nations on a worldwide basis.

Of course, even assuming that these were actually concerns read into the Congressional Record forty years ago, this doesn't mean that there's an orchestrated conspiracy going on. Forecasting changes that would further the cause of communism would likely lead to some hits even if there's nothing more deliberate than a sort of creeping socialism in the culture. Nonetheless, the matter is worth at least as much consideration as the question about whom the terrorists would want to win the next election — which isn't a loony or superfluous question in the least.

ADDENDUM:
Here's another little wrinkle — almost definitely just a coincidence. While looking into The Naked Communist, I came across this, from a 1998 review of the book on Amazon:

Cleon Skousen used this text for a course at Brigham Young University. ...

Now at BYU, in a required course for Poly Sci. majors, Stan Taylor methodically debunks Skousen's "Naked Communist" and Gary Allen's "None Dare Call it Conspiracy." Stan also sits on key policy-making boards for the LDS Church to determine the Church's stand regarding Communist nations.

As it happens, last night I received a highly suspicious email, with a zip file attached in the fashion of the MyDoom virus, and the text: "you are a bad writer." The email address, if you haven't guessed, was from byu.edu.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:13 PM | Comments (2)

February 23, 2004

Sexual Corruption

In part because of a blog post by Oswald Sobrino, I've been thinking about the spiritual consequences of sex. Specifically, I mean the mirror attitudes that "it's just sex" and that sex can be spiritually rewarding, from which often follows the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church (among other prudes) makes way too much of it.

Certainly, one could argue that the Church only seems to elevate it above many other sins because it is an area in which religious tradition jars painfully against modern mores. In our times, particularly, sex happens to be an activity that people seem inclined to defend, even at the expense of faith. It is often clear, at least to me, where those who most strenuously argue that the Church should change its teachings have become perfect examples, themselves, of the reason it should not. Their religion has become more of a New Age naturalism, and when they refer to the spiritual benefits of sex, they're more likely to characterize it as a gift of "our nature" than of God — even if they believe themselves to be devoted Christians.

Explication of this corruption of faith, however, is of limited utility in a world so far gone. Moreover, even I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that the government ought to legislate explicitly so as to diminish neo-paganism. It is a blessing, therefore, that we for whom that actually is a goal find the very same corruption at work in a more social context.

The stages that follow overlap, within an individual and across society. To the extent that they represent a continuous trend, they won't all take the same amount of time to resolve to the next step. But I think the list gives some sort of structure to the logical progression of sexual corruption.

First, the glass onion is thrown up, peeling on the way:

  1. Couples acknowledge that the ultimate purpose of sex is procreation and ought only to be had within marriage. They do, however, make use of the natural patterns of the women's fertility to keep some form of control over the rate of their families' growth. But even by the very strategy through which they seek to avoid conception, through their awareness, they affirm the central purpose of sex. Moreover, they affirm their mutual empathy, and the sex, open to procreation, is unitive, including the romance and even the foreplay. At worst, conception is an accident for which they must take responsibility within a family already ideally suited for children. This is the current position of the Catholic Church, as I understand it and as I believe it ought to be.
  2. Reasoning that their timing strategy essentially enables sex without procreative intent, and seeking to limit unanticipated childbearing, the spouses see little reason not to use contraception. To some degree, for some methods, this introduces a risk of very-early abortion, but not always, not for sure, and not by intent. Nonetheless, deny it or not, the difference between timing pitches and putting up a wall is the separation of the target from the throw. Sex separates from procreation. Worse still, any resulting children aren't accidental gifts, but outright errors — failures for which, not the parents, but the contraceptives are responsible.
  3. Since there's very little chance, and zero intent, that sperm will connect with egg, the method and location of orgasm becomes moot. Even used as intended, the parts are merely engaged in a sort of mutual masturbation, so there's no reason not to vary their usage. The objective continues to be, after all, the connection and expression of intimate love.
  4. But now the location makes a larger leap. Since sex is starting to be seen as just a exchange of pleasure, and since the likely need for family arrangements that allow for unexpected children is greatly diminished, marriage is no longer a prerequisite. Sex separates from marriage. Worse, not only are errors the fault of the contraceptives, but the parents are not prepared for the responsibility. Moreover, the lessened profundity of the act makes the consequence seem an unfair punishment.
  5. At this point, sex needn't be within marriage, and it needn't involve the type of sex that can result in children. The complementary parts, no longer being treated as necessarily complementary in any real sense, become unnecessary. A member of one's own sex can, after all, assist in sodomy. Sex separates from gender.

This is about where our culture is right now, although we are rushing toward the next stage, at which the glass onion begins to fall back down:

  1. To the extent that marriage is seen as just a committed relationship in which to have more meaningful non-procreative sex, same-sex couples begin to claim a right to it. The benefits that they desire are not only within their relationship, of course, but social as well. If a straight sibling can get married with no set intention to have children, why should the gay sibling be deprived of mom's gleaming look while passing the string beans along with the question, "When are you two going to get serious?" Marriage, in this view, is essentially about an emotional bond between two adults, so why should homosexuals be excluded from the social approval that results from taking that step?
  2. But there's still a difference. The married straight sibling makes mom positively beam over the honey-dipped carrots with an announcement of pending parent-(and, therefore, grandparent)-hood. Part of marriage is, after all, the shared responsibility of parenthood and the deepening of family ties that comes with being at the start of a new branch. So now adoption becomes a necessity, and to the extent that gay couples aren't discriminated against in the adoption process (and who would think to do such a thing?) children are deprived of the experience of having either a mother or a father — by design.
  3. But there's still a difference. The child is still distinct from the parents. For this, there's the simple solution of IVF or a surrogate mother or father; either way, the child is something to be made for its parents. In an echo of the introduction of contraception into sex, we see the introduction of other people — by contract — into the childbearing process. And in the case of IVF, it involves the creation of dozens of doomed lives.
  4. But there's still a difference. Grandma can't hold the child lovingly and attribute its eyes to parent 1 and its nose to parent 2. The child doesn't unify the parents; they can't revel in the blending together of their two selves. Who, then, could deny this loving — and married — couple access to cloning technology? What ethical walls could stand in the way of the research required to perfect it?

I'm sure there are a substantial number of people — particularly among those who read the Internet regularly — who would have no problem with any innovation up to and including cloning. From there, who can guess the next step? Would a married couple requesting the pill for the first time have believed anybody loony enough to suggest that gay marriage — let alone cloning — would be the result? Whether folks in the Sixties had reason or capability to see it, the trend is coded, so to speak, in the intial steps of the liberalization of sexual morality, with the innovation of contraception.

My suspicion is that society won't get as far as pushing cloning specifically for the benefit of gay parents (even if that is one excuse put forward). To reach that point, every "conservative" argument for gay marriage must pan out. In all likelihood, the cultural link between parenthood and marriage would fade just as the cultural link between sex and marriage and the biological link between sex and childbearing faded before it. And no matter the ethical qualms one might have with the smashing glass onion, the dissolution of marriage and the norms that it protects would in no way represent a silver lining.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:37 AM | Comments (2)

February 16, 2004

Another Question Never Asked

John Hawkins asks a question that seems to be pushed aside when the "cool kids" start pontificating after some controversy or other erupts:

Jarvis refers to the people in Congress upset about Jackson flashing the public as a "posse of prudes" and alludes to "book burners". So I feel compelled to ask, "Is there any sort of line at all" for people who feel this way? I mean if the cheerleaders from both teams got together for an unannounced XXX lesbian halftime show, would there still be so many people determined to give off this faux cool "only a prude would be upset by that" vibe about it?
Posted by Justin Katz at 9:50 AM | Comments (1)

Hooray for Robert Whitcomb!

I only read the online version, so I may have missed something, and it must be remembered that we're talking about a holiday Monday, but it appears that Providence Journal editorial page editor, Robert Whitcomb, has recognized the tremendous gap in his paper's coverage of the gay marriage issue. First, he himself has raised a question that his peers in the Rhode Island media have declined to mention:

The gay-marriage issue has emitted a copious quantity of glibness -- such as the suggestion that couples of two men or of two women are pretty much like couples of a man and a woman when it comes to raising children, or any of the other laborious duties of spousedom. After all, men and women are differentiated merely by minor issues of plumbing. Right?

His whole piece is worth reading (and shows evidence of a much more politic mindset than I imagine I'd manage in his social environment). Second, he printed a piece by Rabbi Avi Shafran that suggests that the movement pushing for (what they claim as) equality in the eyes of the law won't stop at that:

Either morality has true meaning and trumps what some people, even many people, wish to do, or it does not. And if moral scruples are indeed conceptually devolved into bigotry, there will be not only denigration and derision of traditionalists, but also discrimination and legal action against them -- as Christopher Kempling's treatment and Connecticut's action against the Boy Scouts well demonstrate.

Kempling is the teacher in British Columbia who was punished by his school for sending letters critical of homosexuality to his local paper. Said a judge in the Supreme Court:

Discriminatory speech is incompatible with the search for truth. In addition, [Mr. Kempling's] publicly discriminatory writings undermine the ability of members of the targeted group, homosexuals, to attain individual self-fulfillment.

Apparently, "the truth" is a category of information to which the B.C. Supreme Court is privvy. We can't afford to ignore the echo that the reference to homosexuals' "self-fulfillment" finds in U.S. gay marriage advocates who declare the right to marry as a prerequisite to being "fully human."

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:40 AM | Comments (3)

The Change We Want to See in the World

Donald Sensing reminds us that our governmental problem isn't just that the judiciary is grabbing power, but also that legislatures are willingly handing it over:

What's in it for the legislators or Senators? By applying political, rather than jurisprudential litmus tests to appointees, the elected legislators get to pass the buck for the political agendas off to unelected judges, using them as shields to hide behind when facing the voters. Knowing that major elements of such agendas would never pass the people's muster, politicizing the appointment process has enabled the legislatures to legislate through the judiciary rather than enactments.

In so doing, the people are shunted aside. The power to make the most major decisions affecting the order of society are taken from their hands by subterfuge. Increasingly, our votes at the ballot have less and less effect on what happens in government - and thus, what happens to us.

Frankly, I find the outlook bleak. Reclaiming the government is going to require sustained exertion of political will by large numbers of people. And I'm not sanguine about the chances of accomplishing that. The class that is pushing the change knows its game; usurpation is dressed up as new freedom; changes will be gradual, best-face-forward affairs. There probably won't be a notable leap into totalitarianism, as the Left claims to fear so much from the Patriot Act.

More likely, if the trend can't be reversed or diverted, what we'll see is the steady march of emotionally satisfying, but socially destructive, innovations couched in the terms of moral superiority, followed by invasive and ineffective strategies for handling the damage that results. Living in such a way as to feed superficial appetites with wonders of quick gratification will be facilitated, while life in pursuit of deeper satisfaction and larger meaning, with an emphasis on rational thought and mature policy, will be presented with obstacles and disincentives.

In a way, the gay marriage debate offers, at the very least, a test case. The changes are sought on behalf of a group that is relatively privileged, and whose defining behaviors accord with the elite worldview. Homosexuals are not a minority group with an intergenerational memory, inasmuch as any adverse conditions aren't handed down from gay parent to gay child, in the pattern that digs racial, ethnic, and religious minorities into further squalor. And Andrew Sullivan enunciates the dramatist's lingo with perfection:

Instead of begging for the basic right to marry, gay couples are now demanding it. In San Francisco, they are simply getting married as an act of civil disobedience. And that is also happening across the country. This will alter the debate - as will the actual existence of marriages in Massachusetts in May. The debate will become how to tear gay couples apart, how to demean and marginalize them, rather than an abstract debate about theories of marriage. And as these couples begin to feel what marriage is like, as they experience what civil equality actually is, they will become emboldened. Just as those who refused to leave segregated lunch-counters began to deepen their sense of moral outrage and conviction, so the act of getting married - something heterosexuals simply assume they have - is empowering. When Massachusetts becomes the first free state for gay citizens, the movement will explode. I predict thousands of couples from all over the country and the world will arrive to claim their dignity and rights - and this experience will help transform the argument. I've always believed that if we could get every gay man and lesbian to fully internalize their own equality, to get past the brutalization that society has wrought upon their souls, nothing could stop us from achieving our dream.

Powerful, if overwrought, language, to be sure. But look at what lies beneath it. This tiny minority is simply going to force sweeping social change. There is no plea. There is no appeal to the goodwill of the majority, nor promise of magnanimity. There is no "long federal debate," as Sullivan has so often claimed to value. All arguments on behalf of the long-honed and proven institution of traditional marriage are cast aside as "an abstract debate about theories of marriage." There is, instead, emboldenment. There are declarations that, "when the religious right try to strip us of those marriages, and force us back into second-class status, then we will see something else: resistance." And then? The eye turns toward the institutions of that dreaded "religious right" that still refuse to grant their approval, all in the name of rights and equality.

But this is an insult to the civil rights movements — the "civil disobedience" — that went before. If this is to be equated with courageous blacks sitting at segregated lunch counters, then let's fill out the analogy. In this scenario, the mayor is serving the lunches, and there is no risk to shouting down those who oppose. The power of the media, of the elite, of the university, of the newly enthroned judiciary, and of unelected international bureaucracies is all behind the movement. Saddest of all, the moral power claimed through the sweat and blood of truly oppressed minority groups — the language of freedom made forceful through the humanity of a people clawing their way from slavery and segregation — is being snatched.

In the comments to his post, Rev. Sensing protests that his central concern is the activism of the judiciary, not the issue of gay marriage, itself. But the two cannot so easily be teased apart in the form in which they've entered the political scene. The crisis facing our nation at this point in history lays out for us to see the full range of the problem — down from an internationalist order that seeks to consolidate global power, through a federal and state system in which too many feel that the right to vote is worth about as much as the right to change the channel, through the full range of cultural institutions in which diversity of skin has been made a distraction from the homogeneity of thinking, right on through to individuals who are not satisfied that their rights allow "begging" for redefinition of the basic structural unit of society.

They will not beg? They will not even ask!

It may be that I'm making too much of this. Perhaps the combination of my long involvement in the debate and adverse geographical location is leading me to lose the necessary perspective. Surely the debate will change again when other states with stronger bars to gay marriage and citizens who do not share my region's apathy are dragged into the battle.

But I'm just beginning to piece together the enormity of this moment. A nation that has only just begun to awaken from a decades-long fantasy is being called upon to fight for its very foundation. To take the lead in doing so.

We'll see.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:19 AM

February 15, 2004

Weighing the Evidence

Diogenes offers an opportunity to examine a particular hypothesis and the provided evidence. Here's the hypothesis, from the Boston Globe:

... the dispute has highlighted a tension between the culture of academic communities, with their emphasis on a diversity of views, and traditional religious delineations of right and wrong.

Presented evidence:

On a recent Sunday, before 11 o'clock Mass was over, one outraged parishioner threw many of the fliers into the sacristy's trash and tore down some of the signs adorning a booth, before breaking down in tears. A second churchgoer, too upset to sit through services, went home and wrote an open letter that he distributed after Mass, calling the distribution of the flier "an injustice." ...

When Sheehan refused to shut down the table, Conway made several trips up and down the aisles, carrying piles of the flier and throwing them out in the sacristy. He also tore down some of the signs hung from the table, he said. ...

But Manjapra and Conway insist that such a thing has no place in their Harvard Square church. "The priests have a responsibility to make sure that information distributed on tables adheres to the spirit of the community," Conway said.

If you haven't figured it out, Manjapra and Conway are doing what's known in the Church as "dissenting." The objectionable fliers laid out the Church's position on same-sex marriage, and the two who thought the Church's teaching had no place in their... umm... church are representatives of the "open minded," "diversity of views" academic community. Says one:

"This went beyond a mistake; it's something bigger," said Manjapra, who studies German history at Harvard. "What I'm afraid of is that my church community will become one of exclusion and name-calling."

Yeah, if it can avoid active censorship.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:25 PM

February 12, 2004

It's a Natural, Private Expression of Emotion; Save Me a Seat!

Barbara Nicolosi posted a brief commentary by Pat Phalen about the latest (and worst) episode of Joan of Arcadia. I thought this part worth sharing:

I was also disappointed to see the obvious attempt to start dealing with teen sexuality like every other program deals with it (teens don't think, they just have sex. All of them. It's fun...Let's watch.).
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:00 AM | Comments (5)

February 6, 2004

Shocked to Their Senses

Perhaps we can, as Carson Holloway seems to imply, see a silver lining to the Super Bowl debacle in that it might have been a shock to people's lulled senses of right and wrong.

It ought to work that people who get offended at a specific event trace their reasoning back to other areas in which their sense of offense has been unduly dulled. I tend to suspect that we're stuck with the a lopsided tendency, though, whereby people consider their lack of general offense and conclude that they oughtn't be offended at something even more outrageous.

Whatever the case, something in these sentences caught my attention:

Of course, these "artists" might respond that their publicity seeking did not, by their own standards, violate any moral norms. After all, it is evident that the entertainment industry does not hold to the same canons of sexual propriety as its traditionalist critics. The act is undeniably unprincipled, however, from the standpoint of the morality to which many members of the entertainment elite parade their adherence — a morality of sensitivity to America's regrettable history of inequality and exploitation. In their lust to make headlines, it apparently never occurred to these people to wonder, or perhaps to care, how it would look, in light of that history and the still-sensitive wounds arising from it, to depict a white man forcibly tearing the clothes off a black woman.

You know, it hadn't even occurred to me — nor have I read it elsewhere mentioned — that the two performers are of different races. That seems to me to indicate — although not necessarily — something positive.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:03 PM

February 5, 2004

The Height of Parody

In addition to a hilarious distillation of a typical Democratic Underground thread, John Hawkins links to one Iraqi's reflections about the ways in which his life has gotten worse since the toppling of Saddam:

Then a friend of mine told me that it was payment day and when I got my salary, they gave me these strange banknotes with no pictures of any Iraqi president. I remember well, and I said it here before, that my salary was around 17$ a month before the war. This time they gave me 200 thousand Iraqi Dinars which if divided by the current exchange rate (which is now 1330 ID for each US$) will be about 150 $ and what was worse is that they confirmed a raise has been approved to make that 300$ starting from the next month with possible raises in the future. And I saw clearly what that meant, they are bribing us! yes, I’m not an idiot! they’re going to steal our oil, and they can say they’re giving the money back to us and that they even assigned billions of dollars to build Iraq and push many countries to cut down the Iraqi debts, but WE are still the ones who are going to lose, and don’t ask me how, because I’ll be damned if I knew the answer.

You might (or might not) be surprised by his conclusion.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:50 PM

Next Up for Reverence: The Eighties?

Lileks speaks truth to power, culturally speaking:

God no. Please no. I think I speak for millions when I say that I am deathly sick of the counterculture sixties. The music, the war, the protests, all the hagiography - it's not a reflection of the era's importance but the self-importance of the generation who hung on the bus as it trundled along down the same old rutted road of history.. I'm tired of hearing about the boomers' days of whine and neuroses; I'm weary of ritual genuflection to their musical icons; I'm utterly disinterested in most of the pop-cult trivia they hold so dear. We'll probably be better off when that demographic pig has been excreted from the python so we can see the era clearly without choking on the smoke.

The culture is certainly due for some redefinition, and I think it's happening. Too slowly, of course, for we who can't wait for the day that Britney Spears scandalizes MTV by putting her clothes back on.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:44 PM

February 4, 2004

What's at Stake in the Music Industry

Yeah, I think it's safe to say that we're no longer dealing with merely a cynical trend in which each generation of rock stars attempts to be more shocking than the previous.

We all know where you're apt to end up when you hit the bottom of depravity's pit and start digging.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:31 PM

February 2, 2004

On Products' Icky Impressions

I didn't see the half-time show last night; to be honest, I only watched the last six minutes of the game. Even within that brief viewing, however, I was struck by the disturbing undertone of some of the commercials, and my wife assured me that others had been much worse.

In his piece about the dreadful material that permeated the televising of the football game, Tom Shales mentions a commercial for that Van Helsing movie. I'm not sure what channel we were watching, but around dinnertime, that commercial came on the television, and I noticed that my two-year-old daughter had stopped running around and stood staring. I hesitated for a moment to get out of my seat and grab the remote, thinking that, as is usually the case, the extreme violence of that initial grabbing moment would give way to non-violent plot points, or at least to some less shocking action. That didn't happen.

The television advertising world, it would seem, has lost all concern for the sensibilities of its viewers. One would think that self-interest would compel companies to avoid having their products associated with uncomfortable feelings. In the case of movie commercials, one would expect this same dynamic to affect the decisions of a network.

Frankly, I'm at a loss to explain it. I will, however, hazard the suggestion that the business folks are rapidly giving their marketing departments enough rope to hang the companies. All involved have seemed to assume that they can — must — continue to push the boundaries of taste in order to achieve the same effect, whatever that effect is. I simply believe that people will not acclimate forever and will, if not actively object, begin changing the channel.

I'm certainly going to keep the remote closer at hand, and I'm increasingly inclined to hit the Off button.

ADDENDUM:
On a related note: I bet the Bush administration is relieved that it didn't slate its NEA budget increase announcement for this week!

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:45 PM

January 31, 2004

A Universal Common Cause

Glenn Reynolds passes along news of a weapons cache discovered by accident in Texas. He notes the danger of (actual) right-wing extremists hooking up with the Islamicist variety and, after posting an email, writes something that led me to a really terrifying hypothetical:

Though domestic extremists are a different breed, and often seem to view the accretion of huge arsenals as an end in itself -- they're waiting for some future date when war breaks out against the "Zionist Occupation Government." That provides only limited comfort, however, as one can never be sure when they'll decide that the time has arrived.

The scary thought to which this led me is that these extremists will realize that the Z.O.G. has already reached the highest tiers of our government (hint: the name with which they disguise themselves starts with "neo"). When they figure that out, the right-wing nuts will find that they have common cause with the left-wing nuts, who have common cause with the "diverse" "third-world" nuts, who already have common cause with the sort of people who have maps to bomb shelters and weapons caches tattooed on the soles of their feet.

You've got to hand it to the people of my paternal line; their power to unify groups that otherwise have few commonalities is enormous.

ADDENDUM:
One of the problematic factors that arises from the nature of blogging is that a high-profile link can bring what is essentially a quip to the attention of people who have little or no understanding of the long-running context in which it is made. Nonetheless, I thought I'd written this post in such a way as to make the pervading humor obvious, even for those who are not aware of my politics.

One blogger summarized the above and then gave every indication that he thinks it's intended as serious analysis. Given the name of his blog, one would hope that he isn't always so literally minded. Meanwhile, David Neiwart, who is an actual journalist, has this to say:

I'm not sure if I've encountered anything as laughably convoluted and ludicrous in the blogosphere before, but this post sets a new low watermark.

Neiwart goes on to treat the post with complete credulity, pointing out that "there have been no known associations of their violent factions whatsoever." Well, of course there haven't! The parties in question haven't figured out that the Vatican has a secret underground tunnel to Paul Wolfowitz's house (running along the Halliburton pipeline to Iraq), yet. But once they do, their differences won't seem so large. How incompatible is book burning with tree hugging, after all?

Perhaps my tone didn't come across as well as I'd have liked, but it seems to me that the only reason to miss the fact that I was trying to be "laughably convoluted and ludicrous" — albeit with a serious, and valid, underlying observation about anti-Semitism — would be actual knowledge of people who have maps on the soles of their feet.

Now that's worrying.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:07 PM | Comments (2)

January 27, 2004

I Can't Believe It

I'm with Rev. Sensing in my absolute astonishment that Mel Gibson, after so much striving against adversity, would cave so completely (scroll down to the last item in the first cell).

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:50 AM | Comments (2)

January 22, 2004

Give Them Something Better to Do

I have to admit that I was happily surprised to be in such agreement with a Glenn Reynolds column about teen sex:

Perhaps if teen-agers were encouraged to take on adult responsibilities and win status and recognition in constructive ways, they'd probably start acting more like citizens, and less like a leisure class, with all the vices that have historically attended leisure classes.

If teen-agers weren't infantilized in so many other ways, they'd have a better base of judgment and self-respect, and could make better decisions about when they were ready to have sex and be more responsible about precautions and consequences when the time came.

Keep them productively engaged, and they won't be reproductive without engagement. (Ouch! Sorry 'bout that; it just popped out.) The dynamic is so powerful that one can observe it among the same group of teenagers in different places. The kids ringing up my pizza on a Friday night entirely lack the air of malice that hovers over probably some of the same kids as they saunter around town.

It doesn't even have to be work; hobbies and projects like making digital movies or music or even blogging could fill the void. It seems to me that, when people talk about children "growing up too soon," it generally speaks to their facing hardships before they're prepared. In contrast, I think what Glenn is talking about is allowing them to take on some of the responsibilities of adulthood before they have the dire consequences of adulthood.

(I'll tell you whether this is easier said than done in about fourteen years.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:26 PM

January 19, 2004

A Few Righteous Citizens

David Kupelian explored the dark side of our culture in a two part series:

Remember in the classic, biblical epic films of the 1950s, how Sodom and Gomorrah were portrayed? Drunken men with multiple piercings and bright red robes, with one loose woman under each arm, cavorting in orgiastic revelry against a background of annoying, mosquito-like music? Maybe a bone through the nose as well? Hollywood took pains to depict these lost souls in the most debauched and irredeemable manner — to justify their subsequent destruction with fire and brimstone as punishment for their great sinfulness.

Guess what? Those Hollywood depictions don't even begin to capture the shocking reality of what is going on right here in America's culture today — I mean, they're not even close.

Lord help us. I think I know of ten righteous people... I think.

Kupelian prescribes home schooling as one method to raise children well amidst the madness. Parents must make their own decisions, but as tempting as home schooling is, I'm not yet convinced that it is for the ultimate good of the children or the society. (But then, I've always been a bit of a brawler.) At any rate, there is reason for hope exactly where it mightn't be expected:

Today's youth rebellion is not only against failing parents, but against the entire adult society — against the children of the 1960s cultural revolution who grew up to become their parents. Unfortunately, many of us never shook off the transforming effects of that national trauma, which birthed the "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" youth counterculture, the leftist hate-America movement, the women's liberation movement and overriding all, of course, the sexual revolution.

By this point in the second part, Kupelian clearly means "youth rebellion" to indicate children's taking their culture to the next level of depravity. That's not the whole story, however. Some number of those children of the children of the Sixties are rebelling toward morality. In that respect, Kupelian is absolutely correct that proper culture is going to have to reassert itself as a subculture, first. But that doesn't mean that those who would initiate the subculture ought to disengage themselves into caverns of home schools and secret living-room gatherings.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:26 PM | Comments (2)

Pushing Western Ideals (Here and There)

Nicholas Kristoff has not escaped the ire of this blog, but his latest column goes outside of the topics of the day to explore a travesty that demands global outrage:

One thinks of slavery as an evil confined to musty sepia photographs. But there are 21st-century versions of slaves as well, girls like Srey Neth. ...

Some 700,000 people are trafficked around the world each year, many of them just girls. They form part of what I believe will be the paramount moral challenge we will face in this century: to address the brutality that is the lot of so many women in the developing world. Yet it's an issue that gets little attention and that most American women's groups have done shamefully little to address.

Such reporting illustrates exactly why we are obligated to push "Western values" around the world. Yes, yes, we ought to be circumspect about what we push and what we respect of indigenous cultures, and we can't ignore the ways in which evil seeps its fingers into our own culture, but it simply can't be argued that the West is anything other than a force for good in the world, all things considered.

(via Right Wing News)

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:48 AM | Comments (4)

January 14, 2004

Betting on the Game's Breaks

Craig Henry notes that thirty seconds of Super Bowl advertising time is going for $2.25 million this year. That's a whole lot o' dough to be banking on a single production. Not only is there the gamble, but it may be that viewers' expectations for the commercials actually diminish their value:

There is also the danger of hyper-awareness. Viewers watch, evaluate, and discuss the commercials as commercials. The underlying product can easily get lost. Often advertisers end up making a "great commercial" rather than one that most effectively conveys their message.

What's worse, perhaps, is the intersection of the gamble and the expectations. I wouldn't be surprised if it were true that Super Bowl viewers are actually more likely to recall the products behind bad commercials, but as an unfavorable impression. Advertisers can't fail much more magnificently than by spending $2.25 million for the privilege of giving that many people the impression that the client let them down.

ADDENDUM:
Somewhat related: I've been surprised, and a little disappointed, at my own susceptibility to marketing strategies. The latest indications of this are MCI's Neighborhood commercials. When Danny Glover was the company's spokesman, I found myself inclined to hiss whenever I saw the telltale yellow and green of the campaign. Now that they've switched to "live" performances of feel-good music — of a variety that I like — that accords with the aesthetic of the neighborhood theme, my visceral reaction has completely changed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:24 PM

A Mixed Bag on Manhood

Terrence O. Moore's essay, "Wimps and Barbarians: The Sons of Murphy Brown," is hereby tentatively recommended. His assessment of the problem, at the beginning:

For more than a decade I have been in a position to see young men in the making. As a Marine, college professor, and now principal of a K-12 charter school, I have deliberately tried to figure out whether the nation through its most important institutions of moral instruction—its families and schools—is turning boys into responsible young men. Young women, always the natural judges of the male character, say emphatically "No." In my experience, many young women are upset, but not about an elusive Prince Charming or even the shortage of "cute guys" around. Rather, they have very specific complaints against how they have been treated in shopping malls or on college campuses by immature and uncouth males, and even more pointed complaints against their boyfriends or other male acquaintances who fail to protect them. At times, they appear desperately hopeless. They say matter-of-factly that the males around them do not know how to act like either men or gentlemen. It appears to them that, except for a few lucky members of their sex, most women today must choose between males who are whiny, incapable of making decisions, and in general of "acting like men," or those who treat women roughly and are unreliable, unmannerly, and usually stupid.

The young men, for their part, are not a little embarrassed when they hear these charges but can't wholly deny them. Indeed, when asked the simple question, "When have you ever been taught what it means to be a man?" they are typically speechless and somewhat ashamed.

and of the reason, toward the end:

A close look at the culture in which boys are raised reveals not only that they are no longer encouraged to become vigorous and responsible men, but also that practically every factor affecting their development is profoundly hostile to the ideals and practices of traditional manhood and the painstaking steps necessary to attain it. The demanding regime of physical and moral instruction that used to turn boys into men and the larger cultural forces that supported that instruction have been systematically dismantled by a culture that ostensibly enables all individuals but in reality disables men. "It's too easy!" complained John the Savage of the overly efficient, overly sexual, overly youthful, overly fun Brave New World. That dehumanizing tyranny of pleasure, described by Aldous Huxley, resembles the world of easy effort and easy virtue that entices adolescent males today to indulge in their appetites at the expense of their nobler longings and passions.

are very well considered and said. However, throughout the middle sections, in which Moore attempts to paint the specific pictures of barbarians and wimps, he loses his profundity some in an apparent indulgence of the desire to play the rhetorical sniper. Primarily, the specificity of his portraits cuts out swaths of character types to whom his criticism applies, without being effectively representative. If all "barbarians" where baseball caps everywhere, then there mustn't be too many of them. And yet, by virtue of the very same specificity, he managed to cut me with the barbs that he flung at each group.

To be sure, one could respond with the Sheavian admonition that, "if it doesn't apply to you, don't be offended." One could also suggest that I stop being a wimpy barbarian. I'm merely pointing out that the piece could have been more effective had the portraits been more specific about essences and less specific about superficialities.

It's a long piece, anyway, so if you're busy, you have ample reason to skip the entire middle section and still feel manly.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:09 PM