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Friday, February 28, 2003

The Big Snow Phallus Controversy

I've been engaged in a discussion over at Critical Mass regarding a controversy up at Harvard about a nine-foot penis of snow and the sculpture's rapid destruction. Brian Carney, with whom I agree, says:

Was this destruction a shocking attempt to stifle artistic expression? A callous act of censorship? No, it was the right thing to do. A one-story-tall snow phallus, whether prank or "art," is intolerable in a public place like Harvard Yard. More to the point, it is obscene, in the old-fashioned sense of the word--something that, at a minimum, should be kept out of sight.

Harvard, unnaturally prolonged adolescence for the low low price of more than a hundred thousand dollars. Andrew Sullivan's got a link to a picture of the thing if you really want to see it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:19 PM EST


Too Much Reality

You know the fad has gone too far when celebrity reality-show camera crews start bumping into each other at the mall:

A camera crew following Roseanne as she shopped at the Barney's New York store in Beverly Hills this week ran into another camera crew shooting Ozzy Osbourne as he -- you guessed it -- also shopped. ...

"It was the ultimate reality moment," said ABC alternative series and specials executive Andrea Wong. "The only thing that would have made it better is if Anna Nicole Smith had shown up."

And then they could have run through an obstacle course to decide who would go on a date with Anna Nicole.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:13 PM EST


Annoyingly Incorrect Pop Song Lyrics File

It's a failing, I know, but sometimes poor grammar in pop songs just distracts me from the entire effort, particularly when a proper grammatical solution would have been possible within the meter of the song. Here are the first words of "Run for Your Life" by the Beatles (it's on Rubber Soul and is by John):

I'd rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man.

I think she'd be the one to rather see him dead!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:43 PM EST


Lileks on the War

James Lileks bleats some thoughts on certain of those who oppose "Bush's war."

I get this feeling, over and over again: it is better that the right thing never come to pass than let the wrong men make it happen.

But why are they wrong, exactly? Many are worried simply because they have faith in the cause. Joe Klein wrote a piece in which he expressed alarm at the administration's lack of public equivocation, its constant protestation of its beliefs. It echoes the poet's warning: the worst are filled with a terrible certainty. Over the years we've forgotten the "terrible" part and come to think of certainty itself as a warning flag - the fact that a mind is made up must surely mean that mind is closed. Ambivalence, doubt, hesitation, conspicuously paraded for everyone to admire - these are the marks of a leader. We should shrink from certainty as a dog shrinks from fire. "Resolution" is fine - if it's followed by numbers and voted upon by a council of ministers. Resolution in the heart of a man is a thing to be feared, regardless of what the man resolves.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:56 PM EST


This Year's Redwood Review

I thought I'd let you know that I'm currently putting together the Summer 2003 edition of The Redwood Review, and it's looking to be bigger and better than the first.

If you'd like to contribute toward our publishing costs, you can do so here. A donation of at least $5.00 will get you a copy of the 2002 issue. For a donation of $10.00 or more, we'll send you both books (when the second one is available). Contribute $25.00, and I'll get all of the writers to sign your copy of the 2003 issue.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:52 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Bill's imagination and style make for engrossing reading. I highly recommend reading this entire excerpt. Of course, if you'd rather have it on the written page, copies of the 2002 Redwood Review are available for the price of a meager contribution.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:45 PM EST


Disemboweling an Argument

Instapundit links to Charles Murtaugh's "righteous fisking" of an anti-cloning column by Senator Sam Brownback (R, Kansas). Murtaugh's central complaint has to do with a postulated dishonesty among anti-cloners, specifically Senator Brownback. Mr. Murtaugh seems more amenable to pro-life/anti-cloning arguments than many who take his side, so I'm hesitant to rebut with too thorough a fisking of his argument, but taking a close look at that argument, I think he's directing his particular accusations in the wrong direction.

He engages in one of the pro-cloners' bigger instances of dishonesty right in his first sentence:

The House is poised to pass a total ban on human cloning, both reproductive and therapeutic, or to use the terms I prefer, both baby cloning and embryo cloning.

I suppose I owe Mr. Murtaugh a bit of gratitude for more explicity pointing to the issue in the problematic "therapeutic" terminology. "Baby cloning" must refer to a technology with which I am unaware whereby a scientist places some biological material in an upturned top hat, waves a wand, and pulls out a baby. A magician would be showing contempt for his audience if he suggested public moral policy based on the reality of his "magic" without reference to the underlying stages of the trick. Yet, pro-cloners would simply like to move the point of procedural comparison beyond the stages at which the morality gets sticky. As we learn in the next paragraph, Murtaugh is sympathetic to pro-life arguments if they are restricted to the stages of development after the first trimester. The question, thereafter, moves to "personhood," that magical moment whereby the development of a pancreas (or whatever) bestows a soul (even defining "soul" in humanistic terms). In an older post, Murtaugh admits, "If it ain't human, it ain't much good for therapeutic purposes."

Pro-cloners would also like to obscure the question of public policy in other ways:

If anything, the brouhaha over the Raelian cloning claim (almost certainly fraudulent, like that of Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori) proves a point I've been making all along, that while embryo cloning could be done in secret, it would be impossible to conceal an ongoing baby cloning effort given the appallingly high failure rate predicted by animal studies.

Why is the potential for concealment of an activity at all related to whether that activity ought to be acceptable or legal? If a large company's accounting firm develops a strategy to pilfer funds without detection, does that mean the method ought not be illegal? We aren't going to be able to stop the experiments of mad scientists who are determined to carry them through, nor can we prevent them from going elsewhere to pursue their ends. With a ban, however, legitimate scientists with substantial resources will not be able to devote those resources to an illegal activity. This may be pro-cloners' objection to the ban, but it is manifestly not a reason for that objection.

From this dubious beginning, Murtaugh expresses his specific problem with Brownback's essay, which, as I've noted, is its dishonesty, an attribute around which it "falls flat on its face."

It's a bit incoherent, for instance invoking the Raelians' effort at baby cloning as a reason to ban embryo cloning, which is objectionable because it results in the destruction of human life: so is cloning bad because it creates life, or because it destroys it?

Murtaugh's question points to the irony of the entire cloning debate. Reproductive cloning is the more difficult procedure to oppose in purely secular terms because it does create, rather than destroy, life. Luckily, those who oppose cloning don't have to argue the point as often or as vehemently as they condemn the other form of cloning, because opposition is so broad. And the breadth of this opposition is a good indication that extra-secular reasons are not irrelevant to the public policy debate. But for the purposes of addressing Murtaugh's point, I need only enlist the assistance of Murtaugh, himself, further down the page: "Repeat after me: animal studies suggest that for every successfully-born human clone there would be twenty abortions, miscarriages or stillbirths." As he explains, a major reason that mainstream scientists won't engage in "baby cloning" is that it is currently too destructive.

But this is not the specific dishonesty of Brownback's column that gets Murtaugh's "panties in a bunch." For that, we have to turn, predictably or ironically (depending on your perspective), to the aspect of Murtaugh's post in which he engages in the most sleight of hand, himself: polling statistics:

First, [Brownback] refers to "the vast majority of Americans" siding with him and Bush in opposing "creat[ing] human life just to destroy it." Well, let's go to the videotape: every poll that draws a distinction between embryo cloning and baby cloning has found that at least a third, and as many as half of all respondents oppose a ban on the former. The most recent poll found that a full 54% of respondents don't want any cloning ban, and when broken down by party this worked out to 40% of Republicans! Some "vast majority."

Perhaps Murtaugh has drawn his hard figures from a source other than the one to which he links. Going to Murtaugh's "videotape," the only instance of 54% of anything is found in CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll data from November 2001 and represents approval of cloning "designed to aid medical research that might find treatments for certain diseases." The most recent poll shown in Murtaugh's link (LA Times, Jan/Feb 2003) does break down opinions by party affiliation, but Republicans opposed to "any" ban made up only 6% of their party's population. To get 40%, Murtaugh must have added in the 34% who would support research cloning.

Certainly, it is questionable whether the 58% of Republicans who support a ban on all cloning represent a vast majority over that 40%, but Murtaugh's complaint here is about honesty — that Brownback is being deceptive with his "vast majority" characterization. In my opinion, to justify his complaint, Murtaugh engages in at least the same degree of distortion. To be fair, Murtaugh only expands upon the distortion inherent in many of the polls, which is relevant to his analysis of "every poll that draws a distinction between embryo cloning and baby cloning." Consider the question that generated the 54% mentioned in the previous paragraph:

"Thinking for a moment about cloning: Do you approve or disapprove of cloning that is not designed to specifically result in the birth of a human being, but is designed to aid medical research that might find treatments for certain diseases?"

Now watch what happens when an ABC News/Beliefnet poll from August 2001 (only three months previous to the CNN poll) elaborates on the "distinction between embryo cloning and baby cloning," essentially pulling back the magician's curtain:

"Some scientists want to use human cloning for medical treatments only. They would produce a fertilized egg, or human embryo, that's an exact genetic copy of a person, and then take cells from this embryo to provide medical treatments for that person. Supporters say this could lead to medical breakthroughs. Opponents say it could lead to the creation of a cloned person, because someone could take an embryo that was cloned for medical treatments and use it to produce a child. Do you think human cloning for medical treatments should be legal or illegal in the United States?"

Legal: 33%. Illegal: 63%. Is this a "vast majority"? I guess it's still a matter of opinion, but it is hardly an instance of dishonesty to make the call in either direction. What's your call?

The next instance of Brownback's "dishonesty" has to do with terminology.

Second, in disparaging the "therapeutic cloning" terminology (with which I'm not entirely happy either), Brownback writes, "it is certainly not therapeutic for the clone who has been created and then disemboweled for the purported benefit of its adult twin." [My emphasis] Almost a year ago, Virginia Postrel criticized Charles Krauthammer for describing the dissection of blastocyst-stage embryos, to make embryonic stem cells, as "dismemberment."

So is this a dishonest bowdlerization of the English language? Well, Merriam-Webster gives "disembowel" a second definition of "to remove the substance of." That seems to apply to the removal of an embryo's genetic components. As for "dismember," even the source to which Murtaugh links for a definition gives the word a second definition of "To divide into pieces." Is it dishonest to use a word in any sense other than that denoted by the first definition in a dictionary? If so, then I was dishonest to use the term "bowdlerize," the first definition of which is "to expurgate (as a book) by omitting or modifying parts considered vulgar." In fact, my usage of the word "denote" is the fourth listing for that word in Merriam-Webster.

I'll cede Murtaugh's third point, that Brownback ought to have offered examples of "credible scientists" who are currently working toward producing cloned babies, or he should have posed the statement as a possibility, either current or future. Still, there are scientists working toward the same end, although I can't make any claims about how "credible" they are. But even giving this one to Murtaugh, in the context of the rest of his complaint, this point hardly justifies the accusation of "mendacity."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:25 PM EST


Iraqi Military Preparations

A couple of Iraqi military leaders have, apparently, given some useful intelligence information regarding the Iraqi preparations for war:

Morale is low in the Iraqi army and many soldiers are preparing white flags of surrender, we are told by someone in northern Iraq who recently interviewed two defectors from Saddam Hussein's army. ...

The captain told our informant that the heavy division was only 35 percent combat-effective. The captain said morale was so low that younger soldiers are speaking openly about surrendering — before the first shot has been fired. ...

"[A second soldier] said [his] whole division was at about 25 percent effectiveness and most soldiers were hiding their white flags," said our source, who spoke recently to both defectors.

I wonder if Saddam is wishing that he hadn't been quite so brutal for all those years...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:57 AM EST


Thursday, February 27, 2003

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:46 PM EST


Hey, I Like Being a Computer Teacher

I just purchased Macromedia Studio so that I can finally begin a redesign to get my Web site beyond its late-90s look and access additional functionality as I design my school's Web site and begin teaching the older kids how to design them. The thing about being a computer teacher: I got the program for less than one-quarter its regular price!

The computer teacher catalog is dangerous when it arrives in my school mailbox each month (or so). It's been instructive, however, to watch the folks at Quark deal with the new reality of the market. Quark went several years between versions 4.0 and 5.0, and in that time, many alternatives have become available. When it first came out, the education edition of QuarkXPress offered only a $50 discount on the near-$1,000 product. Every month for the past few, the company has lopped another $100 off the price. Ah, the loss of a monopoly.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:46 PM EST


Those Evil Soldiers Are Somebody's Parent and Child

The Washington Times has picked up the story that I noted the other day about teachers badmouthing military parents to their children. Let's see if any other major national papers find the story newsworthy, or whether they believe that it will create a "hostile environment" ripe for "backlash" against teachers.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:15 AM EST


Mister Rogers, RIP

Mister Rogers has moved on to a nicer neighborhood than ours. Watching episodes of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, recently, with my daughter, I was a bit ashamed at how shocking I found his kindness and thoughtfulness. In one case, after soothing his feet in a shallow pool with a black policeman, he helped his friend to dry his feet. Many have seen such kindnesses as prima facie evidence that something was not right with Mister Rogers. But surely there is something wrong with a society that would be alarmed by such a man.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:12 AM EST


Questions to Questions

Amy Welborn picks up and meanders with the questions that surround war and Catholicism. She makes a fair and deliberate attempt, but the bottom line — my bottom line, at least — with her analysis is that she misunderstands the motivation of Catholics who disagree vehemently with the Vatican even more than she seems to explain away the real problems that the United States currently faces.

I'm a neophyte at Catholicism, so it is entirely possible that my answers with respect to my religion are wrong — perhaps even that my questions are inappropriate. But then, perhaps it affords me a broader view. I look at these men who are charged with guiding the Church that perpetuates my religion, and I ask, is this my faith? Is this my faith, whose leaders make of themselves propaganda pieces for Arafat and for Hussein? Am I a follower of a religion that cannot muster the moral strength to turn its back on monsters — monsters! — while correctly cautioning those who openly and honestly seek counsel before battling those monsters and praying that somehow war can be avoided?

I don't want the Pope's "rubber stamp," as Amy characterizes the position held by people with whom I share a conclusion. I want clarity. I want the perspective and "the Long View of the oldest continually existing institution in the world," and surely that Long View would see the folly in urging compromise at all costs when it is obvious that only one side discusses and negotiates in good faith. Amy asks what I want from the Pope, if not a "go get 'em." The answer is simple: I want a statement that does not thrust my religion in among the haters and the anarchists and the communists who are protesting the war. I do not want him to express total support for violent force. But I would prefer that he not put his position, the position of the Church that I follow, so in line with the suicidal ideologies that fester in the Western world. Amy does me and those with whom I agree injustice by imagining that we have not considered the Pope's stand. I submit that we are so pained because we have.

We are so incredulous because we want guidance from our Church, which rightfully presumes to offer it in so many practical matters in our lives. We look to the Pope for some inkling of this guidance, and we get the opinion that, as a practical matter, as a matter of action, it is not the time for war. But we ask what else can be tried, and to that question, we get vague answers — pray, trust in God. Well, of course, we should put our faith in God, but what do we do. If I catch a deadly but curable disease, no Catholic would tell me that medicine is not the answer. Our Church does not declare that we must only pray and trust in God to end abortion. Our religion calls on us to act, not just to pray. So what do we do?

Amy complains that we defenders of the war are "starting to sound a little robotic — and strained — as well." For my part, that is because for all of our logic and our practical considerations and suggestions and defenses, we have received only more ruminations, more rambling admissions of confusion that conclude that anybody who has a solution must be wrong. We get more questions:

Why Hussein? Why now?

Because the allowable time for attempting peaceable solutions with Hussein has passed. Now. We who feel thus cannot conclude otherwise than that the wonderers and questioners, whose objections never change, even as they concede opposing arguments, are merely seeking to delay because they do not want it to be now. They do not want it to be the case that it has long been Hussein and that Hussein is the most blatantly unruly of the children, to whom the others look to discern their own boundaries. They do not want it to be the case that September 11 was mainly significant because it woke us up to the reality that we had taken our eyes off the sands slipping through the glass and because it drew Saddam's deadline in bold letters of flames: Now!

Furthermore, having disconnected their arguments from practical concerns, they are free to suggest that, to be moral and consistent, the United States would have to declare war on all tyrants of the world simultaneously. Is this the wisdom of the Long View of the Church that I feel to be the focal point of Truth in this world? It cannot be that the lesson learned from watching "nations and empires rise and fall" is that issues as profound as those around war are such that the problem of one dictator cannot be said to be only resolvable through war until all other dictators are declared in that state, as well. Here, the argument becomes that we cannot possibly have exhausted all peaceful means with Hussein while there are other regimes for which those possibilities are not exhausted.

Amy asks:

Why not pray for peace? Why not pray for a peaceful and just resolution? Why not pray for …I dunno…God’s will be done, maybe?

This is either dishonest or uncharitable. I have not heard anybody declare that they will not pray for peace, only that they will not pray for peace on the Pope's terms. In those terms, there is no such thing as peace through war. The other possibilities are never exhausted. In the Vatican's presentation of peace, God's will is declared as already known, and the United States is acting against it. The much-touted Just War Theory is but so many scribblings on parchment, and the beleaguered man cannot defend himself. The Pope's peace, at least as he has allowed it to be presented, does not really leave the question of a "just resolution" open. Because, as the Pope has cast peace, particularly by not negating more-extreme phrasings, the defense of the United States is excluded. The lives of the people of Iraq are excluded. The simmering war of cultures is left to simmer even longer in the hope that the pot will not crack. The only solution is supernatural. And so I ask again, is this Catholicism? Do we not act? Do we not take upon ourselves the responsibility for evil that we, ourselves, have brought into the world?

Amy ends with a question: "What is it that we really care about?"

In the practical, material matters of my life, I care about the safety of my family and all of those to whom I extend my love. That includes my countrymen. It also includes the rest of my human family, those who live behind a wall of terror that only the United States, by some method or other, can break. And I care that it sometimes seems as if our immediate families must be threatened for our society to care about families elsewhere.

In the spiritual matters of my life, I care about finding Truth and understanding how it is that I should live and live to find my way to God. And when those who lead the institution that is the keeper of the Long View to God seem to manifest — whether through abuse, craven self-concern, or moral vagueness — those things that I find inconsistent with my sense of faith, I ask through an almost unbearable pain: Is this my religion?

Patrick Sweeney has posted the measured, factual rebuttal that I can no longer muster (perhaps for fear of being "robotic" and "strained").

Lane Core makes some good points about taking a side in the debate in view of individual conscience. We have to trust one side or the other in this high-stakes game, and if we, as Americans, listen to our President and it turns out that we were deceived, our consciences will be clear. This is not so if we mistakenly trust the Butcher of Baghdad.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:09 AM EST


Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Some Hard Workers Have All the Luck

Right Wing News (which printed a great joke today) links to a Neal Boortz column about the claim that people are only rich out of luck:

This "lucky vs. the unlucky" is a constant theme with liberals. How many times have you read or heard the phrase "the less fortunate"? It's the same message. "Fortunate" means "deriving good from an unexpected source." Just what is unexpected about deriving good from hard work, frugality and good decision making?

I would modify Boortz's analysis in one respect. Every career has some degree of "luck" in it, and there is certainly a significant bit of good fortune behind tremendous fortunes. The irony, however, is that it seems as if the degree of luck corresponds to the degree of liberalism. I once heard Rush suggest that rich liberals believe as they do because they don't think that anybody ought to do be able to get what they, themselves, have gotten. So, it's a bit of a guilt thing — conveniently, it's also got the side effect of diminishing competition.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:44 PM EST


Just Thinking: Volume I

Just Thinking: Volume I, 10/29/01–10/21/02, a collection of one year of my Just Thinking columns and the latest release from Timshel Literature is now available. To be completely honest, I'll be thrilled if I can break even on this venture; given the readership of this blog, alone, that ought to be possible. If you are considering, have considered, or may someday consider ordering your autographed copy, please do.

$12.00 (includes shipping)

Special Offer:

Buy Just Thinking: Volume I and
get A Whispering Through the Branches for half price!

$19.00 (includes shipping)
$25.50 (includes shipping)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:05 PM EST


Erased from the History of Vlogging

Well, for a brief period I was a vlog innovator, mentioned around the world and on major Web sites. Granted, I've let it slide a bit based on time constraints and a bit of hesitancy regarding a cost/benefit analysis. But still, it doesn't encourage me to push through my lagging that I'm the only vlogger of the December–January flurry to not be named in Glenn Reynolds's TCS column today:

Already Jeff Jarvis has put up opinion pieces (video-weblogging, or "vlogging") that are as good as most of what we see on TV. And Jarvis's efforts have produced humorous responses, such as this "Plog" (don't ask; just watch it) and this piece by Don McArthur, that can only be called "vlog noir."

Smart networks will be watching the Internet to spot rising talent first. Smart - or just motivated - people will use the Internet to get noticed. And smart stars of today, like Bill Maher, will keep one eye on the competition. Because there's about to be a lot more of it.

Well, not being listed among such a small group of vloggers by Glenn Reynolds doesn't likely bode well for my being "rising talent." Maybe I'll put it up for a vote, reality TV style: should Justin just give up and go back to the commercial fishing docks? Tune in next month.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:33 AM EST


Scratching Arizona State University and Indiana University Off My List

Yes, eighteen-year-olds are adults. On the other hand, their parents still have significant responsibility for them and are still expected by our culture to do what they can to help them. I don't know the percentages, but I imagine the great majority of college students are parent-funded to some extent, and presumably, parents would be less inclined to send their kids to universities at which they might be targeted for recruitment into porn movies:

Cox and crew have visited Arizona State University, Indiana University and plan to visit a California university in the very near future. "We just showed up at ASU and hoped for the best. Since then, we plan everything out ahead of time. We help host parties off campus. We do campus radio interviews. We don't ask university permission," said Cox.

However, some students are receiving punishment and ridicule from their universities because of their decisions to participate in the festivities.

The ridicule is obviously appropriate. Perhaps allowing such filth to prey on kids is a sacrifice to be made for freedom, but only as long as the culture itself encourages restraint. The punishment, on the other hand, will receive less support. In my opinion, attending a university is voluntary, so the university is free to impose rules that students must follow, particularly when the behavior in question might affect the image of the school.

I know porn is popular among the libertarians who seem to dominate the Web (particularly the blogosphere), but I cannot see these pornographers as anything other than predators taking advantage of kids (albeit adult kids) in a turbulent, vulnerable time of their lives.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:14 AM EST


Hey, It's a Private Business: No French Bread

Citing the good that the United States has done for Europe, Danish pizzeria owner Aage Bjerre has banned French and German customers from his establishment:

He's put two homemade drawings on the shop door, one a silhouette of a man coloured red, yellow and black for Germany and another in the red, white and blue for France.

Both silhouettes have a bar across them.

There's hope for German customers, depending upon their government's actions in the near future. French are out forever, "Their attitude toward the United States will never change."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:49 AM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:45 AM EST


Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Things Having to Do with the Fire

I apologize if you've come here at all during the past week looking for a Rhode Island blogger's frequent updates regarding the fire at the Station nightclub. The Providence Journal's been keeping up with all of the details. Myself, I guess the whole thing's just too close for me to engage in the rollcalling and the speculation that might justify frequent comment. Regarding the former, somehow, surprisingly in this state, I didn't know any of the people who died or were injured.

Regarding the latter, the speculation, I just can't stomach it. The local talk radio station to which I listen smacked me with the reason why, today. For one thing, they've preempted all of their programming during the day to talk about the tragedy nonstop. I guess there's been a need for a forum for Rhode Islanders to express themselves, but there really isn't all that much information out there to cover so much time. Today, when I left school for a few minutes to grab a cup of coffee, the news division of the radio station listed all of the big ticket items involved in one club owner's recent divorce. I don't need that info.

People this guy knew are dead, too, and he lost his business (one of his claims from the divorce) at the same time. He's probably also got a mountain of guilt, whether he's guilty of any criminal activity or not. So, until he declares that he can't pay on lost lawsuits, or something, I see no need for the local media to air his private affairs. Beyond the media (and more directly important), the state district attorney seems to be sensing that this might be a moment to shine for the cameras:

For a second day, Atty. Gen. Patrick J. Lynch appealed to Derderian and his brother Jeffrey, who co-owned the nightclub, to cooperate with investigators.

Lynch said Jeffrey Derderian hasn't spoken to investigators since the night of the fire and Michael has refused to answer any questions at all.

"There's a long list of things that we're all looking into now," said Lynch. "Ninety-seven people have died. Others cling to life as we all stand here. We're all looking for answers."

Maybe now mightn't be the time to pump up the pressure and the rhetoric in the investigation, eh Mr. Lynch?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:05 PM EST


Outrage of the Day Week Month Year

Joe Katzman offers a much-justified rant against Maine educators telling children of deployed military that... well, you read it:

Alan Grover, WABI-TV: "What the kids are facing is hearing that [from Principals, Teachers and/or Guidance Counsellors] their mother or father is a bad person for taking part in the confrontation with Iraq; comments that are coming from teachers. That's according to officers with the Guard’s Family Assistance Program who've been traveling throughout the state this week. The officers report that such incidents are relatively few in number but that they've occurred in practically every region of the state."

Absolutely despicable. There are links in the comment section through which to obtain relevant contact information, should you be inclined to make use of it.

I'm making this an addendum because I don't want to detract from the agreement that I have with Mr. Katzman about the absolutely offensive nature of the object of the majority of his post, but one part toward the end bothered me:

This is hard. It takes time. It doesn't always succeed. Just like all the other necessary and worthwhile things in life. Sometimes decency doesn't come as a given. Sometimes, you have to fight for it - and punish those who think it doesn't apply to them.

You want to push your foreign policy views? Invite and present other viewpoints, or get a show on local cable. You want to tell my daughter that abortion is murder? Buy a radio ad. You say you wanna revolution? Well, you know, we'd all love to see the blog.

Katzman links to a post by Trent Telenko that tangentially condemns the use of children in protesting at abortion clinics. I'll say right up front that I don't believe such activism to be right unless the parents support it. Even then, it smacks not only of indoctrination, but also of the theft of childhood itself. On the other hand, I've seen folks on the right go beyond the appropriate headshaking at activists inculcating their children with their values.

The citation of abortion, here, seems to conflict, in direction, with the rest of the post, even to the point of getting the tangential issue wrong. Put in simple political terms, the left-wingers in the public schools seem much more likely to impart an aesthetic demand for "choice," and the issue most pervasive (and outrageous, in my opinion) with respect to minors and abortion is that of attempts to undermine parental consent (here, we can only hope that England is not foreshadowing for our own country).

The larger reason that Katzman's slipping abortion into this post is nagging at me is that, by going beyond "foreign policy views" and naming an unrelated specific (domestic) issue, he seems to siphon some of the anger stirred by the specific wickedness perpetrated against the children of military personnel toward a different cause about which readers might disagree with him, as I apparently do, outside of the context of enlisting children. Obviously, the differences in type and degree between the two uses of children are considerable, and the blending of the two can't help but detract from the impact of the outrage at hand.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:59 PM EST


For the "And They Wanna Start Cloning?" Department

Man-eating flies have been let loose without having been properly irradiated. This is right out of a black-and-white horror movie (except for the fact that it looks as if the project is worthwhile):

Named for the corkscrew motion with which they burrow into flesh, the screwworm larvae can kill their victim -- human or animal -- in five days. The worm's Latin name, cochliomyia hominivorax, means "fly that devours men."

"They feed off fresh blood, not dead tissue as other species do. That's why they are extremely dangerous. It's very hard for an animal to defend itself against something like that," said Alfredo Alvarez, a biologist at the plant.

In the 1950s, U.S. scientists pioneered a strange but effective way of eradicating the pests. The flies are zapped with high doses of radiation to sterilize them then released into the wild to mate with their fertile counterparts. ...

Last month, the plant had its worst ever when a radiation machine malfunctioned. Millions of fertile flies were sent into the wild in Mexico and Panama. To date 50 cases of the disease have been found in animals in Panama and 44 in Chiapas.

The damage could escalate and take months to repair.

"It's a disaster for us. We're on national alert," said Alvarez. "The outbreak gives us an inkling of what could happen if the flies were used as a biological weapon in a terror attack. It could be very dangerous."

Got the shivers?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:27 PM EST


Want More Proof That the Music Industry Is Playing You?

A Spanish computer program has a 93% success rate at picking out pop hits:

Scientists in Barcelona, Spain, have created a new "tune technology" to accurately pinpoint which songs will be hits, using 22 variables, such as melody, beat, harmony and the distance between the singer and the microphone.

Researcher Mike McCready says the computer program is 93 percent successful in picking which songs become hits.

I've got a lot of question marks (e.g., how do they define hit? from among what songs is the program picking?), but I'm not surprised that such a thing would be possible. Don't be an automaton — buy independent!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:22 PM EST


Creative Punishment

I like a bit of punishment-fits-the-crime creativity in meting out the law. Here's a good example:

Curtis Lee Robin last week pleaded guilty to a felony charge of injury to a child and, along with his attorney and an Orange County prosecutor, signed the below "Agreed Punishment Recommendations" form that will be forwarded to District Court Judge Buddie Hahn in advance of Robin's March 13 sentencing. The plea agreement calls for Robin to receive an 8-year probation term, pay a $1000 fine, and "sleep in doghouse on his property or at Orange County Jail for thirty (30) consecutive nights."

I think we'd be a much healthier and happier society if such innovative (and public) punishments were to flourish.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:18 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 02/25/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "A Look at Us" by me.

"A Look at Us" Justin Katz, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Singing my song to painted walls

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:40 AM EST


Monday, February 24, 2003

No, No Risk at All; Only Choice

Although the procedure has not left it lacking for women, as is the case in India, abortion has likely had a negative effect on fertility in Russia — a nation in which certain towns offer incentives to couples to have children. Emily of After Abortion concedes that the problem likely affects "multiply post-abortive" women to a higher degree, a suggestion that reminded me of the horror stories in England.

As Mark Shea says, "Abortion: the gift that keeps on taking."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:29 PM EST


Perception and Practicality in Iraqi Reconstruction

Now that I've found the time to pay a little bit of attention, it seems to me that those who object to temporary U.S. military government of Iraq deal almost exclusively in perception. On NRO today, Jed Babbin suggests that not transferring leadership directly and immediately to Iraqis would represent a diplomatic failure:

Saddam Hussein is an old enemy, but this is a new war. Removing him will be the first American-imposed regime change in the Arab world. Hussein, bin Laden, and assorted Saudi government officials and mullahs are propagandizing that America is the infidel crusader attacking the ummah, the idealized Arab "nation." Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal said recently that any "unilateral" military action by America would be an "act of aggression." If we establish a military government for Iraq — even for a little while — we will aid those who want to destroy our credibility, and the freedom we can bring.

We will not have defeated terror once Saddam is gone. But if the Arabs see that we establish freedom — and how fast we can propel the Iraqis from oppression to freedom to prosperity — the concept of America as liberator will not be easily discarded. The peoples of other problem nations, such as Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, will see Iraq as an example of freedom to be followed. The hate that fills the government press and many sermons will increasingly be seen for what it is: propaganda.

This sounds wonderful, but it doesn't address how America would go about that "propelling" to freedom and prosperity. I'd suggest that the fastest way to secure freedom for the Iraqi people and establish the stability necessary to foster prosperity would be to tie the nation up to the United States until it can float on its own — in other words, to maintain U.S. control while the leeches are cleared off, repairs are made, and a new crew established. Noah Millman agrees, expressing some disillusionment with Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi (N.B., I found it very difficult to select a quotation because the whole entry is worth reading):

Installing Chalabi means not just decapitating the existing Baath party state but driving a huge number of people out of power and installing a bunch of exiles who will be immediately resented by the whole population. Meanwhile, the ethnic and religious factions will be overwhelmingly concerned with getting more for their own tribes, not with forging an Iraqi nation. It's a recipe for disaster.

The only way I can imagine keeping the country together is to have a strong central authority that everyone recognizes it is unwise to challenge. That's either another Saddam - that would really be a betrayal - or an American military governor. Then, over a couple of years, you structure an autonomy arrangement for the Kurds, work out a Constitution, maybe bring back a Hashemite figurehead, and hand the majority of power to Iraqi civilian authorities.

Addressing practical matters, Millman's is a strong argument. As he says, Iraq is not like Germany, in which a strong national identity exists across all interested parties, nor does it have experience with anything resembling a modern government. As for the perception promoted by enemies of the United States, I have little doubt that those external forces that do not find Chalabi (or whomever) in their own interests will cast him as a fair-weather nationalist or as a puppet for the Americans (which he would, indeed, have to be). In fact, even if a new Iraqi government were to be entirely autonomous of the United States, such propaganda is to be expected.

The way to prove the deception of Middle Eastern press and sermons is to make the Iraqi people more free and more prosperous. At this point, tight U.S. control of the government structures appears to be the most efficient means of accomplishing that. Any plan for the government can be slandered through propaganda; the question is whether the experience of the people is such that the slander takes hold. If not, a clear path toward renewed Iraqi autonomy will likely be sufficient to overcome the lies.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:11 AM EST


Save Our Nation!

Iraqi Americans call for a Saddamless Iraq:

In an answer to this month's worldwide war protests, some 500 Iraqi-Americans on Sunday urged one of President Bush's top military strategists to topple Saddam Hussein.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz assured them that American military might would come with even greater humanitarian help for people under Saddam's grip.

Maybe the Iraqi Americans should have Martin Sheen speak (or try to) at their next event.

(via Instapundit)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:59 AM EST


Sunday, February 23, 2003

Just Thinking 02/24/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Take Out," a short story about a guy getting take out from a chain restaurant.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:05 PM EST


Do-Gooders Do Evil in Africa

Medpundit is more credulous than I was about the African HIV study that found a large part of the disease's spread attributable to poor medical treatment. She's read the study, so she's much more qualified than I am to discuss it. I do have to say that it's nearly unbelievable, to me, that the do-gooder organizations would be so prejudiced, culturally and ideologically, as to choose what seems to have been the absolute worst possible path for addressing the problem. This is from the study (with ed notes by medpundit):

First, it was in the interests of AIDS researchers in developed countries — where HIV seemed stubbornly confined to MSMs [homosexuals - ed], IDUs [IV drug users -ed], and their partners — to present AIDS in Africa as a heterosexual epidemic; 'nothing captured the attention of editors and news directors like the talk of widespread heterosexual transmission of AIDS' ... In a prominent 1988 article in Science, Piot and colleagues generalize with arguably more public relations savvy than evidence that 'Studies in Africa have demonstrated that HIV-1 is primarily a heterosexually transmitted disease and that the main risk factor for acquisition is the degree of sexual activity with multiple partners, not sexual orientation'. Second, there may have been an inclination to emphasize sexual transmission as an argument for condom promotion, coinciding with pre-existing programmes and efforts to curb Africa's rapid population growth. Third, 'the role of sexual promiscuity in the spread of AIDs in Africa appears to have evolved in part out of prior assumptions about the sexuality of Africans', as Packard and Epstein document in a regrettably ignored 1991 article. Fourth, health professionals in WHO and elsewhere worried that public discussion of HIV risks during health care might lead people to avoid immunizations. A 1990 letter to the Lancet, for example, speculated that 'a health message — eg, to avoid contaminated injection materials — will be misunderstood and that immunization programmes will be adversely affected'. In short, tangential, opportunistic, and irrational considerations may have contributed to ignoring and misinterpreting epidemiologic evidence.

Not believing that the inhabitants of a continent could be convinced to copulate prudently (ABC — abstinence, be faithful, use condoms) is one thing, but insisting on a "safe sex" approach when the problem is within the clinic itself isn't even in the ballpark. So when do you think we'll start seeing mea culpas?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:58 PM EST


Go Ahead and Mock

Perhaps it can be seen as indicative of the suspected merit of such questions that pondering the health of pervasive promotion of sex is an area of thought to be mocked. Who, in mixed company, would dare raise the subject of sex addiction without at least a hint of irony as an escape from ridicule? And yet, a broadly libertine perspective on sex within a culture will not be made benign no matter how frequently we are told that it is.

Steven [a research assistant for a Boston hospital] got help eight years ago after a clergyman handed him the card of a sex-addiction therapist. Often sufferers aren't that lucky.

"Many therapists out there don't recognize sexually compulsive behavior as a problem," he says. "We were told it was understandable behavior. Many people enter recovery because they couldn't deal with a therapist continuing to tell them it was OK."

This is especially dangerous because left untreated, most sex addicts' behavior will escalate. That's why Hochstrasser-Walsh is so frustrated with the dearth of treatment options in Rhode Island. He'd like to see enough 12-step groups to allow patients to attend several meetings a week, more training for therapists on sex addiction and more awareness of the problem. But first, locals need to be able to discuss the problem without smirking.

No matter how many therapists or voices of corrupt morality declare that any behavior is just fine, we will continue to know that it is not. Just as it once was important to insist on healthy attitudes emerging from cultural mandates of sexual suppression, now it is important to insist on healthy attitudes being rebuilt despite cultural encouragement of sexual license.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:56 PM EST


Campaign Finance: No Republican Missteps, Here

As was clear when the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform crossed President Bush's desk, if it weren't for the limitations on free speech, the bill would have been a fairly unadulterated victory for the Republicans. As Philip Terzian points out, if the actual finance part of the law makes it past the Supreme Court, the Republicans will expand their already substantial fund-raising advantage. I'm no expert, but my sense is that the reason this turn of events proved possible was that liberals just do not realize (or accept) how the Democrats actually play the game. The issue may prove to be just one more force pushing the Democrats farther into the mistaken strategies of deceptive legal tricks, unbankable promises, and social division.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:17 PM EST


The Names of Those Lost to Fire

The names of those who lost their lives in the West Warwick nightclub fire are beginning to come out. I didn't know any of the first seven named, but I will pray for them and their families.

As for culpability, the investigation promises to be difficult and painful. I heard a heart-wrenching press conference by the co-owner of the club who was on the scene that night, and he vehemently denied that the owners gave any permission for pyrotechnics. Nonetheless, the claims of both sides, the band and the club, are surrounded by suggestive evidence. It has been widely reported that the band has been accused, by club owners in other states, of using pyrotechnics without permission. On the other hand, from what I've heard, Jack Russell (Great White's lead singer) supposedly mentioned the intended use of pyrotechnics on a local radio show a few days ago, and patrons have claimed seeing pyrotechnics at the club before.

I suspect that there is an unspoken level of permissiveness in the business in general, but all that can be done is to wait for authorities to investigate. And all that can be said is that it shouldn't have happened.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:37 AM EST


Saturday, February 22, 2003

That No Professor Should Fear Ridicule

As part of an assignment for a 200-level French class that I took my final year at the University of Rhode Island, I made my way to the language building's media room. I handed over my student ID and selected a TV/VCR combo at the back of the room. The movie, Chacun Cherche Son Chat ("everyone is looking for his cat"), was a light film about a young single woman looking for love. Although the chairs weren't the most comfortable, and watching an entire movie using headphones in a booth is not ideally conducive to enjoyment, I rather liked the film. I think my mind had wandered a little, perhaps reveling in my ability to understand much of the movie without the benefit of subtitles, when two naked male actors appeared on the screen, flopping about the room kissing and engaging in anal sex. "Oh," my teacher explained in class, "it's a thing they do in France: insert gratuitous sex."

I see. Boy, did I see. Apparently college students learning the French language are being made to see all over the country. And to see that they keep any objections to themselves.

Aaron Sanders, a student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, has been fired from his position with the school's student paper for daring to print the opinions of fellow students that Ridicule, a French movie that opens with a close-up of an uncircumcised penis urinating on a man in a wheelchair, mightn't be appropriate fare, particularly given that students claim that Professor Claire Goldstein didn't warn them before presenting the film in her "Text in Context" class. (Note: I think the victim of the "golden shower" is in a wheelchair, but it's been a while since I saw the film.)

The column sparked controversy, and the professoriate taught the young (conservative) punk, and any who might share his views, a lesson. French and Italian department chairman Jonathan Strauss contacted the paper's faculty adviser, professor of journalism Cheryl Heckler, who emailed the paper's editor, Jill Inkrott, to fire Sanders. Heckler also emailed Sanders personally to inform him that he had "caused greater pain to a dedicated, careful, VALUABLE professor than you can possibly comprehend." I wonder whether the professor's emphasis on the word "valuable" is meant to suggest that it is a quality that Sanders, a lowly student and hopeful journalist, might lack. As for the incomprensible pain that Goldstein apparently experienced, I also wonder what fun it could possibly be to present potentially offensive material that doesn't offend anybody enough for them to make the feeling known.

Goldstein's sensitivity to criticism points to the most disturbing aspect of the whole ordeal, even beyond the First Amendment issues involved in Sanders's firing. In an editorial response (on the department's official Web site), Strauss insinuated that Sanders — a student currently attending the university, mind you — has "a fascination" with sex — "to each his own," writes the department chair. On Erin O'Connor's Critical Mass blog, a commentor identifying himself as Norman Levitt, Mathematics, Rutgers, calls young Sanders "idiotic" and "dimwitted." It might be advisable for Professor Levitt's students not to bring up the topic, or related issues, if they disagree (such avoidance ought to be relatively easy in math studies, I would think).

In his original response, Strauss wrote, "The real issue here isn't sex; the issue is controlling people's right to express themselves and think through their opinions without undue fear." Unless, presumably, those opinions merit ad hominem ridicule on the school's Web site and, more broadly, in the academic community.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:51 PM EST


An Argument for Temporary U.S. Military Rule of Iraq

I'll admit to being behind the curve in studying up on all of the contributing factors that one must take into account when suggesting governmental strategies for a post-war Iraq, but my sense is that the democracy fetishists who think anything other than an immediately democratized nation would be a travesty and a betrayal are way off base.

Noah Millman's done his homework and has written an insightful post on the topic:

The only way I can imagine keeping the country together is to have a strong central authority that everyone recognizes it is unwise to challenge. That's either another Saddam - that would really be a betrayal - or an American military governor. Then, over a couple of years, you structure an autonomy arrangement for the Kurds, work out a Constitution, maybe bring back a Hashemite figurehead, and hand the majority of power to Iraqi civilian authorities.

(Noah's direct links don't appear to be working, so look for the post that begins, "I hate to say this, but I'm falling off the wagon with respect to Ahmad Chalabi.")

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:00 PM EST


Junk (Food) Science

The more children you have, the more likely you are to be obese, whether you are a mother or a father, researchers said Monday.

And, at least among mothers, the risk of developing diabetes, high levels of fat in the blood and heart disease appears to climb with every additional baby born to the family.

How convenient that the "ideal number of children" for the waist line just happens to be the number for population replacement. "See," the overpopulation doomsayers will say, "you'll clog neither our world nor your arteries."

In addition, once families included two children, the addition of every new child increased the risk of heart disease among mothers by 30%, and among fathers by 12%.

On the other hand, there's another fact of the study: that these researchers have no more basis to make such claims than a kid taking mental notes at the local mall. They've tallied the numbers, but none of their conclusions can be considered more than speculation:

However, once the researchers removed the influence of obesity and other risk factors for heart disease from this relationship, the risk of heart disease remained only slightly higher among mothers with many children, and disappeared in fathers.

"Parents of large families tend to be poorer and also have less healthy lifestyles--which explains some of their increased (heart disease) risk," Lawlor explained.

So, will having that third, fourth, or fifth child really make you more likely to be obese and more prone to heart disease? No. The factors are only indirectly related (mostly by way of personality and lifestyle choice). However, it may very well increase your overall sense of purpose and joy. I suggest an alternate headline for this story:

Parents of Multiple Children More Likely to Die Unless Rich Folks Start Breeding

(via Davey's Daddy)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:23 PM EST


What Newton Believed

So Sir Isaac Newton predicted the end of the world in 2060.

His theories about Armageddon have been unearthed by academics from little-known handwritten manuscripts in a library in Jerusalem.

The thousands of pages show Newton's attempts to decode the Bible, which he believed contained God's secret laws for the universe.

Newton, who was also a theologian and alchemist, predicted that the Second Coming of Christ would follow plagues and war and would precede a 1,000-year reign by the saints on earth - of which he would be one.

More fascinating than Newton's actually deriving a year, in my opinion, is the reminder that theists are often too quick to cede "ownership" of the greatest minds of history to materialists. I've by no means made a study of it, but it seems as if we're in the midst of a period of Godlessness in the sciences. Some signs suggest that we're at the tail end of the period, although others would dispute this. As a general rule, on this count, I think scientists would do well to be humble in their assessment of what their profession can and cannot accomplish. This isn't akin to discovering that a recommended diet has been in error.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:41 PM EST


How's Your State for Gas?

Rhode Island is at about the midway point of a cross-state gas-price comparison. It's nice to see, however, that convenience isn't the only reason for me to fill my car up in Massachusetts.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:26 PM EST


Friday, February 21, 2003

Just Thinking: Volume I

Just Thinking: Volume I, 10/29/01–10/21/02, a collection of one year of my Just Thinking columns and the latest release from Timshel Literature is now available. To be completely honest, I'll be thrilled if I can break even on this venture; given the readership of this blog, alone, that ought to be possible. If you are considering, have considered, or may someday consider ordering your autographed copy, please do.

$12.00 (includes shipping)

Special Offer:

Buy Just Thinking: Volume I and
get A Whispering Through the Branches for half price!

$19.00 (includes shipping)
$25.50 (includes shipping)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:23 PM EST


Notes on Blogging and Vlogging

Looking over Dust in the Light today, I see I did manage a few posts. However, I feel as if it was a light blogging day, so I wanted to mention that it was largely owing to the drive to knock a few move-to-tomorrow items off my To Do list. Today was quite productive, and my feeling more satisfied than usual around this time of night has confirmed that I really need to get the blogging into perspective in comparison with the rest of my projects. There may very well be no noticeable change in output, but I will definitely not be checking my sources so frequently (which is to say, more frequently than they're meant to be checked).

As for vlogging, I'd like to do more because it really is fun. However, given the tepid response to the last vlog (even with an Instapundit link), I've put it where it belongs: for when I've got a significant amount of spare time. Of course, that spare time might be more forthcoming if y'all were to pay a visit, with open mind and open wallet, to Confidence Place.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:21 PM EST


Now 96 Dead; Reporter Caught the Whole Thing on Tape

The number of deaths in that nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, has been raised to 39. Apparently, a local news videographer was there acquiring footage for a report on nightclub safety, and he caught the fire as it began. The local Fox news station's server is clearly overwhelmed, but here's the video (the fire scene starts around 2:25).

(Note: Apparently, the WPRI Web site isn't enabled to stream video in Netscape, so you'll either have to Save Target As or use Internet Explorer.)

The casualty total is up to 54. God rest their souls.

Here's a CBS RealMedia file with some additional footage of the escape. Funny, the announcer says it was a CBS camera on the scene, but WPRI Eyewitness News is "Fox Providence."

The death toll is now up to 60. The tragedy is made so much the worse by the ever-increasing numbers. It hardly compares in scale, but I can't help but remember the cautious relief, even amazement, as the September 11 total continued to decrease as people were accounted for.

96. The search is now on for family and friends are who haven't found loved ones. The magnitude of this is starting to hit home; nobody ever wants to find himself in a situation like this:

About 100 people gathered at a family support center set up at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick by the Red Cross. Grief counselors and clergy members were on hand.

One father got some good news at the hotel: He went there for information about his missing daughter and learned she was safe.

"Her father was here and we were able to tell him she was fine, `Go call your wife,' and everybody cheered," said Nick Logothets, director of disaster services for the local Red Cross.

The relief, and yet the guilt, looking around at the hopeful faces around the room. It's such a foolish reason for so many people to die. The club owners deny granting permission for the use of pyrotechnics. I'd guess that it's probably just something to which nobody in that business gives much thought. Back when I used to go out to such concerts, I was often surprised at the size of the explosions that were allowed.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:51 AM EST


This Time in Rhode Island

More nightclub deaths, this time at The Station in Rhode Island. I've never been there, but it's pretty well known. This incident was different than the recent catastrophe in Chicago in that it was a pyrotechnics explosion during the show (Great White). If The Station is like most similar places, the people just squeeze right up against the stage, and the nightclub owners tend to pack in as many people as will fit.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:01 AM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:47 AM EST


Will They Never Learn?

Although progressive "solutions" such as increasing sexual education and expanding provision of birth control and abortion for girls who should not yet be sexually active have led to a horrific state of affairs in England, the powers that be in the youth-sexualization industry continue to pile worse policy upon bad policy:

[A new course] aims to reduce promiscuity by encouraging pupils to discover "levels of intimacy", including oral sex, instead of full sexual intercourse.

More than 100,000 children are now taking the course at one in every thirty secondary schools. It forms part of efforts to tackle Britain’s teenage pregnancy rate, which is the highest in Western Europe.

I'm ever-more convinced that these problems follow directly from initial social choices that will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to unmake. In other words, improvement may require no less than a full admission that we have been wrong and a thorough assessment of how much of our current sexual thinking we can afford to keep.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:44 AM EST


Another Front

Here's a reminder that the war on terrorism is global:

Philippine and U.S. officials said they agreed to begin the joint offensive now for several reasons. Negotiations between the countries have been on-going for months, but Abu Sayyaf's repeated attacks and the bombing death of an American Green Beret last November spurred Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to work out an aggressive plan.

Among terrorist groups, Abu Sayyaf has stood out for its genocidal attacks on Christians.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:19 AM EST


U.S. Post-War Plans Seem Reasonable to Me

You'll likely hear a bunch of hooey about the United States' post-war plan for Iraq being proof that we're only there to take over oil fields and build an empire. The first thing to ask any hooey-speakers is what they would prefer. As the movement of Iranian troops into Iraq suggest, the vacuum left by a dethroned Saddam Hussein will likely be too attractive for the power struggle to not cause the situation to deteriorate rapidly if the U.S. doesn't initially fill it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:17 AM EST


Thursday, February 20, 2003

Hey, Read the Book or Wait for the DVD

As much as I disliked it when I noticed that the space traditionally devoted solely to trailers before a movie at the theater had begun to be sold to advertisers, I think it's more than ridiculous for people to sue for lost time. Come on now. Out of all of the ways that the entertainment industry attempts to take advantage of its patrons, is this method really worth a lawsuit?

I guess it's easier (and more profitable) to sue than to write a letter or protest by staying home and reading a book and waiting for the DVD.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:30 PM EST


Giving Up on Doctors

So, about a year ago, I made an appointment to get a general check up with a doctor whom my brother-in-law recommended. A few weeks before the day arrived, the doctor's office called and told me that the doctor had to clear his schedule for a family emergency and that I should call later in the summer to reschedule. In no hurry, I followed the instructions and ultimately scheduled an appointment for this morning.

Arriving fifteen minutes early for my 11:15 a.m. appointment (in a clinic that opens at 10:00 a.m.), I sat down and counted the pages of the long chapter in The Lord of the Rings that intended to begin reading. Well, two hours later, that chapter was finished, and I still wasn't out of the waiting room, with two people still ahead of me in their own little white-walled cells. I left.

I am so furious that it may be a full week before I'm able to motivate myself to begin the search for another doctor, who will, hopefully, be able to see me before another year is out. I can't imagine expecting people to sit in a cramped room with soap opera noises overhead on the television and receptionists who refuse to estimate a wait time for the better part of a workday. And I can't help but think that, if the medical industry weren't structured the way it is, doctors would have to find ways to deal with such problems.

Why couldn't a doctor, who already knows that he's two hours behind, have the receptionist tell his patients his predicament and invite them to leave and come back at a specified time? Maybe, like at a restaurant, patients could be given pagers that go off when their rooms are almost cleared for service. Or better yet, the doctor's office could call people at home a half-hour or so before the doctor is ready for them. To not at least tell people to expect a wait that could accommodate the watching of The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers seems to me to indicate a lack of concern for them, a presumption that they'll do whatever the hell the doctor wants them to because, well, he's the doctor.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:11 PM EST


First Do No Harm

A study finding that only about a third of African AIDS is spread through sexual means would be hopeful news, if true. If the central problem is, indeed, "contaminated medical injections," then prevention would seem easier to achieve.

Still, I'm skeptical. The research is mainly based on extracted demographic information from other studies:

Many studies reported young children infected with HIV even though their mothers were not.

Typically STDs are associated with being poor and uneducated but HIV in Africa is linked with urban living, having a good education and higher income.

It wasn't long ago that I read of rumors in Africa that sex with virgins would cure HIV leading to some horrific behavior. As for the three factors associated with HIV in Africa, I haven't read the research, but it seems some of that association could be explained by studying any demographic shift that might have occurred based on the people who actually participated in the study. I also don't know why "urban living" is cast, here, as a de facto indication of higher class status.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:31 AM EST


Wednesday, February 19, 2003

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:19 PM EST


Offensive for the Wrong Reasons?

Here's the headline:

Anti-Bush T-Shirt Banned at Mich. School

Aha! Jingoistic censorship! The silencing of free political expression criticizing the President! Not quite:

School officials ordered a 16-year-old student to either take off a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "International Terrorist" and a picture of President Bush or go home, saying they worried it would inflame passions at the school where a majority of students are Arab-American. ...

Dearborn is the center of an Arab-American community of about 300,000 in southeastern Michigan. About 55 percent of the district's 17,600 students are Arab-American.

What can be said? From the fact that only the potentially anti–Arab-terrorist implications made the shirt objectionable to the assumption that reference to terrorists must surely offend Arabs in the first place, there's just too much here. This is PCism beginning to eat itself.

Along with the link to the school district's Web site, the Guardian provides a link to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Where's the link to the Bush supporter support group?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:00 PM EST


The Right to Be Not-so-Subtly Racist

The subhead of a Providence Journal article says it all: "The Supreme Court is urged to preserve a college's right to consider race as a factor in admitting a student." And there's no way to describe it more clearly.

The folks doing the urging are the heads of America's most pampered academic institutions:

They said their current, "carefully designed" and multifaceted admissions systems have helped them to give students a better education, and predicted that a ruling against Michigan "would trigger wrenching disruption." ...

The colleges also made it clear that because Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids institutions that receive federal funds to engage in racial "discrimination," they feared a ruling against Michigan could "dramatically" compromise their own admissions systems.

There's no way to characterize that as saying other than, "allow us to continue unConstitutional discrimination." Even the breath-of-fresh-air Larry Summers is in on it:

"This case is enormously important for higher education and for our nation," Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers said in a statement. "We hope the Supreme Court, as it did 25 years ago in [Regents of the University of California v. Bakke], will preserve universities' flexibility to maintain carefully tailored admissions programs that do not turn a blind eye to the powerful educational value of student diversity."

But not a "blind eye" to race? I wonder how many of the students who attend these folks' schools are currently learning the postmodernist mumbo-jumbo that race does not exist. That is why, for me, the drive for affirmative action is just so incredibly bizarre. On the one hand, it is bad because it perpetuates racism; on the other hand, it is hypocritical because many of its supporters also believe that race is a fabrication that will disappear once we cease to believe in it.

This issue is so untenable that even America's most over-educated scribblers can't author a brief statement without writing nonsense:

The elite colleges' brief argues that such alternatives [as accepting top-ranking students from all schools] would be "disingenuous," and "infeasible and ineffective" for highly selective universities that already receive applications from far more top students than they can accommodate, and that draw students from around the world.

Such quotas can't be applied to graduate schools, the brief notes, and they are "fundamentally incompatible with the commitment to consider each applicant on his or her individual merit, taking into account all factors, not just test scores or class rank."

I'm concentrating particularly on the second paragraph. I continue to wonder why four years of opportunity to shine in undergraduate college wouldn't even the playing field sufficiently for graduate admissions to be race-blind. Moreover, it seems to me laughable to argue that we cannot judge based on academic achievement rather than race because the former is "incompatible" with consideration of "individual merit," whereas the latter is not. Huh?

My own opinion is that these collegiate presidents are full of it. Here's Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons:

"By almost all accounts, our institutions of higher learning have benefited enormously from greater diversity in their student bodies, faculty and staff," Simmons said. "The greater variety of backgrounds, life experiences, political positions, social perspectives and personal aspirations on their campuses has allowed the nation's colleges and universities to better prepare students for lives in an international, multicultural world."

The heart of this statement, involving variety of perspective in one way or another, is an utter lie. You don't have to take my own experience not getting into Brown's (or any other) graduate school for English as an indication (here's my résumé). Here's a blurb about Brown that draw's from David Horowitz's study of college professors:

At Brown University, 94.7% of the professors whose political affiliations showed up in primary registrations last year were Democrats, only 5.3% were Republicans. Only three Republicans could be found on the Brown liberal arts faculty. Zero in the English Department, zero in the History Department, zero in the Political Science Department, zero in the Africana Studies Department, and zero in the Sociology Department.

Well, I guess one way to teach youngsters that there's no difference between people of different races is to perpetuate homogeneity where difference really matters.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:45 PM EST


Can the Students Sue?

I remember being less shocked than my professor when he discovered that it had been left to him to teach basic argumentative writing to students in a 400-level class on Melville. At least the University of Rhode Island never made the claims that Duke did based on the Greatness of Stanley Fish. But it's likely a nationwide problem:

In fact, hundreds of thousands of recent college graduates today cannot express themselves with the written word. Why? Because universities have shortchanged them, offering strange literary theories, Marxism, feminism, deconstruction, and other oddities in the guise of writing courses. They've offered everything, really, but the basics of clear writing.

Carnegie Mellon University had a good program in this area when I was there. Of course, my Argument one-oh-something class took race and the construction and treatment thereof as its central theme, but the professor clearly understood that this was the medium, not the message.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:34 PM EST


You Have to Chew the Crow to Eat It

About a month ago, I wondered how John Derbyshire would handle being wrong when it became apparent even to him that we were going to follow through with our threats against Saddam Hussein. Here it is. Apparently, it's our lack of bravado that fooled him. (Yeah, I know: interestingly different than the way his European brethren seem to see us.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:14 PM EST


Just War, the Vatican, and Me

Want more on the Just War, Iraq, and the Vatican? I've been discussing it in comment boxes at Mark Shea's blog all day. The direct links don't appear to be working properly, so if you're interested, go to Mark's page and look for the following posts (from oldest to newest):

Things that give me pause
Ambivalence! Get Your Fresh Hot Ambivalence Right Here!
Another Conflicted Reader writes
Unhelpful rhetoric
Mobile arguments for war

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:05 PM EST


Campaign-Finance Posturing Payback

Well, the politicians are starting to find out what they signed into law during that campaign finance imbroglio. Here's my favorite part:

It turns out that the law also includes a provision requiring that federal candidates appear full-faced for the last four seconds of their campaigns' television advertisements and personally attest that they stand behind the advertisements' content.

Several consultants said this could prove to be quite a problem politically when the time comes to begin televising the kind of hard-hitting negative advertisements that have become standard campaign fare. As a rule, those ads at present tend to reduce the role of the candidate to a small line at the bottom of a screen.

No! Not personal accountability!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:58 PM EST


Using the Weapons That He Doesn't Have

Saddam Hussein may be planning to use his chemical and biological weapons in a more-strategic fashion than simply dropping them on U.S. troops. He's going to make a death-trap of Baghdad. I hope U.S. military planners really do manage to surprise us all with their ingenuity, as I've increasingly been told to expect.

Beyond that, the defector who offered this latest information expressed skepticism about the U.N. finding any WMDs:

"There's no way that they can find them, unless by pure accident," he said of U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq. "Saddam has mastered his concealment tactics."

He has appointed thousands of security officers and trained them well in hiding these weapons.

"These materials are hidden deep underground or in a tunnel system," al-Shahristani said.

Imagine what's likely to come out when this is all over! This underground system must be unprecedented. Is there any chance we'll overtake Iraq without having to destroy them all?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:54 PM EST


I Always Liked James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones proves that not all actors are Leftist automatons:

Jones, a former Army officer, drew perhaps the biggest round of applause after the subject turned to America's showdown with Iraq. He said that war is sometimes necessary.

"All people have to be prepared," Jones said. "If we are going to be the police, we also have to be the guardians. We can no longer play games. I was not against the war in Bosnia. I was against it taking so long. I was not against the war in Somalia. Again, it took too long, and we didn't finish the job. We should've stayed and finished the job. About this pending war, I just think we should've finished that war the first time."

But perhaps the best part of this quotation is that he drew significant applause from a collegiate performing arts center crowd for his opinion.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:45 PM EST


The Hopeless Interviews

I thought about going out and interviewing anti-war protestors, but I figured all of Rhode Island's best and brightest probably made the trip to New York. I wonder if Evan Coyne Maloney found any of them...

(Note: clicking the link starts the movie, so if you've got a slow connection, you might want to forego it.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:18 PM EST


"Those who have responsibility for the common good"?

The quotation in the title is taken from the Roman Catholic Catechism's description of Just War doctrine (2309). In discussing the current conflict with Iraq, some at the Vatican suggest that these people reside in the United Nations, specifically in the Security Council. has performed the service of collecting some human rights' groups' ratings of the Council's current members. It would appear that many are not but so concerned with their "responsibility for the common good."

(via Instapundit)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:48 AM EST


Being Chased by Aliens

So you're riding through the desert to an exclusive Hollywood networking party with two friends when the car breaks down. From out of nowhere, a space alien appears and attacks your two friends. What do you do?

Kara Blanc's action was to sue the makers of the television show that set up the prank. Next time it happens to her, I hope it really is another joke!

Make sure to catch the punchline in the third-to-last paragraph.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:39 AM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:28 AM EST


Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The Virgin's Tears

A statue of Blessed Mother Mary is crying in Chittagong, Bangladesh, a city with only 8,000 Christians among over 4 million people. Many Muslims have flocked to the Roman Catholic Church to see it for themselves, even though such interest is apparently in contravention to the Koran.

Scientists have already spoken up about the possibility of condensation on the statue's face resulting from its being in a glass case. Hey, it's possible (God must work miracles somehow). I mean this as more of an open "huh" than an argument, but it occurs to me that I've never heard of secular statues crying.

[Note: The picture that accompanies the story is of a different statue.]

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:46 PM EST


A Reason for the Pope's Position

As frustrating as I find the morally turgid public statements of Vatican higher-ups that seem politically motivated, I do hold out hope that the Pope and some less outspoken voices have reason for not articulating their somewhat conflicting opinions. Michael Novak voices something that I've been repeating, myself, around the Internet:

What are the differences between Iraq and Kosovo? For one thing, it is very important that war against an Arab sovereign such as Saddam not be construed as a religious war. It is actually far better for the Pope in advance to be visibly opposed to a war in Iraq, even while pleading for Iraq's compliance with the U.N. resolutions.

Unfortunately, if this is the Pope's thinking, one downside — and it is by no means an easy stance to take — is that the public statements may continue to overshadow the prudent silence even if it becomes clear, later, why such a strategy was followed. We see this with claims against the Vatican's behavior during World War II. But being moral and being faithful were never meant, as far as I can tell, to be easy.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:16 PM EST


The IraQaeda Connection

Mansoor Ijaz offers some interesting points about the Iraq/al Qaeda connection and related issues. You'd benefit from reading the whole thing, but here are some highlights:

By tying himself to Iraq, even nebulously, [bin Laden] hoped to provoke U.S. action before diplomacy could heal the widening trans-Atlantic rift with NATO members and before his retaliation infrastructure could be further dismantled, rendering it all but impotent to respond to a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. ... [Partial justification for taking the long road to war.]

The only reason U.S. intelligence officials don't give United Nations weapons inspectors the exact location of the mountain bunkers where Saddam has hidden the largest part of his biochemical arsenal is because it would get every one of them killed the minute one UNSCOM jeep or helicopter headed in that direction. ... [I've heard of rebuffed fly-overs, so this is believable, but isn't it UNMOVIC?]

The real danger Americans face today is not from Iraq's existing biochemical-weapons cache, but from Saddam's transfer of recipe books and formulas to al Qaeda, and access to the scientists who teach from them, for developing weapons of mass murder on site at its terrorist hideouts around the world. And not just now, but for decades to come. ...

Gathering data on Iraq's collaborations figured high on the list of priorities for discussion with senior Taliban leaders — a point I made amply clear in my initial correspondence to the Taliban ambassador in Islamabad. ... [Remember this next time somebody complains that Iraq was on the list even on September 11.]

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:01 PM EST


Better Off Not Knowing How We Know

Such a statement may bring dogmatic scorn upon me from the intelligentsia, but I think we are better off not not digging too deeply into how the brain works and how minds compare from person to person. We have difficulty understanding just how every person has value as it is (just ask Peter Singer). With cold data, derivable from brain scans, I fear humanity will incline toward the worst possible conclusions, and the only argument that society may raise in opposition will resemble the wishful dissembling that met The Bell Curve. We're already approaching the question in the wrong way with new brain scan research:

Dr. Gray said he and his colleagues were still debating whether intelligence was best thought of as an innate general ability or as the ability to succeed in different domains. "You could spin it both ways."

Several researchers, including Dr. Robert Sternberg at Yale and Dr. Howard Gardner at Harvard, have argued that the notion of general intelligence has little value and that it makes more sense to measure people's strength or "intelligence" in different types of activities.

The implication of this, for policies down the road, is that we may come to view people's value as the sum total of the various strengths or intelligences that they possess. This will not do, although brain surgeons are not likely to worry about the effects of such a social mindset. We are all equal. Bottom line. And I'm not convinced that the potential benefits of scientifically determining what makes us different outweigh the dangers.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:45 AM EST


Shoveling Snow

After two hours of shoveling, I reached the end of the driveway, where the snow is always higher and more dense from the plows. There's something so... neat about finally breaking through the wall of snow to the street. Of course, clearing those last few feet is the hardest part. Then there's the walkway to the front door...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:58 AM EST


Songs You Should Know 02/18/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Winsome" by Dan Lipton.

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:14 AM EST


Just Thinking 02/17/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "I Sometimes Need Reminding," about balancing dreams and personal fulfillment with responsibility and true happiness.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:00 AM EST


Monday, February 17, 2003

"The ref was like Conan the Barbarian."

Perhaps because I refereed for the town soccer league when I was a teenager, this just struck me as hilarious:

[The ref] was getting abuse from the Romark players and he abandoned the game. Then one cuffed his head.

"Another player called him a fairy and he went completely berserk. He ran off the pitch and returned a few moments later stripped to the waist and waving a long axe round his head.

When life imitates slapstick...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:24 PM EST


With All Due Respect

It's getting harder and harder to defend the actions of higher-ups in the Catholic Church:

The envoy, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, met the Iraqi leader for 90 minutes in Baghdad delivering a message from the Pope.

The cardinal said Saddam Hussein had been relieved by Friday's report to the United Nations by the chief weapons inspectors.

"He [Saddam Hussein] is doing everything to avoid war," Cardinal Etchegaray told Italian television, according to French news agency AFP.

I do wonder (a little) whether that "he" was taken to mean "Saddam Hussein" in error at some point as this story made its way to the BBC via the AFP via Italian television. I wouldn't put such a "mistake" past European news agencies. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that Etchegaray — a Frenchman, I believe — was the guy photographed holding hands with Arafat.

Then there's this:

Bishops councils in France, Italy, Germany and the United States itself have warned of the consequences of a military strike.

The French bishops even demanded that the French government refuse to participate in a conflict.

"If there is a war, the refusal to participate by some western countries like ours would be very important to avoid a conflict that would be presented, by extremists in particular, as a 'clash of civilizations' or of religions," the French bishops said.

Is our religion the Truth, or is lefty tolerance and relativism the Truth, bishops? Trying times for a Catholic, indeed. I'm very grateful that I found my way to the Church two-plus years ago. Of course, God could have worked a miracle, in a sense, but I may very well have been so repulsed by this behavior, on top of last year's scandal, that I'd have remained twisting in the wind of doubt and unrequited longing, ripe picking for temptation and evil.

Tend to your flock, gentlemen, rather than seeking to foil the capture of wolves, large and small.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:21 AM EST


Estranged Fathers to Sue Psychiatric Industry

Y'know how sciences and so-called sciences (e.g., psychiatry) are always right and actionable?

The research demonstrates that police interrogators and people investigating sexual-abuse allegations must be careful not to plant suggestions into their subjects, said University of California-Irvine psychologist Elizabeth Loftus. She presented preliminary results of recent false memory experiments Sunday at the national meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Just something to keep in mind when hearing stories about sexual abuse, particularly sexual abuse from the past thirty years.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:02 AM EST


I Know It's the Way It Goes, but It Sucks

So, off we go to rid the Middle East of a madman. We battled France, and won, to ensure NATO protection of Turkey. And now, the Turks are delaying while the nation's politicians talk it over:

The speaker said Turkey must first assess how to handle the damage war might cause its fragile economy. He said Ankara strongly favored a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis.

Curious, that. Whatever could they mean?

Turkey is seeking a financial package, which analysts say could total between $4 billion and $15 billion or more to cushion it from the economic impact of any war. Tourism will be hit, interest rates may rise and oil costs could soar, all threatening a key IMF crisis recovery program.

But catch the United States acting purely in its own interest just once, and... well, we all know how that goes.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:57 AM EST


Sunday, February 16, 2003

Iraqi Survivors Comment on the Pro-Saddam Protestors

My experience is so far removed from theirs that I can't even comment. I'll just provide the link:

Mr al-Ezzawi's friend, Saad Qasim, 53, recounted his own experiences as he too watched the marchers with visible distaste showing on his face. "My 11-year-old son was killed in 1991 by Iraqi soldiers. He was just a kid. They shot him as he went to get some water," he said tearfully.

"Saddam Hussein doesn't care. He is the biggest criminal in the world. There needs to be a war against Saddam Hussein, a war for the Iraqi people. That has to be better than allowing him to continue killing all these people."

Mr al-Ezzawi was unable to keep the anger out of his voice as he agreed. "Yes, no-one seems to be thinking about that. The people on the anti-war march, they don't seem to realise, they don't have any idea what Saddam Hussein is like, the massacres, the genocides he has committed.

(via Instapundit)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:58 PM EST


Alone Again, Politically

Even though I likely disagree with just about everything she stands for politically, even though I don't even support her as a vote-eroder for Al Sharpton (who is my ideal Democratic candidate for the next Presidential election), I have to feel badly for Carol Moseley-Braun. I have nightmares about this sort of thing.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:06 PM EST


Good Thing We Grow Out of Indulging What Ifs

Y'know, I can't help but wonder what would happen if we supporters of a safe and peaceful world threw up our hands and said to the other side, "Alrighty then, Saddam stays. The troops come home." A person could write several thick books exploring the repercussions of such a decision, and many possible scenarios might make a world-ending asteroid seem a blessing.

But boy is it tempting to make that move. "Maybe then," I've thought, "the fools will finally learn." In the next moment, I remember that they apparently failed to learn the same lesson all through the 90s. Too many younger Americans have grown up believing that they live in an Oliver Stone movie, and too many older Americans are perfectly willing to indulge in the fantasy themselves.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:27 PM EST


For the Byrds

The Providence Journal's house blogger, Sheila Lennon, links to "The irrepressible Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) was at his rhetorical best on the Senate floor Wednesday" in Salon. To prove Byrd's point, I thought I'd link his actual words to relevant pictures and stories:

Calling heads of state pygmies, labeling whole countries as evil, denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant -- these types of crude insensitivities can do our great nation no good. We may have massive military might, but we cannot fight a global war on terrorism alone. We need the cooperation and friendship of our time-honored allies as well as the newer-found friends whom we can attract with our wealth.

But I don't think that's what Byrd was talking about.

(All photos from Yahoo!News except on the words "powerful European allies," from Samizdata.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:44 PM EST


The State of Iraq

I just saw, on Fox News, that Saddam's son ran thirteen (13) pages in his state-run newspaper about the "peace" protests around the world. Here's an AP account:

Iraq on Sunday gloated over the global outpouring of opposition to the U.S. threat of attack, saying anti-war demonstrations in dozens of countries signaled an Iraqi victory and "the defeat and isolation of America."

Just sickening. What's worse is that many of the protestors don't seem to find that collusion at all disagreeable. The Corner's got some good observations of the New York City protests, particularly this from Andrew Stuttaford:

Intrigued, I went over – it's not often you hear the names of mid-twentieth century Tory prime ministers being shouted out in a Manhattan street. The heckler turned out to be Hungarian, a survivor of that other Europe's hideous past. "I've seen this, I've seen this before" he explained, "the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. You can't negotiate with Saddam. You can only negotiate with real countries, with Canada, with Mexico. Not with Saddam. You can't negotiate with a cockroach."

Here's a picture from the rally:

Oops. I'm sorry. That's a picture from Madison Square Garden in May 1934. Some of those pro-Nazi rallies of the 1930s netted over 20,000 participants. I imagine they were against U.S. involvement in that war. There were, however, apparently such vehement counter-protests that police were out in force to keep the peace between the groups.

But there are also counter-protests nowadays. Here are Ben Ziolkowski and Lynn Kizewski of Wisconsin offering "peace" protestors a helpful reminder, fighting costumes with costumes:

Finally, some "art" in the service of truth.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:59 AM EST


I'm Still Here

As you may have noticed, yesterday slipped by without a single post. Part of the reason for this was that I didn't see much that inspired me write about it. However, the bar for that was pretty high given that I had quite a bit to get done, and yesterday was very productive.

I've also got a cold that's making my eyes burn. My daughter got it first, so she's required more attention than usual (not that I mind giving it). Hopefully, our bodies will purge the illness before much of the week goes by — a week that I took off to draw some lines through some things on my To Do list.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:22 AM EST


Friday, February 14, 2003

The Problem with Magic

It's always so disappointing when you figure out how it works. The Flash Mind Reader is a good one, though.

(via Jeff Jarvis)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:41 PM EST


Plain Good Writing

The Lileks Bleat is particularly good today (go read it first, if you're inclined to read it at all, so that I don't spoil the effect). After offering a chance to reminisce about the smoking, drinking, gun-toting earlier days of Disney cartoons, Mr. Lileks performs a perfect literary maneuver in the context of dealing with Iraq:

What I truly don't understand are the people who wish to kill everyone in Baghdad. And they're out there. They want to drop a nuke on Baghdad. You heard me right: just take it out. Every man, woman and child turned to ash and gathered into a black pole, rising like a column that holds up the roof of Hell. Naturally, I heard someone espouse this view on talk radio.

What, has Michael Savage notched up his rhetoric even further? Was some right-wing caller unable to take any more tension caused by diplomatic games?

That wasn't exactly what he said - he wasn't in favor of war at all, and believed that containment was the answer. He seemed to accept that Saddam would get the bomb he dearly sought, but he wouldn't be crazy enough to use it. (As if the leverage the bomb grants comes explicitly from using it, as opposed to having it.) But if he did use it, hey, he'd get nuked.

Along with several million weeping vassals, but the caller didn't point this out.

If you haven't already done so, read the rest to find out why the Cold War strategy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) won't work this a "hot war."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:14 PM EST


The Liberal Side of the Blogosphere

I shouldn't be surprised, but every now and then I come across the liberal side of the Internet, on which scarcely a site on the blogroll is familiar. Today, I met The ReachM High Cowboy Network Noose, who suggests:

The odd thing is, right now I don't fear Hussein or any Muslim, no matter how fanatic they've been in the past, nearly as much as I fear my government at this moment. That sucks.

It has squandered my trust, repeatedly. And though I never for a second bought any conspiracy theory that our government had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks, I'm also sufficiently knowledgeable about our government's past involvement in assassinations and infiltrations that goaded others into action. Which means the potential does exist for a staged attack, perhaps wounding or killing a few, to push all fencesitters off the fence and change a few minds.

Ask yourself why any terrorist would act now, to provoke a response at this moment, when that would clearly work against their aims more than anything else they could do. [emphasis in original]

ReachM suggests that "the script is playing out so predictably that a third rate playwright could call this one even in a coma." I would point out that:

When reality follows a script in your head, it could also mean that you're only hearing the lines that fit the preconception.

We know that, despite Secretary Powell's intercept (how DID they do that, right when they needed SOMETHING ?) of a new OBL message, the message denounced Hussein while calling on Muslims to resist the US invasion.

Well, sort of. It was more akin to saying that, even though the Ba'athists are "infidels," it is fine to team up with them against the Great Satan because their interests "intersect in fighting against the Crusaders." That's exactly the argument that folks who see a link have made to those who've said that the two evil doers don't mix ideologically. Furthermore, the timing is hardly suspect so soon after Powell's United Nations presentation.

Again, after many months of promising clear evidence of WMDs, the first clear evidence, of mustard gas shells, emerged yesterday. Where's all the evidence they spoke of for the past 6 months?
Did you watch Powell's speech last week? Have you kept up on the developments of finding nuclear plans in a scientist's house? Missiles that go much farther than they ought to? Empty chemical warheads?

We know Bush's support for this invasion has been slipping badly for several months.
Huh? Despite its best efforts to spin poll numbers unfavorably to Bush, even the New York Times has to admit that, "Those who said they believe the Bush administration has clearly articulated a rationale for attacking Iraq has nearly doubled, to 53 percent from 27 percent in September."

Although, I suppose if you think the government is capable of staging a terrorist attack just to goad us into war, you'll think any evidence that cannot be ignored, but that goes against the script in your head, must be fabricated.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:39 PM EST


Isn't This Interesting; Washington Post & AP Pro-Saddam?

I had intended to comment on "Pope Tells Iraqi Official He Opposes War" in the Washington Post, by Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press, by pointing out that the first paragraph kinda sorta left room for optimism that I've been too quick to see politics in the statements of religious figures, particularly in my own Church:

Pope John Paul II told Iraq's deputy prime minister on Friday that the Vatican opposed war against Baghdad but insisted that Saddam Hussein demonstrate "concrete commitments" to disarm.

I'm glad that I was delayed in making that entry because Mark Shea links to a piece on Zenit, an international Catholic news service, that can't help but make one wonder if the news sources are discussing different popes. Zenit's article is entitled "John Paul II to Call Iraq's Attention to Its Responsibilities: Pope Isn't a Pacifist, Says Vatican Spokesman."

Vatican spokesman Navarro-Valls said the Pontiff is very worried about the Iraqi people, exhausted after 12 years of embargo.

But he added that the Holy Father "is not a pacifist." Rather, the Pope insists on respect for international law, convinced that it is the moral responsibility "of all sides" to avoid war, Navarro-Valls said.

... Vatican sources revealed that the Pope and representatives of the Holy See will be very strict when they verify Iraq's lack of cooperation with the United Nations.

Now, I'm no professional reporter or newspaper editor, but it seems to me that a statement such as "the Pope is not a pacifist" might be relevant to an article with the Post's title. When I reread Winfield's article, however, I noted the typical media bias techniques of selective quoting. In this case, almost all of the points made that are specific to the current conflict are attributed to Iraq representative Tariq Aziz and are largely left unanswered (e.g., "Aziz said Thursday that Iraq was fully cooperating").

As for the Vatican's position, I've continued to believe that the Pope's opinion is much more circumspect than those of top-ranking Vatican spokesmen. Here's a typical weasel passage in the AP article:

The pope and top Vatican aides repeatedly have denounced the risk of any war to resolve the Iraqi crisis, insisting a preventive war has no legal or moral justification and expressing fears that a conflict could spark Muslim rancor against Christians. ...

John Paul himself has said any new war with Iraq would be a "defeat for humanity."

Note the "pope and top Vatican aides" attribution for the stronger statement followed by the "John Paul himself" for the more general, more true, statement. Why would a news agency perform such spin? Perhaps Aziz knows the answer:

"We are very keen about the importance of the moral influence of the Holy Father when he asks for peace, and he refuses war," Aziz said late Thursday. "This is very important for international public opinion."

Aziz is part of Hussein's government. What excuse can the Washington Post and Associated Press offer for their PR work on behalf of Saddam? Perhaps the media needs to pay more attention — as I'm confident that John Paul II already does — to the state and opinions of the Iraqi people.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:28 PM EST


Instapundit: Government Plant

Jacques Chiraq learns of a planned "fisking" of his position later today at the United Nations.
"Oh, no! Nobody told me that Instapundit was working for Bush!"

Aha! It's all clear now. Glenn Reynolds is a government "official". According to the British Telegraph, just after a quotation from a "senior Bush administration official":

Another official circulated an internet page with a picture of M Chirac looking surprised. Captions were invited below. Among the more printable were: "Jacques Chirac works hard on his look of utter disbelief, preparing for the announcement of the discovery of weapons of mass destruction in liberated Iraq."

That "internet page" is, of course, the famous Watch it, Reynolds! The Brits are on to you. (Actually, it kind of makes me wonder from where the news media gets the anonymous quotations that I can't trace back to their source.)

(Note: Yes, I know that I spelled ol' Jacques' name incorrectly. Indulge me in a little foolishness.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:24 AM EST


Thursday, February 13, 2003

Now Available: Just Thinking: Volume I

Just Thinking: Volume I, 10/29/01–10/21/02, a collection of one year of my Just Thinking columns and the latest release from Timshel Literature is now available. To be completely honest, I'll be thrilled if I can break even on this venture; given the readership of this blog, alone, that ought to be possible. If you are considering, have considered, or may someday consider ordering your autographed copy, please do.

$12.00 (includes shipping)

Special Offer:

Buy Just Thinking: Volume I and
get A Whispering Through the Branches for half price!

$19.00 (includes shipping)
$25.50 (includes shipping)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:50 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:27 PM EST


What Are They Thinking? (Or What Are We?)

Y'know, this may make me predictably partisan, but I've about had it with the Democrats' posturing on anything having to do with the security of this nation. Americans are tensed to the breaking point, just waiting for the Next Thing to happen, hoping that it is our action and doesn't kill too many (any) of us, and Senator Carl Levin is giving CIA director George Tenet guff about possibly not having handed over every bit of top-secret intelligence we have on Iraq to unaccountable international bureaucrats:

Led by Senator Carl Levin, the Democrats accused the CIA of making an assessment that the inspections were unlikely to be a success and then ensuring they would not be. They have accused the CIA director of lying about what information on the suspected location of weapons of mass destruction had been passed on.

This doesn't even follow logically unless the Senator is being dishonest about what the inspections were meant to do. Let's review: the inspections were not meant to "disarm" Iraq; the process is not designed for that, and this specific team was obviously not set up to accomplish such a job. The inspections were a way to give Saddam Hussein one last chance to show that he was willing to cooperate. He hasn't. Furthermore, had we given the inspectors even more information, they would have only further succeeded in proving Saddam's deceit and hastening the war that is now upon us.

What is actually going on in the world doesn't appear to matter to Mr. Levin. The Democrats are angling in the hopes that something goes wrong and they'll have a good-sized political toldyaso. We've been hearing murmurs that the Democrats are preparing to jump on President Bush the moment something bad happens in the war on terror.

Frankly, I think it'll backfire. If another catastrophe befalls the United States, I think Americans will have very little patience left for anything from the government other than the full, deliberate, and speedy prosecution of war on all of the people, groups, and nations who would do us harm. I think the mood will be such that any Democrats who attempt such a statement will seem akin to a man standing up during a burial ceremony between major battles and screaming, "Ha! I told you this was a bad idea!"

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:21 PM EST


More Miraculous than God Becoming Man

Mark, of Minute Particulars, addresses a conversation in which I participated on Mark Shea's blog. Mark Shea was looking for atheists' comments about how they thought they might react if the Catholic God were undeniably proven to be real to them. Predictably, the discussion turned toward what evidence might bring about such a revelation. It is this tangent that Minute Particulars Mark now takes up:

...given our world and our human condition, wouldn't the fullest "sign" from God almost have to be a human being like us in all things but sin? What else would be more surprising and contradict nearly every expectation of ours? Surely this is a notion irrevocably tainted by hindsight, but I think it still has some semblance of meaning. What is more not on our own terms than another human being? What is more gift than that another human being might love us?

Of course, this point is made in the service of the argument that atheists will not be persuaded by any evidence, which is a suggestion (observation) with which I've long agreed. However, I hadn't thought of it in this way before.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:53 PM EST


Libertarian Efficiency: "Don't You Kids Dare Impose Your Ideologies on Each Other While You're Playing Next to That Cliff!"

I realize that Susan Lee's "Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll: Libertarians have more fun--and make more sense." in the Wall Street Journal is meant as a back-slapping pep talk for libertarians and should not, therefore, be forcibly held to high argumentative standards. However, I couldn't let the last few paragraphs go without note, without reaction, and without fisking. Here goes:

Conservative thought proceeds from absolutes, hierarchies and exclusivity.

Leaving aside the concept of absolutes for a moment, I think this essentially plucks two manifestations of tradition and holds them out because they are words about which we've been taught, for the past thirty-plus years, to be squeamish. That reaction is foolish — childish even. Hierarchies, for example, emerge naturally from a social system because 1) a group that gains an advantage will use that advantage to obtain better standing, and 2) hierarchies are more efficient than communitarianism.

Exclusivity, as a concept, is another product of progress and longevity. Indeed, it enters the scene once a society begins developing definitions. To use a controversial example, marriage is defined as a relationship between a husband and a wife. It is exclusive to the extent that it specifies a type of relationship. In a broader social sense, exclusivity is less an impenetrable wall than a mountain range that is difficult to traverse. As such, it is like hierarchies in that it forms naturally over the course of time, particularly in a free market scenario. As Clay Shirky put it in the context of blogs, "Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality."

Libertarian thought promotes relativism and inclusiveness--although, admittedly, this tolerance comes from indifference to moral questions, not from a greater inborn talent to live and let live.

What could be more exclusive than relativism, whereby each person is a hierarchy unto him or her self? This quality of relativism is highlighted by Lee's admission of indifference. It isn't a statement of "I think your belief is as valid as mine"; it's "I don't care what you believe." Unless, presumably, the "you" tries to take something from the "I."

Conservatives favor tradition and communitarian solutions, and resort to central authority when it serves their purpose. Libertarians value individual creativity and are invariably against central authority.

How Lee could posit "communitarian solutions" as proceeding from hierarchical thought, I'm not sure. Perhaps she means to suggest that a hierarchy-less community will solve problems by simply letting those unfortunate enough to fall to what would be the lower tiers slip into the grave, as it were, in which case it would seem that she is doing no more than defining problems away — as in, "homeless are no problem; it's a natural consequence of the free market." Supposing that a group of individuals would be inclined to help the homeless, for example, they would, by definition, be creating a community, from which would emerge a hierarchy to handle the proceedings because it is more efficient to pool resources and assign tasks.

As for conservatives' resorting "to central authority when it serves their purpose," I can only suggest that the reason for central authority is to ensure that each group has somebody to whom to appeal to have purposes served. In some cases, a central authority is necessary, and being "invariably against" the concept seems to me dangerously "absolute."

All this falls to the bottom line in obvious ways. Conservatives are against gay marriage, they are often ambivalent toward immigrants...

Both of these examples are definitional. For the first, it is not, by definition, marriage, an institution that conservatives believe to be of value as defined. For the second, being wary of immigration helps to preserve the nation as constituted and defined.

...and patronizing toward women...

Examples? Is this anything more than a slur?

...they view popular culture as mostly decadent and want to censor music, movies, video games and the Internet.

At least for my entire life, the big censors of "popular culture" have been the liberals. Conservatives, as I've observed, have merely promoted restraints on "aberrant culture" (e.g., porn and drugs). The fact that these restraints have the effect of preventing aberrations from becoming mainstream is likely what Ms. Lee means, here, but she employs a bit of sleight of language to gloss over the distance from hardcore porn to Britney Spears.

They crusade against medical marijuana.

I must be a heretic, then, because I've yet to embark on this crusade (being, as I am, included in the "they").

For their part, libertarians argue for legalizing drugs...

Some drugs are legal. Would Lee legalize crack? As I pledged to do, I hereby bring up Brandon Vedas.

...they are in favor of abortion...

Does this fall under the rejection of "communitarian solutions" or the belief in "individual creativity"? It certainly ignores the individual rights of the child. (Oh, I forgot, pro-abortionists claim the right to define who is and is not a person.)

...and against the government prohibition of sex practices among consenting adults. They abhor censorship.

Hey, that's funny. Me, too!

In the conservative caricature, libertarians believe in sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll--but it is not far from the truth. Unfortunately, these debates are often animated by the fact that conservatives see libertarianism only as the face of what it defends: transgendered persons adopting children, video games of violent sadism and, yes, cloning. Simply put, the shocking and repellent decline of civilization. But for libertarians, these are merely some of the many aspects of a civilization that is advancing through vast and minute experiments. The exercise of freedom trumps the discomforts of novelty.

Perhaps conservatives don't see libertarians as what they defend but as people who will defend anything, who won't give reasonable thought to the dangers of "vast and minute experiments." Perhaps they believe it cannot be so taken for granted that the results of these experiments will be no worse than "discomforts."

To push my argument further, libertarian thought, with its fluid cultural matrix, offers a better response to some of the knottiest problems of society. It is, especially when contrasted with the conservative cultural matrix, a postmodern attitude. In fact, it is precisely this postmodernism that enrages conservatives who are uncomfortable with a radical acceptance that, in turn, promotes change and unfamiliarity. Yet no matter how scary (or irritating), libertarian tolerance provides a more efficient mechanism in dealing with those places where economics, politics and culture clash so intimately.

As Ramesh Ponnuru writes of that first line, "You'd think she'd try to fill in the argument for that proposition. But she doesn't." It's just left there as a self-evident assertion. However, taking the "more efficient" of the last sentence to be the measure of the "better" in the first, the implication is self-evident. The "better" is akin to the "more efficient" parenting whereby the parent merely refuses to guide his children. No sticky arguments and lessons; merely affirmation and liberty. This, of course, would have to exclude instances in which the children, as all children do, force their own wills on others with a giant cultural "Mine!" Hence, the subject line to this post.

The efficient answer to a social problem: "Hey, it ain't my problem, bub. Who are you to judge me for walking away?" Yes, libertarians have more fun, indeed. But they will continue to do so only for as long as others on the political spectrum are willing — and able — to pick up the pieces. Lee ends with an appeal to libertarians' optimism and writes, "What remains is the battle over politics and culture. One down, two to go." Winning those battles will be the worst thing that could happen to the libertarians — just as the worst thing that can happen to children is that their parents become convinced that they are right to indulge their impulses without restraint and adopt their children's habits.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:23 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Review: The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression," by Len DeAngelis. This book review is among the most-read pieces in the online version of The Redwood Review. Len wrote it not only as a review, but also as a brief guide to the book for use by a friend who suffers from depression and cannot concentrate for extended periods. Certainly worth a read.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:21 PM EST


Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Awaiting Our First Strike, Perhaps

This information seems quite appropriate in the context of a Code Orange nation:

The CIA chief also repeated many of Secretary of State Colin Powell's statements last week to the United Nations regarding Iraq's efforts to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and linking al-Qaida supporters to the Iraqi government. Tenet said the key link between Baghdad and al-Qaida is Abu Musab Zarqawi, a senior associate of bin Laden.

He said about two dozen of Zarqawi's followers remain in Baghdad, where Zarqawi spent two months last summer. All are members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group that has merged with al-Qaida, Tenet said. But he said he has no evidence suggesting Iraq has any operational control over Zarqawi's group or al-Qaida.

Although I believe there to be direct links from Hussein to bin Laden, they aren't really necessary for there to be cooperation. These terrorist groups aren't like companies; they are more fluid and all, more or less, seeking the same general goals, only with different local flavors.

On a related note, Glenn Reynolds conveys the suggestion of an emailer that the security Code Red is reserved for any-minute-now information. If Red comes, it means get out the plastic sheets and tape. If Red passes, it means that somebody somewhere is a hero. However, from this perspective, Code Orange is only one step down from having to drop everything and find a source of information. I guess that means the Emergency Kit ought to be open and on your kitchen table.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:33 PM EST


Paying for Self-Inflicted Bad Publicity?

Sean Penn claims that his news-making shenanigans opposing war with Iraq cost him a $10 million movie role. If true, I applaud producer Steve Bing for his judgment. Let's make it simple so even Mr. Penn will understand: you have your podium because you are a famous actor; if you use that podium in a way that is outright offensive to those who granted it to you, then they have every right to take it away.

Of course, it's entirely possible that Penn is attempting to extort the money with his cries of McCarthyism.

"Have you ever used your fame to spit in the face of your country?"

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:51 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:18 PM EST


Verses on the Other Side: I'm a Poet for the War

And the battle for the soul of poetry begins.

Charles L. Weatherford has taken up the gauntlet and begun Poets for the War. Of course, the drones over at Poets Against the War will point to their being the "real poets" — ironically, the establishment. So fight the power and send the bloviators a message by reading and/or submitting your voice of truth.

Meanwhile, James Bowman deconstructs some of the against-war crowd:

What planet are these people living on? So far from exhibiting any precision of language, America's antiwar poets appear not to have the slightest interest in precise characterizations of the political and military alternatives actually under discussion in Washington, New York, and Baghdad. They have simply inherited the rhetoric of protest from the Vietnam era — many of them were engaged in protesting then too — and trotted it out again for application to a situation very nearly as different from the Vietnam War as it could be. The result is rhetorical overkill and considerable collateral damage to the language of political debate, which is in the process of being degraded to the point where it will eventually be useless for anything but the expression of outrage. Such nincompoopery as the equation of Bush with Saddam will simply mean that reasonable and moderate people capable of seeing more than one side to a question simply won't bother to read poetry at all — any more than they do now. Maybe that's what the poets really want. It means that "poetry" remains their private domain.

Henry Gould, the Rhode Island poet who is going through an identity crisis of sorts, also makes reference to the lingering poetic cliché of Vietnam:

Yes, as the Platypus of Doom, I find myself increasingly alienated from the poets who circulate in blogworld, so secure in their antiwar sentiments, so certain that they have seen through the conspiracy of Tex & Rummy et al. I want to agree with them, I want to think we are fighting the Vietnam War all over again against the American War Machine...

but then I look at all the facts I can gather & it seems to me a legitimate case can be made that the current Iraqi dictatorship does not deserve to have these mass-killer weapons, and if they are not willing to give them up, they should be removed by force. The arguments from fear are very powerful ("the Middle East is a tinderbox. . .
they will come & take revenge on us. . ." etc), but we should be moved by reason & not by fear. If Islamic extremists decided to massacre thousands of Americans because they were angry that we were taking away Saddam's WMDs - well, are we going to let them dictate the agenda? Because that is what it would amount to if we gave in to them.

Gould is still struggling to reconcile reality with the fantasy world for which he still has an affinity, as indicated by this statement: "(if the Prez were Jimmy Carter we would be defanging al Qaeda by making peace between Israel & Palestinians)." Hey, change takes time.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:55 PM EST


Lileks Offers a Time Capsul

I can picture Lileks's Bleat today finding its way into a book about our times someday. It's like a time capsul of the mood pervading many American households, I'm sure. If only Mr. Lileks could have tied the Dell Dude's pot arrest into the rest of the piece more tightly — there were plenty of connections left uncapitalized.

The part about the Dell Dude, Ben Curtis, brought to mind a memory from about fifteen years ago. My piano camp (hey, I loved that place) went on a field trip to see some play in which the "time to make the donuts" guy played some sort of villain. When the police took him away at the end, he asked them, "Do you like donuts?" The debate among my fellow campers, based on a comment made by some Official Lady who seated us, was whether the actor threw that line in specifically for our benefit. For my part, even then, as one who wanted to be an actor at that point in my life, I felt badly for the man, who couldn't even take a role in some theatre in the wilds of New England to disassociate himself from his persona as Dunkin Donuts' most devoted employee.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:59 AM EST


History Hidden Beneath the Sand

I find it absolutely fascinating when archeologists discover something completely new. I remember my feeling when I first began to understand the ways in which our view of history has been pieced together. Before that, in my earlier youth, I'd always imagined that things were just known.

There's something magical about the withheld truths from our past, such that new discoveries are always possible. Silly as it may seem, I have on occasion lamented that the specificity of the records that we currently keep will require some unthinkable calamity in order for our times to be forgotten and rediscovered.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:52 AM EST


Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Good for David Corn

As one small indication that war throws a boulder into the puddle of political organization, I hereby take the opportunity to link to a David Corn column with a positive recommendation:

Perhaps he should have stayed silent for the good of the cause. Who needs such tsuris right before an important protest? But Lerner was not the source of the problem; ANSWER was. This distracting episode shows what can happen when sincere do-gooders enter into deals with the ANSWER gang. If the reasonable and responsible foes of war are fortunate enough to have further opportunity to rally opposition to the conflict before it occurs, they ought to reconsider their alliance with the censors of ANSWER.

I applaud Corn for this stance because it benefits no one for the central figures in an anti-war movement to be motivated by hatred. Liberals obviously have valid points and, even when they're off in their thinking by more than a Florida election margin, they act as a valuable counter-force. However, their ability to fill this role is dramatically hampered by the deceitful and willfully misguided (as it seems) thrusts of some of their compatriots.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:17 PM EST


From Friends to Acquaintances

Can I confide in you? Of course I can; I don't even know you. Friends are safe with thoughts about actions and interactions, but feelings can only be trusted to loves and strangers. Still, friends provide companionship and encouragement.

I've learned to give without expecting in return, nor seeking returns with more than the barest of hints. So who are they who take freely, yet return only when the giving seems threatened? Acquaintances. There's nothing wrong with acquaintances... as long as each knows what they are. Me, I'm an acquaintance to many, though I prefer to act — and feel — as a friend.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:18 PM EST


Whoa. It really is real.

The Department of Homeland Security has released a survival FAQ with tips for citizens about preparing for a terrorist attack. In addition to a battery-powered radio, the following items should be in everyone's emergency kit:

At least three days' worth of water (one gallon per person per day), canned and other non-perishable food, over-the-counter medicine and regular prescription medicines. Flashlights. A non-electric can opener. Diapers and baby food. A wrench, if needed, to shut off utilities. Copies of important documents, such as wills, deeds, bank account numbers, insurance papers and immunization records in a fire- and waterproof container. Duct tape and plastic sheeting.

Those last two items are to be used to make a safe bubble of your home by covering all doors and windows.

Apparently, the information is being offered in two variations. The version for conservatives includes a handgun among the important items. In place of a weapon, liberals are advised to write out a sheet of some important phrases, in several Middle Eastern dialects, including "I am your friend," "Tell me why you hate us," and "I hate Bush and the Jews, too."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:44 PM EST


Osama sas Quatch

Colin Powell mentioned to a Senate panel that he has read a transcript of a new release by Osama bin Laden that professes "partnership" with Iraq. He expected the terror-monster's statement to be released sometime today, but Al-Jazeera chief editor Ibrahim Hilal, whose station is the expected medium, denies possession of a tape of any kind. Powell: "Be patient, it's coming."

Glenn Reynolds thinks that this is evidence that OBL is dead. I'm not going to make any guesses, but I do think that, this close to a war, one mustn't expect such announcements to be what they seem. That, by the way, is a good thing, and not evidence that we can't trust our own government.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:35 PM EST


Ted Turner: The Christian Behind the Sneer

Rod Dreher has come to believe that Ted Turner is not as viciously anti-God as he often appears to be. Dreher suggests that the terrible suffering and early death of Turner's sister led him to reject God as a form of revenge:

I got the impression from being around him this weekend that it's not so much that Turner doesn't believe in God as he doesn't want to give God, who allowed his sister to be crushed by disease, the satisfaction of recognition.

How do any religious believers who have never been tested as severely know that we would fare any better than Ted Turner has?

Perhaps it's a result of the route that I took in my often-unwitting search for God, perhaps it's that I've never had such a tragic test of faith, but I've always been intrigued about the Touched by an Angel climaxes during which a character's problem proves to have been anger at God for some perceived wrong. As I've written before, it seems to me that the three predominant reasons for atheists to be outspoken are 1) anger at God for not living up to expectations or hopes, 2) jealousy of those who have the capacity for faith, or 3) desire to be convinced that they are wrong. Of course, elaborate systems of belief can be built upon these underlying emotions. As an atheist, I drifted around with different degrees of 2 and 3. Ted Turner, it seems, falls under the first, which is the only one that requires a preexisting faith to be lost.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:34 AM EST


Songs You Should Know 02/11/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "A Prayer on Angel's Wings" by Joe Parillo and Christine Harrington. This entire CD, with Joe on piano and Christine on cello is definitely worth adding to your collection. I find it difficult to choose songs from this CD for the purposes of this feature because each is both musically unique and aesthetically enjoyable.

"A Prayer on Angel's Wings" Joe Parillo & Christine Harrington, Jazz
Stream (HiFi)
from Sand Box

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:51 AM EST


Monday, February 10, 2003

Why Has This War Brought Out the Poets?

To lose beauty in terror, terror in inquisition.
I have lost my passion: why should I need to keep it
Since what is kept must be adulterated?
— T.S. Eliot, "Gerontion"

I have never seen so much written about poetry, outside of its enclaves, in my entire life! With the war on terrorism, particularly its current Iraq stage, poetry and poets have found the will to make their voices heard. Unfortunately, that hasn't recently been a good thing. Immediately after September 11, the voices were of mourning and loss and resolve — and they were myriad. A Google search for "poetry 'September 11'" yields 97,000 Web sites. Replace the event with other notable phrases or names from recent history, and the number falls dramatically. My contribution to the wave of verse was "Safe at Home, September 11, 2001" (read, listen).

Other, less palatable voices have crept in as time has progressed, and unfortunately, these have been the ones to make the news. First, there was the drivel from New Jersey Laureate Amiri Baraka, who blamed the Jews for September 11. Baraka may have had a last word, of sorts, because the world of poetry has shifted toward peaceniking about Iraq. British Laureate Andrew Motion seems to have kicked it off with his "Causa Belli," which inspired Tim Blair to hold a response/parody contest. Here's my entry:

The Poet Laureate's Plea
by Justin Katz

I'm a busy man, with barely breath to rhyme;
my stipend goes less far than in Lord Alfred's time.
So, whatever your opinions on the issues lying 'round,
just speak them to yourself and consider me profound.

Since then, a planned literary guerrilla attack led Laura Bush to postpone a symposium. That action, in turn, inspired the creation of Poets Against the War, a Web site on which one can find such charming material as this by Williams College professor Cassandra Cleghorn:

Talking to my mother about the prospect of war
makes me want to go to war. Talking to my mother
about the space shuttle makes me want the astronauts
to have been painful, sustained, makes me want pieces
of their charred bodies to have rained down on Texas
in recognizable bits, more than ash, more than the airy
transmogrification their end surely was.

But the rim of sunlight around this dark cloud may lie in the contrarian nature of many poets. Rhode Island poet Henry Gould lists as the second of his five reasons for considering arguing for the war:

Because all the poets seem to be marching lockstep, of one mind. I have a reflexive need to differ (learned in the Poetry Wars). I question some of the self-righteousness of those who are always ready to impugn the motives of the ones they disagree with (ie. perhaps it's not just "oil profiteering by Bush & Co.").

What I find fascinating — another inadvertent treasure of the blog format — is the obvious progression of Gould's thinking. For example, the "perhaps it's not just" oil from this 2/10 entry relates to a sentence in a 2/7 entry in which "control of the oil & the region" is parenthetically mentioned as the self-evident "underlying motives of the US." In other words, over the course of the weekend, the concept of "perhaps" made its way into this line of thinking. I don't want to blow the writings of a few established poets out of proportion, but I sense a nation-saving cultural shift in process. Its effect on poetry might be interesting to watch in a canary-in-the-mine sort of way. In the meantime, the United States goes on, ear open to all:

A Patriot's Rejoinder
by Justin Katz

Oh America, indulgent friend,
whom I've so late come to prize —
in awe of your composure
'spite too simple truths that yearn for lies.

So tolerant of those who buck,
with their tame teeth bared in cliché,
bloviating about censorship
then are free to prance away,
with glee that their too easy snorts
still leave them free to prance away.

(Incidentally, my Just Thinking column this week is a parable sonnet that fits into the topic of poetry and the war on Iraq.)

I blogged this above, but it seemed appropriate to mention, here, the creation of Poets for the War, among whom I am one.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:47 PM EST


All That Patriot Act II Stuff

I haven't posted anything on the "Patriot Act II" hoopla for several reason. First, what has found its way into the public view is a draft. Second, I don't have the time just now to give the full document a reasonably thorough review. And third, from what I've seen, it doesn't strike me as the obvious affront to American freedom that many preemptive opponents are making it out to be. Orin Kerr of The Volokh Conspiracy has some good comments in this vein. (The direct link isn't working, so look for the post entitled "Initial Thoughts on 'Patriot II.'")

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that the "G-Men at the Gates" people are out there poking every corner of the government looking for misdeeds. However, sometimes it isn't that citizens are a blend of "sheeple" and GOP fanatics that keeps such issues from being universally condemned. Sometimes, jumping up and down is premature — and sometimes not merited at all.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:56 PM EST


International Diplomacy Tip #254: Check Bugs Bunny File

Yesterday, I caught a few minutes of an old Bugs Bunny cartoon with Yosemite Sam. Sam obviously has the superior firepower in that conflict, so Bugs has always to outsmart him (which, truth to tell, isn't all that difficult). In this instance, Bugs drew a line in the sand with his foot and dared Sam to cross it. When the gunslinger did so, Bugs drew another line and continued doing so until Sam fell off a cliff.

Of course, this doesn't apply directly to matters currently facing the world. A better representation would be if Sam kept drawing the lines and stepping back toward a cliff to draw new ones when Bugs declined to cross.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:26 PM EST


Back from Travelogueing

Jay Nordlinger is back to writing his usual style of Impromptus after his travelogue from Davos, which (I confess) I didn't read. It seems that Mr. Nordlinger had a pile of newspapers through which to sort when he returned.

One item, about France, has inspired me to refer, henceforth, to the leader of that nation as Jacques Chiraq for the purposes of this blog.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:45 AM EST


Just War and War on Iraq

Michael Novak, who is making an argument for an American attack on Iraq to the Vatican, provides a taste of it on NRO. Mr. Novak makes some good points, but this specific piece could have been better organized (i.e., better written). It repeats itself and is, therefore, tedious to read in entirety, but I agree with his conclusion, and others might find the construction less cumbersome.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:09 AM EST


Just Thinking 02/10/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Meetings on the Road, V: Imbalance of Power," the fifth of my parable sonnets, about the balance of power between asymmetric adversaries.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:12 AM EST


Sunday, February 9, 2003

Something New, Begun with Sad News

Jeff Miller's blog can now be found at The Curt Jester. Sadly, among his first posts there is the news of his mother's passing. Stop by and offer what prayers and comfort you can.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:09 PM EST


The Cards in a Relative Deck

Minute Particulars Mark has begun keeping track of comment conversations on other blogs in which he is participating. (I like that idea and may pick it up in some form or another.) In doing so, he reminded me of a conversation on World Wide Rant that I'd been following but had forgotten. In rereading it, I came across the following analogy, put forward by Jon Darby, to which I hadn't previously given much thought:

You're playing two-draw two-discard five-card stud, nothing wild, with two other players and an empty chair. The empty chair never takes a card. When it's time to throw down you toss out three kings (c,h,s), player 2 tosses down three jacks (h,s,d), and player 3 tosses down three queens (s,d,c). You're informed, however, that the true winner is the Chair, with an ace-high straight flush, but Chair chooses not to reveal his cards.

You argue that it is impossible for Chair to possess an ace-high strait flush because of the cards you can already see on the table, but you're told that this is just a mystery that you'll have to take on faith, now hand over your chips. Generally speaking, I am not going to hand over my chips unless somebody pulls a gun, and even then I still ain't gonna believe Chair had an Ace-high strait flush, but I have more respect for the empty Chair than I will for anybody who truly believed it had an ace high strait flush and willingly handed over their chips.

The conversation of which this is a part is about why things matter without God. Darby's scenario, which is primarily an argument against acting based on religion, is placed in agreement with relativist claims by others. The problem is that Darby deliberately moves his analogy a few steps from the reality that it is meant to clarify: he assigns the rules of the game.

In the particular situation that he has laid out, he is absolutely correct. However, introduce even two card groups wild (say twos and sixes; eight cards altogether), and Chair could have a royal flush without a single royal card. Now, I would argue that, in life, most of the cards are wild and/or unknown. Jon Darby would likely disagree, but it would be foolish for him to suggest that human beings have a total grasp of even 85% of reality (all but eight of 52 cards), let alone 100%.

One step further: to take a relativist stance would be to admit not even knowing how many cards there are in the deck or the rules of the game.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:01 PM EST


Andrew Sullivan's Gay Problem

Andrew Sullivan accuses Brent Bozell of having "a gay problem," with reference to round two of NRO's Eric Alterman/Brent Bozell debate about media bias. It is telling that Sullivan sees himself as coming to the defense of Alterman, because the latter's comments on the topic are nothing but spin and half-truths. Here's Sullivan's evidence:

Bozell simply assumes in this column that Rick Berke and Frank Bruni of the New York Times are left-liberals solely because they're gay. Now Rick is a flaming liberal, as well as a master of New York Times internal politics. But Frank Bruni clearly isn't in any ideological sense. Anyone who read his last book on George Bush would have a hard time saying that Bruni is ideologically blinded to Bush's strengths (and weaknesses) as a president. But Bozell simply asserts that Bruni is a liberal because he is gay. That's dumb and demeaning.

Following Sullivan's link and searching for the name "Bruni," you find this: "When George W. Bush campaigned in 2000, trailed daily by openly gay reporter Frank Bruni, and also analyzed by openly gay national correspondent Rick Berke, what effect did that have on how he handled homosexuality on the stump?" That's it. Do you see any "assertion" that Bruni is liberal? I see only the suggestion that his presence might have made Bush hesitant to raise controversial issues involving homosexuality.

I'll agree with Sullivan that Bozell ought to have shown that a Bush comment on the matter would have been expected before he presumed to attribute a motivation to the President. However, I do sympathize with Bozell's suggestion that conservative politicians are intimidated by the possibility of being labeled "anti-gay." Columnists might even run headlines that so-and-so has a "gay problem."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:19 PM EST


No, No Anti-Americanism Here

Well, the lefty artists of England have thrown together what appears to be a cliché-ridden piece of derivative dramatic gobbledygook. However, were I in London, I might actually take in the production. After all, the mind-numbing stupidity must be a thing to behold.

Rubbishing the United Nations as a "bunch of pinko, degenerate subversives" and Bush and Blair as a "pair of goddamn degenerates," General Kipper [the U.S. bad guy who is really running the show] puts the world on the brink of war before an al Qaeda operative disguised as a cleaner produces the secret code to recall U.S. fighter pilots.

Amid the humour, a dignified speech by the Iraqi ambassador to a panicked Blair is the seminal political moment of the play. Audience laughter fell to a hush on a recent night as the actor offered a withering critique of Western hypocrisy towards Iraq.

While criticising Saddam as a "butcher" -- "We hate him, but we hate you more," he tells the U.S. and American officials -- he also hails the Iraqi leader as an "Arab Robin Hood, the only one to give Uncle Sam the finger."

Got that? The al Qaeda operative is the good guy who saves the day, and Saddam Hussein is Robin Hood. Yes, in the very city in which a mosque finds reason to acquire chemical warfare suits and terrorists possibly trained in Chechnya stock up on a poison that is being produced by al Qaeda in Iraq, these fools think they're still in high school making fun of the principal and applauding the rebels without a clue.

Instapundit points out that American satirists, as represented by the folks at Saturday Night Live, are much better at discerning who deserves to be satired.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:46 AM EST


Plans upon Plans upon Plans

I don't like the Franco-German plan to take over Iraq one bit. It seems to me, particularly because the two countries are keeping it so private, to be a ploy to get their own slimy hands on post-war Iraq.

They can't possibly believe that Hussein will resign himself to figurehead and just let the United Nations control his country when he won't even let them properly search it. That suggests that the French and Germans don't mean for their plan to work out the way it's been presented in the media. It could merely be an attempt to delay U.S. attack long enough to make a strike more difficult, but then, I'd have expected them to present it, even in vague form, through the proper channels. More likely, with war seemingly inevitable, the countries intend/intended to spring their plan on the United States and United Nations just in time for the result that they desire (U.N. control of Iraq) to be reached via the means that they ostensibly oppose (American war).

We oughtn't let it happen, and given comments from Donald Rumsfeld and John McCain, I don't think we will. Meanwhile:

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., took a more conciliatory tone, saying he understood part of the reason for the rift: the Bush administration's balking at the Kyoto global climate change treaty, the international criminal court and the abrogation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.

"I fear during the last two years our administration has not listened to Europe," said Lieberman, who has declared his presidential candidacy for the United States.

Of course, most of Europe is with us, but that predictable disingenuousness is not the interesting aspect of this quotation. The mention of the International Criminal Court is. With reports out just this week that the court is making overtures toward trying Tony Blair as a war criminal based on his support of war with Iraq, I can't help but muse that it would be the Democrats' dream come true were the same to happen to President Bush.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:28 AM EST


A Bit of an Epiphany

I've been engaged in some great email conversation, lately. Last week, Noah Millman and I discussed the differences in the treatment of sex from the Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant perspectives. This week, I was so impressed with the clarity and confidence of thought of somebody in a comment box at Mark Shea's that I initiated correspondence with him.

To further delve into something that he had written in the comment box, he suggested that the universe tends toward life but atheists use an "anthropic principle" to explain this away, essentially by declaring that the tendency is only by chance and only noticeable because we happen to inhabit the universe that made us possible. This is very postmodern (e.g., we can never know the full nature of our own knowledge) in that, while perhaps a valid disclaimer for any who desire it, it is dishonest within the "objective," investigative realm of science.

However, in his view, the "anthropic principle" does apply to the question of evil. Change any aspect of history one bit, and the individuals who currently exist would cease to do so. For this reason, our individual existence is contingent upon there being evil in the world. If God were to have created a world without evil, we could not inhabit it, and if accepted that God loves us, then we have a reason for his continued acceptance of evil. Would you make the world more "perfect" at the expense of your children's lives?

These thoughts and others cycled through my brain as I waded through snow with the dogs last night, and I had a bit of an epiphany concerning a way of thinking that I have loathed since college: postmodernism. Mostly, I have been so averse to it because I felt it to be silly based on its pointlessness. Although many postmodernists have taken the opportunity of everything being arbitrary to assert their own preferences as truth (again, the atheists wanting to be God), I have held that it is a point of view from which one cannot move forward. This is not true. We cannot move based on it, but we can move in reaction to it.

It isn't just that the suggestion that nothing can be proven to exist is counterintuitive and repugnant; it's that it isn't true. Put a ball before any human being, and he or she will notice it and probably interact with it. Plants grow around rocks. We just know things exists. We just know that everything is not arbitrary. One might say that we have faith that the ball exists, so perhaps faith has been poorly defined. It isn't believing beyond all reason; it's believing based on knowledge apart from reason.

Of course, the postmodernist can just move the goal post and say that our reality exists arbitrarily (back to the anthropic principle). I need to do some more thinking in this area, but I would suggest that this endpoint of postmodernism brings us literally to the "Omega Point" of God (the Father). This is the point at which He made the decision about what reality should be, and we know what choices He made because we exist in that reality. As I said, I need to think about this more, but I can say that, first, it is pointless and silly and gains no cognitive ground to speculate that the "choices" are mere chance and, second, that giving some weight to what we intuit and feel negates the possibility.

Regarding the rhetorical implications of this idea, the upshot is something that I'm pretty sure my correspondent knew already: the solution is to let the atheists/materialists explain their beliefs, and they will ultimately come to the point at which they must make a call based on something outside of reason. This introduces the intuitive/emotional face of God (the Holy Spirit). Proof of motion and action (ultimately continual creation; the Son) would yield the conclusion of a Triune God. From there, it seems but legwork (albeit important and difficult legwork) to build Catholicism, from its abstract principles to its morality.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:01 AM EST


Saturday, February 8, 2003

Of Dictators and Artists

Glenn Reynolds has an interesting post about the correlation of dictatorship and bad art. In some ways, the problem goes further. Charles Manson, after all, has a bad folk album available.

But I don't know that it's fair to link dictators according to the arts, alone. I'd be extremely surprised to find that there weren't a fair number of amateur scientists among history's baddies. I also wonder what percentage of the average population has, at one point or another, tried their hands at bad art. The power and ego trip of becoming a dictator would surely result in most people's treating hobbies as more than a private exercise.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:42 PM EST


Just Thinking Clarification

A friend just pointed out that my ad for Just Thinking: Volume I wasn't ideally put together. Specifically, I neglected to put the price for just the one book, so people might assume that it is $19.00, which is the price for both books. Just Thinking: Volume I by itself is $12.00 (including shipping).

Sorry about that. (Especially if the price has dissuaded you!) It's just something that slipped through, a problem of being a one-man-show with too much to get done. I also seem to have a natural aversion to asking for money, so perhaps I have a mental block when it comes to advertising pricing.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:57 AM EST


Friday, February 7, 2003

Now Available: Just Thinking: Volume I

Just Thinking: Volume I, 10/29/01–10/21/02, a collection of one year of my Just Thinking columns and the latest release from Timshel Literature is now available. To be completely honest, I'll be thrilled if I can break even on this venture; given the readership of this blog, alone, that ought to be possible. If you are considering, have considered, or may someday consider ordering your autographed copy, please do.

$12.00 (includes shipping)

Special Offer:

Buy Just Thinking: Volume I and
get A Whispering Through the Branches for half price!

$19.00 (includes shipping)
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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:12 PM EST


Be Careful Out There

And keep your eyes open. And be brave.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:48 PM EST


Huh. Playing God Is Inadvisable, After All.

Sometimes, it seems as if the "proponents of progress" are not much different than children.

A parent may tell a child not to go near a loose dog based on nothing other than broad experience and a sense. The child, however, might not be convinced of danger until he has been bitten. In some things, by reason, common sense, broad experience, and faith, we don't need scientific evidence that treading certain ground is dangerous.

It's also true that, when questionable activities become old and more common, they become less likely to be seen as questionable. Apparently, in vitro fertilization is not the simple matter that most folks these days take it to be:

Traditional moralists predicted that moving reproduction from marriage to science would undermine the dignity and sanctity of human life. But these studies suggest a physical price is also paid for moving reproduction into an unnatural setting. Abnormalities are appearing in children conceived under abnormal circumstances.

Which stands to reason: When scientists imitate nature in a lab, they do so imperfectly. They are playing God, but without the wisdom of God.

And we want to play with clones?

(via Mark Shea)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:13 PM EST


An Unexpected Fan of Reality Television

Perhaps to make up for yesterday's gloom, John Derbyshire has an amusing column up about reality television and the realities of dating.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:05 PM EST


Media Bias Debate: Day Three!

Eric Alterman and Brent Bozell are still going at it... sort of. I think Mr. Bozell has hit that oh-so-familiar point of exasperation at the thwarted attempts to have an actual discussion. For his part, Alterman acknowledges that Bozell has been directly rebutting him only to suggest that his own goal is not to debate but to promote his new book. Then, Alterman goes about skipping the question of whether the mainstream media is biased by putting forward an example that shows that conservatives in the media have some influence.

For this purpose, he brings up the case of David Westin, the president of ABC News, who, little more than a month after September 11, insisted on not taking a position about whether the Pentagon was justly attacked by al Qaeda. Under pressure from conservative media, Westin apologized. Says Alterman:

Westin's capitulation was particularly dispiriting to those who look to the network media to defend freedom of speech in this country, given the inanity of his alleged defense. The answer to the question he was asked is obviously "yes." There are millions of people all over the world whose interpretations of the attack lead them to believe it was justified, however wrong they may have been. But even leaving that aside, the question is a no-brainer. How can anyone say the Pentagon is not a legitimate target for an attack in case of war? War is the Pentagon's entire reason the building exists. By what conceivable definition of war could it be excluded as a potential target? The shock of the 9/11 attack derived from the fact that most of us were not even aware that we were at war with al Qaeda. Once we did, we fought back on their turf, seeking to destroy their would-be Pentagons. What was most depressing about Westin's answer was his willingness to drop any pretext of objectivity upon having his patriotism questioned by conservative ideologues. It was more evidence — if any was necessary-of just how effective the right-wing assault on the U.S. media and free speech had become.

Alterman sums the question asked thus: Westin was asked "if the Pentagon were a legitimate target for attack by America's enemies." The actual question was, "Do you believe the Pentagon was a legitimate military target, even if the missile was not?" Note that slippery shift, on Alterman's part, from "was" to "were." This isn't merely linguistic pedantry on my part; it points to the entire problem with Alterman's still-objectionable opinion. It shifts the question from whether the attack was right to whether the building might be a legitimate target under certain circumstances. Given his apology, Westin clearly understood that he was answering the former: "Under any interpretation, the attack on the Pentagon was criminal and entirely without justification."

"By what conceivable definition of war could it be excluded as a potential target?" How about a war that isn't declared? That isn't even seen coming! One supposes that Alterman would take a different tone if the United States were, tomorrow, to bomb the building that housed the leadership of Canada's military. Alterman slithers by this distinction, in the case of September 11, by removing the question of "right and wrong" entirely — whether it was right to start a war or not. Instant equivalence.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:04 PM EST


Public School Presentation of Different Religions

Mark Shea asked a question of atheists that has sparked some very interesting conversation in the comment box. I wrote the following in an attempt to explain how some might get terribly incorrect impressions of what the Catholic God is seen to be:

Having grown up agnostic and gone through public school, I think the way religion is presented may be part of the problem (after all, schools aren't allowed to say anything positive about Christianity for fear of being accused of proselytizing). Before my conversion, it always seemed to me that the Puritans, with their Angry God, represented Christianity writ large. From that image, and adding in further unclarified vagaries, it seemed that these people must have been fleeing a horror of a Church indeed, which must have been the Catholic Church because (A) it was the oldest and (B) it was the most highly organized ("fight the establishment!").

With this laid as the emotional foundation for reactions to the Church, even learning the actual history and coming across such nuggets as the prodigal son parable (which, ironically, brings forth the reaction: "that's not fair; God is too forgiving") does not overcome that underlying impression for one who is not open to facing prejudices.

This seems to be in the same general area of social thought as a John Miller piece on NRO about Islam-glossing in American textbooks. The extremists just do not fit into the underlying emotional picture that some people have — are taught to have — of Islam.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:42 PM EST


Letting Their Politics Lead Their Faith

Rod Dreher takes a look, today, at the war-related opinions of the world's religious leaders. I really do want religious leaders to be obstinately hesitant to endorse war and to phrase support in careful terms. However, I just can't see most of their current pronouncements as anything but political and beholden to an ideology apart from the faith that they profess.

I know the obvious response is that I ought not so quickly dismiss such seemingly unanimous proclamations from people of God. But I don't dismiss them; in fact, my having grappled with what I share of their beliefs is part of what makes me so confident that the Hussein regime must be deposed by force, if necessary. Even with continual reconsideration upon every statement made, I just cannot see these people as doing other than letting their own social and ideological prejudices interfere with their understanding of their religions.

That doesn't speak well, in my opinion, for their credibility. And frankly, I think we ought to expect better — clearer — thought from those who are meant to approach all things from above rather than within.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:28 PM EST


The Identity of a Man Probably Never to Be Seen

The name of the man whom the U.N. inspectors turned over to probable death at the hands of Iraqi security forces is Adnan Abdul Karim Enad.

He's a two-year veteran of the Iraqi prison system, based on deserting the army (for reasons of principle, it appears), and he worked in the market. A "flummoxed" Hans Blix fell back on politico-speech:

"I've just talked to our security chief in Baghdad . . . and he said there was nothing in the booklet he seemed to be carrying," Dr Blix said. He added that Iraqi scientists could find "more elegant ways" of approaching UN inspectors.

Well, excuse the subjects of a violent dictator for not carrying along some tea and crumpets! Beyond that, Mr. Enad didn't "seem" to be carrying a booklet; as a point of fact, he was carrying one. I continue to doubt, for reasons I've cited before, that the book was entirely empty. If it was meant as a prop to pique the U.N. inspectors' interest, I doubt that he would have held on to it so desperately.

The point is moot. This man stood as an example of how UNMOVIC will treat the average Iraqi on the street who dares to approach them:

Aziz Al-Taee, chairman of the Iraqi-American Council, said that the incident would discourage other dissidents from trying to seek sanctuary with UN inspectors. "They did not even listen to him. They just pushed him to the security forces. The security forces took him away and he has disappeared," he said. "They should have taken him into the UN barracks and interviewed him to see if he has a case."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:14 AM EST


Nice to Meet Ya, Mr. President.

Reverend Rich Weaver seems to believe that God led the way for him to hand a letter over to President Bush. He seems like a good-natured guy, and who can say but that he's right in his feeling.

He's got the casualty/duration forecast for the war: 50,000 dead (total?) and six months of fighting. Of course, any casualties are too many, but 50,000 would seem low in comparison with a nuked New York. Seeing such a number does, however, bring to mind all of those poorly written, dull chapters of history books that list the numbers dead. "Oh, only that many for this war? That's not nearly as many the previous war."

It shines a different light on those numbers when it's current-day. And of course, we must measure and be willing to face an honest assessment of the costs of war.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:27 AM EST


Thursday, February 6, 2003

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "The Maypole," by Christine Mullen. Christine's got such a direct, yet subtle way of writing that her prose is almost poetry. This piece isn't on the happiest of topics and is timely in a dark way. But, its turn is up in the rotation. We also do well to remind ourselves of the gravity of the endeavor that our nation is correctly about to undertake.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:29 PM EST


A Dark Irony

I was going to link to John Derbyshire's dark piece on NRO today with the comment that it reminded me that I've really got to start getting to those pleasures and projects that I miss in my life. That was this morning. Hours ago.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:52 PM EST


NRO Answering My Demands

Actually, it's probably just a coincidence that I happened to call for rebuttals in their new debate feature regarding a debate in which they take such a course. So: back to media bias with Eric Alterman and Brent Bozell. Even taking my own opinion out of it as much as possible, I still find it remarkable to note the difference in arguing strategies. And I believe such differences are invaluable to note when deciding whose side to take. Bozell offers more specific evidence (in the form of quotations) and rebuts points made yesterday. From Alterman, we get this:

The mere fact that three of the top political reporters for the New York Times in recent years have been openly gay men is mistaken as evidence of bias by some in the conservative media establishment-and no doubt by some Americans as well. Not long ago, Brent Bozell III attacked the New York Times for appointing a gay man to a top editorial position, suggesting that this "signals that [Times editors are] promoting their newspaper as an aggressive liberal lobbying tool not only to prevent Republican campaign victories, but to pave a smooth and silky path for cultural relativism as well." In fact, one of the Times's openly gay reporters, Frank Bruni, became something of a joke to his colleagues owing to his enormously sympathetic coverage of George W. Bush.

Apart from its being a new tack rather than a rebuttal, reading this is like reading political spin (or academic research in the humanities). Either Alterman hasn't the brains that he seemed to think he did, yesterday, or his opinion of his readers' brains isn't all that flattering. Let's slow it down so you can watch the magician's hands:

"three of the top political reporters" Which three?
"mistaken as evidence of bias by some" Who are those "some," and were they right based on the three anonymous reporters' output?
Bozell attacked the Times "for appointing a gay man to a top editorial position" Who was it? Does his work show a bias?
The next bit of sleight of word — the "in fact," the "to the contrary" — is the most telling: Frank Bruni, who is gay, "became something of a joke to his colleagues owing to his enormously sympathetic coverage of George W. Bush." Is Bruni among those already mentioned, but unnamed? Is he a "top reporter"? And how does the fact that he was put down by his colleagues for being too "sympathetic" to the President of the United States prove that the paper (the total of "his colleagues") has no political bias? I guess such peer pressure doesn't have an effect on a professional's balance in writing... except when they're showing bias for the President.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:50 PM EST


Tony Blair: War Criminal

Ever get the feeling that the pretensions toward "democracy" among the European elite was merely a ruse to buy time while finding new ways to reassert oligarchy? Well, the International Criminal Court, in which the United States thankfully refused to participate [pause while I thank God once again that Bill Clinton and cronies are gone from the White House], is already looking into putting British Prime Minister Tony Blair on trial for war crimes based on a not-yet-executed Iraqi war.

But the court will only be used against those whom we can all agree deserve prosecution, right? Of course.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:25 PM EST


When No Intelligent Conversation Is Possible About Sex

Jeff Jarvis, whom I respect and admire as much as our short knowledge of each other allows, has found "the most tortured PC-cum-puritanical argument [he's] yet seen." Surprisingly, said puritanism graced the pages of the New York Times. The article is about one of those periodic "state of the television" studies that always find that Americans are becoming less and less concerned about the images that sift down to their television sets.

Personally, after hearing this stuff my entire life, I find it difficult to get worked up about it. Yes, my opinion is that much of what passes for entertainment nowadays is garbage packaged to highlight what is ugly and foolish about humanity, and I do think that restrictions ought to exist about where and when certain material is available to whomever has the remote control. On the other hand, if parents are serious about disliking material, they ought to take their reaction seriously. Too often, it seems, people complain that they want Friends Lite. If Friends offends, turn it off, even if you enjoy the witty banter. (Apologies for borrowing Johnny Cochran's shtick). It'll teach your children a better lesson for you to show some resolve and stand up to them, explaining why you object rather than trying to avoid the conflict through political pressure.

Yes, I know that the realities of the entertainment industry pull talent and push content in such a way that a "cleaner" Friends would be difficult to find. Well, then, attack that issue. Devote resources and effort into encouraging, even developing, compelling content that aligns more with your own likes and dislikes. This is where Jeff and I begin to part ways because, frankly, my suspicions are raised by his choice of paragraphs to highlight from reasonably long article:

There is, however, a growing chorus of parents' groups, health professionals and even government officials who say the time has come to set new limits. As the Federal Communications Commission nears a decision on whether to ease corporate ownership rules and allow further media consolidation, sex has entered the debate.

"Is there a relationship between the rising tide of indecency on the airwaves and the rising tide of industry consolidation?" Michael J. Copps, an F.C.C. commissioner, asked in a telephone interview. Mr. Copps, who wants his agency not only to write new, stricter indecency rules but also to regulate media ownership more vigilantly, said he detected a link. "It is just possible that the programs designed by advertisers to draw young eyeballs would be somewhat different if they were designed closer to the community," he said. "When you have local ownership, you have more ability to determine what you carry."

Frankly, far from "tortured PC-cum-puritanism," I find that to be an interesting idea. The closer the locus of control of the material on their televisions, the more communities can influence what appears there. This could mean 24 x 7 Fastlane, or it could mean that a market will appear for shows of a different sort. I'd even suggest that it goes the other way: the broader the audience that a network is trying to please, the lower the target denominator and more basic (or base) the content. With a closer and more-specific audience, higher points of interest can be pursued.

I'm particularly perplexed that this objection should come from the man who wrote this:

- The wise editor, publisher, producer will listen to this audience – and make money. Fools will ignore them.
- I bring this populist philosophy to the medium before there was this medium. I was a TV critic and I defended the taste of the American people based on the ratings; given a chance to watch quality shows (fads excepted) the audience will watch quality. This is the same populist philosophy I bring to my theology and my views of media, politics, and commerce.
- Simply put: If you don’t innately trust the aggregate intelligence, taste, and morality of the people, then you do not, you cannot believe in democracy or capitalism.

That's a philosophy that I can get behind. Much better than today's conclusion: "Let's get this straight: Sex sells. Sex is fun. Sex is good. Gotta problem with that? Then you're the freak, geek." What if your audience disagrees? Or, more likely, what if your audience just doesn't think sex is good in all situations for all people?

Remember that these are the networks that we're talking about. One commenter to Jeff's post puts forward:

the networks are trying to earn MONEY -if parents don't like what is on TV there are niche stations like disney and the family channel to watch....

this is a perfect example of a minority trying to ruin it for the majority.... just like the victoria's secret fashion show...

Cable/satellite television, the only source for "niche stations," may be very common in American society, but it's not universal, and it's not free. Furthermore, look at it this way: smaller markets would also mean that clean-TV advocates in the Bible Belt would have less justification for attempting to dictate standards in L.A., for example. With the media giants, it seems to me a case, truly, of a minority determining what the majority can watch. And if you don't believe that the current fare is doing much to "ruin it" for society at large, then you probably also believe that concern about sex being packaged for kids makes one a geeky freak. You might also be inclined to forget that ours is a regionally determined representative democracy for a reason.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:15 PM EST


Not Dustin Hoffman...

The foolish public statements of actors are not generally worth commenting on unless they are particularly humorous. Dustin Hoffman's stated opinion is not one such comment. However, he does point to a mindset that I think corrodes the thinking of many such people:

If they are saying it's about the fact they have biological weapons and might have nuclear weapons and that gives us the liberty to pre-empt and strike because we think they might hit us, then what prevents Pakistan from attacking India, what prevents India from attacking Pakistan, what prevents us from going into North Korea?

This whole notion that what keeps nations from behaving poorly is international peer pressure is inherently flawed. It is, however, a key justification for powerless, rule-making international bureaucrats, as found in the United Nations. What prevents Pakistan and India from preemptively attacking each other is that the cost/benefit equation works out to be cost/cost. Neither has the ability to topple the other quickly and with an acceptable degree of repercussions.

As for what keeps us from hitting North Korea, the nation's stronger military and probable nuclear capability play a role. However, we're soon going to have this discussion, I'd wager. Although, I won't look to Hoffman for insights; after all:

I believe - though I may wrong because I am no expert - that this war is about what most wars are about: hegemony, money, power and oil.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:10 PM EST


Right on Schedule?

North Korea is notching up its rhetoric:

North Korea has warned the United States that any decision to send more troops to the region could lead the North to make a pre-emptive attack on American forces.

US officials said on Tuesday that Washington was considering strengthening its military forces in the Pacific Ocean as a deterrent against North Korea.

Predicting the behavior of megalomaniac leaders is not a very accurate endeavor, but I don't think North Korea will start anything in this manner at this time. The United States is just too much more powerful, and the world is just too much on edge. Therefore, I think we ought to call the bluff, at least as far as moving troops is concerned.

On the other hand, from the North Korean point of view, the window for such dangerous negotiation tactics as issuing threats is small. We can't back down, but we have to hope that Kim Jong Il is not so psychotic that he loses all sense of the hand that he's really holding.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:57 AM EST


Wednesday, February 5, 2003

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "from Dishonorable Intentions," by Anne DuBose Joslin. This is an early chapter from Anne's soon to be published book about her time with the first Bush administration (the title's since changed, but of course, I'll keep y'all posted about it).

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:52 PM EST


Well, What Do I Know

I know I'm just a lay person in the Catholic Church, but it seems to me that the broader Church ought to be able to forbid nonsense like this:

Rev. Sharpton -- presidential candidate and Pentecostal minister ordained at age 10 in 1964 -- and Marxist, black-focused academic Cornel West, who speaks at St. Sabina Friday night, are not expected "to contradict [parishioners'] beliefs as Christians," Fr. Pfleger told Falsani. Rather, they are to "cause [them] to think out of the box, ask the difficult questions and wrestle with the answers."

The two were invited to publicize "poverty and homelessness and racism and health care," which are "on the backburner [and are] not even being addressed" because Americans are "obsessed with . . . overseas terrorism [and have] ignored the terrorisms we had here long before Sept. 11."

Rev. Sharpton, who supports the right to abort a baby, has a checkered past. He gained national fame when he vigorously espoused the cause of a New York woman who falsely claimed that some policemen had raped her and has never admitted he was wrong. He told Falsani this was his first time preaching in a Catholic church. "The comfort," however, "is that Father Pfleger is a different kind of a Catholic priest," he said.

Falsani notes that Pfleger has given his pulpit to other controverted speakers, including singer Harry Belafonte -- Sunday 1/20, when Belafonte tore into Bush for seeking to eliminate a woman's right to an abortion and promoting war. Pfleger has also several times hosted Black muslim firebrand Louis Farrakhan, ridiculer of the Pope and castigator of Judaism as "a gutter religion."

Racism and health care not being addressed? Do these people read even the headlines in the paper? Pro-abortion Pentecostal ministers and Pope-bashing, terrorism-supporting psychos being granted access to a Catholic lectern? And Jesus wept.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:28 PM EST


Scrambling the Brainbox

I use an earplug for my cellular phone. I'll admit to being cautiously wary of having that contraption up against my brainbox for too long, and I bristle when such caution is dismissed as ignorant superstition. It isn't quite the same as fearing that a television is radioactive. There's a wide variation among wireless technologies. For example, some policemen have testicular cancer from laying speed-trap guns in their laps while on duty.

Apparently, nerve damage in rats suggests that reasonably restrained concerns about cell phones are not so nakedly ludicrous.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:12 PM EST


A Thought on Intelligence

I've read and heard comments in multiple places already suggesting that making public the intelligence used by Secretary Powell comes at a cost for the United States. Of course, everything has a cost of some kind, and perhaps Iraq will now shuffle to figure out where those trucks went (in case we followed them) and to seek ways to move them again without exposing them to the sky. Similarly, new codes may be instituted for phone conversations (in addition to other methods), and some intel. sources might do well to escape or take some acting lessons.

However, as a balancing factor to this (beyond improving the U.S.'s case for war), my first thought was that it can only be beneficial, every now and then, to give the international community a small taste of what we can do. We did this during the Gulf War with respect to military capabilities, and we've just done it with respect to intelligence collection. I can picture every despot, terrorist, and otherwise shady character in the world looking up at the blue sky a little bit differently now.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:14 PM EST


Powell's Presentation

What is there to say? As one who has been advocating for Saddam's ouster for almost as long as I've been advocating for anything in public, I find Powell's speech to be little more than the next level and a palpable manifestation of an argument that has been pushing toward a crescendo as resistence to it has persisted. If you really want to know my opinion, just search my site (above) for the word "Iraq," and you'll find plenty.

Regarding those in opposition to war, as Rod Dreher just asked in the Corner, "What can they say?" Continued opposition now would show an utter lack of intellectual seriousness. The information about weapons inspectors being evaded even shattered the "inspections are working" argument. There's hardly any room for the recently common statement from pro-war writers and speakers that "reasonable arguments can be made against the war, they just aren't being made." At this point, that's only true in the limited sense that reasonable arguments could be made against having a seriously gangrenous limb amputated. In other words, they don't amount to arguments against the necessary action; they merely describe reasons for dislike of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:43 PM EST


Media Bias Debate on NRO

I'm enjoying National Review Online's new debate feature, although I would prefer if they allowed, perhaps the following day, rebuttal arguments. Today's, between Eric Alterman and Brent Bozell, offers a near-perfect encapsulation of the debate about media bias. Most notable is the tone and strategy.

Alterman: Insulting. Presenting the issue such that if you disagree, it proves your stupidity. His evidence? Merely one-line quotations from conservatives whom he thinks other conservatives would consider among "the smart" suggesting that they "know" that the liberal media specter is, to some extent, fabricated.

Bozell: Convivial. Presenting the issue as one about which there could be beneficial and enjoyable argument, but for which liberals refuse to address specific points. His evidence? Studies of media bias and a description of the news process and where bias — of any type — can seep in.

Bozell's right. This isn't an area worth arguing. In part, because it is unarguable; in part, because one side refuses to argue.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:24 AM EST


Stuck at Your Computer?

The White House has live streaming video of Colin Powell's presentation.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:35 AM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:57 AM EST


Tuesday, February 4, 2003

Sullivan: "I Got HIV, and I Look and Feel Great!"

Andrew Sullivan gives some consideration to the problem of sex and HIV. "One of the worst elements of that [Rolling Stone] piece is that it sensationalized and polarized an important issue: how we manage to reduce HIV transmission in an era where an HIV diagnosis is nowhere near as scary as it used to be." (Note: reducing HIV transmission = important)

Then there's this advertisement for HIV:

Sexual segregation between HIV-positives and HIV-negatives has some advantages in creating a firewall between the two groups, but in time, it has apparently only further decreased fear of HIV. The pozzies look great, seem in good health and no longer live in terror of getting the disease. Some degree of "HIV-envy," while not as pathological as "bug-chasing," and if only because having it means you can't be scared of getting it any more, is still a real issue. Again this problem strikes me as close to insoluble. I've been HIV-positive for ten years now, and my immune system is healthier now than when I got infected. I look better than I did when I was negative, have experienced deep spiritual and emotional growth as a result of my HIV experience, and live every day now with a vigor and gratitude I never felt before. I'm just one of thousands of productive, healthy people with HIV who are daily - albeit unconsciously - transmitting the message that an HIV diagnosis is no calamity. Having been a beneficiary of the solution to HIV, I am now unwittingly part of the problem.

Note that first "but." Let me retype that with a bold: "Sexual segregation between HIV-positives and HIV-negatives has some advantages in creating a firewall between the two groups, but in time, it has apparently only further decreased fear of HIV." In other words? Perhaps actively avoiding sexual encounters between those infected and those not infected is not such a beneficial ethic?

Allow me to remind Sullivan of the definition of "bug chasers" in the Rolling Stone article that led to the 25% figure: "Some men consciously seek the virus, openly declaring themselves bug chasers, he says, while many more are just as actively seeking HIV but are in denial and wouldn't call themselves bug chasers." Would that be HIV envy? Given Sullivan's description — which is much more glowing than merely "not a calamity" — there appears to be much of which to be envious.

Here are his final thoughts:

Sex is messy and dangerous. But it's also one the greatest and most exhilarating gifts our nature has given us - and free societies respect the freedom to explore it. Resolving that paradox is an impossibility as social policy, and always has been. But ameliorating it must be within our reach. So how? I wish I knew. Or do we have to get used to a certain level of HIV-infection the way we have become used to herpes, and every other sexual disease which has affected mankind, gay and straight, for millennia?

To sum: 1) actively avoiding sex between partners of differing HIV status may not be worth the effort; 2) being a "pozzie" is, in many ways, an attractive option; 3) it might be advisable to just accept HIV as yet another sexual disease, manageable if not curable. To be blunt, I've never heard somebody discuss how much having a different sexually transmitted disease improved his life; this is not a small point. I'm reminded of Noah Millman's recent prediction regarding Sullivan. Before I give it to you, here's one more nugget from Sullivan's musing:

Let's say that science found treatments that reduced the rate of fatality from lung cancer due to smoking by, say, 80 percent. Let's also say that these treatments became progressively easier to tolerate. What would you predict would happen? More to the point: How would you conduct a public health message that still credibly warned against the risks of smoking?

Okay, here's Mr. Millman's prediction:

If it turns out that hundreds of people are infected every year because of bug-chasing - forget the scare headline of 10,000 - then Sullivan will change his position. He'll argue that there's an ethics of bug-chasing: the ethics of choice. If you can smoke, and thereby expose yourself to serious health consequences down the road (and the taxpayer to the costs of caring for you) then what is so awful about contracting a manageable disease by engaging in a pleasurable sexual encounter?

Not far off, at all, and the prediction is less than two weeks old. Millman goes on:

Sullivan has been trying to straddle the "culture of life" and the "culture of choice." This story could force him to one side of the fence or the other. No wonder he wants it to go away.

Did you catch Sullivan's line about sex (emphasis added): "the greatest and most exhilarating gifts our nature has given us." I thought Andrew was a Catholic...

Mr. Millman takes Sullivans piece as an opportunity for a reasonable and balanced discussion of gay marriage, only touching on the implications of the rest (the bulk) of Sullivan's post. Why the softened approach? Doesn't Millman see that he was right?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:52 PM EST


Right Reasons Wrong Conclusion

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist with whom I consistently disagree, offers a frighteningly plausible scenario of the next six months in North Korean history. Unfortunately, this scenario is bookended by pure partisan sophistry.

The White House, wanting to keep the focus on Iraq, did not even bother to tell us that satellite images show North Korea apparently taking steps toward reprocessing plutonium. It was left to my Times colleague David (Scoop) Sanger to alert the public a few days ago.

Where, Mr. Kristof, do you suppose your colleague got his hands on U.S. intelligence spy photographs? He certainly didn't break into any top-secret offices and sneak them out. And in contrast to Kristof's one stated-as-fact aside, Sanger offers two hypothetical reasons that the administration might be keeping quiet on this: "Some administration officials have said they want to avoid creating a crisis atmosphere with North Korea they believe its leader, Kim Jong Il, is hoping to set off a crisis to extract concessions from Washington while others say President Bush does not want to distract international attention from Iraq."

Can you imagine if it were Iraq that had been spotted moving nuclear fuel around?

Well, that would be notable. Particularly because Iraq isn't supposed to have anything having to do with nuclear technology. Also because North Korea wasn't carting fuel, but, according to Sanger, "spent fuel rods."

The news that the Pentagon is reinforcing its preparedness on the Korean Peninsula suggests that it doesn't believe the White House lullabies either.

Pop quiz, Mr. Kristof: Who is Commander in Chief of the military?

When North Korea has reprocessed its plutonium and built five more nuclear weapons, probably by summer, it'll try to pressure us into a new package deal.

I can't argue with this. I would like, however, to point out the use of "more" in "five more nuclear weapons" — North Korea is at least likely to have some. Kristof has built up, by this point, to the burning question: what should we do? Before that, though: the scenario. Aside from Kristof's weaving White House inaction — even in the face of missile tests and resumed "construction of a nuclear reactor in Taechon that will be capable of producing plutonium for 44 warheads annually" — into the projection, there's not much to say about such generally feasible guesswork. Toward the end, however, Kristof tries to pass off a bit of intellectual dishonesty:

Aug. 16: Intelligence intercepts suggest that North Korea will respond to even a minimal U.S. military strike by launching conventional missiles at Japan, and to a broader strike by turning Seoul into "a sea of fire." The C.I.A. warns that if the North finds itself losing a conventional war, it will use chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons against Japan and U.S. forces in South Korea. All sides brace for a new Korean war, which the C.I.A. estimates could kill one million people.

First, Sanger also wrote that, already, "American officials and their allies fear that North Korea would retaliate against South Korea or Tokyo, an attack that could result in tremendous casualties." Second, the U.S. government believes that North Korea already has chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Indeed, the "sea of fire" phrase is a threat already made by North Korea. So how does Kristof's terrifying scenario bring us to a significantly different place than we now inhabit? What will we do then?

Aug. 17: Colin Powell is told by President Bush: "If only we'd listened to you two years ago about the need to engage North Korea! Even this February, if only we had started negotiations. I'm sorry, Colin, we blew it." Then Mr. Powell wakes up and realizes he was dreaming.

Negotiations? Negotiations?! Like those that enabled the country to clandestinely acquire the nukes that it may currently have? If Kristof's suggestion is followed, one thing is certain: North Korea — and evey other despot nation in the world — will know exactly what to do next time it squanders its ill-gotten gains. Kristof should have read to the end of Sanger's article. Here's Robert Einhorn, a nonproliferation official in the Clinton administration:

But [North Korea's brinkmanship] strategy could backfire. "The North Koreans have to recognize what kind of signals they are sending here," Mr. Einhorn said. "Consciously or not, they are sending the signal that they are determined to acquire a significant arsenal of nuclear weapons. If they do that too strongly, there will be little incentive for the U.S. to do anything but isolate them."

Negotiation doesn't work when only one side is willing to honor its promises. Nor does it work well when only one side is willing or able to maneuver in the process. Folks like Kristof would insist that the United States unilaterally, forthrightly negotiate with a nation that does nothing but maneuver for advantage. Glad he's only a columnist for the New York Times.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:58 PM EST


Tying Our Own Hands and Letting the Monsters Loose

Most people who read Dust in the Light probably read other Web sites, particularly Instapundit and NRO, that have made frequent note of the insane state of criminal affairs in England. Police, legal, and social activities and outlooks are such that criminal activity is all but encouraged. Meanwhile, law abiding citizens have been disarmed — and are apt to be treated as the harshest of criminals for defending themselves, anyway. Well, I thought of our friends across the pond after reading a couple of things mentioned on NRO today.

The Corner links to a story out of Pennsylvania about Brian Calabrese, an unstable rapist who promises to commit crimes again who is set to be released from incarceration, with no strings, on his twenty-first birthday because he was convicted at the age of 17. The term "time bomb" doesn't capture the danger of letting such people out into society. A reader later emailed the Corner to offer inside information that Calabrese is far from unique in the handling of him and to suggest that every person along line who fills a role meant to guard the public feels as if his or her hands are tied from doing so.

Meanwhile, Deroy Murdock explores the trend of people who were injured while engaged in criminal activity suing for major settlements. For once, I agree with NYC Mayor Bloomberg:

"Idiotic! Unaffordable!" said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, denouncing the Kim case. He told the American College of Trial Lawyers last October 18 that Gotham's $560 million "tort tax" for Fiscal Year 2001 represented a 2,300 percent increase in judgments and settlements since 1978.

That any of that should go to criminals is ridiculous. Let's hope Brian Calabrese pursues his apparently inevitable crimes with an eye toward his own safety.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:22 PM EST


Solution: Gender Quotas for Abortion

The male:female ratio has gotten so bad in India that men are having to resort to buying brides from neighboring countries. Is it something in the water that makes male children so much more common? No — it has more to do with the water that is never allowed to be broken. The woman shortage is caused by nothing more alarming than other women exercising their "right to choose."

Government officials raid clinics to make sure doctors are not abusing modern technology by tipping off parents they were carrying girls. In many clinics, the illegal and systematic abortion of girls is common practice.

The spinmeisters at Planned Parenthood's Indian division must be putting in extra hours to generate an answer to this one, perhaps even taking a break from spreading information about "the reproductive health and rights of adolescents and youth" (emphasis added). The group's own statistics will surely be trotted out as evidence that abortion must go on:

At India's present population growth of 1.6 percent per year, it is expected to overtake China as the world's most populous country by the year 2050. The challenges of an ever-increasing population are daunting. Most cities, especially Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta, cannot cope with their continuing expansion, which overwhelms the supply of housing, clean water, and sanitation facilities.

Somehow, I don't think it's in Planned Parenthood's future to redirect any of those condom and abortion funds to answer the problems created by there being too many people. No, the people themselves are the problem, so the only answer must be more abortions. Perhaps a one-child policy would be even more effective in India than in China. After all, with only one shot, potential parents will be even less likely to waste it on hamburger buns rather than a turtle (the differentiation for which my wife and I were told to look on the sonogram screen). It would be almost certain that, even before the year 2050, the nation would practically cease to procreate.

According to Planned Parenthood, "Child mortality is higher among girls than boys, reflecting gender differences in treatment and care." They can say that again.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:06 PM EST


Just Had to Share This One

So Christopher Hitchens would vote for Bush if the elections were held today. Glad to see he's as smart as he seems, but that's not the best part of the Lloyd Grove blurb in which I found the info. This is:

Meanwhile, Hitchens suggests that old nemesis Bill Clinton was a CIA plant at Oxford, where both were students in the late 1960s. "I think he was a double," Hitchens says. "Somebody was giving information to [the CIA] about the anti-war draft resisters, and I think it was probably him. We had a girlfriend in common -- I didn't know then -- who's since become a very famous radical lesbian."

Ha! Poor girl.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:51 PM EST


The Next Karzai

Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, has the blessing of the United States to become the temporary leader of Iraq upon Saddam's ouster. The biographies of such folks are simply amazing and ought to make "dissenter" wannabes in Western nations blush.

There's only one aspect of Chalabi's past that looks like it might be important to keep an eye on:

Mr Chalabi, who is a progressive liberal, is far from universally popular among Iraqi exiles. However, successful talks in Tehran, and Iranian assistance in getting him into Iraq, shows he has galvanised considerable support from the Iraqi opposition.

But we'll be lingering there for quite some time — perhaps long enough for Tehran, itself, to change hands for the better — so such connections are by no means dire. They are, anyway, unavoidable.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:01 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 02/04/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Gegwsi" by Mr. Chu. An inadvertent comment of mine wound up being the title of this song. It's not my secret to give, so you'll just have to ponder what it means (perhaps until the Behind the Music special). I first heard the song on a toy Casio keyboard. It sounded good then, but it sounds great on real instruments.

"Gegwsi" Mr. Chu, Hard Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Chu's Next

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:10 AM EST


Monday, February 3, 2003

The Best Available Evidence

Mark Shea's essay addressing the common "alternate theories" about Christ's Resurrection is certainly worth bookmarking. Not too long ago, I read something in which the author mocked, in passing, people who argue that some period in history never happened (sorry to be so vague). I think Mark illustrates that applying the same standards to the Resurrection as are expected in historical studies in general would yield the conclusion that Christ did rise from death... if, that is, the historian doesn't take on faith that such a thing is impossible (generally because, they'd say, there's no God).

To see just how dogmatic those who take that position can be, check out the comments in the post on Mark's blog in which he links to his Resurrection essay.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:54 PM EST


Facing What You Claim to Believe

J. Bowen links to a column by David Kupelian that offers a link to a picture that pro-abortionists oughtn't have more qualms about viewing than they would a picture of a spleen.

Look at the photo and weep. Weep for that baby, and for all the other babies that have been tortured and butchered and vacuumed and ripped apart and chemically burned and whose skulls have been crushed and their brains sucked out over the last 30 years. Weep also for the 25 million American women who have been deceived, seduced, intimidated and corrupted into having abortions since 1973. Weep for the profound physical and psychological traumas many of these aborting women carry with them. Yes, weep for the living, as well as for the dead.

Powerful stuff. And unanswerable, in my opinion.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:46 PM EST


The Difference Between Columbia and Challenger

Mark Shea has paid me the compliment of linking to my Just Thinking column. In the comment box, Mark's readers are now in the process of doing other readers the favor of honestly discussing the differences in their feelings about Columbia and Challenger. The two factors receiving the most attention are the presence of the teacher on Challenger and the intervening change wrought by September 11.

My own feeling is that September 11 was mostly significant in terms of the era into which it ushered us. The loss of seven lives, horrible as it is, pales compared to 9/11. Even now, we have become accustomed to periodically hearing about a few lives being lost here and there, whether due to a helicopter crash in Afghanistan or a shooting in Kuwait. Add to this the perennial underlying hum of tragedy, and commenter Dave P.'s question (posed with ample perspective and qualification) seems appropriate: "Why, I found myself wondering by dinnertime Saturday, are we being asked to grieve so much more bitterly over the deaths of these seven people than for any of the other healthy, vibrant Americans who lose their lives to tragedy every day?"

As I recall, in the case of Challenger, a teacher in my school system had applied for the slot ultimately filled by Christa McAuliffe. I'm sure very many towns had this coulda-been connection to that tragedy. I also seem to recall that NASA had a contest or something to find an experiment developed by children that Ms. McAuliffe could perform while in space. Moreover, the Challenger mission's collapse took the force from behind the tremendous push of the imagination. Space travel... men on the moon... telescopes to see far into space... a civilian in orbit. Next, it seemed, were the proximate advents men on Mars and civilians traveling into space regularly. Americans who had been daydreaming about seeing Earth from off of it within their lifetimes found themselves instantly aboard that exploding ship.

I think we are more hardened these days, but I also think that Columbia didn't as clearly represent a step toward the future.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:13 PM EST


When the Monster Coos

Jonah Goldberg's NRO column is worth reading today.

(And, no, my subject line isn't a reference to him.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:07 PM EST


This Shouldn't Be News

Vatican Succumbs to Harry Potter's Spell

So reads the title of a Reuters news brief.

"I don't think that any of us grew up without the imaginary world of fairies, magicians, angels and witches," said Father Peter Fleetwood, a Vatican official who worked on the document [about "New Age" spirituality].

"[The Harry Potter books] are not bad or a banner for anti-Christian ideology. They help children understand the difference between good and evil," he said in response to a reporter's question.

Serious Catholic thinkers have said this all along. Just so you know, the press conference wasn't held explicitly to make this faith-defying announcement.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:06 PM EST


The Beginning of a Response

Sometimes, when I send a thought to somebody with a larger forum than mine — a writer or radio talk host, for example — I find myself unsure whether a particular statement made subsequently was meant as an answer. Perhaps they are most often answers to broad groups of somewhat similarly thinking correspondents. Still, it is a strange, and somewhat belittling, experience.

Glenn Reynolds, whom I pointed to today's Just Thinking column, just made an entry to Instapundit that seems like one such general response. He does so by linking to a column on the topic by Lee Harris:

The essence of human intelligence is the search for pattern. We seek it everywhere; and, if we are not terribly careful, we succeed in finding it everywhere—even where it is not. Yet it would be folly to condemn this instinctive craving for an imagined order that would mirror the true order of things, since this is the same drive that has produced the great edifice called Western science.

...We feel it—but we insist on going beyond the mere evidence of own feelings; and how hard this is to do is nowhere clearer than in the case before us. Yes, we see all the signs, but we must force ourselves to step back and to ask, "Does it really make sense to see this disaster as somehow magically attached to the fate of our nation—no matter how strongly we may make such a connection at the visceral level? Is it possible that the world could really be organized like that?"

The answer we give is a resounding, No. But this answer is only forthcoming because we exist in a civilization that has achieved the unique distinction of having successfully banished magical thinking from all those critical realms of life that were once and everywhere haunted by the spooks and spirits of primitive mind.

Mr. Harris steps carefully around the atheistic truism of our being hardwired to find patterns, as well he should. As I've written before, this observation of itself gains no ground in the discussion about meaning and too often comes to represent an alternative belief system rather than a mere qualification. Even without getting into whether there are, in fact, signs and omens, Harris's column is only the beginning of a response to my own.

My suggestions about the connection between tepid interest in space exploration and the drive to find signs remains intact. Indeed, my contention was that the fact that our society "has achieved the unique distinction of having successfully banished magical thinking from all those critical realms of life that were once and everywhere haunted by the spooks and spirits of primitive mind" also removes part of the motivation and interest in those realms of life.

Harris acknowledges this, in the first paragraph that I've quoted here, but he doesn't do anything with the connection. He doesn't address when, why, and how our predilection for signs ought to be indulged. The gap that this presents is one that I've come across countless times and that never diminishes in the extent to which it jars against the logical intelligence of those who make the leap: why does the fact that we can move "beyond" our "visceral" reactions necessarily dictate that we must discard them as we do so?

For my own part, I continue to believe that this moat into which the sciences dare not look is the next great barrier to be crossed in mankind's progress.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:57 AM EST


Just Thinking 02/03/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "What Is in Space and What We're Told Isn't," about the space shuttle Columbia tragedy, the underlying reason for the lack of interest in (and, therefore, funds for) the space program, and the significance of the coincidences surrounding Columbia's destruction.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:02 AM EST


Sunday, February 2, 2003

Great Start to 2003

Whether December's (relative) slowdown in the advancement of the Timshel Arts Web site had to do with my host's several days of downtime or the holidays, January more than made up the difference. I'm still a long, long way from the major bloggers, but enough people read my online writing, listened to the music, or watched the vlogs to compel me to rub my eyes and look again when I checked my statistics. I can't tell you how much it helps me push on in a field in which the odds are staggering to know that people are responding.

(Speaking of vlogs, I do have an idea for one, but it's been a hectic month.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:46 PM EST


Why Do I Care?

I suppose it bothers me that blogger-with-a-paycheck Sheila Lennon, representing the primary Rhode Island newspaper, the Providence Journal, would link with glowing approval to a foul-mouthed, uninformed racist of a mock reporter. Matt Taibbi covered the "peace" protests in Washington in the way that one would expect from a raving liberal.

First, he hit an earlier counter protest by Marines and Other Veterans Engaging Outrageous Un-American Traitors (MOVE-OUT). His major complaint was that he didn't get exclusive footage:

After all, one would be hard-pressed to think of any circumstance not involving a pro-government counter-demonstration in which 40 journalists from major news organizations would attend a 9 a.m. weekend rally involving 80 illiterate morons. To use the Russian expression, crayfish will whistle in the mountains before 80 environmentalists in a park on a Saturday morning draw so much as a college radio intern, much less 40 of the country's heaviest press hitters. The mere presence of so much press at MOVE-OUT was monstrous.

Why so much press? Getting an early start on a major protest day? Nah, no doubt all of those reporters went home before the A.N.S.W.E.R. rally. Funny that I, with my conservative leanings, received the most coverage of MOVE-OUT from a left winger complaining that it got too much coverage. Of course, I don't get most of my news from those government mouthpieces in the mainstream media.

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

My hands were numb because I had kept them out of my pockets for long stretches in a frantic attempt to record for posterity the amazing rhetoric of the MOVE-OUT speakers. Some of the speeches were of a type not seen since Bluto rallied the troops in Animal House. Only this slapstick comedy, this was real. Martin, the corpulent Oreo, gave a typical speech:

"Our troops have always been there for us," he said, "from the time of World War I, when our soldiers beat back the fascists in France...."

I turned to Paul. "France?" I said. "Fascists? What the f*** is he talking about?"

Paul shrugged. "Forget it," he said. "He's on a roll."

Well, let's see what Encarta has to say about World War I in France, Mr. Oh-So-Superior Reporter:

Most of the decisive land campaigns of World War I occurred on the continent of Europe. The two chief centers of operations were the western front and the eastern front. On the western front, German armies confronted those of the British Empire, France, Belgium, and, later, the United States. Most of the fighting on this front took place in northeastern France. The trenches of the western front ran from the North Sea to the border of Switzerland.

Perhaps Mr. Martin misspoke and meant World War II (perhaps Taibbi misheard), or perhaps he was applying "fascists" in the generic sense to the predecessors of Fascists. Either way, Taibbi's reaction has the biting flavor of historical ignorance mixed with puerile arrogance. From this dubious beginning, Taibbi goes on to insult the veterans, antagonize the reporters, and join the "peace" rally, from the midst of which he reports:

If the snapshot the media got from Seattle was a gang of hippies standing in front of a row of broken store windows, the picture from this one should rightly have been seven lonely college Republicans cringing behind a "Hippies Go Home" banner high up on a balcony as tens of thousands of obvious non-hippies screamed for them to come down to the street level for an ass-whipping.

I guess he did want some coverage of the Republicans, after all. And how peaceful those threats of bodily harm. Oh, wait a sec, Taibbi hasn't used the word "peace" yet. In fact, he doesn't do so until he laments the arrival of actual peaceniks:

Thanks to the wires, the TV networks, and even small-time flunkies like Eric DuVall, they were made the official face of the anti-war movement. It's that easy to hide a few hundred thousand people in this country.

I'm not sure whom Mr. Taibbi would label as the "real" protestors. He's apparently aware of the coverage of the front of the rally involving A.N.S.W.E.R. However, his only mention of the group's politics involves the "peripheral" story about "the uncertain future of the protest leadership (the reported affiliation of A.N.S.W.E.R. with the Workers' World Party was an uncomfortable undercurrent that ran through the entire event)."

Put two and two together and what you get is the amazing realization that this crowd, perhaps the largest to gather in Washington in the last thirty years, has no political representation whatsoever in today's America. Almost certainly representing a vastly larger number of people in the general population, the anti-war crowd has simply been excluded from the process. The 80 nitwits at the MOVE-OUT event could reasonably claim one sympathetic U.S. Senator per demonstrator: the 200,000+ at the A.N.S.W.E.R. event couldn't claim even one between them. The only real clout it could claim was its own physical presence at that particular moment.

And what would a Senator who represents A.N.S.W.E.R. do, besides oppose war and support every foreign fascist on the planet? We don't know. Taibbi doesn't describe the thrust of the opinions on the ground. We can infer, however, that an A.N.S.W.E.R. politician certainly wouldn't sing "Give Peace a Chance" or associate with black people who are out of step with left wing dogma.

Sheila Lennon, who recently marked the birthday of that song's author with a wish that he were still among us (scroll down from link), says of Matt Taibbi: "The writing swoops from his brain to my screen without processing, no distance. Taibbi's experience is raw, fresh, and eye-opening." It sometimes seems as if respectable reporters direct attention to such polarizing writers because they say what more-established journalists wish they could.

Anything to say, Ms. Lennon, about "Oreos"?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:32 PM EST


The Sign of the Century and the Making of a Column

I've been procrastinating rather than writing my column. I think something in me knows that I haven't hit the big idea, so I keep poking around the Internet, trying to find it. Actually, that's not right. I've got several ideas, and I'm trying to find the concept by which to tie them all together.

I just found a big piece.

A chunk of a Peggy Noonan column from yesterday just won't leave me alone:

"These are the days of miracle and wonder," sang Paul Simon in the 1980s. It ran through my head all morning, from out of nowhere, and I think I know why. It has to do with the impossibility, the sheer implausibility, of the facts. We are on the verge of war in the Mideast, a war springing in its modern origins from the tensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict; our president, a Texan, believes we must move on Iraq. The space shuttle that broke up today carried, for the first time ever, a Mideastern astronaut, an Israeli who won fame when he led a daring raid on a nuclear reactor in Iraq, 20 years ago. The shuttle broke up over the president's home state, Texas. The center of the debris field appears to be a little town called Palestine.

If Tom Clancy wrote this in one of his novels--heck, if Tim LaHaye wrote this in one of his Left Behind books--his editor would call him and say, "We're thinking this may be too over the top."

I bookmarked it, but I haven't seen how it ties to another aspect of the Columbia tragedy about which I've been thinking: that the general population just doesn't feel a desperate need to "see what's on Mars" (squeezing it into one representative accomplishment). More importantly, I think part of the reason for this blasé opinion of space exploration is that scientists and their fans have convinced us that we now know everything about reality and just have some loose ends to tie up... some gaps to fill... some intergalactic rocks to find.

But then my cyberpoking unearthed another piece of the puzzle. Over in the Corner, Rod Dreher mentions, "I hear more and more things like this, a suspicion shared by intelligent, non-nutty people, and not necessarily religious people either, that Something Is Up." Rod then links to another column from Ms. Noonan, this one from 1998:

Our entertainment industry, interestingly enough, has plucked something from the unconscious of a small collective. For about 30 years now, but accelerating quickly this decade, the industry has been telling us about The Big Terrible Thing. Space aliens come and scare us, nuts with nukes try to blow us up.

This is not new: In the '50s Michael Rennie came from space to tell us in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" that if we don't become more peaceful our planet will be obliterated. But now in movies the monsters aren't coming close, they're hitting us directly. Meteors the size of Texas come down and take out the eastern seaboard, volcanoes swallow Los Angeles, Martians blow up the White House. The biggest-grosser of all time was about the end of a world, the catastrophic sinking of an unsinkable entity.

Something's up. And deep down, where the body meets the soul, we are fearful. We fear, down so deep it hasn't even risen to the point of articulation, that with all our comforts and amusements, with all our toys and bells and whistles . . . we wonder if what we really have is . . . a first-class stateroom on the Titanic. Everything's wonderful, but a world is ending and we sense it.

I don't think I'm alone in thinking that September 11 was not that big thing; we're certainly not acting as if it was. Noonan's closing advice in 1998 is just as applicable now: "Pray. Unceasingly. Take the time." Which brings to mind something else new since the end of the last millenium: the movie Signs. The movies of the nineties and earlier dealt with aliens as a product of the imagination, sometimes as a metaphor, what if they were real? Signs moves a bit further and asks, what would their reality mean for our lives? As I wrote after seeing the movie:

The movie didn't portray the aliens as some creepshow species but put forward that they were real and moved on from there. This is a crucial aspect of the film. As Graham explains midway through the movie, for non-believers, an alien invasion would signal a complete reshuffling of the rules of reality; for believers, it would merely be another unexpected part of earthly life.

I don't know what the big thing will be, but on a much, much smaller scale, at least I can start writing my column.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:56 PM EST


The Shadow Escapes and Speaks

One of Saddam Hussein's top bodyguards has escaped to Israel and is providing details about Iraq's weapons program. This is must-read information, although anybody who's wanted to see it has had an eye on the tip of this particular iceberg. Frankly, we've hit the point at which continued statements that there is no "evidence" or that "the case has not been made" indicate a lack of intellectual seriousness. The only area of wiggle room, and an extremely dubious one, is that "inspections" (and additional intelligence and so on) is working, so war is not necessary. It is. Hussein must go, and his people must be made free.

I know that last sentence provides an opening for those who disagree with me (no matter how fabricated that opening is). I'll preemptively answer any such objections with the observation that, despite the propaganda, apparently people in the Middle East know where to run in order to be safe: Israel. They also know, I'm sure, from whence comes freedom.

Oh, and here's another nugget for the "Axis of Evil" file. Among Saddam's stockpile: "A SCUD assembly area near Ramadi. The missiles come from North Korea."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:08 PM EST


Through the Cracks to the Grave

So many social ills contributed to the death of Brandon Vedas that it's hard to know where to begin unraveling them. By the same token, his story represents the confluence of so many issues that it provides an example through which to think about them.

In short, Vedas overdosed on rum, marijuana, and various prescription pills that he had obtained legally. While his mother, apparently, was "in the next room doing crozzwordz," Vedas logged on to a drug users' Internet Relay Chat group, where he was known as Ripper. Then he sat before his Web camera to show off how many substances he could put in his body. The group encouraged him to keep going, and when some began to worry, even contacting 911 online, others encouraged them not to give any information. "I told u I was hardcore." was one of the last coherent thoughts expressed by Brandon Vedas in this life.

Vedas was 21, so without further information, it is difficult and would be wrong to make presumptions about what aspects of his family and life contributed to his activities. But the broader culture is tremendously culpable, not the least for glamorizing not just drug use, but also being "hardcore." Reading the transcript of the chat, I was reminded of those conversations in youth when kids speak as if they are experts on something about which they know little. In my later teens, I found that the druggies were particularly inclined to such posturing. Add into this the attenuated sense of reality encouraged by television and movies, video games, and the Internet, and you've got a volatile mindset.

Perhaps this environment has something to do with these statistics:

Vedas was a casualty of a new epidemic: a surge in the recreational use of pharmaceuticals, even as the rate of illegal drug use holds steady or declines. The most recent survey by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says 11.1 million people used prescription drugs for fun in 2000, nearly half of whom were under 25.

In New York City, the number of people showing up in emergency rooms after taking too many legal narcotics jumped 47.6% from 2000 to 2001, the most recent year for which numbers are available.

"In 2001, for the first time, we had more emergency room mentions of prescription narcotic analgesics nationally than for heroin," said Dr. Westley Clark, director of the administration's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

More likely, all of these trends and influences accumulate and contribute to each other like parts of an avalanche. Such a cultural illness requires that the underlying disease be treated, not just the symptoms. In this limited sense, proponents of legalizing drugs have room in which to squeeze their arguments. Personally, I think opening that floodgate, no matter how much sense it might make under specific circumstances, would drown our society in its current state. My fears are exacerbated by the observation that those making the case for legalized drugs don't frequently make a concurrent and equally strong argument for strengthening the moral and behavioral foundation of society.

At any rate, they'll have to address the reality of Brandon Vedas's death, from now on — at least when they're arguing with me. In that way, perhaps his death will not have been in vain. Hopefully it's already spurred changes in the outlooks of those who watched him die from the comfort of their own computers.


(Note: I apologize if this post is a little disjointed. I found the transcript of Brandon Vedas's final online chat disorienting — sickening. If you want to read it, however, you'll have to find it for yourself.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:30 PM EST


"Ignoring" Versus "Working Around"

I understand that newspapers must exaggerate, simplify, and manufacture interesting plots to make stories compelling and comprehensible to a maximum number of readers. That doesn't make this article in the Guardian/Observer any less bothersome. The opening makes the Columbia tragedy a matter of presidential blame:

Fears of a catastrophic shuttle accident were raised last summer with the White House by a former Nasa engineer who pleaded for a presidential order to halt all further shuttle flights until safety issues had been addressed.

In a letter to the White House, Don Nelson, who served with Nasa for 36 years until he retired in 1999, wrote to President George W. Bush warning that his 'intervention' was necessary to 'prevent another catastrophic space shuttle accident'.

The title, ironically, is a bit more accurate: "Nasa chiefs 'repeatedly ignored' safety warnings." Even this, however, takes some liberty with the language. I tend to doubt that anybody ignored the problems — of which there were obviously many. More likely, the unique, deliberate pressures that each person in a line of command must address pushed open a crack that ultimately took the shuttle down. Even though, as a rule, I prefer not to allow such excuses, in this instance, it seems that the system just failed.

I'm going to write my column about this (you'll be able to access it here when it's up), so I won't expound on the problem at length, here. But I think the underlying problem is that the interest of the general public just isn't captured by the space program's current endeavors. Even putting a man on Mars has the feeling of a glorified and expensive rock-collecting expedition. Of course, that's not all that it is, but as has been said too many times lately on other topics, the case has yet to be made. Therefore, the political will does not exist to devote the necessary funds to it.

It occurs to me that the ho-hum feeling toward space exploration may be an unintended side effect of the sense encouraged by scientists and their fans that there are no further surprises. Perhaps we'll find something that sheds light on the distant past or the distant future, but nothing that will change our lives. Better, if that were the case, to devote the resources more directly to changing lives.

More later.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:09 AM EST


Saturday, February 1, 2003

I Didn't So Much Mind the Wind

I didn't so much mind the wind when walking the dogs this evening, after my daughter's first birthday party. When the labrador stopped for longer than customary, I stood and watched the reeds sway, making the lights on the bridge beyond appear to blink. The wind was cold, but without the bite that it has had over the past few weeks. Now it can be faced, though it may still bring a tear to the eye. With the folky refrains of Nick Drake in my ears and a damp smell of soil on the air, I could almost feel spring sending ahead to make preparations for its journey from the south.

Then, by the river, water that had amazingly been frozen nearly bank to bank was in full motion with the wind. It's been banishing the ice out to sea for a few days, now, and has finally reached the land. The last bits of the freeze bobbed and loitered.

Drops began to fall from the sky just as I faced the decision of which route to take. I took the shorter, and halfway home, the wet was busily seeping into the dogs' fur. The drips had become a thrumming on my jacket.

And now I'm tired beyond words. There's so much to do for which I just don't have the energy or the drive when I've the time. On these nights, I find myself asking myself, "What am I doing wrong?" What piece of the puzzle am I missing that I do not have the empty time for which there are myriad inventions to fill... many of them granted by nature, herself?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:33 PM EST


Now Available: Just Thinking: Volume I

Just Thinking: Volume I, 10/29/01–10/21/02, a collection of one year of my Just Thinking columns and the latest release from Timshel Literature is now available. To be completely honest, I'll be thrilled if I can break even on this venture; given the readership of this blog, alone, that ought to be possible. If you are considering, have considered, or may someday consider ordering your autographed copy, please do.

Special Offer:

Buy Just Thinking: Volume I and get A Whispering Through the Branches for half price!

$19.00 (includes shipping)
$25.50 (includes shipping)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:51 PM EST


Probably Not Terrorism, but Next Time?

In no way do I wish to belittle or distract from the very real and very tragic destruction of the space shuttle Columbia and the souls onboard by stubbornly harping on an unlikely scenario that seems to have been pretty universally ruled out. However, a U.S. congressman from Florida just mentioned something on Fox News that raises a question that, even if not applicable to this specific case, will certainly be a matter of concern in the future.

The congressman mentioned that even just an error of a degree or two in the angle of entry or the position of the shuttle could create a "serious problem." As I understand, much of the calculation is done by computer. I'm also pretty sure (although there's room for Hollywood error, here) that the onboard computer is "networked" with NASA's computers on the ground.

Is it possible that a terrorist of some sort could change the angle or, at least, corrupt the program that calculates the angle either in flight or beforehand, with or without direct access to NASA's computers? I suspect that, were this the case, somebody or some group would take credit for the demolition pretty quickly; it's not the sort of calamity that would have much of a social effect if seen as an accident. However, it is a question that I hope somebody on the inside asks as the space program moves forward, and every mention of terrorism that I've heard this morning has involved external strikes.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:06 PM EST


Traveling to Space Is Still Not Something About Which to Be Complaisant

The space shuttle Columbia has broken up on reentry, killing all seven on board.

Leading the way are Pilot William "Willie" McCool (left) and Commander Rick Husband (right). Following in the second row are Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla (left) and Laurel Clark; in the rear are Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Payload Commander Michael Anderson and Mission Specialist David Brown.

Ramon was the first Israeli to fly on a shuttle. I'm sure NASA has "firsts" on nearly every mission, but between this and the Challenger explosion, the most noted firsts have met tragic ends.

My prayers for the astronauts and their families.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:36 AM EST


The Liberal Sense of Humor?

Instapundit points to a post over at Disgusted Liberal called "The right-wing answer to A.N.S.W.E.R.." What's the "answer" in question? Neo-nazis organizing major protests against the President's plan for AIDS relief funds to Africa? No? Well, then, it must surely be hundreds of conservatives marching around Washington, D.C., with pictures of top Democrats and slogans calling them evil. No? Huh. What is it then (bolding by the Washington Post; italics by me)?

At the Conservative Political Action Conference, which featured Vice President Cheney as its opening luncheon speaker yesterday, one of the various exhibition booths hawking paraphernalia had some virulently anti-Muslim vinyl bumper stickers, for $3.95, including one that said: "No Muslims -- No Terrorism."

Before anything else is said, it is important to note that the vendor — whichever it was — ought to be disallowed from participating in future CPACs. I did a little poking around but couldn't find out who ran the booth. Yes, the broad conservative movement has kooks who ought to be shunned. What group doesn't? The question is how the broader movement handles them:

Sources said an attendee at the group's 30th annual conference, at the Crystal City Marriott, called Cheney's office to complain and a Cheney aide called CPAC organizers to express "strong displeasure."

So, an attendee — presumably a conservative — called Cheney, who issued a statement of "displeasure." Any "displeasure" expressed by top Democrats over A.N.S.W.E.R.'s domination of the "peace" rally? Compare the "right-wing's answer to A.N.S.W.E.R." (left) to the original (right).

Beyond differences of the specificity of the attack, consider that the first image is a bumper sticker for sale in one booth of many at a private convention and raised internal objections, while the second image was a (roughly) 3 x 5 foot poster held aloft and paraded around the nation's capital, apparently to no objection from other attendees. Moreover, the Cheney Nazi poster was not a lone affront. Only one vendor was involved in this "incident," despite Disgusted Liberal's implying differently ("The convention is also a great place for the hard-right to accessorize, with vendors hawking lovely stuff like this.") and stating:

Let's see if the conservatives are willing to take on religious bigotry in their own camp. Since that would mean facing down a big chunk of their constituency, we're not optimistic.

Frankly, I don't think liberals would want to go tit for tat with images of religious bigotry:

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:08 AM EST


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