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Friday, May 30, 2003

Conservatives Thinking About Their Hostile Environment

Instapundit links to Willy Stern's public confession that he is, indeed, a conservative. As I mentioned yesterday, such admissions can lead to apprehension about what the degree of reaction from liberal acquaintances might be. Stern's got a much worse story than anything I can recall (besides little stuff like, you know, not getting into graduate school). He's on a blind date, and she's just made a derogatory comment about Republicans:

At that moment in the Japanese restaurant, I faced a dilemma that I have faced literally hundreds of times, before and since, in my 42 years on this fair planet: Divulge the truth—or let the comment slide by. Usually, I play along—simply because it's the path of least resistance and least awkwardness. On a blind date, though, I thought open disclosure was the more honorable route.

"Actually, Suzi," I explained as gently as possible, "I'm one of those asshole Republicans."

She dropped her chopsticks and stared at me as if I had just announced that I was a convicted child rapist.

Then she smiled, as she finally grasped the situation. "Oh, you're kidding, right?"

"No, I really am a Republican."

"What? Nobody told me."

I tried to blunt the blow. "I'm actually not terribly interested in politics." This is, in fact, true.

No matter.

"Well, look," she said as she pulled her purse out from under her seat. "I'm sorry but I can't deal with this. Please don't think me rude, but I really think it would be best if I just left."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:01 PM EST


Justness in Iraq (Still)

Well, I'm going to begin taking my own "blog credit" for these long comments on Mark Shea's site, at least until Mark starts paying me for the work (I'd accept links and traffic as compensation). Mark just wrote, at the tail end of an argument that came around to general consensus that Hussein's human rights abuses made his toppling "just" (the argument being over whether it was, and whether it matters if it was, the President's motivation):

I take it, then, that you repudiate Rush Limbaugh's ridicule of the Clintonian habit of turning the military into "Meals on Wheels" and regard it as our duty, henceforth, to send troops into any part of the world where "the children" are being oppressed and we can feasibly defeat the regime in power? Should we start with Somalia? We can take 'em.

To which, I replied:

I'd have to hear the entirety of Rush's argument, but if his contention is that the U.S. should never use its military power principally to end nightmarish reigns, then yes, I disagree.

I'll give you another "yes": I think we ought to be doing more to oppose other regimes — in all the myriad ways it is possible to do so, including limited military efforts where feasible. Of course, it isn't as simple a matter as dispersing our troops into the world to overthrow the thugs, for three reasons:

1) The global diplomatic stage is such that even the obviously evil regime of Saddam Hussein required some bucking of the internationalistas and now requires a precedent proving that we are not after an "empire."
2) The circumstances required for Just War are such that multiple conditions must be met, including the exhaustion of non-military means. Nothing was going to remove Hussein but war, and he had made it abundantly clear that he had no intention of changing his ways.
3) Even the United States can only do so much, and such endeavors include a significant degree of clean-up.

Ultimately, the point with Iraq was that it lay at a juncture of multiple justifications — human rights, terrorism, WMDs, oil (i.e., the global economy), Iraq's undermining of international norms (i.e., scoffing at signed agreements), and its positioning both geographically and with respect to pressuring other regimes and thereby facilitating progress without the need for further, more bloody, war. (I'm sure I've missed some.)

I think you pursued this line of thought before the war, Mark, and I think I replied that it didn't apply back then. You said something like: terrorism would require attacking Saudi Arabia; WMDs, North Korea; human rights, Somalia. All of these nations must be dealt with, but they are all unique and all lack aspects of the situation with Iraq, including a reasonable immediacy.

The bottom line is that, as a matter of moral justification, I don't, frankly, need much more than the human rights issue to be convinced of moral "justness." If the other Just War requirements (particularly chances of success and exhaustion of other possibilities) click into place along with practical (and essential) considerations, such as sufficient resources and support to follow through, then I say, "Let's roll."

Note: reading back, I see that I should clarify that, by "reasonable immediacy," I meant to suggest that the U.S.'s having a reasonable sense of immediacy was a factor in Iraq, not to imply that some of the other nations don't also have that factor.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:51 PM EST


This Can't Be Healthy

Right Wing News quotes Paul Begala:

Which is worse: lying about a girlfriend or lying about a war? There aren't 169 people dead over Monica Lewinsky. The president must never, never lie - even about who he's sleeping with - but certainly about sending men to die.

Ignoring the change in position indicated by that "even about who he's sleeping with," I've noticed something almost pathological coming from many Democrats lately: EVERYTHING comes back to Bill Clinton's impeachment. From Bill Bennett to the search for WMDs to local tragedies. During my trip to the Post Office, today, I heard a bit of a local talk-radio duo (whom I generally try to avoid), filling in for the usual afternoon guy, discussing a report that the lawyers for the families of victims of the Station nightclub fire are seeking to sue any companies that had anything to do with the club (e.g., by supplying beer). When asked about the morality (as opposed to legality) of such a thing, the liberal woman host replied that the Ken Starr investigation had been wrong.

Although I like to think that I'd act differently, now, I have to admit that, a few years ago, I may very well have been similarly inclined in a reverse scenario. But ultimately, it's a shallow way of thinking, involving irrelevant quips and incessant stoking of emotional fires that are best left to burn out.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:07 PM EST


I Don't Agree with This

Taking this Guardian report at face value (which is a lot to do, considering the source), I feel compelled to express my dislike for the strategy of supporting ought-to-be enemies as a component of using them to battle more immediately dangerous enemies.

Independent human rights groups estimate that there are more than 600 politically motivated arrests a year in Uzbekistan, and 6,500 political prisoners, some tortured to death. According to a forensic report commissioned by the British embassy, in August two prisoners were even boiled to death.

The US condemned this repression for many years. But since September 11 rewrote America's strategic interests in central Asia, the government of President Islam Karimov has become Washington's new best friend in the region.

The US is funding those it once condemned. Last year Washington gave Uzbekistan $500m (£300m) in aid. The police and intelligence services - which the state department's website says use "torture as a routine investigation technique" received $79m of this sum.

Mr Karimov was President Bush's guest in Washington in March last year. They signed a "declaration" which gave Uzbekistan security guarantees and promised to strengthen "the material and technical base of [their] law enforcement agencies".

On the other hand, I do think that a strategy of "reform through engagement" — beyond addressing the icky realities of international relations — is a worthwhile one to pursue... if we actually pursue it. In the meantime, perhaps it is enough to suggest that a nation can only do what it can do and that others (those who make such decisions, hopefully) are in a better position to judge what is the best approach to take in individual areas.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:56 PM EST


The Celebs Don't Get It

I'm worried about the First Amendment. I can't pick up a newspaper without reading that someone has been vilified for expressing his or her opinion -- the actor Tim Robbins, Natalie Maines, of the Dixie Chicks, and Rhode Island's poet laureate, Tom Chandler -- to name a few.

So wrote Amory Weld, citizen of the town over from me, to the Providence Journal. I would note, to Amory, that none of the listed notables have been prevented from stating their opinions. I would explain, to Amory, that the "vilifiers" have every right to respond to those who "vilify" people, nations, and actions that they support. I would do these things if I thought Amory would be open to listening.

As Joel Engle explains, even those stars who lose jobs don't get it: they make those fortunes because the public likes them, and the public is under no obligation to maintain that disposition. For example, the first time I saw Danny Glover among green and yellow illustrations to promote MCI, that company was associated, in the vague realm of general impressions, with a disagreeable reaction in my mind. In a field of business competition in which a particular customer's general impressions are all-important, a company cannot afford to underwrite the free political speech of its spokespeople.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:23 PM EST


Something Else That's Getting Boring

Anne Morse describes an anti-Catholic exhibit supported by the good folks at Princeton University in open violation of a policy that they would strictly apply to "art" that explicitly (probably implicitly) offended any other group, from Muslims to homosexuals. I think we've got to look for a new tack to take. These people don't care that their hypocrisy is obvious. They feel immune to consequences. Therefore, continuing to point out the instances is of little avail.

I think the emphasis of those who try to do something about such offenses must switch from broadly targeted incredulity at what the elites are doing to a more-specific incredulity that fellow Catholics — fellow Christians and even fellow religious — put up with it. The intelligensia and the institutions that follow them are little more than opportunistic infections, with almost as little sense and self-awareness... until they are pricked and prodded by the antibody or the scalpel.

What is needed is for Catholics to reaffirm their faith, to cease accepting the B.S. of relativism, and to realize that what little they gain by way of individual psychological comfort is vastly outweighed by the damage being done to them, their families, and their society.

But how does one make them see this?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:29 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 @ 06:57 AM EST


Thursday, May 29, 2003

Incidentally, Regarding Iraq

I just wanted to point out this column by Kathleen Parker:

The bad news is that we may never find them, according to military and intelligence people I've talked to. Does that mean WMD were never there? No. Does it mean we were wrong? No. Was the threat of WMD a ruse to justify an otherwise unjustifiable attack on another country? Anyone who seriously asks this question won't take "no" for an answer.

I'm having to remind myself of that last point.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:52 PM EST


Well, I've gone and done it again.

I have more fruitful activities to which I could devote my time than treading and retreading the ground of the Just War in Iraq argument. I just find it so very difficult not to jump into such argument's as the following on Mark Shea's blog:

When scripture says... and
A reader writes:

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:05 PM EST


Well, at Least the Weatherpeople Were Wrong About Rain

It's been another disappointing day of trying to figure out how to cover the printing costs of this year's Redwood Review. The book really will be full of great material, but I'm just running out of steam with the sales thing. I'm no good at it. None. To the extent that I'm able to sell ads in the book, it's most likely because the publication and the given-for-free idea behind it is worthwhile.

It's beginning to look probable that, either this coming week or the next, I'll have to push myself to do something that I dread: hit the pavement. I really don't want to do that. Years ago, I took a job doing in-person cold-calls — just to see — and it was miserable. I had such drive, but drive will only carry you so far. I guess the bottom line is that I don't want to start feeling like it's a job, selling a product. (Not the least because it doesn't pay me a dime.)

If you've ever even considered responding to any of my various pleas for support, give some consideration to this one. The beginner ads (2 x 2.175in.) are $65. $20 or more gets you a listing on a Sponsor page. $50 or more gets you a listing and an autographed copy.

Information can be found, and contributions made, here.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:59 PM EST


A Speck of Red in a Blue State

And so it has gone since I made the transition from blue, through purple, to red:

I just got off the phone with a wonderful woman from my writers' group who is being extremely helpful and encouraging in the quest for funds for the Redwood Review. Toward the end of the conversation, she asked how the fundraising was going, and I confided that I'd been coming across articles all over the place in which local donation-based groups complained of a lack of money. She responded:

"It seems as if everybody is hurting for money — except George Bush and his cohorts."

How to respond? It isn't (any longer) in my nature to just chuckle at such comments and move on. I'd decided, when I was shocked to realize that more people believe in God than I'd thought when I was an atheist, that not addressing such casual allusions goes a long way toward enabling people to believe in homogeneity of opinion.

What I said was that people at that level of wealth — from Hollywood to the New York Times to Washington — weren't likely hurting for money regardless of their politics. What I should have said was, "Tell me about it. If he hadn't let his tax cuts get delayed, postponed, and strung out over a decade, the economy would have rebounded by now."

I think I surprised her by doing anything but agreeing. And now, as always, I'll have that mild discomfort that comes with wondering whether people are going to treat me differently having discovered that I'm "one of those"... you know... Hipublicans.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:44 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:37 AM EST


Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Capturing Campus Life with Humor

Erin O'Connor notes a new hero on the American campus who is using humor to expose his environment as the censorious bastion of liberal "political vacuity" (Erin's phrase) that it is: University of North Carolina at Wilmington professor Mike Adams. The following isn't the best part of his letter to the Board of Trustees in response to a complaint filed by the father of a female student who was offended by a bumper sticker on his door reading, "So you're a feminist... Isn't that cute." However, this "experiment" pretty well captures the essence of the campus atmosphere:

Remembering that the university has a provision specifically prohibiting faculty from using "University funds, services, supplies, vehicles, or other property to support or oppose the candidacy of any person for elective public office..." I decided to initiate my experiment.

First, I placed a "Clinton/Gore '96" sticker prominently on my office door to see if anyone would take offense. After two years without any complaints, I decided to replace the sticker with one that said "George W. Bush for President." Within a few weeks I heard reports from two faculty members and one staff member saying that someone was preparing to file a complaint about the Bush sticker.

Since the faculty handbook specifies "appropriate disciplinary action, including discharge from employment" as one possible consequence of violating the aforementioned rule, I decided it was time to let the faculty in on my little experiment. I did this by sending an e-mail to everyone in the building which began as follows: "You have all been involved in an experiment in tolerance which, unfortunately, some of you have failed..."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:48 PM EST


The Internet in Iraq

Of course, at the center of the topic of the Internet in Iraq is Salam Pax, and any other news relates to him to some degree, often as an indication of who he must have been pre-war. Consider this, from an article about the Iraqi youths who have never before known a Saddam-less nation:

The Saddam generation was shut off even more when international sanctions were imposed after the Gulf War. The Internet arrived in Iraq two years ago. Access was tightly controlled, and Saddam's officials blocked news and cultural sites.

This raises the question of how Salam was able not only to access the Internet, but to traverse it so freely. It also brings to my mind (anyway) the chilling comparison to another Iraqi who had free rein on the Internet:

A family friend says the day Uday discovered the Internet was "a black day for Iraqis," because he used it to learn of torture methods from other ages and lands that he decided to try. He would lock victims in coffins for days at a time, says the source, or put them in pillories. According to a family friend, he also liked to have offenders beaten on one side. Then he would order medical tests and have the thrashings continue until the kidney on that side had conclusively failed.

Uday's favorite punishment was the medieval falaqa, a rod with clamps that go around the ankles so that the offender, feet in the air, can be hit on the bare soles with a stick. A top official in radio and TV says he received so many beatings for trivial mistakes like being late for meetings or making grammatical errors on his broadcasts that Uday ordered him to carry a falaqa in his car. Uday also had an iron maiden that he used to torture Iraqi athletes whose performance disappointed him.

(both articles via Right Wing News)

Right at the top of Salam's latest post, I found this:

Internet prices are getting steeper, now we pay 8 dollars for an hour. capitalisim! pah.

Spoken like a true aristocrat!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:33 PM EST


The Danger of Artistry in Reporting

Jonah Goldberg comments, today, on a lengthy New York Times article on which I considered posting a few days ago. If I weren't so busy and if it weren't so typical, I probably would have mentioned something about the piece.

Given that Jonah makes essentially the points that I would have included in any commentary (although he's more humorous about it), I just wanted to point out one additional tidbit that I haven't seen anywhere. David Frum mentioned the print-version's cover picture, which I haven't seen. However, the online photos offer much the same story — basically, that conservatives have no emotion and wear essentially identical facial expressions. However, the following picture took things a bit further:

Note how the young lady's head is positioned in front of a design element of the building behind her in such a way as to evoke the impression of a nun. I'm sure the folks at the Times took a moment to chuckle about that one — not the least because the young lady in question is the girlfriend of one of the "Hipublican" ringleaders in the story. Sneering at conservatives and Christians with one click of the camera.

Conservatives — young or otherwise — should make a mental note to follow two rules when being photographed for an old-media outlet: 1) don't relax your smile even for a second when that camera is on you, and 2) take a look what's behind you.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:31 PM EST


Here's One Way to Increase Tourism...

... but only that financed by international terrorists. Jamestown, the town that takes up the entirety of the island next to mine, may officially reject the Patriot Act.

Ramesh Ponnuru has a great column addressing the common myths about that act in the current print edition of National Review (unfortunately, it is not online). Certainly, nobody interviewed for the local newspaper to which my link leads had any interest in addressing specific points. In fact, the history teacher quoted toward the end of the article brought to mind the danger of such comments from people who seem to have some sort of authority or expertise but really have none... or very little.

At any rate, if the city council passes the measure, I'm sure terrorists looking to circumvent the Patriot Act will appreciate the beacon of freedom so strategically placed between Boston and New York — and with such fantastic scenery. While not related except superficially, the report reminded me that the perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing were caught in my Jersey shore hangout: Wildwood.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:52 PM EST


How to Compete

I've always been a bit incredulous — and jealous — of those creative types who claim to dream their material. How simple, I pine. Wake up and the thing is right there... done for you. I'm sure that unfairly cuts out a good helping of wakeful talent, but that's the impression that I get, and it's one that Lileks does very little to dispel in today's fantastic Bleat:

Right before I woke up I dreamed I had an assignment: write a bad feature story in the style of the New York Times. When I woke I had the last sentence still in my head; I stumbled next door to the studio, woke up the Mac, and typed this sentence:

Over in the field, a hound was hunched over excreting a "striver," the local's term for the hard, elegantly tapered stools for which the wild dogs are renowned.

He dreams in perfectly crafted wordplay! Me, if I told people about the things I dream, I think I might frighten off a few readers, and some might return with giant butterfly nets.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:45 PM EST


I Always Wondered Where My Mandibula Was

If you grew up in the 80s, don't click this link, unless you've some time to spare. There, you'll find streaming video of dozens of 80s commercials, from Masters of the Universe to Big League Chew to Transformers to California Raisins to New Kids on the Block dolls to Bonkers to the Encyclopedia Britannica commercial from which I took the title to this post.

I think I've mentioned this before, but one 80s video that I'd love to find is a cartoon that HBO ran between movies when it had a block of time. The premise of the short movie was that the videogame Space Invaders came to life and all of the pinball machine characters emerged to stop them. I don't even know what it was called.


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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:10 AM 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 @ 06:45 AM EST


Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Is the World on Vacation?

Folks, I'm truly sorry, but I've visited all of my usual sources and then some and have found nothing that I feel compelled to post — mostly because I've seen nothing to which I feel I could add nor anything important that isn't being noted in places more heavily trafficked than my little blog.

But the search gave me a thought: any of my published books would provide you with plenty of material for these lulls in Dust in the Light posts.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:44 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 05/27/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Starlight Ship" by You. The first time I heard this song, I was driving home past the beaches in Newport, RI, on a very hot and humid summer day. Well, with the cold dampness that has characterized my region for the past week, I needed a reminder.

"Starlight Ship" You, Alternative Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:12 PM EST


Monday, May 26, 2003

There Must Be a Word for This

I know there's got to be a word for the quality of being susceptible, in mood, to the weather. Last week was a great week, by the standards of my life. After a number of days of rain and cloudiness and coldness, with very little by way of relief predicted, however, my mood has deteriorated into a lack of motivation, and I've been finding it difficult to get riled about stuff.

Anyway, that's my excuse for light blogging. Tomorrow's a teaching day — since my school doesn't get out until relatively late in the season — but there will be posts at some point... promise.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:24 PM EST


Just Thinking 05/26/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "The Year of the Ring," about finding the time to read — in this case, The Lord of the Rings — and allowing a book to interweave itself with our lives.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:18 PM EST


Time Flies By

Lane Core's Blog from the Core is a year old today. So much of the blog world is populated with blog-only pages that it's refreshing when a blog is just a component of a larger site — in this case, The View from the Core — with room to explore such less-fleeting content as poetry, pictures, columns, and links.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:00 PM EST


Sunday, May 25, 2003

Go On 'n' Get a Smile

I meant to blog this the other day, but was sidetracked for the very reasons that I meant to blog it. Victor Lams has put together a blog musical scene that's sure to make you smile. I've already written what I'm somewhat presumptuously calling "Scene 2: The #1 Hit" (which is what sidetracked me) and will record and film it in the near future (i.e., within a month or so).

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:48 PM EST


Saturday, May 24, 2003

The Left Congeals with Terrorism

Instapundit links to an interesting article by Jonathan Rauch. The whole piece is worth reading, but this paragraph quoting James F. Moore, of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, stands out:

"As the United States government becomes more belligerent in using its power in the world, many people are longing for a 'second superpower' that can keep the U.S. in check," writes James F. Moore, of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, in an article that he posted online. The newly energized Left is just such a force, he argues. True, "the second superpower is not currently able to match the first. On the other hand, the situation may be more promising than we realize. Most important is that the establishment of international institutions and international rule of law has created a venue in which the second superpower can join with sympathetic nations to successfully confront the United States."

Back in March, I noted a Washington Post article that is relevant to this passage for two reasons. The first is that it reports that the activists had begun organizing immediately after September 11, before any U.S. response had been suggested. The second is that activist organizations were planning (in March of this year) to employ terroristic tactics to disrupt the U.S. war in Iraq.

While, up to now, instinctive dislike of the United States and devotion to the religion of multiculturalism aligned the Western left loosely with Islamic radicals, the common cause between the two groups seems to be congealing. Not only is the common cause bringing about a confluence of purpose, the organization of this "second superpower" mirrors that of al Qaeda. It isn't a nation or collection of nations, but a loose association of like-minded groups working alongside sympathetic regimes.

Whether fortunately or unfortunately, the left also has a delusion akin to visions of the "Arab street" rising up with the help of Allah and overthrowing the infidels. Consider this from public radio host Christopher Lydon:

Into the confusion I throw out the perhaps insanely cheerful thought that this could be the war to end war. Meaning that the neo-con adventurers have decisively lost the world's vote on the war and will lose the peace, no matter how long or brutal the battle of Baghdad. More particularly: that the sole superpower has met its adversary for the future in the stubborn, unintimidated, and close to universal peace movement that has found its medium on the Web.

When I first spotted this, I noted that Lydon was only able to believe this because he had insulated himself within a liberal niche of the Internet. As I wrote, "The story of the Internet has been one of putting the lie to such wishful-thinking, everybody-I-know-voted-for-Gore delusion as the 'close to universal peace movement.'" When Lydon wondered "how many divisions has the Internet," he didn't mean distinct parts; he meant "divisions" in a military sense, as if the whole realm belonged to his ideology.

Apart from this miscalculation, Lydon was offering more justification for the suggestion that the left intends to align militarily (or terroristically) with the Islamists and their allies. However, the perspective of a couple months later shows that neither the Iraqi military's nor the cyber-leftists' divisions were able to significantly hinder the United States and its allies. In large part, this is because they both — as well as the broader terrorist network — overestimate their popular support.

Like Islamic radicalism, "neoleftism," as Rauch calls it, cannot win. But it is going to be damned dangerous until it is thoroughly defeated.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:25 AM EST


Friday, May 23, 2003

Ideology Creep

It occurred to me that folks might wander their way to this blog as a result of the aforementioned attention gained by the Redwood Review. In the event that such is the case, I thought it prudent to note that the ideology evident in this blog in no way influences the content of the review, nor do I make any money directly from the publication of the review.

(Straddling the creative and political worlds, as I do, it oughtn't be surprising that among my biggest fears is that those opposed to my politics will include others with whom I associate creatively in their reaction to me. Such is human nature, I suppose.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:04 PM EST


A Little Attention for the Redwood Review

Sheila Lennon was kind enough to link to the Redwood Review pages. The post is specifically mentioned on the Providence Journal's homepage, too. It's already helping us to raise money for the next edition. Thanks, Sheila!

Incidentally, I've created a store page specifically for the 2003 edition, including a list of the pieces in the book.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:02 PM EST


Salam Pax's Career on the Upswing

Sheila Lennon has more on Salam Pax, including a link to his new site. It's actually the site of a budding online Iraqi news service, but his is most of the native content. I'm leaning toward the suggestion that he was a ruling-class insider without specific "duties" to the Hussein regime. He doesn't shy from mentioning, for example, the lists of Saddam's victims going up in every town, but there's always that familiar resonance of blame-America-ism.

The site hosting his pictures doesn't help. Now that the war is over and better days are on their way, some in Iraq are beginning to sound a lot like Western naysayers have for quite some time on certain issues — complaining of depleted uranium used in 1991 and intellectuals' having to sell their libraries because of the sanctions. Consider this picture:

Of course, the U.S. can't be expected to pay the entire citizenry of Iraq as well as it pays its own soldiers. It's also true that protecting the oil industry's infrastructure will expedite the nation's return to self-sufficiency.

Some stories in press around the world make it seem almost as if the war never happened. If that point of view continues to dominate sources of information, it could be merely a matter of months until the world beyond Iraq's borders barely remembers Saddam Hussein himself.

Thus does the United States become the sole actor in the world — to blame for not solving every global problem instantaneously and criticized for beginning the attempt.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:53 PM EST


Silencing the Opposition

I'll expect Senator Daschle's hand-wringing about this any time now:

Anyone who writes critically about [Howard] Dean can expect his copy to be chewed up by this army of zealous Dean Internet scribes. When I wrote a piece recently that contained a few paragraphs about Dean, a member of the Dean2004 blog team filed an almost 2,000-word entry slicing my article up into sections with labels such as "true," "false," "inadvertently true," and "foolish." Not content with this, the Dean blogosphere recently established a rapid-reaction team called the Dean Defense Forces (DDF)—an e-mail list of hard-core Dean supporters who swiftly push back with e-mails, letters to the editor, blog entries, and phone calls against anyone spreading anti-Dean sentiments. "When he gets attacked, we'll respond," pledges the DDF's organizer, Matthew Singer, a 20-year-old college student in Montana who once blogged about Dean on his own site, Left in the West.

I guess it's not so bad, as long as they don't criticize any Hollywoodites or refuse to buy the Dixie Chicks' album, but this lidless eye effort must be something new. Not too long ago, that intolerant, closed-minded megalomaniac from Vermont boasted of ignoring the ideas of half of our nation:

Dean isn't surprised by the Trent Lott scandal. The Republican Party is fundamentally hostile to blacks and Hispanics, he says, riddled as it is with ''institutional racism.'' It's also full of liars. ''I find the Republican Party pretty bankrupt intellectually,'' Dean says, adding that he doesn't read anything written by conservatives. Nothing? ''No.'' Are there any conservatives who are intellectually honest? ''I don't think so. I can't think of any.'' He sounds cheery as he says this.

I tried to fisk a Dean speech a while back. Couldn't do it... not a word out of the guy's mouth made honest sense. (If Dean is elected, will I still be able to write such things without fearing for my life?)

(via Instapundit)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:11 PM EST


This Is Peculiar

Take a look at this quotation from a story about the Yale bombing:

FBI agents investigating the explosion of what they believe was a pipe bomb at Yale University's law school were showing students a sketch of a man they want to identify.

The sketch is of a man in his 20s or 30s with a round face and glasses, a law student said Thursday on the condition of anonymity. The student refused to say what race the man in the sketch appeared to be.

Well, I suppose we can assume right off the bat that it isn't a white guy. But isn't it odd that the student withheld that part of the description? Didn't somebody once dream of a day when skin color would not be considered any differently than eye color? Well, it ain't here yet.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:49 PM EST


Reason to Relax About Genetic Engineering

Charles Murtaugh (who never got around to rebutting my response to his comments about abortion, by the way) gives reason not to stay up at night worrying about the horrors of genetic engineering of humans:

When the trait is complex, and the genetics are complex, their interaction may well never be unraveled. Nor is this problem confined to human genetics. Consider a recent Nature Neuroscience paper on mouse behavior, by Darlene Francis and colleagues. They were studying two inbred strains of lab mice that exhibit consistent and specific differences in particular behaviors, such as performance in a maze navigation test. The conventional approach, consistent with the genetic determinism prevalent in the human genetics debate, would be to interbreed the strains, and use genetic mapping to fish out and isolate the genes responsible for the apparently heritable differences.

Francis et al. took a very different approach, actually transferring embryos of one strain to the womb of the other and asking which influence predominated, that of the genetic mother's DNA or the birth mother's environment. Remarkably, they found that the differences in adult behavior correlated not with their genes but with the womb in which they underwent fetal development.

Murtaugh sees the problem with the exaggerated claims and fears being their repressive force on genetic engineering policies now. For my part, I'm glad that the horrible stuff is in the far, far distant future, if it is in the future at all, but I still intend to scrutinize each policy when I come across it on its own merits... and with an eye toward what horrors it might expedite.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:45 PM EST


Always on the Lookout for Money and Power

Leave it to a U.S. Senator to propose this:

Lawmakers, antispam activists, and even a self-professed spammer are mulling several methods for canning spam, from imposing a small charge for sending e-mail to an international spam treaty.

Congress should impose a small charge for each piece of e-mail sent, one senator told the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee at a hearing Wednesday.

"I think it's worth looking at some very, very small charge for every e-mail sent, so small that it would not be onerous for an individual or business that has regular (e-mail) use, but it would be a deterrent for those who are sending millions and even billions of these e-mails," said Senator Mark Dayton (D-Minnesota).

I think what bothers me most is the impression that many politicians are ever vigilant for any issue that will allow them to stick their fingers into new areas. Oh, is spam an annoyance? Well, then, I guess I'll have to open that email door and see what I can do. Some seek the revenue; some seek merely power. Witness the exaggeration of Chucky Schumer (D-New York) when he proposed an international treaty:

"What was a simple annoyance last year has become a major concern this year and could cripple one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century next year if nothing is done," said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who proposed an international spam treaty.

Cripple one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century! Is he kidding? The annoyance of spam is nothing compared to the annoyance that government will be once it's involved. For one thing, I'm not keen on the idea of paying extra for my email services — even paying extra for goods and services with prices raised to cover new costs to businesses — just on the dubious hope that I'll no longer have to click "Delete" a dozen or so times a day.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:34 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 @ 06:48 AM EST


Thursday, May 22, 2003

A Study in News Bias

The ways in which even supposedly objective news reports can spin the news doesn't get any more obvious than this.

Exhibit A, "Atkins Diet May Be No Better Than Just Cutting Fat" (Reuters):

Shunning starchy foods in favor of meat and fat helps obese people shed some weight faster than a standard low-fat diet, but over time there may not be a big difference, researchers said on Wednesday.

Two studies appeared to confirm some of what the late Dr. Robert Atkins preached for decades until his death last month: that carbohydrates, a major energy source, cause weight gain.

In one six-month study, obese volunteers on the low-carbohydrate, high-fat and high-protein Atkins diet lost 13 pounds versus four pounds for obese people on a low-fat diet.

In a second year-long study, obese people on the Atkins diet lost nearly 10 pounds more after six months than volunteers on a conventional diet. But by the end of the year, the differences between the two groups were not significant, suggesting the Atkins diet is no better at helping fat people shed pounds than traditional weight-loss regimens.

Exhibit B, "Atkins Diet Bolstered by Two New Studies" (AP):

A month after Dr. Robert C. Atkins' death, his much-ridiculed diet has received its most powerful scientific support yet: Two studies in one of medicine's most distinguished journals show it really does help people lose weight faster without raising their cholesterol.

The research, in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, found that people on the high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate Atkins diet lose twice as much weight over six months as those on the standard low-fat diet recommended by most major health organizations.

However, one of the studies found that the Atkins dieters regain much of the weight by the end of one year.

Now, I'm not going to say which view I take — I would be a biased commentator, given that I'm on a loose version of the Atkins diet, myself — but the AP is the only one that relays usable amounts of the actual numbers (while Reuters apparently used its numbers quota to call Americans fat):

The 132 men and women in the VA study started out weighing an average of 286 pounds. After six months, those on the Atkins diet had lost an average of 12.8 pounds, those on the low-fat diet 4.2.

The other study involved 63 participants who weighed an average of 217 pounds at the start. After six months, the Atkins group lost 15.4 pounds, the group on the standard diet 7.

But at the end of a year, the Atkins dieters had regained about a third of the weight. Their net loss averaged 9.7 pounds. The low-fat dieters had regained about one-fifth of the weight, for a net loss of 5.5 pounds.

Unfortunately, although it is mentioned that 40% dropped out of each study, no data is given for the dropout rate for each group (low-fat v. Atkins), except that they were about equivalent, or the last known weight of the quitters. That could make a huge difference if, say, many of the dropouts from the low-fat regimen quit because they were gaining all of their weight back and couldn't keep with it while Atkins dieters, who were almost down to 200 lbs at six months, quit when they had lost enough weight that they didn't want to keep with the stringent restrictions. It's also important to note that, in the less-Atkins-friendly study, a 40% dropout rate leaves the study with about 17 people on each diet.

(thanks to the folks at Fark for finding both articles)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:15 PM EST


Would Somebody Take Away This Guy's Shovel?

Chiraq is planning to throw around his country's weight in the only forum in which his country has weight: international schmooze fests:

President Chirac is preparing to embarrass President Bush at the forthcoming G8 summit in France by laying out an agenda heavy on environmental, development and economic issues and light on the fight against terrorism. ...

He made clear yesterday that, despite the debacle over Iraq, he is clinging to his vision of a global balance of powers, with France as an alternative to America.

That's a balance of powers? Hey, I know that he's gotta do what he thinks is best for his country, but he's insane if he thinks that this is it. I heard tonight on Fox News that Chiraq is popular for the first time in his political career. A popular megalomaniac can be a dangerous thing.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:40 PM EST


St. Anselm, Millman, and Derbyshire

John Derbyshire threw off my entire schedule by starting a discussion of St. Anselm's "Proof of God's Existence." He forced me to send the following note when he posted what was apparently an email from blogger Noah Millman:

Sorry to say it, Noah, but I think you missed Anselm's point through an inadvertent sleight of hand of your own.

I don't know much about Anselm or his specific claims (i.e., context) for this proof, but it seems to me a bit of a rhetorical trap, yes, but more of an application of a definition: "God is the greatest thing that it is possible to conceive as being real." Your objections fall into the trap by failing to address the definition.

Proof and disproof are both impossible to prove in the realm of the inconceivable. You slide off the mark when you write, "to qualify as the greatest thing that I can conceive, the thing must actually exist." Not true. To qualify as the greatest thing that you can conceive, you must be able to conceive of its actually existing... not as an intellectual argument ("sure, I could have a six-fingered hand"), but as a felt surety ("I have a five-fingered hand"). It makes no sense for you to discuss that of which you cannot conceive. Take your Marshmallow Man: I'll go out on a limb and assume that you don't truly believe it's possible that such a thing is real. However, if you do and were to defend the position, you'd have to expand your conception of it — bigger, invisible, everywhere at once. Pretty soon, your Marshmallow Man begins to look a lot like God.

The recourse to your consciousness, far from superfluous, is the heart of the matter. A typical atheist argument against God is that our lives do not place us in a state of perpetual bliss. But we have knowledge of our lives as they are, so the atheists aren't disproving God; rather their statement is akin to: "He is not what He is not." Of course. To be sure, many faithful believe that God offers such a reality in Heaven, but this is additional to the yes/no question of His existence. (If there is such a Heaven, then those people conceived of God correctly; if there is not, then they did not.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:38 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:32 AM EST


Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Edifying Religious History Posts

Mark Shea ("Lane Core Demonstrates the Truth of the Old Adage") and Lane Core do the good work of debunking some anti-Catholic Protestant mythology (made topical by an atheist, as it happens). What was it I was saying about history being a lot less reliable than we like to assume?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:17 PM EST


Monk Saves the Day

How come this isn't national news?

A Texas monk is being hailed as a hero Wednesday after saving a female police officer's life during a struggle for control of her gun, according to a Local 6 News report.

There's even video!

(via Mark Shea)

Boy, am I proud of myself for resisting the urge to compare this incident with a certain international dispute involving the use of force to disarm a dangerous man...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:06 PM EST


Covering Up the Diversity Scam

Dillon, thinking that his fellow law-school students should see the data, on May 6 wrote a cover note and distributed copies of the material by putting them in envelopes and stuffing 500-some student mailboxes. Very few of his fellow law students, however, got their mail. Shortly after Dillon distributed his packet, someone went through the mailboxes, seized the envelopes, and made off with them.

The data about which Peter Wood writes is from the University of Indiana Law School's "diversity" program. Two shocking highlights: apparently, race is a sufficiently important attribute to justify equating LSAT scores in the 30th percentile among blacks with scores in the 80th percentile for whites; race is also sufficient justification to move an applicant ahead approximately 330 spaces in the line.

"Affirmative action" is just one of those issues that seems built almost entirely upon a foundation of ideological lies.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:02 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:48 AM EST


Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Simply Amazing in the Middle East

I don't have much to offer about this by way of insight, but I wanted to post it because it is simply amazing:

Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated Tuesday after a five-day Israeli invasion damaged farms and buildings, but in a rare twist, their wrath was directed at Palestinian militants for inviting the attack by firing rockets from their property.

Two hours after Israeli troops left, about 600 angry residents of the town of 35,000 took to the streets in a spontaneous protest, complaining that the militants had caused Israel to destroy 15 houses and uproot thousands of olive, citrus and date palm trees. It was a rare outburst; most Palestinian demonstrations are aimed at Israel.

The protesters blocked a main road with trash cans, rocks and burning tires in a show of outrage against the militants. Most of the rockets are launched at towns inside Israel by members of the militant Islamic movement, Hamas.

"They (the militants) claim they are heroes," said Mohammed Zaaneen, 30, a farmer, as he carried rocks into the street. "They brought us only destruction and made us homeless. They used our farms, our houses and our children ... to hide."

I know those who disagree with me on the broader issue will disagree about this, but such wonderful surprises were a predictable outcome of our action in Iraq. That war, with or without WMDs, saved countless lives for years to come. How could that not be just?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:41 PM EST


Booing the Bums Off the Stage

Jonah Goldberg doesn't think that this should have happened:

New York Times reporter Chris Hedges was booed off the stage Saturday at Rockford College's graduation because he gave an antiwar speech.

Two days later, graduates and family members, envisioning a "go out and make your mark" send-off, are still reeling. ...

Hedges began his abbreviated 18-minute speech comparing United States' policy in Iraq to piranhas and a tyranny over the weak. His microphone was unplugged within three minutes.

Here's my email to Jonah:

Putting aside that the Hedges incident was hardly "we," considering that the odds of such numbers of vociferously vocal college graduation goers being conservative are pretty low, it wasn't merely a scheduled speech. A campus group that calls David Horowitz midyear specifically based on his politics calls him to speak about political issues, and those who don't want to go don't have to. A graduation is an entirely different matter; it's a celebration for those graduating and ought not to be taken as an opportunity for a speaker to spit on a significant portion of the audience for ideological reasons — whether those spit upon are conservative or liberal.

Moreover, a speech given on campus over the course of the year leaves opportunity for debate as well as the extension of invitations to countering voices. This was a graduation; there would never be such opportunities. My view is that it'll take dramatic expressions of disapproval to hinder the misplaced ambitions of those who would misappropriate a graduation platform. That "we" abide by a higher definition of fairness is the very reason that such idiots (see also Donohue) feel free to go as far as they do, and there ought to be limits.

Before I'd sent this, Jonah had apparently received a surprising degree of response, and clarified, offering this nugget of indication why folks "in the biz" often seem as if they see themselves as opposing sides in a game rather than supporters of mutually exclusive views of how the society ought to be ordered:

But he was invited to speak and therefor he should be allowed to do that. Maybe I've spoken to enough leftwing audiences where people have tried to shout me down that I'm particularly thin-skinned about this sort of thing.

(Jonah later posted some emails of varying views.)

Here's the audio of the entire speech. I'm the only one awake in a tiny house, so I couldn't turn it up loudly enough to hear much of what was going on in the background, but I'm definitely going to give it a listen tomorrow. There wasn't so much as a word in it to acknowledge what the event was meant to celebrate or whose day it was.

The first time Hedges was cut off, President Pribbenow made an announcement about listening to other views, and a female shouted out something about letting Hedges ruin their graduation. Later, when asked to wrap it up, Hedges protested, "I'm not finished yet." When it was over, somebody who sounded as if he was on the stage spoke angrily about how Dr. So-and-So would "never have allowed this." Meanwhile, in the audience, two different male voices expressed related opinions with different implications: "Go back to France!" and "You owe us an apology!"

By the way, it was "pariahs," not "piranhas."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:35 PM EST


An Easy Dream to Interpret

Last night, I dreamt one of the most straightforwardly significant dreams that I've had in a while. I was a used-car salesman, and the central anxiety of the plot was that my supervisor, a female libertarian blogger in the dream (my vaguely libertarian boss a few years ago, in life), simply did not think that I was a very good writer.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:34 PM EST


The State of the Timshel

I've discovered, lately, that I'm not as much of a workaholic as I've thought. It's not work with which I'm obsessed, but progress. When the progress made doesn't reflect the work done, something's got to give, so I'm making plans and wanted to keep you apprised. In short, I'm hoping to finagle some life into my life.

Short Term
Over the next month or so, the only real difference will be that I'm going to begin front-loading my day with the tasks that I have to get done. Up to now, I've been trying to get my Internet reading and blogging done during my daughter's morning nap and my lunch. Henceforth, I will continue to read and post periodically during short breaks from working, but the bulk of posting (and certainly the lengthy, thoroughly considered, and time-consuming entries) will begin appearing later in the day.

Long Term
During the summer, while my wife is on that unbelievable teacher's vacation, I'm going to throw most of my effort behind getting some things done around the Web site, such as reorganization, some Flash pages, and more artist links, so that I can take my "online presence" for granted for a bit by the time fall rolls around. I'm also planning to use this time to really make a push for progress in my non-day-job endeavors. If I can find a way to derive some kind of income from them, wonderful. If not, then come fall, I'll likely look for a full-time job, or more part-time work.

I feel like I'm heading into a period during which my decisions are going to have huge repercussions. And I'd be lying if I claimed not to be deathly afraid that I'm going to be forced to decide to give up on many pursuits that I desperately feel compelled to do. I'm taking a risk in asking my wife not to work in order to relieve me of babysitting duties, and we're likely going to go from scraping by to having to choose which bills to pay for two months. I don't know, however, what will or will not happen over the next quarter year, so I'm trying not to concern myself about it too much. Of course, any assistance that you can offer — from financial support (e.g., by buying books) to advice to encouragement — would be extremely helpful.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:26 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 05/20/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Keychain" by Dan Lipton. Even if you never take the time to listen to a Song You Should Know, make time for this one; it's my favorite from a truly fantastic CD.

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:04 PM EST


Monday, May 19, 2003

Filing the Internecine Debates of the Other Side

This essay by Steven Den Beste is worth bookmarking for reference during future debates with atheists. In it, Den Beste — an atheist himself — makes the case for why his atheism is ultimately a matter of faith.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:53 PM EST


Where Are the Weapons? Well, Duh.

Washington Post writer Barton Gellman gives evidence of his flare for the dramatic in the opening paragraphs of his article "Odyssey of Frustration: In Search for Weapons, Army Team Finds Vacuum Cleaners":

For once the team found a building intact.

The low stucco structure, one of several walled off from the street, was the 17th target of the war for Army Lt. Col. Charles Allison and the special weapons hunters under his command. Heavy crossbars sealed the doors. That, at least, was encouraging. There would not have been much left to lock if looters got here first.

U.S. intelligence called this place "Possible SSO Facility Al Hayat," after the Special Security Organization of President Saddam Hussein. It ranked No. 26 on a U.S. Central Command priority search list. Allison's team pulled up in six Humvees, not long before noon on May 1, to scout for biological and chemical arms.

"Go get the breach kit," ordered Army Maj. Kenneth Deal, second in command. A soldier returned with bolt cutters, a crowbar and a sledgehammer. Deal carried a digital camera. Army Sgt. 1st Class Will T. Smith Jr. and Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Anderson wielded chemical sensors that looked like oversized power drills.

Smashing padlocks and deadbolts, the men checked for booby traps as they felt their way by flashlight from room to room. They reached a murky stone passage, smelling of mold. Cement covered its windows. Steel doors, a dull orange, lined the hall.

Interrogation cells? Munitions vaults?

One last bolt snapped. The door creaked open and Deal stepped through. There, in the innermost chamber, he found a cache of vacuum cleaners.

At first, this opening brought to mind a scene from the old inspection days of UNSCOM during which the Iraqis toyed with inspectors by filling an empty building with men claiming to be marriage registrars. However, reading down a bit (try: almost to the end) I discovered that the team about Gellman is writing didn't expect there to be much in that building:

Allison pulled Velasquez aside. Deal took his commander's place at the computer. He began to read about "Possible SSO Facility Al Hayat" -- where, the next day, he would encounter the vacuum cleaners. He frowned.

"Is it a WMD facility?" Allison asked. "No, sir, the description is not WMD at all," Deal said. "Likely abandoned after [1998]. May be used by high ranking officials. Yadda yadda yadda. This is going to be a waste of time."

Folks, this is how a storyline is imposed, unavoidably influenced by the writer's bias. In contrast, here are the points that I (perhaps subjectively) find objectively most important:

Collectively, the conversations portrayed a hunt without the means, so far, to flush its quarry. Team 3 was sent to some facilities without being briefed on inventories already known from years of U.N. inspections. At other sites, the team could not work effectively for lack of Arabic language skills. In a repository for disabled nuclear equipment, Allison and his inspectors had to labor side by side with looters too numerous to evict. More often, the looters had come and gone. Twice, the team found signs of machinery disassembled and expertly removed. ...

Some of the damage appeared to be calculated, hinting at another explanation for the frustrated weapons hunt. Outside an alternative energy lab, Deal said he found computers and paper file boxes arranged in a stack and burned. "Looters are stealing computers," he said. "Why would they burn them?"

In a biology lab, the team found broken glassware and supplies but only bare mounts where work tables and ventilation hoods had been. "There's an obvious difference between looting and professional removal," Deal said.

I suppose loose screws and angle brackets with which equipment was once secured are not as entertaining as a weapons team finding a stockpile of Dirt Devils. And what do we turn to the major newspapers for unless for entertainment. However, enough of these little misapplications of emphasis are liable to persuade people to conclusions that simply aren't justified.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:49 PM EST


Stopping the Tide of Guns

I don't concern myself much with the debate over guns. Frankly, I see merit to all sides (where they are reasonable enough to impart merit to their reasoning), and they are at such an equilibrium that I don't feel my somewhat disinterested voice is necessary. However, I couldn't help but point out that non-automatic weapons could be used just as easily in this scenario, which Mark Shea put forward last week as a hypothetical to justify taking automatic and semiautomatic weapons from all non-soldiers:

I am, instead, a realist with a moderate capacity to envisage a team of, oh... let's say, 19 Wahoobi Bronze age thugs, armed with fully automatic AK-47s and with full battle armor on. These thugs open fire on cars at the south end of the I-5 Lake Union bridge here in Seattle during morning rush hour. Instant traffic jam (as if there wasn't one already). They then slaughter some of the drivers in the northbound lanes and create a traffic jam making it impossible for cops to get to them except by helicopter. Five marksmen are positioned to do what they did so effectively in Afghanistan to the Soviets: blow any helicopters out of the sky. Meanwhile the remaining 15 thugs run down I-5 between parked cars, killing everybody in each car at their leisure. Hundreds and hundreds are killed. One heroic NRA member was packing heat and bravely killed a couple of the bastards. However, he was gunned down by the other thirteen. Eventually some jets are scrambled from McChord AFB in Tacoma and the SOBs are killed (along with a few more drivers as collateral damage). The freeways are blocked for a day or so as they haul away cars and bodies. Seattle's economy tanks as people decide they don't want jobs that involve taking them over the Lake Union Bridge more often than need be.

Two related arguments that I made somewhere on Mark's site were that guns were not as difficult to make as weapons of mass destruction and that, if they were still made for soldiers, anybody with the terrorists' resources and will to do harm would surely find them. As it happens, the Saudi National Guard has just proven me right on the latter point. We can also expect that certain military personnel of much more civilized countries would have a price at which setting up an illicit trade would seem profitable and that other countries are even less inclined to hinder the flow of guns to terrorists than the Saudis are (at least in public view).

Coincidentally, I also came across this, from a reader email posted in the Corner:

Longarms are the weapons most useful for hunting, for home defense, and for militia service if--as it is no longer impossible to contemplate--a terrorist organization manages to create an emergency on a scale such that the militia would need to be raised. They are not useful for crime as a rule, though when they are used for crime their deadly nature does take a toll on serving policemen. As a rational matter, though, the VPC's position desires the banning or tight regulation of the least criminally-useful class of firearm: that is to say, it is a very far reaching proposal indeed.

Mark's scenario may not rise to the level of requiring the raising of a militia, but I'm sure that lone "heroic NRA member" wouldn't have minded some help.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:25 PM EST


Monday Apologies

Sorry for the dearth of posts today. I've been very busy, and was in a... well... less-than-garrulous-and-chipper mood for most of it.

I do have some posts that I intend to get up before I head to bed, however.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:46 PM EST


Just Thinking 05/19/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Meetings on the Road, VI: The Race to the Top," my latest "parable sonnet."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:20 PM EST


Sunday, May 18, 2003

Famous People Born on May 18

The following are a handful of famous people born on this day (in no particular order):

Pope John Paul II
Perry Como
Big Joe Turner
Frank Capra
Bertrand Russell
Chow Yun-Fat
George Strait
Reggie Jackson



To celebrate my birthday, why not go ahead and buy yourself a gift?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:18 PM EST


Saturday, May 17, 2003

We Are the Cusp

Lane Core points out Donald Luskin's view of the advantages of getting information from blogs. The reasons themselves are certainly worth reading and passing along among bloggers and blog readers, but here's the part that struck me:

The president of the Frank Russell Company, who introduced me, didn't know what a "blog" is -- and neither did anyone else at my table, which included one of the most senior faculty member of Stanford University (where the meeting was held), the manager of the world's largest corporate pension fund, and the manager of one of America's largest foundation endowments. When I asked for a show of hands among the 100 or so executives present for anyone who knew what a "blog" is, less than a dozen were raised.

My friends, if blogging is the next killer app of the Internet -- or more important, if it is a fundamental change-the-world innovation in media and journalism, then we have our work cut out for us, and we have our opportunity. We are like the cobblers who have discovered the land where no one wears shoes -- yet.

Personally, I don't think we have to do much work. As long as we keep blogging and keep cultivating a blog etiquette (including such good-manners practices as citing sources), I think blogs will spread based purely on the merits of the medium. Blogs are just now beginning to be cited within print publications (and their online versions), having moved through the novelty-subject-of-the-news-story phase and into the news-and-opinion-source phase.

The beauty of being here, now, is that the migration is just beginning to catch on, and those who've managed to stake out a bit of ground in the wilds of the blog frontier will be those to whom newcomers look while establishing their own estates.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:59 AM EST


Friday, May 16, 2003

Speaking of Drugging Ourselves into Accepting Our Lives

Shiela Lennon points to a Salon article describing the extent of mood-altering drug use in New York. That's not "recreational" drugs, but "therapeutic."

I had a period during which driving 180 miles a day to and from work in a gray cubicle gave me what could probably fit in some newfangled "disorder" category or other. Without actually seeing me, a local doctor put me immediately on Paxil, even though the drug takes weeks to begin working. I was off it before the bottle was done, because I am adamantly against medicating myself into accepting my life.

I got some therapy, with a surprising emphasis on spirituality, and started going to church. All these designer drugs are just covers. It is simply wrong — dangerous and inhuman — to decide what human nature ought to be based on our necessarily limited view of reality and manipulate ourselves to fit some vision of utopia.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:01 PM EST


Dangerous Points of View: It's Natural

Something about this article worries me like a low rumble off toward the horizon:

Although sex offenders who prey on children are demonized by society, psychiatrists who treat them say up to 3% of Canadians are sexually drawn to children.

However, most of these pedophiles do not act on their sexual fantasies. Those who do mostly engage in exhibitionism, masturbation or gentle fondling of the child.

So, despite society's unjust demonization of them, pedophiles are more common than might be expected, and hey, most of them don't do anything about it... or anything that bad.

"Fortunately, the individuals who have pedophilia ... that are likely to act out and seriously harm a child are very rare," said John Bradford, clinical director of forensic psychiatry and the sexual behaviours clinic at the Royal Ottawa Hospital. ...

"In fact, in statistical terms, if you look at children that are killed, a parent is more likely to kill a child than a pedophile is going to kill a child," said Dr. Bradford, who has assessed such notorious sexual offenders as Paul Bernardo.

Apart from jaw-droppingly contrived statistics with terribly offensive implications, the danger that I see in this is that social trends seem to follow stages. Something that begins as reviled moves into the phase of "understanding," usually with an explanation for the behavior that diminishes the force of social and psychological blocks to that behavior. ("I'm convinced there's a biological component to it," Dr. Bradford said.) This shift in perspective — from "acting on this impulse would make me bad" to "I was not strong enough to resist my natural inclination to act on this impulse" — increases the frequency (individually and socially) of the behavior. In time, the necessity for that unbearable demand for "strength" comes into question.

Especially if, you know, it's only "gentle fondling."

To be fair, the article doesn't whitewash the horrors of what might be termed "pedophilia gone bad." However, it does end with the explanation that drugs — even though pedophiles are not, cannot be, made to take them when out of direct government oversight — are an effective treatment. Thus are powerful social/cultural solutions to problems that are problems discarded for the friendlier, more "understanding" pill, all while culpability for action moves further from the individual.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:46 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:51 AM EST


Thursday, May 15, 2003

Objectivism: My Opinion Is Objective Truth

I've stopped reading The Light of Reason because Arthur Silber's appeals to "objective and rational" thought came to strike me as mere habillements that conveniently fit the figure of his beliefs. Today, Instapundit led me to a post in which Silber blames the archetypal white Christian conservative Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum for this:

Shakia and four female friends, ages 15 to 17 [!!!], had taken a PATH train to Newark from Greenwich Village, where they had been hanging out late Saturday night, Glenn said.

At around 3:30 a.m., two men drove up in a white station wagon and made sexual overtures, cops said.

"The men became angry when the girls weren't receptive," Glenn said.

The enraged men set upon the group, and Shakia was fatally stabbed during the melee, cops said.

Given her name and my knowledge of the city in question, as well as the fact that the news report doesn't offer any description of the assailants, I'd say it would be relatively safe to suggest that the men were black. It's obvious that they weren't social conservatives. So what's the connection?

Well, whether or not it was the truth, whether or not it was the statement within a longer altercation that set off the men, as part of not being "receptive," the girls claimed to be lesbians, and therefore, Silber feels he's justified in declaring:

All of us, but particularly people in public life, have an obligation to speak and act responsibly when dealing with others. When someone like Santorum voices his views about homosexuality, it contributes, to whatever degree, to a cultural atmosphere which regards gays and lesbians as being of less worth than heterosexuals. I don't care how others might try to parse and justify his words, and those offered by others with similar views. The fact of the matter is that such statements diminish the value and worth of gay people, and this inevitable result simply cannot be avoided.

And, to whatever small or large degree, such irresponsible and uninformed statements can lead, however indirectly, to tragedies like this one. These hoodlums might have acted in this way even without all the negative messages about gays and lesbians carried constantly in our culture. But then again, they might not have. We'll never know -- and if we are going to err in any direction, why not err in the direction of consideration, and sensitivity, and simple decency and humanity?

In the comments section, Silber tries to explain why this statement isn't just his own mirror image of the view that he so despises in Santorum. Basically (to quote): "The issues are much more complex than that." Here's my (first) comment:

Your assertions notwithstanding, I think you should consider that Scott Harris's statement works in reverse. You've essentially agreed with Santorum that the individual does not live in a social and moral bubble and has responsibilities to the culture. The differences are only in which direction you'd like that culture to go and how you'd prefer that the culture assert itself against the influence.

He, ostensibly, would like to persuade people in individual states to enact laws through the legislature to limit what he sees as socially corrosive sexual norms. You, ostensibly, would like to persuade people to ignore, shout down, and damage the careers of those who vocalize what you see as socially corrosive moral norms.

As a matter of speech leading to violence, his phrasing would require a much less direct route than yours. Purely as a matter of intellectual consistency, he's on much stronger ground than you are.

Commenter Scott Harris had put his finger on my view of Silber's remarks, only in the exact opposite direction:

I'm not sure how Santorum, like Bennett, can be defended by a standard to which he does not adhere. Santorum is a collectivist who believes the conduct of one individual (by what other standard that conduct may be defensible or not) threatens the order of society.

One might say that the responsibility is the killer's alone --- but Santorum et alia never believe any such thing.

The point that this misses is that "conduct" is not "speech," and not only because it isn't Constitutionally protected categorically. I'm not going to go into all of the various indications and manifestations of this difference — ranging from "actions speaking louder than words" and "names will never hurt me" to "the power of the pen" — but it all comes down to a unique dynamic whereby "speech" is a powerful social tool that doesn't directly harm anybody. Perhaps it might be rightly said that, because speech only suggests action, it is important to protect it so society might discuss conduct and assess its consequences before it occurs.

Suffice to say, however, that Arthur Silber, just as he so gleefully declared about Bill Bennett, is a hypocrite. Obviously, one can be a "First Amendment absolutist" and criticize the speech of others in no uncertain terms. However, it crosses the line to declare, in an accusatory tone, that others should watch their tongues because their "speech" can be inflammatory. In Santorum's case, it isn't even a matter of criticizing how he said it, but what he said.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:48 PM EST


Salam Pax: A Mystery for Our Times

The question of Salam Pax's identity is turning out to be quite the interactive mystery. Instapundit's got a bunch of interesting links, the first of which is David Warren's explanation of why he believes Salam to be a Ba'athist.

So far, opinions about his identity seem to range from all-out Iraqi intelligence operative to simply a privileged child of the Ba'athist ruling class doing his best to use the Internet to manipulate the situation in his country according to his own best interests. Neither option follows the general blogosphere impression of the "Iraqi man on the street," merely another average Joe expressing his opinion without any agenda but his own opinion.

An interesting side issue, in the midst of the debate, is the significance of Salam's Western pal Diana Moon. On Junk Yard Blog, she claims that she was responsible for the disappearing information on his blog, which she claims to have deleted to "protect Salam's identity." So where does she fit in to the controversy?

What was that Harrison Ford movie in which the drug-lord's conciliari wooed an American woman for the purposes of inadvertent spying and espionage?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:06 PM EST


So Much for That Theory

The news that we homosapiens may not, in fact, be descended from Neanderthals is mainly significant as a reminder of how little we actually know about the past. I still remember coming to the realization that all those history-class videos were representations of events that might not have even happened, or happened in the way they were presented.

I should note that it wouldn't bother my religious sensibilities if humanity was, indeed, the progeny of ape-like humanoids. It does, however, concern me that so much that is really just an educated guess is presented in educational environments as the absolute truth. Perhaps, as a general rule of thumb, we should adopt the approach — to be taught to youngsters at an appropriate age — of assuming that any historical or scientific concept that can be grasped by third graders is not likely to be much more than a simplified representation of a guess.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:51 PM EST


Gonna Hurt Me More than It Will Her

Sorry for the late start today. We took the daughter to the doctor for a scheduled checkup. Our daughter is strong, vocal, and willful, and most of the visit was done in fast motion to get it over with. But then, mid-prodding, the subject of vegetables came up between my wife and the doctor; the prodding stopped; the screaming did not.


"Well, you might try mixing some peas in with..."


"Yes, well she hasn't taken a liking to mashed potatoes..."


Much longer, and I may have interjected that we'd just feed her veggies through a tube, could we please get on with the process that was causing miniature-teeth gnashing?

At least today brought the last shots until age four. Of course, that's good news for the daughter, but the parents still have an unknown number of infants with whom to endure the process again.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:42 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:40 AM EST


Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Leaving National Security Up to "Vigilantes"

You've gotta love liberal-mediaism. Including the title, the word "vigilante" is used seven times in this 374-word Reuters article in the Washington Post about private border-control groups' using aerial drones to track illegal border crossers. Of course, outside of the comic-book universe, "vigilante" has a bad, almost criminal, connotation.

To be fair, the article does refer to border crossers as "illegal immigrants," but the subsequent text softens it:

Hundreds of thousands of illegal Mexican immigrants cross the border in search of work every year. Three vigilante groups, some of them armed, have sprung up in Arizona in the last three years to monitor the border and hand over any illegal immigrants they find to U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Obviously, these armed wackos are intent on harassing people who are only in search of work — you know, to feed starving babies and puppies — and who, technically, are referred to as "illegal immigrants."

As for the content of the article, I say: "Go vigilantes!" Hopefully, before things get out of hand, our supposed leaders will realize that they are severely shirking their duty when private citizens are investing in the latest in surveillance equipment to guard the nation's borders.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:51 PM EST


Swinging at Beams from an Orb While Blindfolded

Glenn Reynolds believes that "science fiction compete[s] with religion as a source of moral guidance in the public sphere," partly as an expression of the "religion of science." Actually, let me give you that whole paragraph:

Does science fiction compete with religion as a source of moral guidance in the public sphere? The answer, I think, would have to be "yes." There may be numerous reasons for that. One is, as Isaac Asimov once put it, that "it is the chief characteristic of the religion of science, that it works." Both religion and science have been promising a better future for centuries now. Science, however, has delivered on its promises in a way that's hard to miss, while religion promises its benefits in a hereafter from which no one returns. That is bound to make science fiction - which promises a better, or at least more glamorous, science-based future - a plausible competitor for religion.

My overall impression is that Mr. Reynolds threw a bunch of related HUGE topics into a short column and came to a conclusion that misses the underlying point that relates them. Part of the problem lies in the way he phrases the issues. Looking more closely at the paragraph above:

Does science fiction compete with religion as a source of moral guidance in the public sphere? The answer, I think, would have to be "yes."

Well, which connotation of religion are we talking about? Religion writ large — as in, a collection of organized spiritual institutions — or specific religions and their individual ceremonies? He must mean the latter, because the following paragraph addresses the trappings — costumes, music, settings — of religion versus science fiction. More importantly, his reference to "Jediism" points to a spiritual subtext of a science-fiction — indeed, within the fiction, the science is shown as no match for, albeit perhaps an augmenter of, that religion. But if he means to say no more than that people are receiving the message to "be good to each other" through Sunday matinees rather than Sunday mass, then this makes no sense:

... as Isaac Asimov once put it, that "it is the chief characteristic of the religion of science, that it works." Both religion and science have been promising a better future for centuries now.

This is clearly the broader definition of "religion." Here, Reynolds is placing the idea of religion against the idea of science. But the two are not directly comparable, just as "meaning" and "process" are not directly comparable. In the following, it is only the phrasing that makes such comparison possible:

Both religion and science have been promising a better future for centuries now. Science, however, has delivered on its promises in a way that's hard to miss, while religion promises its benefits in a hereafter from which no one returns.

Even within that specific phrasing, somehow we slide from "a better future," suggesting specific claims, to generic, but too-limited, "benefits." This may be the central flaw in such certainly common thinking: it sees "benefits" as synonymous with "a better future." Only through mistaking where science and religion are inherently different endeavors of society is this possible. How many people throughout history have led happier, more fulfilled lives owing to religion — in the right now — with or without any given scientific innovation? On a larger scale, to what extent has religion fostered the morality and perpetuated the cohesion to enable scientific progress?

According to Reynolds, among the "advantages" of a society in which "science-fiction films provide a competitive source of morality" is that "they tend, for fairly obvious plot reasons, to focus on individuals, and an increased focus on the needs and desires of individuals is almost inevitably pro-freedom and anti-tyranny." I'd suggest that this is less a function of the science than of the storytelling, a means of conveyance that religion has used from its very beginnings. As the message to be conveyed, however, extreme deification of the individual is arguably among the most corroding aspects of modern life. More importantly, I'd assert that, in the real world of real science, religion has played a crucial role in maintaining the sanctity of the individual. Science, as a way of thinking, would have no problem with eugenics, for example.

Digging down into what seem to be the ideas behind Reynolds's piece, I'm left wondering what he's placing in opposition to religion and its expression through individual religions. Does he see science as the broader concept conveyed through individual science-fictions? The emphasis on the non-science message of science-fiction would seem to belie such a construction. Frankly, I think he's using rhetorical Force to reach for a conclusion that is not there.

On balance, I think we come out ahead on this deal. That Hollywood possesses no moral authority on its own means that people will not take its messages on faith. That movies have to sell means that they're unlikely to become too preachy. (As Sam Goldwyn famously advised, if you want to send a message, you're better off using Western Union than a film).

Either way, we're stuck with them. So my advice to you, if you're filmmaker or want to be one, is to bear in mind that the messages you build into your films may stick with the audiences long after the final credits roll. Try to use that power for good and not, as Obi Wan would say, for Ee-vill.

I'm not sure how it is a good thing that "a competitive source of morality" has "no moral authority." I also wonder why it is that filmmakers must be cognizant of their power to influence if one of the benefits of movie morality is that "people will not take its message on faith." In the end, it comes down to a familiar construction — "we don't need religion; we've got science" — with a new addendum: "and special effects, too." And, as is perennially true of the argument, it uses flashes and gadgetry to avoid explaining how it is that science can explain what is good... other than more, less-impeded science.

After all, when the viewing audience first met Obi Wan, we was wandering the desert with an out-dated weapon. The locus of Ee-vill, on the other hand, was mainly housed in a high-tech, manmade planet with a really big laser that was custom-made for genocide.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:42 AM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:42 AM EST


Tuesday, May 13, 2003

If You Can Stand to Read It

I just wanted to note that, if you can stand a thorough debate about the significance of our lack of "smoking gun" thus far, a good discussion on the matter from a Catholic perspective can be found in the comment box of this post over at Mark Shea's.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:54 PM EST


More Ways than One to Remove a Regime

Bryon Scott has an interesting idea about the significance of U.S. troop movements out of Saudi Arabia and the recent bombing in that country:

That being the case, this could be the chance to kill two birds with one stone. Instapundit (again) and others have repeatedly demonstrated that the Saudis are not our friends. Publicly, however, we are about as close as buddies can be. So taking them out in the way we did Saddam would not wash diplomatically and would make us look bad in the world's eyes. [Like that can get worse? -- Bry]. But, if we let al-Qa'aida do the dirty work, and then take them out, it is a different story altogether. We get a democracy in Saudi and more of al-Qa'aida is exposed and destroyed.

One worry that I would have about such a plan is that allowing al-Qaeda such apparent success might make the group more difficult to topple once they've overthrown the royals. However, I do like the depth and multi-dimensionality of thinking that the idea suggests. The war on terror certainly requires an unwieldy blend of diplomacy, direct shows of strength, and discreet subversion.

(via Instapundit)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:53 PM EST


Speaking of Evil

I know this post dips into the darker side that I've been working so diligently to subdue, but I couldn't resist pointing out this story:

A DANISH museum director has gone on trial on charges of cruelty to animals for an exhibit in which goldfish were liquidised in a blender to test visitors' sense of right and wrong.

The exhibit at the Trapholt modern art museum in 2000 featured live goldfish swimming in a blender. Visitors were given the possibility of pressing the button to turn the blender on. ...

The artist meanwhile said the idea behind the exhibit was to "place people before a dilemma: to choose between life and death".

"It was a protest against what is going on in the world, against this cynicism, this brutality that impregnates the world in which we live."

The verdict is expected next week.

I hope the author derived as much pleasure from the placement of that last line as I did.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:46 PM EST


Only Blindness? What Boring Lasers!

(Or not, if you got the pun.)

As I parodied, back in pre-war days, as a comment to a post on Scrappleface, I'm beginning to think that Kim Jong Il thinks of himself as a Super Villain. Apparently, he's deploying lasers against U.S. aircraft.

It looks like he might need to send Igor back to the lab, though. These aren't lasers that can saw off a helicopter's tail or pierce tanks. Their only purpose is to blind people at distances of up to three miles. Which makes me wonder whether Saddam forewent the investment, considering that enemy soldiers are much more likely to foil the high-tech weapon with sunglasses where he once ruled.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:41 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 05/13/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "One Day in January" by Joe Parillo.

"One Day in January" Joe Parillo, Jazz
Stream (HiFi)
from Sand Box

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:41 AM EST


Monday, May 12, 2003

Just Thinking 05/12/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Back to Work," about the urge to run back into the comforting embrace of life as a manual laborer.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:46 PM EST


A Punchline for the Records

Chris Muir's Day by Day daily cartoon ought to be a regular stop on your online itinerary. The punchline to today's shows why:

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:10 AM EST


Sunday, May 11, 2003

The Cliffhanger Ending Is Suspended

It's almost pointless, at this time, to comment on the fluctuating information about is there is or is there ain't WMDs. If you read today's slantedly titled Washington Post piece "Frustrated, U.S. Arms Team to Leave Iraq" closely, you find that the opener is a little misleading:

The group directing all known U.S. search efforts for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is winding down operations without finding proof that President Saddam Hussein kept clandestine stocks of outlawed arms, according to participants.

The 75th Exploitation Task Force, as the group is formally known, has been described from the start as the principal component of the U.S. plan to discover and display forbidden Iraqi weapons. The group's departure, expected next month, marks a milestone in frustration for a major declared objective of the war.

What appears to have happened is that more of the information is disparate because of looting and fires, so the expert-heavy team is being replaced with a larger, less specialized force that will sort through the evidence. Nonetheless, the teams might not find an underground storage area filled to overflowing with nasty weapons — or whatever else would count as a "smoking gun." So what? We've already found mobile biological weapons labs, and if the old regime could loot its museum before the U.S. forces arrived, they could certainly have destroyed and/or hidden incriminating evidence in this case.

What I kept thinking while reading the rather long article was that, if Hussein had allowed a similarly intensive search a few months ago, he'd still be in power today... if there had been as little to find a few months ago.

"Smoking gun" — now there's a term that I hope to see retired after this whole thing is over!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:25 PM EST


Hard and Soft America

Instapundit pointed out an interesting column by Michael Barone that breaks America into Hard and Soft. Hard America realizes the necessity of hard work and the fairness of a world with consequences and responsibilities. Soft America dislikes "competition and accountability."

I don't know how direct a correlation there is or to what degree it is causal in one direction or another, but Barone's Hard/Soft America idea sounds, at the very least, coincidentally similar to a topic that I've been reading and writing about lately. I think the Softening would have to line up to some degree with the feminization of society.

Erin O'Connor blogged about a statistic suggesting that men are a declining population on the American campus. The comments conversation covered a wide range, including the different ways in which boys and girls learn as well as the type of work they seek after high school (which could easily be broken into Hard and Soft). The whole thing prompted me to write a Just Thinking column with some suggestions for remedying the larger social clash that I see causing the disproportion. Essentially, put in Baroneian context, I suggest allow the male and the female, the hard and the soft, to intermingle and do their own things within the same general environment (shocking that this should need to be suggested!).

Whether these issues are disconnected or not, I'm getting the impression that America is beginning to wake from a soft, socialistic dream.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:59 AM EST


No Back and Forth, Only the Slow Slide to Disbelief

Providence Journal blogger Sheila Lennon has taken a particular interest in "Baghdad blogger" Salam Pax and done some investigating. I think I'd read that Salam's mail comes from Beirut before, but Lennon had a bit of interaction with the man himself (if whoever it is is the man himself).

On most uncertain topics about which I don't have a major concern, I find that my impression generally swings back and forth depending on evidence — from "real" to "not real" and back. With Salam Pax, however, I find that everything I hear brings just enough subtle incredulity for me to only slide further into disbelief. Consider this exchange:

>your idioms American.

MTV and the american movies are the new global religion. i don't try it just comes out like that.

>> Salam, where did you learn such flawless English?

before 9-11 i would have said I am what you call a citizen of the global village, i have lived in here and there, speak arabic english and german. now i just feel like someone who has lost all identity by trying real hard to be from no particular place.

>And... what's the reaction to your blog in Baghdad?

if they knew it existed I wouldn't be blogging anymore, I would probably be finding out what it feels like to have electricity running thru various body parts.

A little too pat — a little too cryptic.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:52 AM EST


Saturday, May 10, 2003

Bothering to Beg

So far in the existence of this blog, I wouldn't say that I've gone much further than bothering you much-appreciated readers about things involving money. Well, now I'm a-bleggin', but not specifically for me.

Because we didn't receive any grant money and because a lot of local businesses are in frugal mode based on uncertainty about their income during the Newport summer, the 2003 edition of the Redwood Review is quite a bit short on funds. But boy is it worth publishing. There are more pieces, and they are better. The range and depth have expanded from last year's offerings, too, I'd say.

To be sure, the entire thing will be online for your payment-free enjoyment within a couple of months. However, I'm asking... blegging... begging you to please, please, help us to cover our printing costs if you are financially able to do so. Any donation of $5 or more will get you a copy mailed to your home; $20 or more will get you listed on a Sponsors page; $50 or more will get you a copy of the review signed by as many authors as I'm able to track down. Ads start at $65 dollars; if you want to contribute that amount or have a business that you'd like to promote in the book and online, please email me.

Last year's version of the Redwood Review is online here. Donations via PayPal can be made here (note and/or email the name that you'd like to appear on the Sponsor page). And a PDF send-in pamphlet with all of the relevant information can be found here.

Again, this has nothing to do with profit or self-promotion. This has to do with giving 17 writers a deserved audience and a much-needed boost in confidence.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:30 PM EST


The Coolness of David Wilcox

You mightn't think of folk singer David Wilcox as cool, but I'm here to declare the opposite. My wife and I went to see him live tonight at a relatively new venue in Fall River (Massachusetts) called Narrows Center for the Arts, a small concert hall on the third floor of a (mostly) renovated mill. It reminded me of the sort of places I used to play with "garage bands" in New Jersey, hauling a keyboard and amp up all those stairs.

At the entrance to the actual hall, a tall, lanky fellow milled about talking to people and signing CDs. That in itself is one of the cool benefits of small venues and "niche" stars. I still didn't have his new CD, Into the Mystery, so I asked him how much he was selling them for. $15 "Oh," I said, putting it back on the table, "I don't have that much cash on me."

What does he do but offer me one with a cracked case for whatever I can afford, autographing the booklet, to boot. Yeah, yeah, I know, it was a shrewd business move and all, but such interactions are why I love "independent" music.

But the show was awesome; David Wilcox is a brilliant performer, for whom a backup band is truly optional (he didn't have one). Given the spiritual themes of his latest work and his generally hopeful take on life as well as just something calling out in me to get back on track with my music and creative work in general, the concert might prove to have been life-changing for me.

I wanted to clarify the genre: I mean folk more in the way of James Taylor (although I think Wilcox is better), as opposed to the more NPRish "traditional music" type of folk.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:47 AM EST


Friday, May 9, 2003

What's So Great About Freedom?

Stanley Kurtz lays out the forces pulling out from the middle in the culture wars:

Our relative independence of others is the key to the rise of the new social liberalism. Yet, no matter how independent we get, the ineradicable fact of childhood dependence creates demands for a stable family structure governed by certain moral rules. This is the root of our contemporary culture war. Our lived individualism continually pulls us toward a full-fledged libertarianism, while our childhood dependence exerts a countervailing pull toward moral traditionalism.

I'm not sure that I agree with the restriction of the idea of dependence to children, which understates how gregarious we actually are as human beings (hey, even maintaining connection to society via bad news appears to be a matter of health). I haven't thought to think about it, but this might be a lesson that libertarians have to learn in the way that socialists had to learn that human nature has an independent streak. As I've written before, social liberals are reaching a point in their progression at which they're going to have to address the ways in which they reconcile the freedoms that they claim with the underlying social morality and cohesion on which they rely (whether or not they admit it).

Issue by issue, I come almost to the point of many libertarians and other social liberals by drawing on the teachings of my Church and my own experience to realize that people must ultimately choose God — or, less theologically put, choose to be good — of their volition. From this perspective, I've come to believe that the law is not the forum to address broad social issues (as opposed to direct threats against citizens). But this carries the caveat that other social institutions be in place — and free to act — to carry the relinquished burden.

Several times in his piece about his "middle position," Kurtz makes such statements as, "the gains in personal freedom are worth the cost." But (conspicuously, I thought) he never says why. Again, I happen to agree with his assessment on many counts... but why?

The basis for the claim will dictate our approach to the "culture war." If it's a matter of general social welfare, then I'd say that smaller political units, such as states, ought to have some leeway for discrete communities to answer the question as the people see fit. If it's a legal matter of civil rights — as in, "governments do not have the right to institute laws against sodomy" — then there is less room for compromise.

With these two choices, I'd tend to argue for seeing such issues as ones of social welfare, removing them from the hands of broad government, but leaving them for judgments of approval or disapproval by communities, even to the point of state law. Given that Kurtz makes the specific "personal freedom" statement above in the context of social treatment of cohabitation, it seems that he's arguing that the "freedom" was gained by removing the influence of society.

My wife and I actually lived together before we were married (although we felt and acted as a married couple and had plans to become one). Obviously, I'm glad that it wasn't illegal, and I think the arrangement might prove beneficial for different people for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, there are also many reasons that it can be a harmful practice (including, as Kurtz mentions, the diminishment of marriage). For that reason, I think localized societies ought to have an ability to judge whether the general harm rises to the point of meriting legal action.

I'm not sure what Kurtz's take on this would be. What's more, I'm not sure what argument I would make for legal cohabitation (for example), were it to become an issue in my state, besides that the harm does not seem to merit the negation of the benefits. Still, I think it's important to address why, and under what circumstances, the liberalization has been "worth the costs."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:03 PM EST


The First Drops of the Storm?

I've heard a whole lot of traditionalist-type people saying that society is poised to legitimate pedophilia. I'm hoping that stories like this aren't the first drops of that storm:

The judge made the comments during the May 2002 sentencing of Pamela Diehl-Moore, 43, of Lyndhurst, who pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges for engaging in a relationship with a 13-year-old former student.

Gaeta said he didn't see the harm in the sexual encounters. "It's just something between two people that clicked beyond the teacher-student relationship," he said.

A judge. And I'm a little disheartened that the rule used to censure Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Gaeta was that he "expressed bias."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:00 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Battles & Wars," by Zona Douthit.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:40 AM EST


Thursday, May 8, 2003

Studio Matters Notes & Commentary: Making Pictures

Maureen Mullarkey's latest Notes & Commentary piece is "Making Pictures: John Dubrow at Salander-O'Reilly Galleries; Mel Ramos at Bernaducci-Meisel Gallery." She opens the column with the question of what art could be worth seeing in the current reality. As part of answering that question (with a this as well as a not this), she goes a step further and presents commentary on art that is worth reading.

When I was at Carnegie Mellon University, I took a survey class that covered a wide range of possible topics on art, from history to style to philosophy. In fact, now that I think about it, I've taken several courses and/or seen several lectures dealing with art and appreciation thereof. They usually have failed to instill that appreciation in a way that pulled me from my literary approach to art. Reading Maureen's essay, I wonder if the instructors were artists themselves, because it strikes me that her combination of explanation of the craft, explication of the idea, and relation to life beyond the gallery makes me feel less of a visitor than a participant in the conversation. Consider this example of the first attribute:

But it impresses in the way that heavy machinery does: by its sheer weight. Yet it seems a mechanical exercise. No mattress of paint can subdue the photo underneath. In both paintings, the initial snapshot rises to the surface as an irritant—like the pea beneath layers of featherbed in the old fairy tale of the princess and the pea. This is the danger of facility: it can distract an artist from his real gifts, leaving him a mechanic of his own style.

My point, here, is not to flatter, but to preface the two points of conversation that the essay and the paintings it describes raised for me. The first involves a painting by John Dubrow called Rephidim. Maureen relates the Bibilical story, in which Moses must hold his rod above his head to ensure victory in battle, and explains that the "[s]pecific religious dimension is muted by omitting the rod from Moses' grasp." I can see, as she mentions elsewhere, how inclusion of the rod would have given the picture the impression of a "costume epic." On the other hand, with such an important component of the story missing, Moses gives me the childish impression of a toy action figure with his prop missing. Anyway, it is a striking work, and it is interesting to imagine the artist debating with himself whether to include the rod. Perhaps a disturbance in the background sky suggests that it may have been there at some point. (Others of Dubrow's paintings, including most discussed by Maureen, can be found on his page of the gallery's Web site.)

The image that Maureen chose for her discussion of Mel Ramos deceives. My first reaction was to think it great. The transformation of the statue into a woman ceases just before a line would arguably be crossed from art into kitchy art soft-core porn. That would certainly be a statement worth considering and debating: would those few inches of the woman's body make a difference? My answer: yes. And the rest of the collection seems intent on proving me right. As Maureen points out, it is merely the peep-show tease, not a larger idea. This one is not the painting that defines the audience, whatever that might be:

Who would want to live with this stuff? Where to put it? In the foyer of a maison de tolérance? Over the tinsel-baroque bed of Qusay Hussein? Upstairs in the frat house? Venues dwindle down to a precious few as hoary-headed hipsters from the 60's begin to gaze away from their Harleys to joint replacements and aluminum walkers.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:15 PM EST


The Wit on the Right

I've got to start doing more to support the career of Dennis Miller. He's hilarious, and he's right, too... in more ways than one.

(via Right Wing News)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:44 PM EST


Constructing Inconsistency

Jonah Goldberg admits an "indirect hit" on his argument in support of Bill Bennett in a column by Radley Balko. I'm sorry to see him do that.

Balko constructs his piece well, snapping the ends into a taught "gotcha" with this:

But if conservatives are going to toe the "No Guardrails" line, it seems to me that they ought to be consistent about it. It's preposterous to argue on the one hand that two adults engaging in nontraditional sex behind a closed door will lead to a breakdown in heterosexual marriages across the country, but that America's foremost spokesperson for virtue and morality spending millions at casinos across the country bears no influence on the 5.5 million people his own organization has identified as "problem gamblers."

The problem is that Balko misrepresents an argument by Stanley Kurtz in such a way as to fabricate this supposed contradiction. Furthermore, to the extent that he did "hit" Goldberg, it is because Jonah was incorrect — or expressed himself incorrectly.

Balko builds his framework from a column called "No Guardrails," by Daniel Henninger, which I haven't read, so I'll give you Balko's summary:

"No Guardrails" basically blamed society's elite — and the leftist elite in particular — for adopting the ever-sliding mores, values and morals that cultural conservatives blame for most of modern society's maladies.

Elitists can afford to lack values, "No Guardrails" thinking says, but the underclass can't. So single motherhood may be fine for Murphy Brown, who is wealthy, well-connected, and educated (not to mention fictional), but fatherless child rearing is a devastating example to set for low-income communities.

Perhaps elites can afford to flirt with drugs, with indiscriminate sex, and with excess personal liberty, the editorial explained, "but for a lot of other people it hasn't been such an easy life to sustain. Not exceedingly sophisticated, neither thinkers nor leaders, never interviewed for their views, they're held together by faith, friends, fun and, at the margins, by fanaticism."

"These weaker or more vulnerable people, who in different ways must try to live along life's margins, are among the reasons that a society erects rules. They're guardrails."

I take a less objective view of elite iniquity, but I do believe that the guardrails idea rightly enables us to carry moral arguments even into our free and open society. In other words, if Hollywooden stars kept their party lives to themselves, I wouldn't care much to attack them for it. That they flaunt it and promote it is the problem.

Getting back to Balko, Kurtz's argument, about gay marriage, was only tangentially related, and that only because Kurtz referred to Senator Santorum's comments about sodomy that were in the news at the time. Here's Balko:

Writing in National Review, Stanley Kurtz went to great lengths to explain how acceptance of gay and other non-traditional lifestyles at the elite level would, in the end, destroy the institutions of marriage and family Kurtz and others believe are vital to a healthy, functioning society.

The problem is that Kurtz didn't say a thing about elites. And, to relate it to Balko's closing shot, Kurtz isn't talking about "adults engaging in nontraditional sex behind a closed door." Rather, he's talking about the public institution of marriage's requirement of monogamy and the effects that gay marriage and the polygamy (again, marriage) that will likely follow in its path will have on that public institution. Indeed, I'm baffled as to how Balko didn't see this, considering that he quotes Kurtz's line about the "married commune next door," which doesn't suggest a difference of class.

In the case of Jonah Goldberg, I think Balko has a more valid point, although I think it amounts to a misstatement on Goldberg's part, rather than an actual belief that he holds. Perhaps because he's got his eyes on another portion of the larger issue (as indicated by his admission of only to an indirect hit), Goldberg doesn't seem to realize this himself, which is why he responds in the affirmative to Balko's characterization of his Bennett argument:

In other words, Bennett — as a rich man and an elite — is subject to a different set of rules than are the common folk. He can gamble all he likes, because he's rich, so long as he doesn't recommend the practice to those less fortunate.

The factor that Balko isn't seeing is that the "guardrails" are for behaviors that have consequences that only the elite can afford to address. It isn't an argument for moderation. It isn't that elites can afford the cocaine to support their habits, but poor people can't; rather, it's that elites can afford to address the consequences that come with the behavior (e.g., lost employment, legal fees, and so on). This is where the actual differences between the "vices" of drugs and gambling become important: gambling is legal and acceptable up until the point at which it extends beyond one's individual finances and ability to control himself, even for poor folks. Going in the other direction, the gambling corollary to elite druggies would be a rich guy who bankrupted his family, but whose rich friends bailed him out or whose elite position created a solution not available to most (e.g., a best-selling book about the ordeal).

In Bennett's case, that threshold is just much, much higher. The same could be said of any other legal activity that can be taken to excess — car collecting, for example. Balko can't possibly believe that conservatives would argue that rich people shouldn't buy Mercedes because those with less money can't afford them. (Indeed, the motivation to be able to afford such amenities is a central gear in the conservative socioeconomic strategy.) This perspective draws out another sleight of argument in Balko's zinger: a gambler for whom the pastime is not a problem can still advise against "problem gambling," just as having a beer or two during dinner does not disqualify one from speaking out against binge drinking.

Attention Instapundit Readers:
I'm always thrilled when somebody, particularly Glenn Reynolds, thinks enough of a point that I've made to offer a link. In this case, however, I want to clarify something: I don't disagree with the proposition that "gambling is probably more socially destructive than... sodomy." I'd even take that "probably" right out of the sentence. Moreover, I'd include gay marriage, of itself, in a different — perhaps even a future — society than America is at present.

As a matter of fact, my argument against those who've jumped on Senator Santorum as well as those who are intent on pushing gay marriage through the courts is that I think such cultural decisions ought to be made at the state level — a position that I also hold on the topic of gambling.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:49 PM EST


How Is Bill Bennett Like an Iraqi Museum?

The Bill Bennett discussion goes on (and on and on). The question I keep coming back to (fully knowing that the indignant cries of anti-moralists have no underlying substance to consider) is: so what now? Bennett gambled a lot; what should his discovery lead us to do? Has he lost all rights to talk about drug use? Are his opinions less true because one person who holds them slipped up?

This is a typical approach from "progressives" and/or social liberals, and it's an infantile one. As I've written before, one of the more frustrating attributes of classroom discussion in college was that I often got the sense that the more-conservative argument was never allowed to have a hole or even to be poorly expressed. The moment I used even a single word that could be twisted into representing a "hidden significance," those arguing against me would close their minds to further discussion. Such is the approach to Bennett.

Well, I don't know where he got the information, but Jonah Goldberg today said that the actual losses were closer to $1 million. That's still a lot of money, but spread out over 10 years, it's only $100,000 a year. That "only" looks as awkward to me as it likely does to you, but it's just 1.25% of the number being thrown around in a controversy that is wholly about the dollar amount. Now, the question is: are the minds already made up regardless of the evidence? Answer: Of course. They were made up before any evidence was presented.

Jonah's provided his source. The $8 million was the amount of bets placed. Bennett was hitting up to $80,000 jackpots, so if he were to win one of those and re-gamble it, his "loss," according to the math of the controversy would have been $160,000. I'll be waiting for all of the retractions and clarifications...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:21 AM EST


400,000 Children Awaiting a Chance for Life

Yeah, yeah, there are plenty of people who would object to my characterization of this story, but I can't think of a more apt way to put it than my subject for this post:

The freezers of U.S. fertility clinics are bulging with about 400,000 frozen human embryos, a number several times larger than previous estimates, according to the first national count ever done, released today.

The unexpectedly high number -- by far the largest population of frozen human embryos in the world -- is the byproduct of a booming fertility industry whose success depends on creating many embryos but using only the best. Although most of the embryos are being held for possible use by the couples who wanted them, a large proportion will never be needed, experts said. ...

"Some people just can't cope with the decision [of what to do with their surplus embryos]," said Pamela Madsen, executive director of the American Infertility Association, a New York-based patient education and advocacy organization. "Even though their religious or moral perspectives about when life begins are all very individual and different, still most of them will agree that their embryos are very special."

Still wondering why so many people won't give rational thought to when, exactly, the "magical moment" of life begins? Well, imagine having to face the killing of dozens of your children once you've admitted that they came into existence upon conception. That's quite a motivator for willful delusion, and we can only pray that it isn't so powerful as to persuade people to Peter Singer–like lengths.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:57 AM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:44 AM EST


Wednesday, May 7, 2003

I'm Still Not Convinced... Less So, Even

Instapundit points out that there are new posts on the blog of "Iraqi blogger" Salam Pax.

I'm still skeptical. Even taking into account that we in the West might approach media and notoriety in an entirely different manner, there's just an underlying trait to Salam's posts that strikes me as odd. They read like fiction — not the subject matter, but the tone and the distancing of the author from the narrator. Nowhere does he mention his fame, of sorts, before the war. In one post he describes a meeting with New York Times reporter John Burns, who was looking for translators, during which Salam and a friend thought the whole experience seemed like a 70s porn movie. No mention whatsoever of even thinking or wondering about how Burns would react if Salam told him who he was. No wondering about the implications of freedom for his anonymity, after the blogging world spent so many pixels worrying that his notoriety might get him killed?

I don't know. I can't guess but so much about what it's like to be from and in Iraq, but it's all just a bit too removed from the realities of Hussein country for me to be confident that Salam is for real. I guess we'll see.

Sheila Lennon notes that the John Burns section has been removed from Pax's blog! (Unfortunately, it's gone from the Google cache, too.) She (a blogger for the Providence Journal) also emailed Burns and received this reply: "I have no idea who this man is, and no interest at all in pursuing it."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:25 PM EST


The Message Is Out There: Watch Out Social Conservatives!

On NRO, Stanley Kurtz addresses perhaps the best (the only?) argument against Bill Bennett that goes beyond mask-removing glee at finding "dirt" on those who speak out on behalf of morality. But the breadth of this story has gone way out of control.

How many readers/viewers, do you suppose, had to be reminded who Bennett is and was when this story surfaced? I'd say quite a few. I wouldn't be surprised, either, if some of those who are currently prancing around pretending, in print, that Bill Bennett's gambling justifies their own lifestyles weren't sure who he was when they were handed this noisemaker to play with. Heck, relatively conservative, and Catholic, RI radio talk host Dan Yorke went on about Bennett's hypocrisy and couldn't remember which Secretary position he had held.

Adding this to the Santorum ordeal-in-a-bottle, I'd say social conservatives — even relatively unknown ones (although not as unknown as me...) — ought to be on their guard. The liberals, the libertarians, and the libertines are on the prowl. Given my ever-increasing confidence in the American people, however, I'm of the opinion that all of the dancing around the camp-fire spit will ultimately hurt those engaging in it — and their causes. It certainly doesn't cast them in a very attractive light.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:23 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:37 AM EST


Tuesday, May 6, 2003

And there you go...

"Rape fattens on the fantasies of the normal male like a maggot on garbage."

— Becky Lockwood, the associate director of the Rape Crisis Services and Violence Prevention programs at the Everywoman's Center, pitching for funding at the UMass Amherst "Take Back the Night" Rally.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:57 PM EST


The Problem with Quick Conclusions

Honestly, if I were (entirely) unemployed, I'm sure I'd be much less charitable than Victor toward rich folk (direct links aren't working; look for the post beginning, "You know the rich...). However, I think he jumped a bit too quickly to his conclusion that people fixing up their old cars rather than buying new (or near new) ones is obviously indicative of disparity of wealth. Here's my comment:

Now, I'm not sticking up for people who blow inordinate amounts of money on horseless wagons, nor am I suggesting that you're entirely wrong. BUT, reacting merely through the lens of my own financial calculus, I wonder:

1. Could it be, also, that there are new semi-expensive toys for which middle-class folks are willing to forego the upgrade to another new car that is largely indistinguishable from other new cars (or year-old cars)? A thousand bucks or so for a decent computer upgrade every couple years isn't exactly a new car, but it isn't peanuts either. Then throw in the digital camera and the all-in-one print/scan/copy/fax and the smart-handheld-device, and you've got a whole lot of reasons that the transport device in the driveway doesn't need to make the neighbors jealous. (Personally, I think such a trend is a good thing, if it exists, because the gadgets are more useful than yet another set of wheels.)

2. Are more people working from home or striving to be one-income households? We just sold one of our cars because, since I've been working from home, it just sits in the driveway.

3. Are cars lasting longer and/or offering fewer new gadgets to make the latest models must-have?

I don't know. I get ticked about the waste of rich people (particularly on an island on which I can't find an affordable house to buy, but there are plenty of largely unoccupied summer homes) when I think about it, too, but it doesn't make me anti-capitalist.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:55 PM EST


Dropping Your Buddy from the Cliff

Mark of Minute Particulars (in a post called "JAMAIS AUCUNE BETE NE L'AURAIT FAIT") relates a couple of survival stories, the first of which is truly goosebump-giving. Mark tells it well, so rather than summarize the ordeal, I'll advise you just to go read it (it's pretty short, anyway).

Back? Okay, here's what comes to mind for me — in fact, I was just thinking about such scenarios while I walked the dogs, for some reason: all of those movies in which the hero sacrifices himself to save others ("Go on without me! I'll hold them off as long as I can!") Personally, if I were the friend dangling off a cliff and, after an hour, I'd proven unable to either climb my way to the top or secure myself and hold most of my own weight — meanwhile, with my friend apparently losing ground with each passing minute — I like to think that I'd yell for him to cut the rope.

Of course, I hope never to find out what I'd do in either circumstance.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:49 PM EST


Not Just the Boys: They're After the Fathers, Too

Stephen Baskerville has a chilling article on NRO today about how big-government programs have transitioned from "helping ensnared wives" (as the proponents likely said at the time) to "helping children victimized by divorce" (as they are likely saying now) in such a way as to expand the government's power into the very cracks of our families:

From a public-policy standpoint, there is one reason why marriage has deteriorated: Thirty years ago, with no public discussion, "no-fault" divorce laws effectively abolished marriage as a legal contract. Anyone can now rip up a marriage agreement for any reason without accepting any liability for the consequences. Today, many divorces are enacted over the objection of one spouse. Almost all divorces involving children are initiated by the mother, who can expect to get not only the children but the cash that comes with them. The fathers then become criminally liable for financing, at extortionate levels, children they seldom or never see — even if they did nothing to bring about the divorce.

That was the part that all people concerned with the sanctity of the family should have no trouble opposing. But here's the chilling and enraging part:

In January, HHS announced $2.2 million in grants to faith-based groups to "improve the financial and emotional well being of children." Assistant Secretary Wade Horn says the grants "reach out to those who need help in acquiring the skills necessary to build relationships." Yet only 25 percent of the funds will promote marriage; the rest will deputize private groups to collect child support, though the therapy and the policing are often indistinguishable. The Marriage Coalition, a "faith-based organization" in Cleveland, will receive $200,000 to aid the feds with child support.

Much of the therapy in question isn't for the children; it's for the fathers. As much as I support faith-based initiatives, and admitting that I haven't made such a study of this specific aspect of them that I'm willing to take Baskerville entirely at his word, it seems to me that this is a perfect example of why, even when we agree with stated objectives and methods, expansion of government is to be viewed with the utmost suspicion.

More and more, I'm thinking that this country needs a leader who will stand for principle and declare that enough is enough. Unfortunately, G.W. Bush, as much admiration as I have for him, does not appear to be that leader. In his defense, however, I should note that I believe him to be a good step toward a change in government for which the American people are not yet ready, no matter how much they need it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:11 PM EST


Gambling as a Hidden Tax on the Poor

There's an interesting back and forth going on in the Corner about state lotteries (start here and go up). Ramesh Ponnuru objects to them as both distasteful and unfair. Jonah Goldberg seems to object mainly as a matter of morals — the state is taking advantage of people through a game that always goes to the house. Andrew Stuttaford, on the other hand, casting his position almost as a matter of church/state separation, defends the practice.

But none of these worthy pundits notes that, in practice, lotteries act as a tax targeting that section of society that can afford it least. I've worked and lived in areas, while a smoker making frequent trips to the convenience store, where I saw people — knew people — throwing down what had to amount 5% of their salaries on lottery tickets. (I derive that figure from a $25-per-week habit in the late 80s/early 90s.)

Now, I personally have nothing against casinos in Connecticut or "video slots" in Newport (RI), even though the same people who spend so much on lottery tickets spend more there (and even though my first impression of Foxwoods Casino in Conn. was drawn from the weeping elderly couple in the parking lot on my way in) because it is their choice to throw that money away. However, for the government to be generating income through this means is appalling.

The parallel isn't to "sin taxes," because the lottery isn't a matter of the state taxing a transaction between private parties. Rather, a more proper analogy to lotteries would be state owned and operated tobacco companies and liquor stores. This actually doesn't quite work, either, because gambling is a restricted activity even for adults — perhaps more like government pot distribution...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:43 PM EST


A Worldview Is Born

Some items in the news don't merit specific mention because they are either distinct and relatively minor or absolutely expected. In coming across three such items in close proximity this afternoon, it occurred to me that these are the things that contribute to my worldview. Frankly, I'm baffled as to how those who disagree with me on certain points address them. (I suspect that, for many, the answer is that they don't address them.)

France seems to have offered direct assistance to Ba'athist leaders in order to help them escape U.S.–new Iraqi justice:

The French government secretly supplied fleeing Iraqi officials with passports in Syria that allowed them to escape to Europe, The Washington Times has learned. ...

The passports are regarded as documents of the European Union, because of France's membership in the union, and have helped the Iraqis avoid capture, said officials familiar with intelligence reports.

The article ends with a report that Congress is considering instituting economic sanctions against Syria. Could somebody please stick a rider on that bill that reads, "And France, too"?

Meanwhile, President Bush is seeming wiser than some might admit with regard to the Kyoto kookiness:

"While lecturing everybody else, especially America, on the morality of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it has been abundantly clear from the start that most European countries didn't have a snowflake in hell's chance of meeting their own Kyoto targets."

Now, some countries are "on course" (we'll see how that turns out as the reductions cease to represent brushing off excess), but I'm sure some states could be, as well. Interestingly, Russia might have incentive to increase its greenhouse gas production "because some of its prominent scientists apparently believe climate change could be beneficial to the country."

And finally, the Catholic Church has proven not immune to the tragic anti-Christian violence in the Far East. I offer my prayers for the two never-to-be priests, and I pray that the Western world is able to see clearly enough to prevent further murders of this sort.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:59 PM EST


On Catching Up

There's just something so refreshing about finally catching up with one's schedule. Of course, I seem to have a tendency to celebrate long enough to fall behind again.

I'm going to make a concerted effort not to do so this time around. Blogs to come.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:39 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 05/06/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "David Melech" by Mozaik.

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:54 AM EST


Just Thinking 05/05/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Keepin' the Boys in the Game," about addressing the declining percentage of men attending universities.

This column grew from a discussion in which I participated on Erin O'Connor's blog that is well worth reading if the topic interests you.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:11 AM EST


Monday, May 5, 2003

Something in the Air

Man, have I got spring fever! I just can't get my head together today, and nothing is motivating me to write about it.

Not that the news is helping in this regard. I mean, Bill Bennett's gambling? Come on! The only thing remotely interesting about the whole ordeal is that, in last week's episode of Frasier, Frasier's ex-agent, Bebe, won him back by posing as Dr. Phil's (yeah, the Oprah guy) agent. At the end, we find out that Phil, famous for his tough methods of therapy, played along to pay off a gambling debt to Bebe in such a way that his wife wouldn't find out about his habit.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:40 PM EST


Sunday, May 4, 2003

Sunday Correspondence

I just spent some time responding to an email that I think was sent in response to my 4/28 Just Thinking column that raised a point worth clarifying here, as well. Here's my email:

I think I must have failed to convey what I mean by the implications of "arbitrariness" for civil rights to you. The "moral case for gay civil rights" is obvious, in my opinion, in the same sense that civil rights for blacks and women are now obvious: it oughtn't be used as a point of discrimination in situations in which it is arbitrary. In other words, it would be immoral to declare that homosexuals could not vote or own property. The point that I was trying to make vis-a-vis federalism was that laws preventing gays from working to change the laws of their communities/states/countries would be a separate matter from laws that address behavior that is itself separate from the civic system.

In this light, sexual orientation belongs on your list [including race, gender, color, ethnic origin, religion, pregnancy, age, and disability], but only in an equal capacity to the other qualities. It depends what it is you're placing as the particulars of "gay civil rights." To my experience, many advocates of that cause go much too far in loosening the definitions with which they define rights and discrimination. Even with the Texas sodomy case, which has the added layer of dispute that heterosexual sodomy is not illegal, it's still the case that those of a heterosexual orientation would not be able to legally engage in homosexual sodomy. Similarly, homosexuals are not forbidden from heterosexual marriage. The usual reaction to this is, "Gee, thanks!" But substitute any of the other qualities that you list as protected, and you'll see that homosexuality is unique in that respect in this case (i.e., in none of the other categories is marriage forbidden within or across groups).

This, in my view, is the central argument: gay marriage is something new, with undeniable social consequences. Therefore, the argument ought to be made on a social level, involving legislation and beginning at the local/state level so that everybody in the country can pursue their own visions of society to the greatest extent in their own communities. Presenting gay marriage in the language of "civil rights" and pushing it through the courts undermines this process.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:27 PM EST


Saturday, May 3, 2003

And History Falls Away

That's strange. I was just thinking about New Hampshire's famous mountain face because I thought it might make a good design element in the next Redwood Review. The face gained meaning for me when I read Nathaniel Hawthorne's fabulous short story, "The Great Stone Face".

Well, now it's gone. Odd how that happens — one day you've got an historical landmark, the next day only a story. We've each got our own, too, that nobody else knows to keep an eye on.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:15 PM EST


Dust in the Light Is Good for Your Health

Well, this isn't what you'd expect researchers to find:

War ... Famine ... Murder ... Mayhem. The world can seem a bleak place to consumers of the daily news. But paradoxically people who follow current affairs are less prone to depression and anxiety than people who have switched off.

"Feeling connected to the rest of humanity through reading newspapers and watching current affairs is good for your mental health," says Helen Berry, of the Mental Health Research Centre at the Australian National University.

So does that mean I can advertise a health benefit to reading Dust in the Light?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:57 PM EST


Friday, May 2, 2003

Good News for America

Good news like this for the black community is good news for the entire country:

* In 1980, 51 percent of blacks had a high school diploma. By 2002, that figure was 78.5 percent.

* In 1980, 8 percent of blacks had a bachelor's degree. By 2002, that figure was 17.4 percent. "The percentage of black Americans who have completed at least some college work or earned at least an associate degree is at an all-time high of 79 percent," the Washington Times noted.

* As education levels rise, so do incomes. "Married couples making more than $50,000 a year constitute 52 percent of the black population, with slightly more than half of those families earning more than $75,000 in annual income," the Times reported.

* Thirty-six percent of blacks live in the suburbs, up from 29 percent a decade ago.

* The percentage of black families led by husbandless women, which was about 50 percent in the mid-1990s, has fallen to 43 percent, the lowest percentage since at least 1980.

No matter what the complainers and worriers and haters say, the United States of America is headed toward a better future if we keep our course.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:15 PM EST


Remember This Bit of Unreporting

The next time you come across somebody using the "importance of a free press" argument to support some activity that is of a questionable nature, remember this bit of information:

In the May 5 Weekly Standard, Stephen F. Hayes summarized the story and added that American politicians also received cash: Rep. Jim McDermott, so memorably featured from Baghdad attacking President Bush as a liar last fall on ABC's This Week, accepted $5,000 for his legal defense fund from Shakir al-Khafaji, a Saddam supporter (and contractor with the Ba'athist regime) who arranged his Baghdad trip. Where are the national media on this developing storyline?

Although the Telegraph began reporting on documents showing Galloway's payoffs on April 22, it's been blacked out at ABC, CBS, NBC, as well as CNN, NPR, Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. But the outlets most responsible to follow the money trail to Galloway and other anti-war voices are the outlets who promoted them on American airwaves.

A free, "objective" press doesn't mean a thing if it's merely a tool for a certain point of view. This is obvious front-page news, yet it's hardly registering in the major media. Frankly, in my opinion, offering only convenient information that is amenable to a certain worldview is just as bad as printing half-truths. This story is HUGE. I predict that its fingers (if followed) will lead everywhere. For example, you may recognize the name "al-Khafaji" (or possibly "Alhafaji," from some sources) as the guy who bankrolled Scott Ritter's Iraq movie.

You want a scandal that dwarfs Watergate? You got it — but Big Media only wants it going in one direction. And that's why their days at the top are limited. A story like this cannot be sat on, and attempting to do so will end up undermining the credibility of all of those who make the attempt.

(Newsmax has more details about the McDermott angle [via Right Wing News].)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:31 AM EST


This May Be the Coolest Online Time-Waster That I've Seen Lately

Here's one of those ideas that seems so obvious... after somebody else does it: play solitaire with the most-wanted Iraqis deck!

(via Sheila Lennon)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:44 AM EST


On Their Own Time

This is one of those stories that makes you go, "huh?":

Gerica McCrary said she cried when she heard about the decision to hold a separate white-only prom only a year after she helped bring black and white students together in her rural high school's first integrated prom.

Many white students at Taylor County [Georgia] High School said they plan to attend next week's mixed prom, but a small number of whites said they also wanted a private party.

Of course, that "small number" have a right to hold whatever kind of private party they want, but their doing so seems like a last gasp rather than a recrudescence. It may be reasonably suggested that the issue would be moot if the school itself had had the guts, 31 years ago, to continue with an official — integrated — prom. On the other hand, I wonder how much the voluntary integration over decades contributed to the wisdom of mother/alumnus Glenda Latimore ('72):

She said relatives in Philadelphia and New Jersey laugh when they read about Taylor County's prom.

"It seems like it's something secret," she said. "The white people are afraid to speak up against the separation.

"But I went to a black prom and I had fun," she added. "It didn't kill me, so I tell my son, 'Just go to the prom and have fun. Don't come out hating anyone.'"

How much less racial animus would exist if more black leaders took Latimore's approach?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:24 AM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "A the Bronwyn Tale," by Andrew McNabb.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:36 AM EST


Thursday, May 1, 2003

The Power (and Accuracy) of Drudge

The Daily Record (in New Jersey) secures another link from Drudge by musing about the import of being "drudged." This bit jumped out at me:

For better or for worse, this is part of the way Americans -- especially Internet generation Americans -- get their "news."

It is a matter of deep concern that, due in part to the popularity of this site, The Drudge Report is just as capable of mass marketing misinformation as it is the facts. ...

[On the Web site of a small Connecticut newspaper, The Newton Bee, Bob] Brand's assessment is that Drudge's original material is "between 80 and 95 percent accurate." I don't know enough about it to say if that's valid.

Frankly, I'm not confident that the major media sources do much better than that, in the big picture... all things considered.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:59 AM EST


On Leadership and Facing Evil

I've come close, several times, to blogging about the letter that Pope John Paul II requested that Cardinal Angelo Sodano send to Castro on the topic of the Cuban dictator's recent crackdown on dissidents. However, it's just such a baffling piece of writing that I didn't know what to say and, therefore, wasn't confident that I'd say anything that worked toward the good of humankind (in my small way, of course). I mean:

I am sure that you also share with me the conviction that only a sincere and constructive confrontation between citizens and civil Authorities can guarantee the development of a modern and democratic State in an ever more united and fraternal Cuba.

I take advantage of this circumstance, Mr. President, to renew my sentiments of highest and distinguished consideration.

He's "sure" that Castro is interested in "constructive confrontation" toward a "democratic State"? The whole point of the letter was to express "profound distress" at the dictator's activities toward squelching such confrontation! The reason, however, that I haven't posted on this thus far is that Catholics are of different minds about what the degree of emphasis ought to be between judgment and fortitude against evil and persuading by example of complete mercy and forgiveness. To be sure, it can be a fine line to walk.

But then I read this:

John Paul II sketched the profile of an ideal political ruler as presented in the Bible, underlining that his action should be governed by "moral integrity" and "commitment against injustice." ...

Among the great moral virtues which make the action of the political ruler "luminous," the Holy Father highlighted "wisdom that helps to understand and judge well; innocence which is purity of heart and of life; and, finally, the integrity of conscience that does not tolerate compromise with evil." ...

Lastly, the biblical Psalm counsels the man of government to surround himself with faithful helpers, "people of integrity," thus rejecting "contact with anyone who practices deceit."

It may very well be a matter to bring up in confession, but given the letter to Castro and the Vatican's activities in support of Hussein's regime, I can't help but smirk at these characterizations of "an ideal political ruler."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:53 AM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:39 AM EST


What's Wrong with Adult Incest?

Something has vaguely bothered me about Stanley Kurtz's column on NRO today, and I think I've finally put my finger on it:

Our collective horror at incest-even adult incest-acts as a protective barrier against the temptation to incest with minors. The very real dangers of child abuse within families shows us that a significant number of people are potentially susceptible to sexual interest in the children under their control. Our collective taboo on incest, as expressed in our laws, helps to offset that potential temptation.

The mechanism here is embodied in the law, but goes well beyond the mere mechanical workings of the law. The real mechanism is collective and psychological. The law on incest expresses a shared moral value. It is a collective statement. As such, it reinforces a sense of disgust that helps to ward off temptation.

The first thing to note is that, since this piece makes the connection, via taboo, between incest and homosexuality, the bit about "collective horror" will be a rational-discussion ender with homosexuals, who will say, "So you want people to be disgusted by me as a 'buffer' to protect monogamy?" Essentially, the answer is "yes," but rhetorically, it's an honest opinion that ought to be avoided because the core, less offensive, point of view is too subtly different from this harsh phrasing to convey across disagreeing disputants.

More importantly, however, I think Kurtz leaves a huge gap in his argument by restricting the reason for our disgust with incest as having exclusively to do with child abuse. As he alludes, child abuse is an entirely separate matter that can be handled in an entirely separate fashion. There is the genetic reason that incest is bad, ranging from problems for individual children born of the practice to contravention of evolution. But genetics alone would not explain why relationships with a family member who is not related by blood, say a niece through marriage, are wrong. For that, the genetic issues can be translated into a sociological problem, too: our entire society is built upon familial relationships. Not only does this include relationships between families, engendering social cohesion, but also within families, where incest would blur and undermine the roles upon which our society fundamentally depends, not the least involving trust.

Trust raises another issue related to, but more important than (I'd say), sexual abuse of minors. The trust that our society encourages families to foster can be perverted in such a way as to "grow" adult incest from a relationship with a younger family member that is not sexual. Such a manipulation of emotion further serves to undermine the general understandings and common pinions of the entire society.

The manipulation also points to an issue that I think Kurtz allows to fall away in his concentration on his specific point about taboo: the emotional makeup of people. Of course, this is the "what" inherent in his suggestion that adultery can undermine a marriage, but I see it as a much more broadly crucial element in the whole debate — from incest, to polygamy, to adultery, to homosexuality. I've written before that the libertines' project is no less than the wholesale changing of human nature, and I believe that it is human nature that has been harnessed by our still current, but challenged, understanding of marriage and family.

I'll believe that a good portion of the 2–3% of people who are gay are genetically predisposed to prefer members of their own genders. But I haven't seen any evidence that such an argument expands out to preferences for multiplicity. Indeed, our social system is built — for good reason — in such a way as to discourage this sexual proclivity because it is incompatible with our emotional natures. It is this confusion between sex and emotion that seems to be at the heart of disagreements about homosexual marriage — indeed, about homosexuality — and it diminishes the import of the entire discussion to leave it out.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:20 AM EST


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