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Monday, June 30, 2003

Must Read from Mark Steyn

Yes, yes, I know everybody's linking it, but I've had the browser window open all day, so here's the must-read column from Mark Steyn about sundry matters related to the recent spat of Supreme Court rulings.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:26 PM EST


Just Thinking 06/30/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Waking Up to Dreams of an Ordinary Life," about making the adult decision to seek an ordinary life.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:49 PM EST


Andrew Sullivan: Dangerous Demagogue

I know! I know! I know I keep swearing off giving Andrew Sullivan the extra traffic tick of my IP address. But when I read this from David Frum, I just had to see what Sullivan was up to:

So we need to take preventive measures by writing marriage into the U.S. Constitution. Some proponents of same-sex marriage will say that this act is premature Ė they recommend that marital traditionalists wait until later, when it will of course be too late. Others take up the federalism argument, urging that each state be allowed to make its own decisions. In this case, though, federalism simply means letting the most liberal state in the country make policy for the other 49.

Well, here's the maniacal raving that Bill Frist's support for a marriage amendment to the Constitution inspired from Sullivan:

Tampering with the Constitution as a way to prevent states deciding, as they always have, what constitutes a legal marriage would be an assault on federalism, an assault on gay citizens, and the equation of the meaning of the United States with active discrimination against minorities.

It's true that Sullivan has argued that Frum is incorrect about the smoothness with which one state's legalization of gay marriage will become a federal reality. However, I've never seen him respond undismissively to counter-arguments after he's made his initial points. What is most disturbing about Sullivan's rant is the Ivy League–educated white European's attempt to leach rhetoric from very real and horribly serious issues that have roiled in this country since its founding. In the above passage, I'm referring to the "active discrimination against minorities." But in throwing out his demagogic net, Sullivan seeks to bring in another schismatically sized battle in the culture war:

I think Frist is also implying that only churches grant true marriage and that the state subsequently merely ratifies or acknowledges that sacred institution. Huh? Cannot atheists have civil marriage and view it as a simple human contract and a mark of citizenship - with no religious connotations whatsoever? Does Frist even acknowledge the full civic rights of non-believers at all, I wonder? The fact that the good doctor cannot apparently see a deep distinction between a religious marriage and a civil one shows, I guess, how close to theocracy today's Republicans have become.

Here's the simple truth: there can be no doubt that it would be foolish to use their small numbers as the guide for perspective about the impact of homosexual marriage and the debate about its legality. The first prerequisite to even considering the possibility of shifting the well-established meaning of marriage would be believable indications that this three percent of the population is not willing to burn down our entire society in order to reach their end. The indications are quite the opposite. Sullivan, for one, will pluck strings of racial friction; he will lead witch hunts for the "theocrats."

Moreover, he will lie. In trying to position himself as the reasonable one opposed to the fanaticism of Senator Frist, Sullivan writes, "this issue should be dealt with slowly and with democratic deliberation." Anybody who's read his work on this topic knows that, in order for this to fit within his broader position, Sullivan must define "democracy" as a system of government whereby judges in each state implement federal law.

Sullivan's definition of "theocracy" seems to be "rule by those who believe that marriage has always been between one man and one woman and that this arrangement is — in some way, vague or explicit — sacred." If that's the case, then the United States has never been otherwise than a "theocracy," and if you ask me, it's been a pretty successful one. The one thread of optimism that I have on this issue is that demagogues like Sullivan will push America away from the clutches of an explicitly atheistic judicial oligarchy back into the arms of a more sane and stable system of a representative democracy that is held firm by common sense rooted in a majority belief in a reality that expands beyond the individual's desires.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:10 PM EST


Sunday, June 29, 2003

You're Worth the Wait

Apart from some worthwhile statistics as well as some reason for optimism on behalf of the good guys (and gals) in the culture war, this article about a pro-abstinence convention in Las Vegas ends with a fantastic slogan:

"It doesn't matter who you are, what you believe. It's your body. It's your choice," said Galdamez, who spoke at the event. "You're worth the wait."

... and, I'll add for my daughter when she's old enough for such conversation, they aren't worth the risk and the loss.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:18 PM EST


Saturday, June 28, 2003

Ethnic Cleansing at Oxford

Get this — from a pathology professor, no less:

Mr Duvshani, who is in the last months of a master's degree in molecular biology, included a CV detailing his academic and outside experience, including his mandatory three-year national service in the Israeli army.

In a reply sent by email on June 23, Prof Wilkie wrote: "Thank you for contacting me, but I don't think this would work. I have a huge problem with the way that the Israelis take the moral high ground from their appalling treatment in the Holocaust, and then inflict gross human rights abuses on the Palestinians because they [the Palestinians] wish to live in their own country.

"I am sure that you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army. As you may be aware, I am not the only UK scientist with these views but I'm sure you will find another lab if you look around."

Wilkie — the impotent, foot-stamping mental gnome — admits that it was "a mistake." Well, yeah! He ought to lose his job over this, but I'll be surprised if he does. The dwindling set of reasons to have respect for academics as a group just decreased by one.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:26 PM EST


That's Our Pat!

My representative has become so famous as to be featured in a Chris Muir cartoon... as clueless...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:58 AM EST


Friday, June 27, 2003

One-Stop Snowballing in the Business World (Sorry... Shop Talk)

Craig Henry of Lead and Gold mentions a business-world concern that's been on my mind lately:

Ad Age (6-16-03) reports on a recent survey of big advertisers. One key finding is that on 43% of the clients think it is "very important" that "a single agency offer fully integrated services." This presents a problem for big agencies which have spent the last couple of decades acquiring a variety of firms in order to become a "one-stop shop" for big clients. Those agencies paid a premium to develop capabilities that most of their clients do not see as valuable.

"One stop shopping" is a convenience, and convenient channels are valuable only when the underlying good or service is unimportant or similar across outlets. Coke is Coke, so it makes sense to buy it where you shop for groceries or gas instead of making another stop. Has anyone every chosen a college solely because the campus was closer to the airport? "Gee, Oberlin is a great school, but Ohio State is much easier to get to. Guess I'll go there instead."

In most things, I'm a doityourselfer — for reasons both financial and having to do with interest (as well as an inordinate reaction to John Ruskin's suggestion in The Stones of Venice that artists and artisans ought to be able to put together a finished product on their own). However, when I do employ outside services, I make a point of separating aspects of a process, and it's for almost the opposite reason of wanting "specialists." To pick an example with which many of you might sympathize, if I found out that my high-speed Internet provider offered Web hosting, I would not seek to consolidate those bills.

A more on-point example: a friend of mine is in the process of self-publishing her first book. I copyedited the book and offered to put up a Web page for her. She had the cover designed by a small business in Newport, which turned out to be a member of some sort of coalition of small businesses that, all together, can essentially run your business for you. The cover designers sold my friend on their Web design services and then handed her off to a local "coalition" member for Web hosting.

Here's where the value of diversification comes in: almost by accident, I learned of my friend's arrangements — and that she was most of the way to a Web hosting agreement with undisclosed rates and services in an area in which cost of living and office space tends to make local hosts expensive. After a quick lesson about how the whole "Internet thing" works, my friend has decided to be her own Web master with some heavy assistance from me.

The moral is that a "one-stop shop" can get away with more unless the client happens to possess a high degree of knowledge about every step in the "stop." However, using different businesses for each step in a process will gain the client much more in overlapping expertise than it relinquishes in overlapping expenses. What I mean by this is that, even if I didn't offer, say, layout/production services for books, as a professional/freelance editor, I'd likely have some knowledge about that stage of the publishing process. It might not be much, but it'd be enough to know when things seem fishy. On the other end of the production company, a printer might pick-up the overlap where my knowledge ends. And if I did (as I do) production work myself, the client would have at least two points of reference to gauge prices and services, and I would have a reason other than actual friendship to raise "friendly" questions.

Craig is speaking at a much higher tier of the corporate world than I am, and I'll concede that it's likely that my point fades in significance as the breadth of the client company expands. Whatever the case, and whatever the reason for picking and choosing among companies, I think Craig has a brilliant idea:

Blogs, it seems to me, should be an integral part of that effort. They are superior to email or meetings for keeping a whole team up to speed and for thrashing out differences.

Now and then for my day job, I edit documents having to do with the third-party outsourcing of services (when a client hires a company that then hires another company to fulfill part of the contract). In the world of high-tech and information technology, these contracts can become intricate, making it difficult to discern who is in charge of the overall project. From the vendor/provider point of view, this becomes the all-important question of who "owns" the contract — which company is the irreplaceable hub? It seems to me that taking the initiative to set up a blog, while raising the risk of leakage of intellectual/talent leverage, would place that company immediately at the center of the project.

The way I'm envisioning it, such a procedure might be of very limited application. But for something as fluid as the publishing process, for example, a cross-stage blog would certainly move the process along — as well as give each person in the process extra involvement through which to spot strange goings on.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:21 PM EST


Hopefulness and Ignorance

Apart from some optimistic words for aspiring writers, John Derbyshire's blog-like column today presents this as an indication that his entire worldview could be incorrect:

Now along comes Philippe Legrain in The New Republic with a fine contrarian piece arguing that The U.S. is falling behind Europe and will continue to do so! "While living standards in the United States have risen by a healthy 16.1 percent over the past eight years, they are up 18.3 percent in the European Union... Not only does the European Union as a whole outpace the United States [in labor productivity, 1990-2002], so do ten of the 14 individual EU member states for which statistics are available." Holy triumphalism, Batman! Could it be that my entire worldview is just totally wrong?

I don't know where Legrain got those numbers from, and I ain't gonna give The New Republic money in order to find out, but I seem to recall looking into a similar factoid not long ago. The trick lies in the thing being described: "living standards." What's included in that? For one thing, you'll likely find "percentage of the week spent working," or somesuch, that would make a country such as France look like... ahem... a worker's paradise. It's also probable that "free healthcare" would boost the numbers, without taking into account the quality or efficiency of that care (or, to be sure, the necessity of relying on American medical ingenuity).

All of this goes to show that one can have "a clue what's going on," but that it takes a great deal of thought and research. The majority of pundits (although particularly liberal ones, to my experience) simply look at partial pictures — whichever part supports what they want to believe. Perhaps Derb's poet friend's saying should go like this instead: "Very few are willing to admit what's actually going on. Some people fake objectivity better than others, that's all."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:24 PM EST


Ladies and Gentlemen: My Representative and Fellow Townsman

How embarrassing:

After presidential candidate Howard Dean spoke, Kennedy delivered an impassioned peroration against President Bush's tax cut. We hear that Kennedy told the crowd: "I don't need Bush's tax cut. I have never worked a [bleeping] day in my life."

And note that Kennedy's spokesman thinks the bleeped word to be the jaw-dropping part of that statement.

It's time for new representation in my home state, I'd say.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:52 AM EST


Good and Bad In Punnuru

By way of agreement and disagreement with Ramesh Punnuru, I offer two quotes:

Most states have dropped their laws against sodomy, as they should have; but the Court somehow construes this process of change as something in which it needs to intervene rather than as evidence that it need not.

Well said. The court threw its arm around this issue and walked with it through the swinging door of change in such a way as to imply that it has the authority to decide when the door may open and close.

I agree with Justice Thomas that the Texas law was "uncommonly silly." We should rejoice in the fact of its demise, but not the manner.

I don't altogether disagree with this, inasmuch as I wouldn't support sodomy laws in my own state, but it strikes me as odd to suggest that "we should rejoice" over an issue such as this. Rejoice? Now, that's silly. And dangerous: consider the form that celebrations have probably taken.

I'll tell you: with every action on this front, I'm noticing myself moving further and further to the political and social right. I can't be alone in that, and I'm beginning to wonder whether the plea for magnanimity from the side currently winning the culture war shouldn't be seen more as advice. I don't buy the argument that social conservatives have forced homosexuals to go further in their quest than they would have if offered a compromise. However, I do worry about the backlash if they go too far. I'll promise you this: I'll be very vocal in demanding temperance, tolerance, and magnanimity from my side when and if it comes to that.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:47 AM EST


The Vision That the Supreme Court Killed: Compromise

I thought I'd link to the column that I wrote about the Santorum controversy. In essence, the Supreme Court seems intent on making contentious social issues all-or-nothing battles:

I'm not leaning on the thoughtless crutch of relativism, here. Rather, in a world in which we all must interact at some level, resolving conflicting worldviews is crucial. This is especially true for divergent opinions about the appropriate roles and interactions of society and the individual. I think we forget, too easily, that enabling the coexistence of ideologically diverse citizens is a central objective of the United States. My vision of our country's purpose is as one that leads the way to enabling all people of all varying views to live and resolve differences peacefully.

Such an outcome is impossible unless "tolerance" is taken to mean a willingness to work with people when possible and, otherwise, to seek to move areas of disagreement down toward the community level so all can find somewhere --- within their own country --- to do their own thing. When the battle between irreconcilable views is made to be winner take all, truth becomes subservient to power and honest dealing collapses under deceit. The strength of arguments and the development of evidence among those willing to experiment become less important than a single word inserted by a hostile interviewer.

Watch for a new era of social upheaval and civil unrest that makes the sixties look like summer camp. Increasingly, the only question is becoming how far into submissive silence large segments of the American population are willing to sink before things get ugly. My guess: not far.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:27 AM EST


The "Unbiased" Media on Strom Thurmond

New York Times headline:

Strom Thurmond, Foe of Integration, Dies at 100

ABCNews on the radio this morning presented its quick mention of the Senator's death in much the same spirit — one of the enemies has died. John Miller offers a bit of a correction to that in the Corner (info that the Times sort of touches on way down):

Hereís what [Walter Russell] Mead wrote [in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago]: "For all his staunch conservatism and angry rhetoric, Mr. Helms is one of a handful of Southern statesmen who ensured the triumph of the civil-rights revolution." Mead continued: "Once the civil-rights legislation of the 1960s was enacted, Mr. Helms--along with some of his erstwhile segregationist colleagues like South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond--did something very revolutionary for Southern white populists. He accepted the laws and obeyed them." Helms and Thurmond "shunned violence," "hired African-American staffers and gave African-Americans the same level of constituency service they gave whites," and based their opposition to racial preferences on principle rather than racism.

Look, I don't know much about Strom Thurmond, and I'm certainly not a "follower" of his, but shouldn't supposedly objective media accounts be more, well, objective? And to the extent that they offer any twist at all, shouldn't it be respect for the dead and thanks for his service to the country? Even overtly conservative media didn't run headlines like, "Paul Wellstone, Foe of Limited Government, Dies."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:03 AM EST


Why I Disappeared

By way of explanation of why I've been a bit light on the posts: today, I'm sending the files for the next Redwood Review. Single-handedly publishing a literary review can be a bit time consuming. On the bright side, I should be able to get the online version up next week, so you'll have a whole bunch more real stuff (as opposed to this blog stuff) to read.

Incidentally, on the nuclear finds in Iraq, I haven't commented because it continues to be useless. Most supporters of the war honestly don't need more than has already been discovered. On the other hand, those who opposed the war will accept nothing short of what they know is extremely unlikely to be found: a warehouse full of weaponized chemicals or biological agents inside missiles that can reach the United States... or something.

As for the unspeakable damage that the Supreme Court has done to our nation over the past few days, I think Mark Shea has said it best:

...if we act soon, then analysis of the Court's actions has the hope of being a diagnosis of a very sick society. If we sit around and do nothing, the analysis of the Court's actions will have the character of an autopsy.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:21 AM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from A Whispering Through the Branches," by Justin Katz.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:02 AM EST


Thursday, June 26, 2003

Temperance Before I Go

I had wanted to offset that previous post with something on another topic. Unfortunately, we're out of food and have to run to the store, so it'll have to wait.

I do want to note, before I go, that there seems to me to be a natural human inclination to see the world in two ways: personally and intellectually, and finding the balance is a challenge for every social issue. Each point of view has negatives. Intellectually, one can conceive of all sorts of crazy conspiracies and justify all sorts of horrid policies. Personally, one can disbelieve the real effects of broad social policies that don't immediately affect one's life.

I'll return.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:46 PM EST


No White Flag

When I read the following paragraph in John Derbyshire's column yesterday, I started the clock for the incredulous Andrew Sullivan dismissal:

In this sense, the problem is not homosexuals or homosexuality. I am sure that God loves homosexuals and has a purpose for them. (I even think that their prowess in the "caring professions" offers some clue as to what that purpose might be.) The problem is the sexual revolution. The problem is hedonism. The problem is the preening vanity and selfishness of "coming out," of parading private inclinations, of a kind that repel normal people, as if those inclinations were, all by themselves, marks of authenticity and virtue, of suffering and oppression. A large part of the problem, too, is "heterophobia" — the dislike, mistrust, and contempt which many homosexuals feel towards normal people.

Well, the clock's still running, but I thought I'd mention my certainty that many an angry homosexual would be quick to rail at what they'll see as Derb's suggestion that "gays get back in the closet" in the context of Robert Knight's response to Jonah Goldberg's "Surrender, Fellow Conservatives" column (note: that's not the real title):

Mr. Goldberg, who disparaged the French people as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," and has written some witty stuff from time to time, suggests that it is time for us to pull down the flag and surrender to "gay" militants. In the face of a velvet onslaught from less than 2 percent of the population, he counsels conservatives to make "some painful capitulations - intellectual, moral, philosophical and financial."

I don't know about the cheese part, but Mr. Goldberg seems himself to have warmed to the role of "surrender monkey."

He then asks homosexual activists to show "magnanimity in victory." To paraphrase Bugs Bunny, "he don't know them very well, do he?"

In response to Knight, Ramesh Ponnuru comes to Jonah's defense in the Corner with this:

Robert Knight's screed against Jonah would be a lot more persuasive if a) he suggested a plausible strategy by which gay marriage or civil unions could be stopped or b) his own career of fighting gay rights had shown any success.

His first "if" would be valid, perhaps, if the Goldberg column to which Knight had been responding had offered any suggested strategies of its own. It did not; it merely cited evidence that the battle was over. This applies partially to the second "if" as well. What difference does Knight's personal success make? Some might argue that this bit of data only indicates that he needs reinforcements or a new strategy to keep the fight going.

And as for the subtle (unintentional?) propagandic slur that Knight has been "fighting gay rights," that could have come directly from an Andrew Sullivan rant. Ah... there's the connection. Goldberg seems always, when arguing with Sullivan, not to neglect to mention their friendship. It's all too muddy to sketch as yet (at least to me), but I just can't shake the "club" feeling — the sense that all of these arguments about society-changing (sometimes society-threatening) topics are merely games of squash to the byliners. I'd like to see, for example, some comment of this quick note on Sullivan's site:

RELATED ADVERTIZING LINKS: You know opponents of equal marriage rights are in trouble when an editorial against them is followed by ads touting "Casual Civil Unions in Vermont" and "In Depth: Homophobia." And in the Washington Times no less! The market trumps ideology every time.

The ads appear to have changed, although I did note that similar ad links are located at the bottom of Goldberg's column for today. But what's important here is that Sullivan is getting his surprised giggle from the fact that the Washington Times accepted advertisements (and somebody thought to pay for the ads) contrary to an editorial position. Consider that in light of Knight's list of instances of the homosexual lobby not being "magnanimous," particularly this one:

[Goldberg] doesn't mention the man who took out an ad in a Saskatchewan newspaper listing five Bible verses about homosexuality. The man was fined $4,500, as was the publisher. The money was awarded to three homosexual men who didn't like the ad.

Also consider it in light of the fact that the pro-gay-marriage argument of the week among conservatives (including Sullivan) was that the relative numbers simply made it impossible for gay marriage to adversely affect marriage as a whole. It seems to me that conservative defenders of gay marriage (or capitulators thereto) have painted themselves into a corner (no pun intended): they argue that the number of homosexuals precludes influence, but they also argue that the homosexual lobby's influence is too strong to resist. Little wonder that they have fallen back on imploring gays to be "magnanimous."

Sullivan, today, declares breathlessly (in response to the Supreme Court's sodomy ruling), "I can feel freedom dawning in this land again. The struggle of so many for so long is beginning to come true. What a privilege, what a joy, to be alive to witness it." I don't know that I've ever read Sullivan offer a magnanimous note. Any argument that advances his cause is fair game. Even assuming that he'll be a voice against his fellow homosexuals' going too far with their advantage (and I, for one, am not willing to give him that kind of credit in advance), his strategy amounts to pushing the boulder over the cliff and then worrying about what it'll land on.

Me, I'm worried. I'm pretty sure that I've lost readers as well as the good will of some influential bloggers over this issue. Even allowing for the possibility that I'm not seeing ways in which my arguments are unreasonable, I cannot for the life of me discern any inclination among many opinion makers to even consider possible consequences of the dramatic social change that is being foisted upon us, whether their motivation is ideological or sociocentric.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:18 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 @ 07:38 AM EST


Wednesday, June 25, 2003

On a Lighter Note


US authorities in Iraq have been forced to change the name of the planned Iraqi armed forces, after learning that the original title they came up with created an unfortunate acronym in Arabic.

The planned force was originally entitled the New Iraqi Corps, whose initials in Arabic produce a colourful synonym for fornication.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:41 AM EST


"You Drink, We Drive"

What a great idea:

You call us up. You tell us where and when you want to be picked up. scooterMAN will be there. He will arrive on a miniature foldaway scooter. The scooter is then put in a sealed bag in the boot of your car. scooterMAN then drives you home. Simple.

(via Sheila Lennon)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:39 AM EST


The Value of Analogy

Lane Core's got a good way of explaining how Democrats think tax cuts ought to work:

50,000 people go to a baseball game, but the game was rained out. A refund was then due.

But to whom?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:34 AM EST


The Blessing That Never Should Have Been

We live in a society in which this is not considered a deplorable contradiction:

Willy Fields, a sanitation worker, rushes home to spend time with Jade every day after work.

"I can't wait to get home to see her, to see her smiling and I know she's not the healthiest girl in the world, but, you know, what she feels I feel, 'cause she's my heart," says Willy. "That's all I can say; she's my heart."


"Jade is the best thing that could have ever happened to us, I mean she's our foundation, she's our rock. But if we had known, I didn't have an option," says Cynthia, who would have had an abortion if she knew about Jadeís condition.

"When looking at this child, first question is, why wasn't anything picked up on the sonogram," says Rachelle Harz, the malpractice lawyer who took the Fields' case. Harz won nearly $1.7 million dollars for the Fields when they settled their wrongful birth case out of court.

These people and their lawyers are dirt. First reason:

Are these suits driving good doctors out of the profession?

"I think they are. I think what's happened is physicians now are held to a level that perhaps many people could not see in their own life, they're basically held to perfection," says Shwayder.

And that standard, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, is a major problem for doctors. They currently list twelve states where malpractice suits have caused insurance premiums to increase so much that they threaten to drive obstetricians out of business.

Second, in many ways more important, reason:

The disabled child that parents claim would have been "better off dead" might be severely retarded, like Jade Fields, or might be like 9-year-old Ryan Powers, who is also one of Harz's clients. After his parents won an out of court settlement, his story was profiled in "The Record," a New Jersey newspaper.

Ryan was born with spina bifida, and is paralyzed from the waist down. But mentally, he's normal. He's mainstreamed in a Catholic school, and on his last report card, his mother Karen told us he got straight A's. She didn't want to talk on camera about the wrongful birth lawsuit she brought against her doctor, saying she wanted "to put all that behind us." ...

"It seems as though we're questioning not only the value of life, but the value of people who are not perfect," says Anita Allen-Castellito, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a bio-ethicist.

Castellito worries that Ryan will be damaged emotionally if he learns that his mother testified that she would have had an abortion if she had known about his condition.

"Realistically how many children are going to hear that complicated story as opposed to the simpler message that 'I didn't want you, you're disabled, I didn't want a disabled child,'" says Castellito.

Of course, it's all about the money. Who pays? What are the costs to society?

Who cares?

(via Right Wing News)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:31 AM EST


Fishing for Dollars

So, when the state government has gotten so far out of hand that even apathetic Rhode Islanders begin to notice, what's the solution? Why, quietly instituted hidden taxes, of course!

The surprise legislative proposal, dropped into the budget endorsed last Friday night by the House Finance Committee, would require saltwater anglers to buy a fishing license, just as freshwater anglers do, at a cost of $18 annually for a state resident, $35 annually for a nonresident, or $16 for a three-day "tourist" pass.

If the saltwater licenses were structured like freshwater ones, they would be required for anyone 16 or older. Elderly and disabled residents could get free lifetime licenses.

The change, which would take effect July 1 if passed, was never the subject of a public hearing.

Hey, it's only a few bucks a year; citizens don't even need to have a say, because — really — who could object to the government's voting itself a new source of revenue? And besides:

"We have some people whose districts have a pond less than a quarter-mile away from the shore and they have to buy a license for that and not the shore," [House Finance Committee Chairman Paul Sherlock, D-Warwick] says.

Oh! It's only a matter of fairness. But wait a sec:

[director of the state Department of Environmental Management, Jan] Reitsma says one key problem is that the money raised would go into the state's general fund, rather than a dedicated account to pay for fishing habitat improvements, as freshwater license fees do.

Rhode Islanders: get these lying scumbags out of office!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:21 AM EST


My State Is So Screwed Up

The problem in Rhode Island is that the people are so turned around ideologically, so confused by the conflicting demands of the region's liberalism, that they can't muster the will to protest anything that doesn't very specifically target them. Add in the blend of union power, the high proportion of academics, the rich shoreliners, the mobsters, and the tourism moguls, and you've got a population with enough money not to care too much about government waste (and government skimming) and sufficiently insulated from the real effects of their feel-good politics not to understand why money just won't fix it or why that slice of society caught between wealth and poverty objects to additional payments.

And that is why the entrenched crooks in state and local government get away with pretending those who object to their actions don't exist:

WPRO radio talk-show host Dan Yorke brought his microphone -- and about four dozen of his sign-toting listeners -- to the State House yesterday to cheer Republican Governor Carcieri on in his head-butting battle with state lawmakers over the state budget.

"Don't you feel . . . the con job?" Yorke asked the shirt-sleeved governor, who joined him at the microphone in a marble hallway, halfway between the House and Senate chambers.

"It's, 'Hey Don. Hey. You're a good guy.' But, you know what? You don't got a rat's . . . chance of getting anything done. I mean, that's what's going on in this building," Yorke told the governor on air. "You're not getting any respect."

"Well, it's not just me. OK? It's all of these people. It's all of us," Carcieri said to cheers from the ragtag crowd of talk-show fans in Bermuda shorts and sneakers and T-shirts that, in the case of Joe Faella from Johnston, read: "The Budget Sucks."

"I think what happens -- and what these people don't realize," Carcieri said of the state's overwhelmingly Democratic lawmakers, "and I realized shortly after I got here, is that what happens within the four walls of this building often bears little relationship with how people feel or what people care about outside this building.

A large part of the problem is that state workers get their raises and increases in benefits without reference to what's going on with the economy... except when the economy is doing well. In that case, they feel the lift in proportionate disproportionality. Check out this bit of bull from a state Democrat that ought to be considered criminally obfuscatory:

In interviews earlier in the day, House Finance Chairman Paul V. Sherlock, D-Warwick, and Deputy Finance Chairman Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, denounced the increase in pension contributions as a "tax on one segment of the Rhode Island work force . . . [the] people who take care of people in our hospitals, the people who teach our children in schools . . . all the people who are meeting the needs of the state."

They defended their decisions to increase school aid by $15 million; undo the cutbacks and constraints that Carcieri sought in state payments to the people who run child-care centers, hospitals and senior centers; and leave Newport Jai Alai, the Lincoln dog track and the owners of the greyhounds that race there with enough money to stay and expand.

"To simply say he didn't raise taxes and we did is disingenuous. A tax is a tax is a tax," said Costantino, asserting that Carcieri's efforts to freeze some local aid payments would have forced cities and towns to raise their own local property taxes -- "the most regressive tax there is."

This is how stupid Rhode Island's leaders think their "subjects" are. The government can't cover the costs of its runaway spending? Well then, not to raise taxes on the average person (who has been struggling owing to the economy, and whose plight isn't being helped by the weather's effects on the tourism industry) would be to raise taxes on those whom the government pays. What a scam! In my view, this state representative is no less a liar, no less a con artist, than the grifter on the street.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:12 AM EST



For some reason, the news that I found on my daily jaunt around the Internet this morning has really driven my blood pressure off the scale. If you're reading this page from the bottom up, be aware of the frame of mind of the guy who wrote what you are about to read. If you're reading this page from the top down, well, now you know.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:51 AM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:38 AM EST


Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Lack of Blogginess

I wanted to offer a quick apology for the dearth of posts so far this week. There are — and aren't there always — a variety of reasons that I haven't been blogging away, ranging from a few enthusiasm-sapping email conversations to actually doing that work thing that helps to feed my family. But none of those reasons are out of the ordinary.

Mostly, I'm trying to finish up this year's edition of the Redwood Review to ship it off to the printer this Friday. As you can probably imagine, when you're a one-man operation (although the other writers have been great at helping me to quickly cover a funding deficit at the last minute), publishing a literary review can be just a little time consuming.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:20 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 06/24/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Scared" by Mr. Chu.

"Scared" Mr. Chu, Hard Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:58 AM EST


Let's Do, Ourselves, What the Supreme Court Refused to Do

I agree with David Frum: the Supreme Court decisions in the case of University of Michigan affirmative action feel like a defeat for progress toward a racism-free society. They are not, to be sure, the crushing defeat that some on the other side claim to have delivered, as Jonah Goldberg points out, but they do give the weasels of the academy room within which to wriggle.

My reaction, this "day after," is to say, "So be it." It's an unhealthy addiction to look to the Supreme Court, or the government in general, to resolve all issues of public conscience. Let society do what society's leaders refuse to do. This suggestion will take two broad forms:

1) Learning from Donald Rumsfeld and resorting to some straight-talk diplomacy. At its most explicit, this would involve calling the race-obsessed academics what they, in actuality, are: racists. Closed-minded bigots in robes. There's no two ways about it: they want to define Americans according to the color of their skin and construct policies accordingly. As with all bigotry, this is good for neither side, benefiting only the prejudices of the elite.

2) Wielding the free market. Expanding on the clarity encouraged in the previous point, it is obvious that we can no longer, in good conscience, patronize racist institutions. Would many folks send their children to a university that explicitly diminished the applications of blacks for admission? As consumers of the product of higher education, let's put a premium on race-blind admissions policies, making the lack of affirmative action a selling point for innovative college administrators.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:26 AM EST


Just Thinking 06/23/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Reality from Metaphor, I: Flooding the Village," my first attempt at a new game of sorts, wherein I develop an extended metaphor concerning a topic in the news and you try to figure out what it's meant to represent. (It shouldn't be but so difficult.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:01 AM EST


Monday, June 23, 2003

The Academic Fantasy World

I was going to comment on that whiteness-studies article, but the whole thing is just so ludicrous. Not the least frustrating is the degree to which the entire process by which the content of such courses are translated to the average person (with the academy hand-in-hand with the media) so dramatically distorts what is being taught in order to make it sound reasonable. Dig just a very little bit, and you see that the entire process is malicious in nature.

Moreover, it's entirely false — entirely fabricated. Lane Core quotes the following:

Naomi Cairns was among the leaders in the privilege walk, and she wasn't happy about it.

The exercise, which recently involved Cairns and her classmates in a course at the University of Massachusetts, had two simple rules: When the moderator read a statement that applied to you, you stepped forward; if it didn't, you stepped back. After the moderator asked if you were certain you could get a bank loan whenever you wanted, Cairns thought, "Oh my God, here we go again," and took yet another step forward.

"You looked behind you and became really uncomfortable," said Cairns, a 24-year-old junior who stood at the front of the classroom with other white students. Asian and black students she admired were near the back. "We all started together," she said, "and now were so separated."

Lane's comment is that "Naomi must come from the other side of the tracks." That was my initial impression, particularly since I read the article on a day that I discovered that I couldn't get enough credit on a lower-interest card to cover what I'm already paying off on a higher-interest card. Last fall, I learned that our financial situation is such that we can afford to pay ridiculous rent, but not to pay the same exact amount as a mortgage.

But Naomi isn't necessarily a little rich girl. In fact, I'd be willing to bet (cash, 'cause the house won't spot me) that Naomi has never attempted to get a bank loan — at least not without her parents' backing her. It is entirely possible that Naomi stepped forward in that classroom based on nothing more than the reassurances of her professor(s) that she most assuredly would get any loan for which she applied. In other words, the professors are very possibly telling young Naomi what reality is and then asking her to answer questions about... what reality is.

Here's a statement that I would had to the "privilege walk": Step forward if you believe that you can get into the University of Michigan law school with average grades, average scores, and average resources. Me, I'd step backwards on that one, too.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:58 PM EST


Saturday, June 21, 2003

Why the Threat?

Honestly, I wouldn't have had anything to say about this run-of-the-mill article about the first gay pride parade under the first gay mayor of Providence. But this is something that I just had to point out, particularly when the focus of the entire report is on the "diversity" and openness of the city:

"I think Providence has grown like many other places in the country," says Kate Monteiro, president of the Rhode Island Alliance for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights. "Over the last 10 years to 15 years, we have joined the ranks of cities where it is OK to be different."

Like Cicilline himself, a former state representative who declared his sexual orientation before running for mayor, the city's once-closeted gay community is more open than ever.

"Gay and lesbian people have become much less willing to lie and pretend," says Monteiro. "They have also become less willing to spend their money with people who do not respect them."

I guess businesses will have to learn after "slipping" what Monteiro considers to be disrespectful. I would guess that my opposition to gay marriage might put me in the "disrespectful" column, although it isn't in opposition to homosexuals that I hold that position.

Of course, the context in which Monteiro's statement was made to the Providence Journal might have made a huge difference, but as it is within the article it sticks out like a sinister threat.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:49 PM EST


Friday, June 20, 2003

Wrapping Up the Week in Gay Marriage

Noah Millman writes wisely about homosexual marriage. This is not to say that I agree with him.

First of all, I think he presumes too much in implying that homosexuals would not have pushed for complete erasure of all perceived differences between heterosexuals and homosexuals no matter the actions of social conservatives. In general, one should be suspicious of any statement that follows the formula, "If only you'd given me enough then, I wouldn't have been forced to ask for too much now." More to the point, and without rhetorical circumambulation, suggesting that conservatives have "shot themselves in the foot" on this issue rings a bit too much like the statements of those who see whites or America or men as the root of all problems in the world — as the only non-passive party in a situation.

The practical difference in which this disagreement results isn't but so great. As one who believes theologically and socially that people must choose virtue of their own volition, I am, and have been, in favor of removing explicit restraints keeping homosexual relationships from becoming as healthy as they can be, such as any prohibition to contractual agreements, visitation rights, and the like. And I am, and have been, open to the possibility of a "civil union" formulation that would combine all of those contractual agreements. However, I believe that a palpable amount of social change is required before such a policy can be instituted. Toward ensuring the possibility for that change, the development of "civil unions" must go through the process of state-by-state legislation. Homosexuals would have to make their case and make some changes among themselves in order to persuade everybody else. This, in my view, is the only way that anything resembling a parallel arrangement to marriage can now — or ever could — be created without inevitable confluence.

Noah oversimplifies the history of this issue when he suggests that conservatives, as a group, took too hard a line at first. Some semblance of a hard line is to be expected, considering that the idea of gay marriage — even the idea of acceptance of homosexuality as an open lifestyle — is relatively new. However, for the great majority of conservatives, I think it would be more true to say that they are just waking up to the reality of the situation.

I know, for my part, that every new angle of the debate that I come across solidifies my opposition. Some of the less open-minded among those who disagree with me on this (Andrew Sullivan comes to mind) would dismiss this by assuming that I've merely been collecting bits of confirmation for my preexisting prejudices. I don't believe that to be the case at all. On Wednesday, local talk radio host Dan Yorke addressed gay marriage, and the conversation literally gave me a headache because the points being made were years behind people who've been involved in the debate for a while.

To come down out of the bleachers to give the team a defeatist, pep-down talk just before the crucial moment when the tide could turn either way, as Jonah Goldberg did in the Washington Times, is premature. The same is true of Noah Millman's lamentation that the tide has passed, when in fact it has hardly begun.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:18 PM EST


The Biology of Marriage in Cultural Context

In response to my suggestion that it is the women rather than the marriage certificate that settles men down, Diana Moon emailed a question that put the gay marriage debate in a context in which I haven't heard it considered. It offers a good opportunity for clarification:

In the Arab world, there is polygamous marriage and women have severely proscribed rights. Men don't seem to be "tamed" at all; yet the women are the same biologically there as they are here. How do you explain that?

What surprised me about this question is that I didn't have biology explicitly in mind when I made the comment; rather, I was concentrating on the culture within which we operate. Indeed, all of the arguments against homosexual marriage are culturally founded. The institution of marriage is part of our culture from which our society benefits; gay marriage would change the institution, and the argument against it is that it will detrimentally change the culture.

I don't think I'd be wrong to suggest that Diana is not holding up Arab marital practices for our emulation. As she says, the women are severely oppressed, the men are not "tamed," and (although she doesn't mention this) the practice of polygamy has harmful effects on men toward the lower end of the social hierarchy. Within this system, the underlying controls of biology and human nature cannot operate. In fact, although I don't know enough about Arab culture and history to state this as more than an impression, it could be for this very reason that Arab society expends so much effort attempting to minimize the influence of women on the culture.

The more I've delved into social and political issues, the more I've come to think that the central innovation of Western civilization is that it makes the best use of human nature. It acknowledges, for example, that economic freedom will motivate people toward progress. More on topic, rather than seeking to skew away from the family structure in which we find the most strength and motivation to combine responsibility and independence, it capitalizes on that very drive to keep the family, its children, and the overall society healthy. This is what opponents of gay marriage — most of whom would be more appropriately described as proponents of traditional families — are hoping to preserve.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:03 PM EST


Girls, Girls, Girls

This morning, when I blogged about Rob Smith's post about gay marriage, I didn't mention a tangential thought that I had. Smith mentions that his daughter is gay, and it occurred to me that, with every parent in the public light whom I've heard mention a gay child lately, it's been a daughter (Dick Cheney, Dick Gephardt, Cher, and now Rob Smith, off the top of my head). Well, Glenn Reynolds points to a study that might explain some of the reason for that:

The findings confirm what researchers have suspected for some time -- women may prefer to date one gender or the other, but they get sexually aroused by both.

Men, on the other hand, aren't nearly as flexible. Straight men like to watch women have sex, and gay men like to watch men. Case closed.

"This may well be relevant to the flexibility of female sexuality. I wouldn't be surprised if this is one reason why women transition more between sexual identities than men," said study co-author Michael Bailey, chairman of the psychology department at Northwestern University and author of "The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism."

First things first: beyond having questions about how representative a group who would sign up for such a study might be, I'm not extremely confident in the study's methodology — both the method of, umm, measurement and the interpretation of the data. For one thing, I can't tell whether the numbers reflect degree of arousal. For another thing, this statement looks suspiciously phrased:

But the women -- straight or lesbian -- tended to enjoy watching all the types of partners have sex. Only 63 percent responded most to sex involving their preferred gender, a much lower number than among the men.

If a significant segment of the women in the study were lesbians, given what little the article tells us, it could be that some percentage whose "preferred gender" was women were actually more aroused by sex involving men.

But take the study at face value. Wouldn't this have some relevance to the degree to which homosexuality among women is something that they're born with? "Fluid" sexuality looks a bit more like a choice, to me. And if it is more of a choice than it is generally presented to be, that would hardly support the concept of gay marriage. If lesbian marriage were to become socially accepted, women would have one less reason to choose men. Add in advancements in reproductive technology and the pool of potential mates becomes dangerously lopsided.

Oh, sure, there are women (and men) who would chuckle at this. Some feminazis may see it as a goal. However much appeal the idea might have for some women, a dramatically lowered marriage pool for men would, first, sift down to the lower economic classes and, then, turn into a volatile social dynamic.

Although the person who emailed the ideas that this addendum will address promised to comment after a couple of days of consideration, I wanted to jot down some thoughts.

The first point is that there are many more gay men than lesbians. I've no intention of disputing this, although I do want to make the suggestion that there's some room for visibility to affect perception. The real question, with respect to lesbians, female sexuality, and marriage, is the trend. However, even the absence of a noticeable increase in the number of lesbians would not conflict with the thesis that fluid sexuality among a significant percentage of women could become a harmful force in society down the road.

The second point of the email is that women are already having difficulty finding husbands, with a reference to the gender disparity in college attendance, about which I wrote at some length in early May. As a result, the email suggests, more women might opt for single motherhood.

Put all of this together. Granting credibility to the sexual arousal study (and I'm not yet entirely sold on its conclusions), I see no reason that women — whether single mothers or not — would not opt for same-sex marriages once they become legally ratified and more socially accepted, particularly if an increasing chunk of the male population shifts below such careers as require higher education. Consider Rob Smith's comment about his daughter's lesbian relationship:

My daughter is gay, and I am not one bit disappointed about it. She has found herself a good partner who puts up with her shit (and she has plenty, trust me) and lives a much better life than if she had hooked up with some Biker Bozo with a dick. She could have done a lot worse.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:00 PM EST


Killing of Convenience Now, Killing of Convenience Later

I think Mark Shea makes a great point:

Attn: short-sighted Boomers. Support euthanasia today, and your kids will be happy to avail themselves of it tomorrow when you get too old to change the Beatles CD yourself. You can't say Roe v. Wade hasn't taught anything to the ones who escaped the knife. There's a very simple lesson there: inconvenient people should die. Someday, O Boomer, you shall be inconvenient. A big demographic bulge of "useless eaters" perched atop an inverted Social Security pyramid. What O what shall overtaxed Gen X and Gen Y people do to ease the burden of having to pay for the retirement of the most narcissistic generation in history?

Tick tock.

For some contrast, I'm right between what are generally known as Generations X and Y, and my general impression is that the percentages who respect life are increasing, not the other way around. I guess we'll see when we see. That, however, is not a phrase that I'd take lightly if it were my life on the line. On the other hand, I sometimes get the impression that many Boomers think that they want to be "put out of their misery." Again, we'll see what their attitude is when they're in Dr. Faustus's position.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:04 AM EST


Oh, Just Some Kids at Nude Camp

I was going to post this story about nudist summer camps a few days ago, but didn't find the time. Mark Shea beat me to it. Here's my comment, which is about what I'd intended to post here:

What really stood out to me was the conspicuous absence of a couple of related questions. We're told they can't dress sexy (when they do dress, that is), and we're told that they keep a careful eye out for outside trespassers.


Not a single question about sex itself. Even if between the counselors (screened as they are) and the campers there is a strict wall, what about between campers and campers? Or even counselors and counselors (they probably aren't all self-reliant adults).

One more conspicuous absence: any comment about the contradiction between forbidding sexy clothes and playing an inherently sexual game such as "strip volleyball." (What's the thrill of stripping, particularly at a nudist camp, if not the added tingle of sexuality?)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:53 AM EST


The Drug Detour of Addressing AIDS Isn't Going to Last

Beyond the dangerous complacency that seems to be increasing with HIV in modernized countries, Africa looks like it's on the fast track to making HIV drugs less effective:

The unregulated supply of Aids drugs in the non-industrialised world threatens to accelerate the development of drug-resistant HIV strains.

That is the conclusion of a study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, just published in the British Medical Journal.

The study urges governments and international agencies to deal with the problem now. ...

Even in the rigid treatment patterns of the affluent west, HIV is becoming resistant to established anti-retrovirals - and this study says that governments and health authorities cannot afford to wait for more dangerous resistance to emerge in the developing world.

At what point will it settle in that behavior must change? That treatment must move toward prevention?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:49 AM EST


Glenn Reynolds on Gay Marriage

The gay marriage debate has reached Instapundit. In opposition to David Frum's suggestion that gay marriage will further undermine the idea of motherhood via divorce court, Glenn Reynolds places Rob Smith, who thinks that increased genderlessness in the divorce court would be a good thing. One point that bears mentioning, and even Rob Smith agrees that it raises questions about his qualifications to discuss gay marriage, is that Smith has been married and divorced twice.

More than anything, this factor highlights the dubiousness of judging a proposed new form of marriage on the basis of failed marriage — on the basis of another social allowance that is eating away at the institution. I'm being equal opportunity, here: I think Frum picked a poor example to illustrate why gay marriages would affect all marriages. On the specific point, however, I'm inclined to believe that we would, somehow, manage to reach the end of the series of legal decisions having brought about everything bad that we feared without gaining any of the good things for which we'd hoped. In other words, the ideal of motherhood would be diminished without purging the endemic bias against men.

One way this could happen would be the courts' adopting a policy that seeks to capture one superficial attribute of what we might consider "motherhood" and use that instead. For example: time (i.e., lack of career). For same-sex marriages, this could lead to one ex-spouse's becoming a lifelong dependent of the other, but it would more likely be arbitrary, with the custodial parent subsequently pursuing a career anyway (perhaps retaining the child-support). Meanwhile, there's no reason that judges would have to shed their bias against men, in cases of heterosexual marriage, in the face of such a policy; the guidelines would not affect consideration of the "special bond between mother and child" that seems generally to be true, although it would have to be unspoken and unacknowledged. This is not unlike the general danger of political correctness: it pushes the real questions, issues, and ideas a layer (or several) beneath the discussion or policy.

Beyond this particular argument, it is instructive to look at the construction of Reynolds's post in light of this statement of Frum's:

So many of the people who advocate gay marriage are smart and sophisticated — and then they turn around and ask a question that makes you wonder whether, for all their intelligence and sophistication, they have given even ten minutes' serious thought to the reform they are advocating.

Consider that Reynolds places Frum and Smith in opposition without noting Smith's conclusion: "Do you really believe that 'Gay Marriage' won't be twisted into something it was never meant to be?" Without this nugget, Reynolds moves on, having supposedly illustrated that "deep thinkers and great Americans" can conclude differently on this particular aspect of the discussion, to write:

Personally, I'm in favor of legalizing gay marriage. I don't see that gay marriage diminishes marriage, any more than the many Jerry-Springer types who are allowed to get married now diminish marriage. I have gay friends who are, for all practical purposes, married. I don't see why barring them from going to the courthouse benefits anyone.

There are some conservatives who say that the advocacy of gay marriage is part of a campaign by some liberals to undermine marriage in general -- and I think there probably are some people on the left (or in whatever la-la land the MacKinnon / Dworkin types and their near-kin inhabit) who think that it will do that. But I rather suspect it will have the opposite effect. Let gays get married and they'll become a bulwark of the bourgeoisie. That's my prediction, anyway.

The problem should be obvious: this doesn't address any substantive points. It is the equivalent of saying, "Well, these two cancel out on one specific question, and I don't see anything wrong with it, so here's my conclusion." Well, that certainly didn't take ten minutes.

Even within Reynolds's commentary there is room for discussion. He admits that there are some on the left who think gay marriage will undermine marriage in general. But he doesn't spot the relevance that this has to his comparison in the first paragraph with that dangerous "any more." The wackos on Jerry Springer do diminish marriage, as do the divorces of sophisticates, but neither of these drags on the institution justify or excuse an additional burden. Picture each of these issues as a three-ounce weight. The two that are already in place don't exceed the capacity of a half-pound scale. However, putting on the third might very well pitch the whole thing over, even though it doesn't weight "any more" than the others.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:28 AM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from A Circle of Two," by A. Valentine Smith.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:50 AM EST


Thursday, June 19, 2003

Why We Don't Do It in the Road

Sheila Lennon runs a great blog for the Providence Journal from which I acquire many interesting links. However, whenever she blogs anything political or ideological, I find myself shaking my head. We just hold very different ideas about the world.

Today, however, she writes something that I can get behind fully:

I'm an adult, I don't want to be protected from life in the name of public health or somebody else's morality.

Hear, hear. Here is evidence that we begin from some common principles. Unfortunately, the first step away from the apothegm finds us diametrically opposed in application:

If I get hit by an SUV from the side, I'll die for sure if I'm wearing a seat belt. If I'm not, I might get pushed to the other side of the car and live. Why can't I let my instincts make the decision about which risks to take today?

Alright, maybe it takes two steps for us to separate, because I, too, find seatbelt laws to be the first swerve onto a dangerous road of public control of individual behavior. On the other hand, with the realities of health insurance what they are (let alone what the realities would be were the government more involved in the practice), the public has some justification in determining whether Sheila's particular scenario balances with other types of fatal accidents in which a seatbelt will diminish the physical harm to the driver.

This is, I think, the difference in point of view that causes conservatives, when frustrated, to think liberals (or "mostly liberals") selfish. To use Shiela's phrasing, not many people want to increase their vulnerability to life in the name of some other adult's comforts and convenience. There is, of course, a balance to be struck, and in the case of seatbelts, I'd say the claims are pretty much a toss-up as the facts now stand.

However, the underlying differences aren't so inconsequential across all issues, as Shiela brings to the forefront with this paragraph:

On the one hand, the socially conservative Republicans are touting sexual abstinence, anti-abortion forces would make women (and girls) who "fall" from abstinence bear children if pregnancy results, and they'd shoo us all into church.

Ignore the hyperbole about social conservatives' intending to make church attendance legally obligatory. What is protecting the "right" to abortion if not seeking to be "protected from life"? Now, I don't have the time to go in search of the statistics, but I'm pretty confident in suggesting that somehow — amazingly — a majority of women manage to avoid pregnancy where it is not sought, despite Ms. Lennon's appeal to the precariousness of responsible behavior. If a fall results in a bruise, we must bear that bruise. Yet, if the fall somehow intertwines us with another human being, then he or she may be killed and removed. She even protects such women (and, yes, girls) from life with her writing by shifting into passive voice.

Having Ms. Lennon's post several times, I can't shake the feeling that she believes the social conservatives to be against abortion because they want to punish the sinner through the imposition of parenthood. If Lennon wants to argue that I oughtn't seek to legislate her fetishes, I'll agree. But it isn't merely "somebody else's morality" at play when it is a third person's life that is put at risk in the name of life having no consequences. What if, when that SUV pushes Shiela Lennon to the other side of a car, there is a child sitting in the passenger seat?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:32 PM 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 @ 06:47 AM EST


Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Andrew Sullivan Doesn't Like Dealing with Reality

Well, just in passing, I broke my self-prohibition on reading Andrew Sullivan. It gets me every time: I expect to find a standard argument or something that I can just shake my head at. Instead I come across surreal points that spur me to comment such as this:

MARRIAGE CANARDS: The latest tactic from the far right in opposition to gay marriage is that it will somehow destroy free speech. Huh? This is now David Frum's gambit. All of these arguments rely upon the enforcement of oppressive hate crime laws. But the problem here is the hate crime law, not equal marriage rights! You should certainly be able to live in a country where marriage is available to gays and straights alike and in which some straights are perfectly free to express how repulsive they find the notion of homosexuals having legally protected relationships. I'm for equality and free speech. But the issues should not be conflated.

Did you just slap your head and declare, "Of course! It's so simple!"? I didn't think so. In response to the suggestion that the combination of gay marriage and hate-crime laws would be dangerous, Sullivan argues that the first is the problem and, therefore, the combined effect should be inadmissible to the discussion. To borrow a phrase: huh? Tell you what, Andrew, you pull back hate-crime laws and find a way to ensure that homosexual advocacy groups and their allies won't push for them once gay marriage is made official, and I'll reconsider my opposition on this basis. (It occurs to me to ponder whether this impossibility is one reason that gay marriage advocates are going through the courts: such legalistic, compartmentalized arguments work better in a court of law.)

Then there's this:

Let's say that the gay presence in the population is 3 percent. Let's say that marriage will be half as likely for gays as straights. Out of 1000 marriages, around 15 are therefore likely to be same-sex. Of those fifteen, ten will probably be lesbian. What Stanley Kurtz is trying to argue is that 5 gay male marriages are more likely to affect the 995 other marriages than the other way round.

As I said earlier today, this ignores the disproportionate influence that homosexuals have on our culture. It may seem silly, but consider the current season of the show The Amazing Race. One of the dozen teams is a homosexual couple that calls themselves married. As I recall, only one team of heterosexuals was married, and they were middle-aged and thus eliminated early in the show. Every season has had a gay couple. I'm not suggesting that there is anything wrong with that, but it does go to show that homosexuals are far from 0.5% as visible as heterosexuals in our society.

Once again, on both counts, I cannot conclude otherwise than that Andrew Sullivan is simply being disingenuous.

John Derbyshire offers Exibit A. (And, no, it doesn't count as an argument against him that Sullivan mocks him with his "Derbyshire Award.")

1 Comment (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:20 PM EST


What They Don't Want Us To Know

Lane Core puts his finger on the implications of major media's refusal to divulge that a headline-making kidnapper and child rapist is an illegal alien:

Interesting, how mainstream media chooses what to tell us about the perpetrators of crimes. If this child rapist had been an altar boy 25 years ago, they would have told us. If his brother-in-law were a minor Republican office holder in Outer Podunk, they would have told us. But, they don't tell us that he's an illegal alien.

Combined with doubts about the media's ability and/or desire to get facts right, this error of omission rightly raises questions about big-business news organizations' value — at least as they currently behave.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:24 PM EST


The Canadian Cultural Battle Over? Hardly.

David Frum's post on gay marriage in Canada is must-read material (and it's short, too). Here's a key passage:

Canadians can expect new battles in the years ahead as the authorities impose ever stricter restrictions on their freedom to express traditional views of homosexuality. And while the pressure groups and the courts may exempt the churches at first, it is hard to imagine that they will exempt them for long. The Canadian churches receive, after all, all kinds of public support. Not only are they exempt from taxes, but Catholic schools are subsidized from public funds. Would we permit people who receive public money to refuse to marry inter-racial couples? Hardly! So how can we allow them to persist in refusing to marry same-sex couples?

I realize that there's a ledge of hysteria off of which it is possible to tumble, but considering the attention that this issue gets, I can't help but shake my head at one thing: three percent! For three percent of the population, ancient religious institutions are being forced at figurative gunpoint to accede to the government's will and freedom of speech and the press is being tossed into new cultural prisoners' Zip-lock bags with the contents of their pockets, only to be returned upon completion of the society's life sentence.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:18 PM EST


Hatch's Unacceptable Plan

I wasn't going to say anything about this because it's so obviously wrong and so widely denounced that it seemed unnecessary:

[Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)] acknowledged Congress would have to enact an exemption for copyright owners from liability for damaging computers. He endorsed technology that would twice warn a computer user about illegal online behavior, "then destroy their computer."

"If we can find some way to do this without destroying their machines, we'd be interested in hearing about that," Hatch said. "If that's the only way, then I'm all for destroying their machines. If you have a few hundred thousand of those, I think people would realize" the seriousness of their actions, he said.

I don't know much about Hatch, but this is the second issue on which I've found him not to be a very reliable (or principled) ally; the first had to do with embryonic research, as I recall. Hey, that's two strikes. Perhaps I ought to be able to destroy the machine of his political career.

I battle the libertarians all the time on what expectations are reasonable on their part regarding the Republican Party and our "conservative coalition." But I prefer principle to power (particularly power held by somebody to whom I'm only connected based on shared principles), and I think politicians on the political right should make an effort to remember what it is they stand for. I understand that it must be awfully difficult to let go of that ring of power when it is on one's finger, but it is better to toss it than to lose power as well as a finger.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:09 PM EST


Cause and Effect Don't Matter When the Result Is Good

Good news out of Hollywood: explicit sex on the big screen is decreasing. However, some observers' explanations point to an important aspect of the cultural divide:

Hollywood's diminishing appetite for sex is partly attributed to the influence of a more socially conservative government under George Bush, the president, and his attorney general, John Ashcroft, a member of the Pentecostal church noted for his moral certitude.

Paul Verhoeven, the director whose film Basic Instinct drew more attention for Sharon Stone's risque leg-crossing scene than it did for the quality of its plot and acting, told Premiere magazine: "There's a drip-down effect of this government's position in the film industry, so you will see much more other things than nude scenes on your screen." He added: "What do you expect with Ashcroft who is an ultra-Christian puritan?"

Notice who's missing from this explanation? Why, we sheep-like masses, that's who. I don't mean to suggest that the leaders of the country don't matter or influence the culture — they do — but I can't help but wonder whether these sin-sellers of the silver screen ever consider that the conservatives in office are, themselves, an effect of a more-conservative populace.

The fact that the answer appears to be "no" suggests two important insights: 1) Despite all of their rhetoric, liberals don't care for people except as pawns or propaganda. 2) The point of view that, even in our representative democracy, the leaders dictate the ethic of the nation may be one reason that liberals are willing to do or say just about anything to regain power. (It's certainly in line with their tendency to work toward placing power in the hands of a few, whether judges or socialist dictators.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:53 PM EST


The Declavenizer

As an editor of high-tech industry documents, I can confirm that business jargon is designed specifically to sound good while conveying nothing. That's the guiding understanding behind some new software:

New York-based Deloitte Consulting admits it helped foster confusing, indecipherable words like "synergy," "paradigm," and "extensible repository," but now it has decided enough is enough. On Tuesday it will release "Bullfighter" to help writers of business documents to avoid jargon and use clear language.

"We've had it with repurposeable, value-added knowledge capital and robust, leveragable mindshare," Deloitte Consulting partner Brian Fugere said.

I would caution writers out there to be careful about going too far in the other direction. Such words as "leverage" and "synergy" have perfectly acceptable uses. The question to ask yourself — as a writer or, perhaps more, as a reader of business documents — is whether the words clarify or obscure the meaning and whether they are obviously inserted for decoration or weight. To be fair, however, through my experience writing grant proposals, general copy, and internal documents for bureaucratic purposes, Iíve found that it is often difficult to avoid the vague-speak when the questions being asked (often with undue gravity) are silly or simply meaningless.

My tolerance for the language, of course, excepts such new, unnecessary, and meaningless coinages as "incentivize," which I've refused to add to my spellchecker to this day.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:35 PM EST


You Never Know, Do You?

There's not much to say about this, except that it isn't a reason to take up smoking, but it's interesting and surprising enough to merit mention:

Nicotine could in future yield a new treatment for Alzheimer's disease, scientists have revealed.

Researchers found that a by-product of the compound which hooks smokers appears to protect the brain from the devastating dementia illness.

But the discovery should not be seen as an excuse to smoke. The substance, nornicotine, is toxic, and could not itself be used as a medication. But scientists believe further research might produce harmless compounds that mimic the action of nornicotine in fighting Alzheimer's.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:23 PM EST


Trying to Be Helpful for NRO Readers

If you've arrived at this page through Andrew Stuttaford's kind link in the Corner, please feel free to read everything on the blog and on the site — even to buy books and CDs.

However, since Mr. Stuttaford's citation addressed a particular issue (using my words in the service of the opposing argument), I thought I'd point out the relevant entries:

Conservative Brits on Gay Marriage
More Response to Stuttaford on Gay Marriage
Another Perspective on Gay Marriage
Stanley Kurtz Checks In

I intend to give Stuttaford's latest point, that heterosexual men will have their work cut out for them should they attempt to make the argument for promiscuity to their wives based on gay marriage, further thought (and thought facilitated by my just-brewed morning coffee). As an initial response, I'd say that, while clever, this suggestion doesn't address the more pervasive influences that will serve to corrode marriage.

One route to the destruction of monogamy as part of marriage is through polygamy. Actually, this is two routes: the argument, which many suspect is lurking in the shadows, that polygamists will make for legal marriage on essentially the same bases as homosexual marriage and the evolution of polygamy within homosexual marriages themselves (both as a reproductive/parenting matter and as a function of "open" marriages).

The other route, that which most directly relates to Stuttaford's argument, is less tangible. Essentially, the question isn't whether married men will finally have the argument for which they've been waiting in order to bring about their swinging ends. That isn't the whole story of how social change works. My neighbors' getting a divorce wouldn't necessarily introduce the idea into my previously healthy marriage. Of course, the effects would be highly dependent on the specifics of a given situation. It could introduce the thought if my wife and I felt particularly akin to our neighbors. It might also give excuse and emotional justification for divorce during the inevitable rough spots.

The larger danger is the broader one — on a societal scale — to the idea of marriage. As it happens, I addressed this on the topic of divorce in a column just this week. The social influence is not only coworkers and other acquaintances who give us their specific example, but also the culture, as perpetuated through such things as television and movies. On the latter count, it can hardly be denied that, although they may only represent three percent or so of the population, homosexuals have a disproportionate influence on the public stage with which to portray what they believe that marriage — once they are fully included in the institution — ought to be.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:54 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 @ 06:54 AM EST


Particularly Disappointed in the Minutia

Mark of Minute Particulars has ceased to return my email since the war in Iraq began, giving me the sense that our amicable relationship (virtual though it was) may have tapered off. Therefore, I'll be a little more candid — which is to say impolitic — than I might otherwise be regarding his response to my response (among others) to some moral obfuscation on his part: I'm very disappointed.

In a post from today, Mark dives into a poorly fitting and much attenuated analogy in order to avoid addressing any actual arguments against him. The overall construction of the post leaves me unable to conclude otherwise than that Mark, as smart as he is, has offered a perfect example of the lengths to which people are willing to go to justify an anti-war stance by finding fault with the war and with those who supported it. The endpoints just don't meet, and it ought to be apparent.

For a quick example of the ends not meeting, consider that Mark apparently believes the following sentences to work toward the same criticism:

The intention in a good and just moral decision is evident by the end sought when the decision to attack is made.

Morality based on an end justifying the means to that end or ex post facto reasoning is flawed, whether it's applied to individuals or sovereign states.

I'll address the way in which he justifies his self-contradiction by taking a closer look at the paragraph from which that first line came:

Moral actions are specified by the intention of moral agents when the decision is made to act. Having various reasons to invade a sovereign state doesn't mean you have several intentions from a moral perspective when you act. The intention in a good and just moral decision is evident by the end sought when the decision to attack is made. If the end is not something actual, if it is a fuzzy probability that one really won't know until one attacks, then one has slipped into an end-justifying-the-means-to-that-end approach that is problematic. The intention in a moral action is not analogous to the number of rocks or the burlap sack holding the rocks as it flies toward a target or even the throwing of the sack. The intention resides in the human being who has hurled the sack of rocks, and this intention is what specifies, what determines the kind of action that human being has done.

So what was the "end" in mind when the U.S. and its allies dropped those first bombs? Mark apparently doesn't mean "regime change" as the end (even though that would be the obvious candidate for "the end sought when the decision to attack [was] made"), because then the reasons actually are moot — nobody argues that the regime was not deserving of change. No, Mark means the stated objective — the reason — for the regime change as the end. Here he runs into the problem that he's attempting to avoid by meandering up and down cliffs in order to count rocks in his burlap sack: he has no basis to restrict that reason to just "keeping our nation safe by removing Hussein's WMDs." Look at this sentence again:

Having various reasons to invade a sovereign state doesn't mean you have several intentions from a moral perspective when you act.

Well, this doesn't exclude the possibility that having various reasons to invade does mean we had several intentions from a moral perspective. Reading this paragraph (indeed, the entire post), one is hard-pressed to say what Mark thinks the "intention" was. "Intention" is just some vague... thing floating around within the sack hurler. Mark doesn't specify whom that individual might be, but that, itself, is irrelevant, because we cannot know what was going on within, for example, the President of the United States apart from what he stated as his intentions. As for judging from the act itself what the intentions were, it's quite clear that they were to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime while doing as little harm to the people of Iraq and the infrastructure on which they would rely. Looks to me like the reasons given are crucial to judging the act.

But just for the sake of argument, let's posit that Bush's only "intention" was to remove any WMDs. Along this path, Mark runs into the obvious implications of his own sentence: "Moral actions are specified by the intention of moral agents when the decision is made to act." Well, if the administration was honestly and credibly convinced that the weapons were there when the decision was made, it matters not a bit whether they really were. The entire argument is pointless unless the investigation into the weapons reveals that the President's "intention" was something separate all along.

Then there is this sentence, my favorite, at the argument's pivot:

If the end is not something actual, if it is a fuzzy probability that one really won't know until one attacks, then one has slipped into an end-justifying-the-means-to-that-end approach that is problematic.

Reverse the negative: "If the end is something actual, then one has not slipped into an end-justifying-the-means-to-that-end approach that is problematic." In other words, if the end is clear, then the means are justified. This, to my ear, doesn't sound terribly wrong; the justification depends on the specifics of the ends and the means, not on the fact of them. However, if Mark's thesis truly is as stated — "Morality based on an end justifying the means to that end or ex post facto reasoning is flawed" — then he's piecing together an argument with unworkable parts. The problem is that Mark wants "end" to mean one thing (intention or objective) in order to dispense with the "multiple reason" argument and another thing (outcome) when he turns to addressing the post-war assessments of right and wrong. Somewhere in this stew of argument, he's apparently hoping that "end," "intention," and "reason" will separate in such a way as to enable him to label "WMDs" as "objective" and "human rights" as "outcome" and to discount that the latter was given as a reason for the "end" ("regime change") throughout the buildup.

To take up Mark's analogy, from our height on the cliff, we saw that the guy on the boat was sprinkling something painful into the eyes of children on the shore, was probably working with the guys sneaking up the cliff to push us off, and was working toward building a cannon with which to shoot at us. When we got to the bottom, we discovered that there was indeed shady dealing with our other enemies and that the boatman had indeed been planning the cannon and had some of the necessary equipment, although he seemed to have disguised some of the pieces as having other uses. On top of it all, we found that the substance in the eyes of the children was acid.

What inspires people, now, to strive so to argue that, if we had acted morally, the torture would still be going on? I've been intrigued by the question of what is leading moral people who are generally subtle of thought to fall into such horrible fumbling. What? There are several possibilities, but none of them are of the sort that I'm comfortable attributing to people for whom I still have a lingering respect. Mark explains himself thus:

My concern throughout has been the lack of rigor to moral claims many have made and the ease with which some toss out moral principles when they're not convenient.

My concern is the lack of decisiveness in handling moral claims and the inclination of some to place so much weight upon mere principles that they find themselves pulling and pounding them into oversimplified equations or convoluted analogies in order to fault others for a carelessness and impatience of which there is no evidence.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:10 AM EST


Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Something for Nothing (Sort Of)

The Bottom Line: Funding for this year's Redwood Review, which will be going to the printer next week, is well below the cost of printing it. Please, please, please consider donating to the cause.

As I've mentioned, a $5 donation will get you a copy of the book; a $20 donation will get you listed on the book's Sponsors page; and a $50 donation will get you a copy autographed by as many of the authors as I'm able to muster (which should be almost all of them). In addition, I'll make this offer here only: if you donate $25 between now and 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 26, I'll send you one of my books for no additional charge. Just email me to let me know which one you want.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:23 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 06/17/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Shelly" by Victor Lams. To be honest, I thought long and hard before unleashing this song on you — it is that catchy. A brilliant bit of associative marketing is what this song is: I can't go through a self-checkout lane without it suddenly popping into my head. Ultimately, I've decided to promote it for the reason that, beyond its being a clever song, I'm tired of getting looks from people who don't know what I'm singing and chuckling to myself about.

"Shelly" Victor Lams, Pop
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Robot Love

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:11 PM EST


What the Laypeople Don't Know

As one who taught computers to children for a year, I know first hand how surprising it can be that others haven't learned or figured out certain things yet. But as one who operates a Web site, I'm still surprised to read about certain Web functionality that the average user does not know, such as what to do when a link opens in a new window and the Back button is grayed out.

It's useful to keep up with these things, whether you're a layperson who could use a few more tricks in your repertoire or a site designer who needs to be reminded of those things that you might find obvious, but your visitors do not.

(via Shiela Lennon)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:21 PM EST


West Coast Relations

Hey, my cousin out in California has a Web site featuring music and design work and art. Our styles are very different (he's a DJ in the record-scratching sense), but it's cool to start seeing more people whom I know catching the Internet wave.

(And won't everybody be impressed as I start sending throngs of readers/viewers/listeners their way...)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:12 PM EST


Stanley Kurtz Checks In

Stanley Kurtz has entered the current homosexual marriage discussion in the Corner (he made three subsequent entries, up from here). He does mention something that I was thinking about when I walked the dogs last night. (Since I didn't post on it, you'll have to take me at my word.)

In that case, the dangers to heterosexual marriage that Sullivan himself outlines would result. So a great deal turns on what the real effect of gay marriage on monogamy will be. The problem is, it's really women who reduce male promiscuity, not marriage itself. Marriage can reinforce the domesticating effect of heterosexual coupling, but it cannot create that effect out of whole cloth. So gay marriage will not have the results that Sullivan thinks. But obviously, given Sullivan's own logic, gay marriage's effect on monogamy is the crucial question, and it needs to be debated.

It isn't the slip of paper used for a marriage certificate that encourages men to "settle down," it's the women whom they marry.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:51 PM EST


Wanna Go to Mars

The must-see video for this week is a computer animation (though you'll hardly be able to tell) of a successful Mars Rover mission (the uppermost link is the full download, and those below are the different parts). Absolutely fascinating — even if I was disappointed that the thing didn't come across any really short biped creatures with glowing eyes in cloaks.

The best part, in my opinion, is when the module thingy actually touches down: a pyramid of inflated balls bounces along the surface of the planet. When it comes to a rest, the Rover opens it from the inside and constructs itself. I can almost picture the genius walking into the morning meeting at NASA thrilled at his brilliant idea and blurting, "Giant beach balls!" Perhaps as fascinating as the animation is imagining the moment at which the scientist had that idea and what precipitated it.

(via Sheila Lennon)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:02 PM EST


Monday, June 16, 2003

Just Thinking 06/16/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "A Parody of Misery," about divorce, misery's loving company, and society's obsession with the dramatic.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:47 PM EST


Another Perspective on Gay Marriage

Noah Millman (of Gideon's Blog) addresses the gay marriage conversation that took place in the Corner over the weekend by digging for the roots from his Jewish standpoint. I think he makes some unjust presumptions about the motivation of others when he says he finds it "striking that all sides seem happy to debate this question entirely in terms of social science"; clearly, social effects offer the only common ground that there can be for discussion of the topic, and many who oppose homosexual marriage have not felt the need to retreat beyond the common ground. However, the following does offer some great food for thought. (Note that Millman is not using "myth" in the derogatory "fantasy" sense, but in a more psychological and theological sense.)

What is the myth of homosexual union? What does gay marriage mean, finally? The primary myth of homosexual unions that I am aware of in Western literature comes from the Symposium, and it is not encouraging that the speech it is a part of is put by Plato in the mouth of Aristophanes. No culture can institutionalize a parody of its myths, and most same-sex commitment ceremony language I have seen that is not merely bland and meaningless is just that: parody.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:18 PM EST


They Get Wrong What I Know About

The specifics of the case hardly matter, but Lane Core comments on an instance of the Associated Press mislabeling a pro-Israel demonstrator as a pro-Palestine demonstrator. Here's the crux of the matter (in the words of the mislabeled person himself):

I dread to think that the quality of AP work overall could be as poor as in my case.

This comes up quite a bit: People who have particular insight into a topic are often surprised at the erroneous reportage of stories on it. This is especially true in areas in which the media, as a whole, takes an obvious side.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:07 PM EST


Experiments in Viral Marketing

Victor makes the great point about universities' seeming to consider blind social experimentation to be among their highest callings. I certainly intend to do all in my power to save my own children from becoming progressive guinnea pigs. However, it was a tangentially related point in an article about "gender blind" university housing that made me say, "Aha!":

Pro-family advocates believe providing students the option of living in a so-called "gender blind" hall will only lead to more gender-confused students. Peter LaBarbera of the Culture and Family Institute says the move will have devastating consequences and regards it as "political correctness run amok."

If you're looking for motivation that goes a bit deeper than simple "political correctness" (which is, after all, a reactive rather than active motivation), the first quoted sentence may point the way. Taken generally, those who would support "gender blind" housing might, themselves, be big fans of gender confusion. More specifically, it brings to mind, for some reason, a post about faculty-student relationships (particularly the comments) at Erin O'Connor's blog.

It's a little early for me to begin researching, now, but hopefully in sixteen-and-a-half years I'll be able to direct my educational dollars to an institution that still believes that the money is in exchange for — believe it or not — education.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:01 PM EST


I'm Only Dancing

This is an old story and an old argument on that story:

[Principal] Hinson says some have pointed out to him that dances of his generation's youth and earlier, such as the Charleston, sparked controversy because of the amount of suggestive touching. The criticism today's freak-dancers are getting is no different, they argued, than the flak teenagers have always caught over their dancing.

Not only is this an old argument, but it's a dangerous one because it leaves out, intrinsically, the idea of "too far." Combined with what I would argue is a relatively new cultural pretension (though I'm aware that many would object) — the idea that youth do, will, and must always push the envelope toward degeneration — my generation of adults may very well have the pyrrhic victory of actually being correct when they say that what the kids are doing heralds the destruction of our way of life. Yes, it was absurd to see the end of society in a hand touching a hip for a dance, but in order for the next generation of dancers to offend the sensibilities of their elders, they're going to have to strip nude on the dance floor and just go at it.

I don't claim to have a solution, but I do have a few ideas, one of which aligns with the following quotation that might get Principal Hinson in trouble with the ACLU if one of that organization's members reads the article:

When a girl in a satiny aqua dress and a slim boy in a white tuxedo began dancing that way right in front of the stage, Hinson clicked on his flashlight and aimed its white beam at the couple's faces.

They parted, and Hinson leaned down and tapped the boy on the shoulder, then motioned for him to come to the side of the stage.

"Time for a little prayer meeting," the principal said as he headed that way.

The other idea involves bringing back some degree of the social controls that have been so blithely dismantled. Doing so could be as simple as telling a girl who is acting like a whore that, well, she's acting like a whore. Maybe such bluntness could open the way for a "teachable moment," during which the young lass could explore what it is that she thinks is so bad about being a whore and why. (Betcha a surprising number of adults couldn't formulate a coherent response to that question...)

If it can be hip to be square, perhaps it can become chill to be chaste.

(N.B. Yes, I know that a "Pyrrhic victory" has a capital "P." However, the word means something different when the letter is lowercase, and the punster in me couldn't resist. Look it up.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:36 PM EST


Teachers' Dirty Little Secret

Every now and then, when the Rhode Island teachers' union flexes its gargantuan muscle, one can almost hear realization dawning among those who pay attention to current events: "Teachers don't have such a bad deal after all!"

The last round, I think the teachers in Providence were protesting the superintendent's intention to require teachers to get oil changes for their cars on their own time. As talk radio host Dan Yorke peeled off the many layers of the controversy, the tone of callers drifted toward incredulity. As Meghan Keane explains, compared with most other professions, teachers have a darn good deal. Anybody who knows anybody who has tried to get a job teaching in a state that resembles Rhode Island on this issue knows that. It first becomes obvious in the degree of nepotism. Next, in the ways in which the teachers play at being corporate bigwigs in their negotiations and internal dealings.

But what I've most resented is that the entire system is such that teachers at my wife's low level may be upheld as propaganda dupes to procure benefits for which they are not even eligible. The whole thing is disgusting, which is why, as the husband of a woman who is a great, talented, and dedicated early childhood educator, I'd be among those with sledgehammer in hand to tear it down and rebuild a less lucrative arrangement.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:48 PM EST


From Convert to Proselytizer

Now that Sean Roberts is officially Catholic, he's devoting some time on his blog to catching Catholic bloggers up with blog technology. Currently, this entails setting up syndication feeds so that readers don't have to click to their favorite page many times a day to catch the periodic posts. (Sean's got instructions up.)

Personally, I sorta see that as a feature, not a bug. Nonetheless, as part of The Really Big Major Redesign that I'm planning for the site once my wife's endless school year is over, I will be enabling such functionality for Dust in the Light.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:37 PM EST


Sunday, June 15, 2003

More in Response to Stuttaford on Gay Marriage

Andrew Stuttaford has done a bit of clarifying of his point regarding public policy's effect on homosexual relationships:

What I'm arguing is that the absence of any legally recognized form of homosexual union means that we cannot really compare like with like when it comes to contrasting heterosexual and homosexual (mis)behavior. Indeed, it's important to recognize that homosexuality itself was only recently (and imperfectly — check out the great sodomy debate) made legal. Fifty years ago homosexuality was outlaw conduct — that's not the most conducive environment for developing more socially responsible forms of behavior.

As I've already written (in a post that I believe Mr. Stuttaford to have read), the first sentence quoted here is simply and obviously false. The second and third sentences gave me a bit to think about. One thing that comes to mind is to question the assertion that such an environment is not conducive to the development of responsible behavior. Giving the legal prohibition the weight that Stuttaford seems to ascribe to it, is it more likely that homosexuals would engage in their illicit activities with myriad strangers or find that they have one more reason to seek close relationships? Does the average (non-junky) drug user go in search of multiple, transitory suppliers? Of course, this is only a generalization, but the majority of those whom I've known have tended to prefer regular suppliers who were more "safe" both as a matter of avoiding legal repercussions and with consideration to the dangers of a bad product.

Even granting that forcing gays into hiding may have, to some degree, been a cause of their subsequent promiscuity, Stuttaford's suggestion is again beside the point in a way that supports the arguments that John Derbyshire and myself have put forward already. In this scenario, homosexuals have merely been in a state of transition toward more "normal" relationships since their behavior became decriminalized. Beginning from this assumption, it seems only more legitimate of a question whether they have (as a group) progressed sufficiently that they would not have a promiscuitizing effect on the institution of marriage were they enabled to take that step.

Two quicker points. First, I emailed the following to Mr. Stuttaford in response to his suggestion that those "who argued that the tax system's 'marriage penalty' discouraged couples from wandering down the aisle" cannot legitimately state that economic disincentives do not hinder homosexuals:

Did anybody actually argue that the marriage penalty was discouraging would-be knot-tiers? If so, I haven't come across their writing. I think the argument is generally no more than that it is an unfair glitch in the system, particularly considering that an arrangement that we wish to encourage is what triggers the glitch.

My second quick point is in response to Stuttaford's musing that taking homosexual promiscuity to be the central objection to homosexual marriage raises "the rather intriguing question as to whether you might have fewer reservations about lesbian 'marriages'." The key word, here, is "fewer," and the answer is, "sure." (Although that still doesn't address the total objection.) But perhaps it is merely easier, given the modern social context, to suggest that one could not dismantle the same-sex barrier to marriage for one gender — that would be sexist.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:50 PM EST


Saturday, June 14, 2003

Conservative Brits on Gay Marriage

The NRO writers born across the pond are discussing gay marriage in the Corner — Derb against, Stuttaford for. With all due respect (which is considerable), I think Andrew Stuttaford's first and only salvo is, well, foolish. (Derb more-politely terms it "cavalier.")

... surely comparing the 'stability' of homosexual relationships against some presumed heterosexual standard (is there such a thing?) is impossible in the absence of a legally recognized form of gay 'marriage'.

This suggestion is simply specious unless one restricts the comparison being made to a sum total. One obviously could compare unmarried heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Honestly, I don't know what the full picture looks like on either side of the inclinational divide. I can state, however, that the vast majority of heterosexual relationships (meaning longer term than casual sex) with which I've ever come into contact — either as a member or a third-party acquaintance — have involved at least the presumption of fidelity. My sense is that the same simply isn't true among homosexuals.

The first objection to what I've just written would likely be that heterosexual relationships inherently point toward marriage; however, not only is this a stretch, in my opinion, but it is also beside the point when dealing with a newly proposed social arrangement. I'll explain in response to another chunk of Stuttaford's post:

The real issue here is that the current state of the law makes it far less likely that gays will be able to establish and enjoy the advantages of long-term relationships, long-term relationships that would be good for the individual and, for those who see such matters in utilitarian terms, society.

Apologies for my dropped jaw, but is a writer for a conservative magazine really suggesting that the failure of a government to rubber stamp a personal relationship "makes it far less likely" that such a relationship can be formed? Apart from the types of ill effects that are already forbidden by law — such as those around employment — I can't fathom what currently exists in our society that would have any negative effects on two men who want to foster a caring, committed relationship — much less act as a disincentive. Are homosexuals made incapable of prolonged monogamy because they cannot file joint tax returns?

The underlying issue to which this brings the argument is the question of what "the advantages of long-term relationships" are. Is marriage a relationship of affection — involving the sharing of burdens, joys, and life's experiences — that is sufficiently important and valuable to merit work and compromise to make it lifelong? Or is it merely a contractual arrangement for the purpose of procuring such economic advantages as the only one that Stuttaford lists: the death tax exemption?

Giving Mr. Stuttaford the benefit of the doubt that he does see marriage as more than a loose matter of legal and economic convenience, I'm forced into disappointment that he would seek to avoid the entire argument — to brush it away — by means of the following:

As to the effects of such unions on the institution of marriage, I would think that they would be minimal.

To be sure, our society does not see marriage as the sacrosanct institution that it ought to be, but this factor only serves to accentuate the danger of further eroding it. So we're back to Derb's initial point: "a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for me to support 'gay marriage' would be a sure knowledge, based on reliable statistics, that homosexual unions are not much less stable than marriages currently are."

To suggest, as Stuttaford does, that homosexual unions cannot be made stable without the incentives of marriage is to limit the idea of marriage — the reason for individuals to enter into the arrangement — to its socioeconomic perks. Considering that none of those perks are contingent upon or even directly affected by duration, this is, in turn, to deny the necessity of stability. This very erosion of the idea of marriage is what opponents of gay marriage (quite reasonably) fear, and it is a factor that extends to cover separate-but-equal arrangements such as "civil unions."

Were homosexuals to strive to foster the impression that they want the relationship denoted by marriage, not just the perks, they would undermine many of the strongest objections to the legal recognition of such an arrangement. Certainly, attempting to force the issue through the wrong branch of government can only result in the opposite impression being given. Worse: it suggests that, beyond the emphasis not being on the personal, loving relationship, the advantages of marriage to society are not being considered either.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:58 PM EST


X May Not Have Been Much Different than Y, but Surely Y Is Different from Z

There's an interesting, even wise, editorial over at Arab News, of all places. At points, it even borders on humorous (intentionally so, I think). Here's the last paragraph, to give you the idea, but the whole thing is really the good part:

As the "Iran Next" lobby gathers momentum in Washington, wisdom dictates that the leaders in Tehran stop fooling themselves with old slogans. They should look for a realistic policy that addresses the problems their regime has with Washington. This does not mean surrendering to a US diktat; it means abandoning adventures that can prove deadly for Iran. A wise leadership would not provoke a situation just to see whether or not Iran becomes "another Vietnam."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:24 AM EST


Friday, June 13, 2003

Let's Rearrange Society Based on Balanced Information

There's certainly a line that can be crossed in forcing one's own will on others, even if that will happens to be right. One manifestation of this truth would be a federal law criminalizing homosexual behavior. Another would be the imposition upon society of homosexual marriage by means of the court system. A more subtle form of the latter would be attempting to achieve the same end (any end, really) based on misleading information. NGO REAL Women of Canada has taken exactly these issues to the United Nations:

The Convention on the Rights of the Child dictates that the interests of children must be the primary consideration for all governmental decisions. Governments, under the Convention, are also held responsible for protecting children from information harmful to their well being. Some Canadian schools, however, are encouraging school children to believe in unproven theories and invalid statistical studies on homosexuality. For example, in Quebec, the homosexual organization, Gai Ecoute, urges children to believe that 10% among them are homosexual for life, and states in its pamphlets and posters that homosexuality "is not catching, does not change, is like skin color.." Children are not informed that thousands of American, European and Asian ex-gays prove the contrary. There are many married and new parents who have acknowledged that their homosexual past was the result of false information or homosexual relations at a young age encouraged by activists.

The powerful homosexual lobby claims that homosexuality constitutes a healthy alternative to heterosexuality. Experts demonstrate, however, that many psychological troubles, illnesses and specific sexually transmitted diseases afflict this sexual minority. It is documented that almost one third of boys who adopt the homosexual lifestyle will be HIV positive or dead before the age of 30. They have the life span of a Canadian living in 1871. There is only 1% - 3% of the population which is homosexual, and a vast majority of AIDS sufferers in Canada are homosexual. The publisher and managing editor of the homosexual newspaper, Capital Xtra, in an article published in the September 27, 2002 issue, confirms that the homosexual lifestyle is much less healthy than that of straight men. The tragic health problems associated with the homosexual lifestyle were also acknowledged in an article in the March 2003 issue of the homosexual magazine, TO BE.

The facile response to that second paragraph is that the societal treatment of homosexuals is the problem. "If everything were equal, we wouldn't have these problems." And there may be some truth to that assertion. However, that sort of social tinkering is not a call for homosexual lobby groups and the courts to make, and attempts to mischaracterize the facts on the ground suggest that changing the reality to prove the case is not a likely strategy of advocates for the normalization of homosexuality.

(via Mark Shea)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:02 PM EST


Who's Leaving Out Important Information

This morning, Fox News flashed the following image from Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N.:

What do you notice, in the context of the media's reports of doubt about the administration's case against Saddam? Well, recall this from the New York Times article about "dissent" among the mobile bio lab analysts:

The skeptical experts said the mobile plants lacked gear for steam sterilization, normally a prerequisite for any kind of biological production, peaceful or otherwise. Its lack of availability between production runs would threaten to let in germ contaminants, resulting in failed weapons.

When I first read this, I chuckled at the suggestion that such equipment would be required for any biological production, meaning that the same skepticism ought to apply to suggested alternate purposes for the truck. However, in the context created by the Times, the response to the skeptics sounds a bit like an excuse — guessing, at the very least:

In interviews, the intelligence analysts disputing its conclusions focused on the lack of steam sterilization gear for the central processing tank, which the white paper calls a fermenter for germ multiplication.

In theory, the dissenting analysts added, the Iraqis could have sterilized the tank with harsh chemicals rather than steam. But they said that would require a heavy wash afterward with sterile water to remove any chemical residue - a feat judged difficult for a mobile unit presumably situated somewhere in the Iraqi desert.

William C. Patrick III, a senior official in the germ warfare program that Washington renounced in 1969, said the lack of steam sterilization had caused him to question the germ-plant theory that he had once tentatively endorsed. "That's a huge minus," he said. "I don't see how you can clean those tanks chemically."

Three senior intelligence officials in Washington, responding to the criticisms during a group interview on Tuesday, said the Iraqis could have used a separate mobile unit to supply steam to the trailer. Some Iraqi decontamination units, they said, have such steam generators.

The officials also said some types of chemical sterilization were feasible without drastic follow-up actions.

As the picture above shows, different components of the full process are indeed housed on separate trucks. (N.B., I'm not qualified even to guess at the significance of there being no sterilizing equipment labeled.)

It may seem a small thing, but if the "dissenters" are going to emphasize a lack of a piece of equipment, it would seem to support the separate truck theory that intelligence thought all along that each truck included only part of the total "facility." The Times doesn't even note it.

If the Big Media folks are going to jump at such instances of intelligence agencies' "downplaying" information as that involving Iraq, Niger, and uranium, one would hope that they'd be equally thorough in noting facts contrary to their own preferred arguments.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:30 AM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:45 AM EST


Thursday, June 12, 2003

The Latest Next Big Thing from Victor Lams

Animated prayer cards... check it out. It's a great idea, and well executed (I suppose that last word could be taken as a pun, but only if you've watched the video).

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:58 PM EST


Where the Equation Is Off

Minute Particulars Mark, with whom I had strong disagreement about the war on Iraq before the fact, begins a post today with an admirably balanced and intelligent passage:

Unless you are privy to intelligence information common citizens don't have access to or part of a well-connected investigative team with the time and resources necessary to track down these things, the debate about whether there were really weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the quantity and quality of such weapons if they were present, and the role they may have played in convincing various leaders to go to war is, well, a debate that's a bit futile.

Think of it this way: let's say your neighborhood newspaper runs a local story that you want to verify. You probably could track down who said what, when, and where since you might be able to actually talk to the folks involved or go and see for yourself. But it would still be difficult and take more time than you probably have. In this context, something as international and cloaked in secrecy as the existence of WMDs in Iraq is likely too big and far away to get a complete handle on; certainly there's not much an ordinary citizen can dredge up on his or her own. And, really, would any of us actually know a weapon of mass destruction if we saw some satellite photos of one or stubbed our toe on it? At some point we all have to trust somebody on these issues, as on most issues of any importance, beyond our little patch of reality.

I also agree that finding an alternate justification for an action after the fact does not thereby make having taken the action moral. However, that's where the underlying differences that we had about the war begin to surface. Consider:

One way to shake out where we all really stand is to put forth a relevant but hypothetical situation, a situation about which we can indeed know the details. Let's say we invade a country for one reason, let's call it reason A, and discover after our invasion that reason A actually didn't pertain, (we might call this reaction OOPS); but let's also posit that we discover circumstances that present us with another reason, let's call it B, that would have been just as valid a reason as A was had we only known it prior to invading. In fact, A and B, while substantially different, seem to have equal moral weight and urgency. Now then, does the discovery of reason B after our invasion justify our invasion even if we had vehemently stated prior to attacking that we were doing so based on reason A?

To the extent that Mark equates this scenario with the war in Iraq, he has created a false representation of the argument for war. To simplify, the war had justifications A, B, and C. Post facto, A proved more harrowing than even the advocates for war expected, B proved just about as vague-but-real as was reasonable to hope, and C has proven to require more than a couple months to explore. Nonetheless, a less immediate, but no less critical, degree of C can already be reasonably claimed.

As silly as the lettering system may look, its inherent clarity is extremely useful in such instances. Unfortunately, in this case, that clarity exposes something about which I've been disappointed of late: that really, truly intelligent people have, for whatever reason, seemed prone to constructing inadequate models to present this particular argument in "more objective" ways that skew to their conclusions.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:47 PM EST


Lileks on His Game

Particularly for the first half of it, today's Bleat is particularly good. Even just these two paragraphs make the whole thing worth linking:

The top-of-the-hour radio news played today's news just as you'd expect — everything shoved through the tit-for-tat template. Israel attempts to take out a terror leader; Hamas "responds" with a bombing. As if they're equal. As if targeting the car that ferries around some murderous SOB is the same as sending a blissed-out teenager to blow nails and screws through the flesh of afternoon commuters so he can bury himself in the heaving bosom of the heavenly whorehouse. Cycle of violence, don't you know.

They donít have helicopters, we're told, so they use suicide bombers. If they had helicopters, they would have strafed the bus and everyone waiting at the corner. Give them a nation where Hamas runs unchecked, and they'll have helicopters. They won't be Apaches. The bill of sale will be calculated in Euros and the manual written in French. By then the excuse for the terror won't be oppression; it'll be "the legacy of oppression." Sometimes I swear the mainstream media won't take a look at the Palestinian's horrid death-cult subculture until we learn that a suicide bomber played "Doom" at an Internet cafe for five minutes. And then they'll blame Intel.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:30 PM EST


Picture Bill Clinton About to Hit Dick Morris

I'm sure you've seen it linked elsewhere, I don't have much to say about it, and I have to admit that I don't really trust Dick Morris, as a general matter of impression. However, his open letter to Hillary Clinton about a supposed misquote in her book is worth a few minutes to read.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:27 PM EST


NRO Is Too Circumspect

The NRO editors place too much emphasis on the United States actually finding Saddam's weapons cache. While I agree that finding them is important toward avoiding political and diplomatic battles in the future, the editors show a limited perspective in the following paragraph that gets to the heart of my disagreement:

But if opponents of the war are overreaching, it must be said that supporters have made mistakes of their own. A frustrated president said that we had "found" WMD when we had only found mobile labs that could be used to develop them. Some hawks have even denied the importance of WMD as a reason for the war. They have spoken as though the discovery of mass graves and other evidence of Baathist cruelty were all the justification the war needed. A reduction in the amount of evil in the world is of course an accomplishment worth celebrating. But we did not go to war in a humanitarian enterprise.

What this misses is that, for "some hawks," immediately deployable stockpiles of weapons were not crucial to justification for war. For one thing, one mobile biological weapons truck could make "enough raw material" to fill an R-400 bomb in less than a week. For another thing, WMDs were not the only — even the top — reason that many supported the war.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:25 PM EST


Why I Envy Lane Core

As part of an email exchange about dwindling traffic in the blogosphere generally, Lane Core (who linked to my column this week — thanks!) directed me to a post from October in which he discusses blogging:

Frankly, too, I have always been amazed when I see other bloggers who note — and care very, very much — about the number of their readers. I hardly pay any attention at all. I might check my webstats once every couple of months.

In our modern world, only the rarest of rarest individuals (again) is ever going to get an audience in the thousands, let alone the tens or hundreds of thousands, or even more: too many voices compete for uncountable ears that turn out to be too few: one person can only pay so much attention to so many things in a given day or week, no? ...

This is how I feel about it: if you want to write, write. And write how you can write, not how anybody else can write. If you try to write like somebody else, you'll never end up writing like you are supposed to write. I don't mean that imitation can't get you off the ground, especially if it's unconscious. It can't keep you flying, though: you have to do that yourself.

Well, I'm certainly a writer who puts up with a certain degree of suffering in order to champion the cause of writing as one wants to write. And I'm a bit envious of Lane's nonchalance about his traffic. I guess what keeps me sifting through my Web stats is that I just feel that there's a payoff — which, in my case, simply means a way to parlay my online efforts into the type of career that I've been seeking all along — if only I can find the way that fits me and my work.

I may be different from the average blogger, however, in that I came to the medium after years of those form rejection slips with which writers are so familiar. I was thrilled, once upon a time, just to receive (drum roll) a hand-written rejection letter (and I know I'm not alone in finding that pittance of progress to be disproportionately encouraging). Now, I've had experience with links from Instapundit bringing as many as 10,000 readers to a column or blog post. They don't pay, but neither do many of the "entry-level" markets (very few of which can claim circulations of that height) on which beginning writers hang their hopes.

That's why I'm scrupulous about following trends in my Web statistics. For one specific: upon the distribution of the first edition of the Redwood Review, I noted a slight increase in the traffic to Since I started blogging, and linking to it, the review itself has come to have more visits than my entire site did a year ago.

The Internet is a wild, unexplored market, and while expectations ought to be tempered, it offers hope of new routes to previously unreachable goals. At the very least, blogging can offer shots of encouragement to those running a seemingly hopeless road.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:14 PM EST


One Questionable Source Does Not a Lie Make

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (which has consistently been on my referrer logs for the past few months for some reason) has returned to Iraq:

Outside Baghdad, UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts launched Saturday their two-week assessment of whether refined uranium ore had been looted from the Tuwaitha plant.

Residents near the plant in Tuwaitha told AFP that looters had emptied out barrels of unknown chemicals and then resold the barrels to unsuspecting people. The barrels were apparently washed in the Tigris river and used to store water and food.

The result may have left entire villages and towns contaminated with radiation.

Meanwhile (same link), sources from within Iraq are admitting to WMD programs:

As the debate on the credibility of intelligence reports on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction continued to rage in the West, London's Sunday Times quoted a top Iraqi security official as saying Saddam's intelligence agencies ran a network of secret cells that carried out chemical and biological research but produced no weapons.

The paper said a general who procured supplies for the program through an international network of front companies had told it that laboratories were hidden in basements in houses around Baghdad.

Meanwhile the Washington Post is writing suggestively that the CIA may have downplayed pre-war doubts about a specific finding that the Ba'athists had been seeking (ahem — see above) uranium:

Armed with information purportedly showing that Iraqi officials had been seeking to buy uranium in Niger one or two years earlier, the CIA in early February 2002 dispatched a retired U.S. ambassador to the country to investigate the claims, according to the senior U.S. officials and the former government official, who is familiar with the event. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity and on condition that the name of the former ambassador not be disclosed.

During his trip, the CIA's envoy spoke with the president of Niger and other Niger officials mentioned as being involved in the Iraqi effort, some of whose signatures purportedly appeared on the documents.

After returning to the United States, the envoy reported to the CIA that the uranium-purchase story was false, the sources said. Among the envoy's conclusions was that the documents may have been forged because the "dates were wrong and the names were wrong," the former U.S. government official said.

However, the CIA did not include details of the former ambassador's report and his identity as the source, which would have added to the credibility of his findings, in its intelligence reports that were shared with other government agencies. Instead, the CIA only said that Niger government officials had denied the attempted deal had taken place, a senior administration said.

Here is yet another anonymous analyst, quoted before the above specifics are offered (to tell us how to feel about what we are about to find out, presumably):

However, a senior CIA analyst said the case "is indicative of larger problems" involving the handling of intelligence about Iraq's alleged chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and its links to al Qaeda, which the administration cited as justification for war. "Information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded and information that was [consistent] was not seriously scrutinized," the analyst said.

Well, I'll see your anonymous source and raise you another, this one quoted after the specifics (to tell us how the "other side" is spinning the damning information, presumably):

"This gent made a visit to the region and chatted up his friends," a senior intelligence official said, describing the agency's view of the mission. "He relayed back to us that they said it was not true and that he believed them."

I'm not a professional journalist or anything, but amid all of the quotations from anonymous sources and too-visible politicians, the Post might have found room to include a sentence conveying the fact that Iraq did indeed have uranium, whether purchased from Niger at the specific time in dispute or not.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:47 PM EST


Special Thanks to Right Wing News

John Hawkins, who does invaluable work with his Right Wing News blog (make that "blog-plus"), has paid me the compliment of linking to my Just Thinking column for this week.

Thanks John!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:55 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 @ 06:41 AM EST


Wednesday, June 11, 2003

A Handful of Cartoons

Well, I went over to Cox & Forkum's site because it's been a while, so I thought I'd see if I could find something worth posting. As it happens, there are so many worthwhile cartoons that you ought to take a look at the whole page. Here's one that's down at the bottom that I particularly liked:

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:27 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 @ 12:32 PM EST


Speaking Truth to Girlpower

Erin O'Connor, whose blog is now, sadly, commentless, notes Mike Adams's latest attempt to reach the self-righteous and intransigent soldiers of the academy with humor. I'm tempted to quote the opening, but Erin has already done that. And I'd quote the closing, but I don't think it would have the same effect out of context.

Oh well, guess you'll just have to click on over and give it a read.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:29 AM EST


Things They Think Will Make You Spend Your Money

In a particularly good Lileks Bleat, we read about the culmination of an advertising trend that I've been following for a while. It seems the latest Big Thing in the promotions and marketing industry is to portray what is detrimental, even dangerous, about a product. Hence, a collection of cell phones for the entire family enables the members to lie to and take advantage of each other. Or, as Lileks describes, a Mexican restaurant attempts to sell the commuter, perhaps sitting in traffic worrying about when that 20 oz. coffee is going to make its exit, with a billboard touting the speed with which the food will send patrons to the toilet. (He didn't say, however, whether the billboards also describe luxurious — and frequently cleaned — bathroom stalls.)

This discussion, within the Bleat, leads into one about society going too far with the softcore porn right on the cover of checkout lane magazines and other reactionary dollops of common sense.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:21 AM EST


From Whence the Morality?

Another monument of the Ten Commandments has fallen. What's particularly curious about this instance is that it highlights the underlying truth that, by forcing communities, against the will of all but small minorities (even amounting to one person), to silence expression of a particular religion the federal government is making a "law respecting an establishment of religion":

The one person is Barry Baker, who initiated the legal battle in 1999, WLWT reported. He came Monday with camera in hand, hoping to record the images of large cranes removing the 800-pound tablets from the grounds at Peebles.

But as the protesters refused to budge, local officers began to wonder if they had jurisdiction to enforce a federal court order. Baker told WLWT his reasoning for wanting the tablets removed.

"We have laws here," he said. "(The tablets) are immoral."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:19 AM EST


Making the Pieces Fit

Reporter Lindsey Hilsum sends my mind spinning by blithely stating facts and opinions as if they aren't crucially connected:

Channel 4 News diplomatic correspondent Lindsey Hilsum has admitted that she "self-censored" her reports from Baghdad and did not tell viewers that Saddam Hussein's regime was hiding Scud missile launchers in residential areas, because she did not want to be thrown out of the city.

Well, this has become pretty standard, it seems, suggesting that readers and viewers ought to take all coverage from areas with publicity-sensitive dictatorial regimes with more than a little wariness. But then she asserts her "independence" and alleges a "scandal" about U.S. networks leaving Baghdad:

"If we carry weapons we become combatants and have no right to ask any army or rebel group to respect our independence and we have to be clear as an industry that this is going on," she told an audience of fellow journalists.

Hilsum also said it was a "scandal" that three American networks pulled out of Baghdad before the war began. On top of that, the former Iraqi regime ejected Fox News and CNN, meaning American viewers had no home-grown account of what was going on in the city.

She blamed the withdrawal of the US networks on "pressure from the Pentagon", adding that even small American newspapers had reporters in Baghdad.

One question: if reporters are going to self-censor information that is damaging enough to the rogue regime to incite their ejection from a city, what possible advantage is there, to the West and its supporters, to having them there in the first place?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:58 AM EST


Songs You Should Know 06/10/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "August on the Vine" by Rosin Coven. Somehow, this song just fits when one is longing for August but it feels unfairly like autumn. If you're interested in a unique and compelling piece of music, give this one (and the album from which it came a listen.

"August on the Vine" Rosin Coven, Arthouse Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Penumbra

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:29 AM EST


Just Thinking 06/09/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Where Are They? (The Anti-War Arguments Based on the President's Supposedly Exaggerated Claims)," about the disingenuous nature of much of the "Where are they?" hysteria.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:17 AM EST


Tuesday, June 10, 2003

What's the Fuel?

With a bit of satire, Mark Shea (scroll to "Canada Agrees to be Social Experimentation Lab for United States") links to a story about Canada taking a leap of faith into what many hope will be the future of the United States:

In a landmark decision, Ontario's highest court Tuesday upheld a lower court decision to legally allow same-sex marriages.

"The existing common law definition of marriage violates the couple's equality rights on the basis of sexual orientation under (the charter)," read the 61-page decision.

The current definition of marriage is invalid and the laws must be changed, said the three judges. The court ordered Toronto city clerks to immediately begin issuing marriage licences. ...

"Absolute faith in Canadian values" helped him through the long court battle, said Leshner, who encouraged other countries to follow Ontario's lead.

"When we get married, we will have lit a match that hopefully illuminates the world," he said.

Hmmm. Something's gotta burn to generate light. Such people will quip that it is "bigotry" burning, but what they've failed to understand all along is that bigotry flashes out too quickly for its demise to illuminate much of anything except human nature. And that nature is often ugly, making such human conventions as "Canadian values" a dangerous thing in which to have faith.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:46 PM EST


Monday, June 9, 2003

A Note on This Week's Just Thinking Column

It's mostly written in my head, but I'm just too exhausted to write it out. I'm going to get a full night's sleep tonight and tackle the world fresh tomorrow.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:07 PM EST


Beware the Deceptively Fair

On its surface, this might look like a more fair system than making everybody pay equally for the road system:

THE British government is studying a model to tax motorists country-wide based on the time they spend on the road, according to reports.

Satellites and computers would track motorists in order to bill them for the specific route they take, Minister of Transport Alistair Darling said to the British weekly.

Commuters, school-run parents and motorway users would bear the brunt of a variable system, where charges would be highest for rush-hour travel and for using the most congested roads. Use of motorways in Britain is currently gratis.

First, such taxes are always additions, not replacements. Second, everybody benefits from road networks. Third, information of this nature, to this extent, will be practically ensured to be misused. Oh yeah, and fourth, fairness isn't even the justification being given: it's a punitive measure to encourage people to stop driving. Put another way, the purpose to which the money will be put is not the motivation, rather the process of collecting the money is.

Here's a thought: since the government would save money by decreasing the number of cars on the road, rather than collect money in order to save money, why not do something really radical? Perhaps a tax break for those who put below a minimum number of miles on their cars, or something, would help. Why does the Nanny State always seem to lean toward negative reinforcement? (I know, I know, the government shouldn't have to use its own money to address changes and strains on a public project... oh wait.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:22 PM EST


Communism's Last Victims... Hopefully

This is simply awful:

Aid agencies are alarmed by refugees' reports that children have been killed and corpses cut up by people desperate for food. Requests by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to be allowed access to "farmers' markets", where human meat is said to be traded, have been turned down by Pyongyang, citing "security reasons".

WMDs or not, I'm for regime change in North Korea, one way or another.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:10 PM EST


"Dissent" Makes Another Appearance

"Dissent" is now being heard among the ranks of "experts" who have investigated the "alleged" mobile weapons labs. While not a single source analyst is named for the report, the following gives some perspective:

In all, at least three teams of Western experts have now examined the trailers and evidence from them. While the first two groups to see the trailers were largely convinced that the vehicles were intended for the purpose of making germ agents, the third group of more senior analysts divided sharply over the function of the trailers, with several members expressing strong skepticism, some of the dissenters said.

So the third team is "divided sharply," which seems to me to suggest the extent of the disagreement, not the numerical comparison of the two sides. Given that we aren't told how many "experts" were on the teams, three out of fifty would justify the phrase "several members expressing strong skepticism. And here's an ominous quotation offered by a laughably identified source:

"I have no great confidence that it's a fermenter," a senior analyst with long experience in unconventional arms said of a tank for multiplying seed germs into lethal swarms. The government's public report, he added, "was a rushed job and looks political." This analyst had not seen the trailers himself, but reviewed evidence from them.

I'd say it can be presumed that if this "senior analyst" had been one of those on the team, the New York Times would have identified him as such. I also would hope that the Third Team would actually have the opportunity to see the trailers!

Here's what Colin Powell has to say:

"I can assure you that if those biological vans were not biological vans, when I said they were, on February 5, on February 6 Iraq would have hauled those vans out, put them in front of the press conference, gave them to the UNMOVIC inspectors to try to drive a stake in the heart of my presentation," he said. "They did not."

Later Sunday, Powell told reporters it was "nonsense" to call the intelligence reports "bogus" and that "the American people are quite assured" about their veracity.

"It's the media that invents words such as 'bogus,'" he said, adding that a 1,300-person team was in Iraq hunting for evidence of such weapons.

The media's activities are to be expected, even if they remain disappointing. What is maddening about this round of spinning is that people want to believe it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:46 PM EST


Sunday, June 8, 2003

The Where-Are-They Counter Offensive

Check out this post at Instapundit and various posts at the Corner to witness some of the air strikes that are now coming in to assist foot soldiers such as myself in the battle over Werearethey.

The more I think about this issue — and I mean think, rather than argue (the latter requiring wrestling that often pulls one further into the other's opinion than is justified by the relative correctness) — the more incredulous I am that people are actually running with this garbage about the WMDs having never existed, about Bush lying, about our going to war for the wrong reasons, yadda yadda. I plan to write my column about it, but it'll have to wait until tomorrow, when I'm (hopefully) less exhausted.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:12 PM EST


Saturday, June 7, 2003

About the Weekend

On top of regular chores and responsibilities, I've got visiting parents to entertain and a brother-in-law to help move this weekend. Therefore, blogging will be light.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:07 AM EST


Friday, June 6, 2003

A Lesson in "Creating" News

Earlier today, Kathryn Jean Lopez pointed out the following from a New York Times press release:

The Company's core purpose is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment.

Throughout the day, some have wondered allowed (e.g., Rush Limbaugh) how it is that a newspaper — a conduit for the reporting of news — goes about creating news. Well, the AP has obliged with an example. The following title for this article is from the San Francisco Chronicle, but it's not but so extreme:

Pentagon's intelligence service reported no reliable evidence of Iraqi weapons last September

Oh, really? Here's paragraph number eight (emphasis added):

In its report last September, the Defense Intelligence Agency said it could find no reliable information to indicate that Iraq had any chemical weapons available for use on the battlefield. But the agency also said Iraq probably had stockpiles of banned chemical warfare agents.

The parsing goes on from there:

The existence of the DIA report was disclosed by U.S. News & World Report, and a classified summary was reported by Bloomberg News on Thursday. Two Pentagon officials who had read the summary confirmed Friday that it said DIA had no hard evidence of Iraqi chemical weapons.

So how is the AP defining "hard" evidence? And then here's paragraph twelve:

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was a National Intelligence Estimate published at nearly the same time as the DIA report -- and with DIA's concurrence -- that concluded Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

And thus, ladies and gentlemen, is the "news" that President Bush lied is created. Particularly egregious is that paragraphs six and seven offer tangential information, as if to delay the contrasting evidence until further into the story to ensure that the desired message reached the greatest audience.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:56 PM EST


Watch Out for BugBear.B

Most viruses just leave me shaking my head that anybody would be so stupidly malicious as to send out damaging bugs that will infect computers indiscriminately. What's the point?

But this one looks more dangerous. It brings the effects into the "real world."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:48 PM EST


Day by Day Today

Today's Day by Day comic by Chris Muir is particularly good:

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:43 PM EST


The Late Twentieth Century in a Nutshell

Victor Davis Hanson is brilliant today, summing up the entire global diplomacy game of the last couple decades concisely and clearly. Here's where he lights the rocket:

We routinely would worry about riling the world in order to put troops in harm's way to protect nations that were privately relieved and publicly hostile. Those voices that urged that it was wiser for America — given the nature of man — to be a little unpredictable, perhaps even volatile at times, and, like the Greeks of old, to punish enemies and help friends, were caricatured as Rambos and simpletons who did not understand the complexities of diplomacy, a supposedly higher art than the rules of the factory, farm, or neighborhood corner.

Unfortunately, the world soon caught on to us predictable and unimaginative Americans and mastered this strange game far better than we ever did.

I'd love to quote the ending, but you'll just have to go read it.

This recalls a lingering idea that I had in college but never formulated. In the mid-to-late 1800s, American intellectuals were looking for an American voice, investigating what their precedent was and puzzling out where they should direct the trends of their thought. Something changed in the 1900s. Perhaps the American elite were humbled by the Depression (that, on the surface, looks like a joke, doesn't it?). Perhaps they were frightened by the power of the nation and the people whom they fancied themselves to lead. Perhaps they thought the European way of lording it over the non-elite to be superior. (But certainly, these are all the dramatic simplifications with which ideas begin.)

However it happened, the American elite seem to have given up on defining themselves and their country with its own character and sought to transform it — and its population — into something that it manifestly is not. In that light, an optimist can suggest that our country is "re-becoming."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:39 AM EST


Freedom as a Means

There are probably a good number of people who supported the war — conservatives and otherwise — for whom the liberation of the Iraqi people was more of an end than a means. However, in "Getting to the Bottom of This 'Neo' Nonsense" in the print edition of National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru raises a point that seems to get lost in the arguments that devolve to placing no-WMDs on one side and a free Iraq on the other:

Traditional conservatives supported military action against Iraq because its totalitarian regime was a threat to America, and because the spread of freedom there might promote American interests in a strategically important part of the world.

I don't think this tells the whole story to the extent that Ponnuru suggests. However, it is important to remember that Iraqi liberation wasn't only the right thing to do, it was in our own national interests.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:17 AM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:38 AM EST


Thursday, June 5, 2003

The Right's Razor

Of course the problem with razors is that you can cut yourself, but when controlled, they do a job that more subtle tools just can't accomplish. Ann Coulter is a controlled razor in this column:

Liberals are now pretending that their position all along was that Saddam had secretly disarmed in the last few years without telling anyone. This would finally explain the devilish question of why Saddam thwarted inspectors every inch of the way for 12 years, issued phony reports to the U.N., and wouldn't allow flyovers or unannounced inspections: It was because he had nothing to hide!

But that wasn't liberals' position.

Liberals also have to pretend that the only justification for war given by the Bush administration was that Iraq was knee-deep in nukes, anthrax, biological weapons and chemical weapons Ė so much so, that even Hans Blix couldn't help but notice them.

But that wasn't the Bush administration's position.

Rather, it was that there were lots of reasons to get rid of Saddam Hussein and none to keep him. When President Bush gave the Hussein regime 48 hours' notice to quit Iraq, he said: "(A)ll the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end." He said there would be "no more wars of aggression against your neighbors, no more poison factories, no more executions of dissidents, no more torture chambers and rape rooms. The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near."

I think I'm just going to focus my willpower on ignoring the argument until there's actually some new information to be discussed. Or until somebody on the where-are-they side follows his "what if" with a "well then."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:18 PM EST


Lesser of Two Evils

Over in the Corner, there's been some discussion about Congress's right to ban partial birth abortion. Both sides have legitimate points and can be argued from good will. Furthermore, I understand the importance of certain people being designated (or choosing designation) to see issues within a certain context — in this case, legality and Constitutionality.

However, I find something profoundly disturbing about this from Jonathan Adler.:

Congress only has those powers explicitly enumerated in the Constitution When confronted with a statute that exceeds such powers, the Supreme Court has the obligation to strike the statute down. When there is doubt as to whether a statute falls within Congress' authority, it is reasonable for the Court to construe the statute narrowly so as to preserve its constitutionality. It is not reasonable for the Court to simply assume that Congress has found a questionable factual predicate -- e.g. that the 14th Amendment extends to the unborn or that a late-term abortion ban a prophylactic measure necessary to protect newborn infants. It is the lesser evil for the Court to strike such a statute down until such time as Congress has shown the Court the basis for its action.

Only in a dangerously narrow legalistic sense can it be said to be "the lesser evil" for the Court to maintain the legality of partial birth infanticide until the Congress can thoroughly contrive a right to end it.

Of course, I'd prefer that Congress — whatever the particulars of the method — declare the "right" to abortion unconstitutionally instituted. But that's not coming anytime soon, and until it does, the ends justify the means. Even if it makes me, in a narrow legalistic sense, a hypocrite for saying so.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:46 PM EST


Thursday Blogging

Sorry for the light posting today. My daughter's grandmother, who usually watches her in the afternoons, is sick, so I'm filling in.

Such arduous work!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:43 PM EST


"I've Never Seen Art Naked"

When did art become defined as spitting in scorn on the public that funds the artist's forum?

Now Cincinnati has a new $35 million arts center - the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art - and the taxpayers who contributed $10 million to build it were thanked with another poke in the eye. On opening night, a Chinese performance artist in a police uniform, with a Doberman on a leash, walked on an American flag.

When he roots his own definition in the point of view of one of the museum's directors, columnist Peter Bronson appears to be left with no stronger adjectives for the artist than "stupid":

Is that art?

"That's the right question to ask,'' said deputy director Andree Bober. "We're here to provide a forum to ask, 'What is art?' We're not here to provide the answers.''

And that made me think: That's a cool idea.

From one angle, the new arts center looks like a children's museum for demented adults only. From another, it looks like a hole in the fence where we can slip through occasionally to test the boundaries of our freedom of expression.

I'm in favor of that.

But gratuitously insulting the taxpayers who paid for it is still stupid.

Is art's only question "What is art"? Sounds like a waste of thirty-five million bucks to me. And is the fact that so many in the art community see that as their Big Question indicative of (A) societal specification such that art can only address itself, or (B) a plummeting level of intelligence and creativity (real, powerful, significant creativity) among artists?

Personally, I'm not in favor of ensuring "artists" employment simply so they can test the boundaries of what it is they can say. It's more than "stupid," it's a scam... as Bronson ends up suggesting with his punchline.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:42 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:43 AM EST


Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Answers to Nagging Questions

Today, I've come across two approaches to answering the Bush-lied-where-are-the-WMDs crowd. First:

GREG COPLEY, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL STRATEGIC STUDIES ASSOCIATION: Well, there's still a lot of Iraq to search. However, in August-September last year, they moved huge amounts of fissile material, chemical, and biological material to a Comishly, a town in Syria, just across the border, from Iraq, to the Hishishi compound there. So, they -- they consistently moved weapons, laboratories, documents, and so on there for safekeeping during the war.

SNOW: All right. So, you're absolutely persuaded that there were extensive weapons of mass destruction before the fact. There is no possibility, in your mind that the weapons simply did not exist ever?

COPLEY: There is -- there is no possibility of that at all. In fact, Iraq has also had a program with about 10,000 to 20,000 engineers, scientists, and so on, and specialists in Libya working on delivery systems for these weapons; or working on modifications to No-Dong missiles, which...

SNOW: Which are the North Korean missiles?

COPLEY: The North Korean missiles, which were procured by Iraq, but - - went -- were shipped to Libya for work there. So, virtually all of the Libyan heavy strategic weapons work was moved out of the country some time ago. The laboratories for the actual weapons and warheads themselves was being done in Iraq and moved out, let's say, in August-September, last year. We've tracked that definitively to the Hishishi compound in el Comishly.


It makes me sick everytime I surf the net and see all these people in Europe and back home saying that the war was not justified because we haven't found 50 tons of sarin gas yet. I wish those people would come to this country and look at ruined villages between here and Kirkuk and the bare mountains. Anyone who protested against this war and defended Saddam ought to be ashamed of themselves. Its just unimaginable the things that went on here.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:03 PM EST


Truths: Bush Lied, No CMDs

At the tail end of a musing on newspaper cartoon strips, Lileks mentions notes two indications of what constitutes comfort-zone perspectives for a significant portion of Western society:

The day my paper ran the first Scheer editorial about the faked Lynch rescue, my wife was in the park and overheard two women discussing the story. They were a little surprised to learn the rescue had been completely faked; isn't that just horrible? You can't trust these people. It's now part of their mental furniture, and I doubt any letters to the editors will dislodge the idea. It fits. It sounds right. It's what they want to believe.

Good job, editorial pages! Bravo, Auth! But one small point:

I read today of another mass grave discovered in Iraq. This one was reserved for children.

I repeat: this was a special mass grave for children.

The article said that dolls were found among the bodies. Which meant that the little girls were clutching their dolls when they died.

Or they dropped them in terror at the edge of a grave. The soldiers kicked them in.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:42 AM EST


Don't Need Cause to See the Connection

Of course, it's impossible to say what causes what to generate a situation such as this:

A controversial new study links teen sexual intercourse with depression and suicide attempts.

The findings are particularly true for young girls, says the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that sponsored the research. About 25% of sexually active girls say they are depressed all, most, or a lot of the time; 8% of girls who are not sexually active feel the same.

The study comes in the midst of a flurry of new reports on the sexual activity of teenagers. Such research is fodder for the growing debate on sex education in schools. The Bush administration backs abstinence programs.

Here's what the "opposition" cited in the article says:

Tamara Kreinin of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) says "we need to take depression among the young very seriously." But it is a "disservice" to blame sexual activity and ignore "divorce, domestic violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse, lack of parental and community support and questions about sexual orientation," she says. SIECUS supports school programs with information on birth control and abstinence.

I don't know that anybody's blaming sex. It's enough just to note that sexual activity among teenagers is linked with all of these depressing things. Certainly, it would be going too far to declare that sex causes depression, but it would also be going too far in the other direction to declare that depression causes increased sex. More likely, "divorce, domestic violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse, lack of parental and community support and questions about sexual orientation" are external influences that initiate and/or perpetuate a cycle of depression and inadvisable behavior.

At some point, our society's going to have to address the totality of these factors and the ways in which it emanates from our wanton behavior.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:10 AM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:43 AM EST


Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Songs You Should Know 06/03/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is my own "Midnight Rolls Around." I've been feeling a bit untalented, lately, and wholly incapable of expressing beauty through any medium. Well, that inability is what this song's about.

"Midnight Rolls Around" Justin Katz, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Singing my song to painted walls

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:12 PM EST


Animation and Games

Victor Lams proves himself to be more clever out of the gate with multimedia technology than many who've used it for a while. In many ways, he makes a compelling argument for unemployment... at least his. (Have I mentioned that Confidence Place sells his CD without taking a cut, so all money that doesn't go to PayPal or to the Post Office goes to him?)

Nonetheless, the cleverer the person, the higher the bar required to offer them something for which to shoot. To that end, I direct your attention to Orisinal. Each little square that you'll see there is a different game, some of which brought a tear to my eye. Yes, I'm a sap, but play through some of the games, and at least you'll see what I mean. The combination of music, animation, and breath-taking scenery is a thing to behold.

(Many thanks to Sheila Lennon for directing my attention to Orisinal.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:46 PM EST


Why the Lack of Faith?

I wasn't aware that Denmark is a theocracy, of sorts, with an official government religion. Not that it makes a huge difference: Apparently, 85% of the people are Evangelical Lutherans, but only 5% actually attend services regularly. Why the lack of faith? And is this a cause or a symptom:

Thorkild Grosboel, the pastor of Taarbaek, a town of 51,000 just north of Copenhagen, said in a recent interview "there is no heavenly God, there is no eternal life, there is no resurrection."

And here's the beauty of blending tepid Christianity with socialism:

[Lise-Lotte Rebel, bishop of the Helsingoer diocese,] said it was up to the government's Ministry for Ecclesiastic Affairs to decide if Grosboel should be defrocked. In Denmark, Lutheran priests are employed by the state and bishops cannot sack them.

If he's fired, I wonder if Grosboel will file a lawsuit on the grounds of religious discrimination.

Rod Dreher informs me that state salaries in Denmark predate socialism. He offers further info, too. (That's in a comment to a post at Mark Shea's, where the Blogspot direct links are, as is often the case, not doing what they're supposed to do.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:06 PM EST


It Just Makes Sense

I'm beginning to think that one of my problems in handling the "wellwherearethey" chorus is that I've seen enough evidence. The conclusions just follow. The scenario just makes sense.

Today, on NRO, Hussain Hindawi and John R. Thomson explain the thinking with fabulous clarity. Frankly, I don't know how people can remain unconvinced (well, I know for most, I think, but it's unproductive to concern ourselves too much with those who aren't interested in dealing with reality and suppressing irrational hatred).

In a similar vein, take a look at this description of the situation in Iraq. It's quite a bit different than what we've been hearing. As Instapundit points out, this different perspective is brought to us by the same guy who went to Iraq to protest the war but changed his tune when he discovered where the evil really lay.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:44 PM EST


Finding Missiles

Have the weapons inspectors searched the garages of Iraq's handymen?

A home handyman is building a missile in his garage with parts bought over the Internet and shipped through Customs.

Bruce Simpson has stated on his website that he intends to construct "cruise missiles", which are taking shape in his shed near Auckland.

Security experts say the ease with which Mr Simpson has obtained parts and built a working jet-engine is a warning that such weapons could be built by the wrong people.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:39 AM EST


No Balls in the Street

Our community paranoia has reached disturbing heights:

"We always played here, because the courts are usually flooded and it's no problem," said his buddy D.J. Fauntleroy. "When a car comes, we just call 'Car!' and we move and then when it's passed, we continue to play."

But now, the basket is pushed up against the side of the house -- on the grass and mostly out of use -- because of an ordinance banning portable baskets from the streets of this working-class community of 6,160 along the Delaware River.

Around the country, towns are blowing the whistle on street basketball.

Citing safety concerns, communities in Kentucky, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania have banned portable hoops in or around streets. Others are shooting to do the same.

No one, it seems, is against a friendly game of one-on-one. The problem, municipal officials say, is that the hoops are a hazard to emergency vehicles, trash trucks and the players themselves.

Of course, the same goes for hockey nets and other outdoor street activities. Gimme a break. The "Car!" call has been heard in the suburbs probably as long as there have been cars — and before that, it was probably "Carriage!" Somehow, generations have survived their road games, yet society has only recently become so concerned with safety that the risk is no longer acceptable.

Look, I understand that there are more cars zipping through the 'burbs, so maybe bans on specific roads would make sense. But this trend smells more like a government/community busybody play for power. Who needs a public middleman to organize and (poorly) maintain a public park when the Smiths down the street can splurge on a $150 net and the Joneses invest in a pool?

Keep the kids out there. They slow down the cars, they place an obstacle before those who would engage in shady activities, and they foster a sense of community. As much as I dislike having to muster the courage to go outside and tell the teenagers across the street that 10 p.m. might be a little late for a dark game of one-on-one, I rather prefer the sound of a bouncing ball to that of drunk kids in the nearby golf course getting out of hand.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:35 AM EST


Just Thinking 06/02/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "By the Authority Vested in Whom?," about Mark Shea's book, By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition, and its broader implications, including a gay marriage case in the Massachusetts courts.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:29 AM EST


Monday, June 2, 2003

Get Those Prices Down on the Super Cool Items!

I can't wait for the prices of portable MP3 players to come down. I've got close to 1,000 CDs that would just love to be able to accompany me wherever I went.

But I really can't wait for the price of this to hit my range. I hope I'm still able to hold up my own weight by then:

Researchers at the University of Manchester say they have cracked the secret of one of the reptile world's greatest climbers, the gecko, and produced a sticky tape that can mimic the lizard's gravity-defying abilities.

Soon, people could walk on walls like comic-book superhero Spider-Man, the university said.

"The new adhesive -- gecko tape -- contains billions of tiny plastic fibres which are similar to natural hairs covering the soles of geckos' feet," the University said in a statement.

"The research team believes it won't be long before Spider-Man gloves become a reality."

Next up: Web shooters and swinging to the sound of Schubert's 9th.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:15 PM EST


Well, It Looks Like I Was Wrong... at Times

I went from not really caring about whether or not Salam Pax was "real" to growing skepticism to more skepticism to thinking him real but potentially with ulterior motives to thinking him just a member of the non-actively-Ba'athist Iraqi elite to settling on the rich-kid theory.

Well, it looks as if, to the extent that I thought him a complete hoax, I was almost definitely wrong. Peter Maass reports that Salam gave away enough information to betray himself as... Peter Maass's translator:

In early May, I agreed to hand over a fantastic interpreter I had been working with to a colleague who could offer him long-term employment, as I would be leaving the country at the end of the month. I needed a new interpreter to fill the gap for two weeks or so, and the colleague mentioned that he had just met a smart and friendly guy named Salam. I quickly traced Salam to the Sheraton Hotel. Salam—this is his real first name—was sitting in a chair in the lobby, reading Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. I knew, at that moment, that I would hire him.

Salam, who is chubby and cherubic and hip and speaks beautiful English, and often says "thingy," had everything you would want in an interpreter, save one trait. When I asked about his road skills, he blushed slightly and said, "To be honest, I am not much of a driver."

As for where this is all going to go from here... I guess we'll have to wait and see.

(via Instapundit)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:58 PM EST


So Where Are They?

No, no, not the WMDs — the objectives of those who are already declaring "lies and deception" on the part of the President. Another way of looking at the question is: when will the nagging cease?

Look, I know they've got a valid question, but it seems to me that they've hit a feverish pitch a bit early in the game. Will it die down after a while when there's no new evidence that there's no new evidence? Or is this now a permanent fixture of the public discussion until something else comes along to distract us all? Personally, I'm a bit astonished at the extent of the reaction so soon after all of the Iraqis' horrific stories about the Ba'athists came out... and came out as a result of their coming to an end.

Could it be guilt? After all, those who opposed the war also opposed — undeniably — the immediate freedom of the Iraqi people, preferring to allow the suffering to go on while the U.N. exhausted its inexhaustible caverns of "diplomacy." In this scenario, the raised voices aren't so much to focus attention on the supposed evil of the American President as to distract individuals from that which they, themselves, were willing to overlook.

Or could it be that amid all the hatred of the President, the decriers seek somehow to make this his undoing? Do they seek impeachment? Or do they intend to keep up the shrill pitch for the next year and a half? Frankly, I don't think I can take it for that long. I don't think that much of the public will be willing to listen for that long.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:29 PM EST


Sunday, June 1, 2003

Sorry... It Really Is a Must Read

Yes, yes, I know that all the biggies are linking to that Mark Steyn piece about his visit to Iraq, but it really is the must-read article of the weekend. There's even a little something for the conspiracy theorists:

So what precisely is happening in Rutba that requires an Oxfam/ICRC summit? Well, the problem, as they see it, is that, sure, there's plenty of food available but "the prices are too high". That's why the World Food Programme and the other NGOs need to be brought in, to distribute more rations to more people.

Can you think of anything Iraq needs less? If prices really are "too high", it's because storekeepers are in the first flush of a liberated economy. Given that the main drag in Rutbah has a gazillion corner shops lined up side by side, competition will soon bring prices down to what the market can bear, if it hasn't already. Offering folks WFP rations will only put some of those storekeepers out of business and ensure that even more people need rations. But perhaps that's the idea.

It's a toss-up, as far as I'm concerned, whether this is truly a self-interested manipulation of the Iraqi economy (after all, if they can cause enough shop owners to go out of business, they'll only have more anti-Bush stories of unemployment to peddle to the Western media) or merely another case of good intentions not matched with intelligent consideration exacerbating the problems that they seek to alleviate.

And as far as looting, the following passage certainly makes it sound as if you're better off having a business in Iraq after a war...

In the western towns, which were relatively unscathed by the war, it's the almost surgical removal of the regime that you're struck by. Every Main Street roundabout has its empty plinths where the Saddam portraits stood. There are generally a couple of large blocks plus a compound and maybe a fancy house with elaborate decorative stonework with their doors and gates hanging off the hinges and the odd goat or donkey defecating over the interior: these are the Ba'athist buildings, and they're the sole target of highly focused looting. Everything else is untouched - the poky grocery stores piled high with boxes of soda you could boil a lobster in, the ramshackle auto shops with their mounds of second-hand tyres, all these are open for business, and in the end they're more relevant to the future of Iraq than the legions of unemployed Saddamite bureaucrats in Baghdad or the NGO armies in their brand new, gleaming white Chevy Suburbans and Land Rovers cruising the streets touting for business like drug pushers in search of junkies.

... than in a European city during a G8 summit:

The most violent protests early Sunday were in the Swiss city Lausanne, across Lake Geneva from the G-8 summit site. Demonstrators wearing masks hurled rocks at police and a posh hotel and looted a gas station and a supermarket. ...

Demonstrators gathered in Geneva early Sunday, blocking the city's main bridge -- the Mont-Blanc -- and several others with burning barricades made of trash cans and other items. The crowd, which grew to 10,000, was mostly peaceful, though some smashed the windows of a gas station and threw rocks through the windows of an employment agency, spray-painting "slave-trader" on its walls. ...

Most of the demonstrators were peaceful, but an aggressive core of about 200 wearing black ski masks and other face coverings knocked down phone booths and tore down signs. They threw large rocks at the Hotel Royal and at police guarding the Olympic Museum.

They also looted a construction site for scaffolding and bars, presumably to build barricades on several streets. Rioters ransacked an Esso gas station, stealing candy and cigarettes that they then handed out to people watching the demonstration. They also broke into a supermarket.

I guess the difference is that the Iraqis and the foreign troops in Iraq actually care about other people and their property more than expressing a petulant, immature angst.

Here's more on the protests/rioters/looters:

Anarchists and anti-capitalists rampaged through the plush streets of Geneva and Lausanne Sunday, smashing shops and looting businesses as world leaders met beyond their reach in France.

Police detained several hundred youths, most of them in Lausanne, and the skirmishes continued into the evening in Geneva while world leaders settled down unperturbed to dinner some 32 miles away.

Whatever the "cause" or event, it's just an excuse to them.

1 Comment (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:19 PM EST


Dealing with the Lag Time

I've already noted that I expect there to be a significant lag time between when evidence of WMDs is found in Iraq and when it is announced, for such varied reasons as exploiting the leverage intrinsic to having exclusive information and following leads to their ends before letting people or groups of potential interest know that they have reason to worry.

Tony Blair has suggested that my intuitions may indeed be correct:

In an interview with Britain's Sky Television at a Russia-European Union summit, Blair said he had already seen plenty of information that his critics had not, but would in due course.

"Over the coming weeks and months we will assemble this evidence and then we will give it to people," he said. "I have no doubt whatever that the evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction will be there."

The real question of interest — and I'm entirely lacking in confidence to make predictions on this count — is what opponents of this war already won will shift their complaints to once this phase of hand wringing has been brought to a decisive close.

4 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:54 PM EST


Too Close for Comfort

Every now and then, as I'm walking the dogs, I look across the bay at the energy plant that mucks up the view and wonder if, somewhere, there's a terrorist with that structure on a list. Then I laugh at the idea that international terrorists would be concerned with my little area along the border between Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

But, today, I spotted this:

An employee of NRG Electric Generating Plant told police he spotted three scuba divers on a beach next to the northeast side of the plant shortly after midnight. When he called to them, they replied in a language that he didn't understand, said state police spokesman Tom Ryan. The three then fled leaving behind their scuba gear, he said.

Bomb disposal units from state police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation responded, but no explosives were found, Somerset police said.

Ryan said there were no indications of terrorist activity. He said authorities suspected the divers were involved in illegal drug activity that may be related to a coal ship docked at the plant. U.S. Customs is handling the investigation.

Of course, there are many possibilities, from scoping out the plant to drug smuggling to illegal immigration (which could, of course, be related to terrorism). Nonetheless, considering that NRG Electric is just a few miles further upstream, these national security concerns hit a bit too close to home.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:44 PM EST


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