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Thursday, July 31, 2003

Diversity Kills

The whole philosophy behind "diversity" and "tolerance" really does make an ideal case study of the dangers of encouraging skewed or dishonest thinking. Here's Rod Dreher with some specifics:

We [in Dallas] have an incompetent police chief who keeps his job in large part because he's the city's first African-American top cop, and any criticism of him is instantly attacked as racist by what passes for black leadership in this city (this, despite the fact that 42 percent of the homicides in Dallas so far this year have been blacks). We have a city manager form of municipal government, so the mayor is relatively week. The city manager, who could fire the chief in a trice, won't, and because the city manager is Hispanic, an attack on him is ... well, you get the picture (another 42 percent of the homicides this year have been Hispanic). The white establishment doesn't want to rock the boat, and besides, most of them live in enclaves that aren't really hit by crime.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:54 PM EST


The Price of Being Right

Y'know, I don't need this... considering where my interests lie.

I've started handing out the latest Redwood Review, and ironically, I sometimes find myself hoping that people won't explore further to the point of reading the bulk of my writing. For example, the other day, I handed a copy to an extremely friendly guy at an art gallery who, if I had to bet, I would guess is gay. He asked which pieces I had written, and my first thought was, "I hope he doesn't find my blog."

The point is this: my life would be a lot easier if I didn't hold the views that I do, or at least if I kept them to myself. I can't do that because, well, because I think my views are correct and that the issues on which I hold them are important. I hope the sort of people whom I'd be inclined to respect, but who disagree with me on certain issues such as gay marriage, will understand that it isn't a personal issue that I have with them or a broad-brush condemnation of "people like them." I view the issue in the context that the President expressed yesterday: we are all sinners, and the particular sins of particular groups ought not be seen as overriding their humanity or right to compassion, nor are they so egregious as to overshadow, for me, my own (plentiful) sins.

In fact, if they were so inclined, people who stumble upon my unpopular (in my region and vocation) opinions could read back far enough on this Web site to find that my position has hardened as I've read about the issue and considered its implications beyond my own initial feelings. By the same token, until I've got reason to think otherwise, I'll give people the benefit of the doubt that, out of good will, they will choose the position that they think works out to the net benefit of everybody... if they only look into the question beyond what their philosophical preferences might imply.

Just before I ran to the post office, I read yet another response from Stanley Kurtz to Andrew Sullivan, and it consists centrally of a message that I imagine Kurtz has programmed as a shortcut key on his keyboard: "Andrew Sullivan has not addressed my suggestion that..." This is how it has been for years: Sullivan addresses only what he's got prepared arguments for and addresses suggestions only to the extent that it suits his purposes. In their exchanges, Kurtz has made the same statements over and over again to the extent that one might believe that there are multiple Andrew Sullivans, each requiring the same rhetorical ground to be re-trod.

On the way to the post office, local radio talk host Dan Yorke reminded me why this re-treading is necessary. He was only teasing for a discussion that he intended to start later, but he (a Catholic) obviously disagrees with the Vatican's statements against legitimizing gay relationships. I don't have time to tune in, now, but I've heard Yorke talk about gay marriage before, and his position is similar to Glenn Reynolds's: there are good arguments on both sides, but "I don't see anything wrong with it." Yorke's phrase of choice was, "How does it affect my marriage at all?"

Of course, if you limit your view merely to your own individual marriage, it is much easier to see opposition to gay marriage as your problem. What this points to is the fact that such people don't seem to have really considered the arguments of those who oppose gay marriage. I don't mean this in the sense that they can't possibly have considered it, because they disagree with me. Rather, it isn't possible to honestly consider the social arguments against gay marriage — and not just the handy religious fundamentalist arguments that are about as far as reporters seem inclined to go for the occasional obligatory opposition statement — and honestly restrict your own statement of support for the movement without reference to potential social ramifications.

I'm trying to piece together relatively effective and simple rhetorical points that would move quickly from the initial positions that people tend to take through to where the argument currently stands among those who've paid attention. Needless to say, talk radio may not be the venue for such considered discussion, but maybe when I've got a routine, I won't be so disinclined to take on the burden of preventing the public's lack of consideration from allowing gay marriage to squeeze its way into reality by way of emotional appeal and the court system.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:09 PM EST


Reasonableness as a Fallback Position

It seems that a backlash in the polls and the President's straight-marriage friendly remarks have persuaded Andrew Sullivan that demagogic rhetoric about segregationism and theocracy weren't the way to go in securing what he sees as gay rights. Now he's back to the more reasonable realm of federalism:

Okay, so here's something that I don't support but offer to the president as a suggestion. He wants to reserve marriage to heterosexuals but he doesn't want to hurt, wound or marginalize gay people. I'm prepared to accept that is his genuine position. But it won't be convincing if all he does is back the FMA, as currently worded. How to avoid that nightmare? He could back an alternative amendment that says merely that no state should be forced to recognize the marriages in any other state. That essentially codifies federalism and prevents a nationalization of gay marriage through the courts (a highly unlikely scenario, in my view anyway). And it doesn't tell states what they can and cannot do for their own residents. It doesn't impose a single definition of marriage on the whole country. And it preserves state autonomy. That seems to me a sensible compromise if some kind of amendment looks impossible to stop. It's conservative in the right sense. I, for one, want to see federalism work on this matter. Why? Because I think the experience in one state will reduce the fear and panic elsewhere. But those who predict disaster also have a chance to prove their case. Isn't that the way this country is supposed to work?

Put aside the fact that Sullivan admits, beforehand, that he himself does not support this "sensible compromise" (i.e., it would be damage control). I believe that this whole issue strikes at the core of what we want our society to be, and I'm very sympathetic to the argument that the states ought to be allowed a maximum of self-determination in that respect. So, let's take Sullivan's suggestion seriously. Here's the new amendment:

No state may be forced to recognize the marriages in any other state.

Surely Mr. Sullivan doesn't want to open the door for a return of miscegenation, and it seems to be overkill to uproot a tradition of full faith and credit that is already well established within the United States, so perhaps we ought to specify exactly what it is that the amendment would be driving at (particularly considering Sullivan's previously expressed concerns about amendments that allow for broad interpretation), including language that closes the back-door of polygamy:

No state may be forced to recognize marriages in any other state that do not involve the union of a man and a woman.

Well, perhaps we're working our way toward compromise, but this new amendment doesn't offer any guidance as to what it would mean for a state to "be forced" to recognize particular marriages. This would tie the hands of the federal government, presumably, but what about, say, an Arkansas judge taking it upon himself to declare, from within his state, that Arkansas must recognize gay marriages in Massachusetts? Surely, all of his appeals to the fairness of the American people and his assertion that "The two states contemplating equal marriage rights both have majorities in support of the move" suggest that Sullivan is amenable to the argument that the people in each state — deciding, in the spirit of federalism, what they want their society to be — oughtn't have new forms of marriage forced upon them by a state judicial oligarchy. After all, why rely on judicial activism based on public polls when we can just put such issues to democratic or representative votes? So, here's where we are, taking the obvious step of disallowing judges to invent might-as-well-be-marriages:

No state shall be required to recognize marriages performed in any other state that do not involve the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution nor the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

There you go. That looks like a reasonable compromise. Unfortunately, I don't think that those who would propose such an amendment would gain the support of the portion of the American citizenry that deems homosexual marriage unacceptable anywhere within the United States. After all, some fault the current language of the Federal Marriage Amendment for allowing marriage-like arrangements. Certainly, there is reason to suspect that what the new language would gain in support by leaving open the possibility of gay marriage for individual states will not come near making up for the support that the very same opening will lose. Sullivan wouldn't be proposing that the President put forward a compromise that is certain to fail (to Sullivan's advantage) would he?

Perhaps Jonah Goldberg should write a column suggesting that homosexual activists should have pushed for civil unions, instead of full marriage, when they had a chance, but now must content themselves with appealing to the people and legislatures of each individual state to define a new legal arrangement that would apply to relationships that are not, and cannot be, considered marriage, as it has been defined in our culture as far back and broadly as it is reasonable to look.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:47 PM EST


Getting Back Three Hours of Your Life

Y'know, back in the early spring, I waited nearly three hours to see a doctor. I just got fed up and stormed out, but maybe I should have sued, at least to get back the monetary value of my time.

Then again, I rather suspect that rampant litigation has something to do with the doctor market being such that they can get away with doing that to their clients.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:03 AM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:03 AM EST


Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Do Celebs Believe in God?

Of course, one should look anywhere but to celebrities for insights into the existence of God. However, one can look to them for insights into people's handling of belief in God. Two celebrities' responses to the question, "Is there a God?," deserve comment:

The Onion: Is there a God?

Winona Ryder: Is there a God?

O: Yes, does God exist?

WR: Um, I don't know. I really don't know. I hate to be so boring, but I don't know.

I suppose it was good of Winona to be so honest, and I'd like to think that her not knowing is not because she's been so distracted by things of this world that she hasn't gotten around to considering God. However, it is telling that her not knowing is of concern to her simply because it makes her boring. It's all about fashionable statements. Actually, it's all about the celebrity and then about the statement.

George Carlin, in contrast, is a bit more interesting:

The Onion: Is there a God?

George Carlin: No. No, there's no God, but there might be some sort of an organizing intelligence, and I think to understand it is way beyond our ability. It's certainly not a judgmental entity. It's certainly not paternalistic and all these qualities that have been attributed to God. It's probably a dispassionate... That's why I say, "Suppose He doesn't give a shit? Suppose there is a God but He just doesn't give a shit?" That's the kind of thing that might be at work.

What I love about George's answer is that it points to the two flaws that seem increasingly difficult to overcome in honestly assessing reality as God-less: the necessity for intelligence in it all, and its being beyond our ability to fully comprehend. So, the initial response is "no," but then there's a, "well, there could be something, but I don't want to believe that it's God as people with whom I've disagreed my whole life might define Him."

One might also wonder how George can be so certain about whether God is "judgmental" if He is "way beyond our ability" to understand. I often wonder whether the question that most frightens people like George Carlin is, "Suppose He does give a shit?"

(via Mark Shea)

I should note that I realize that the Onion is satire, and that I spent a full day debating whether to address the above-linked page seriously. This section, however, does not strike me as satire, particularly considering that the great majority of the celebrities' responses are neither funny nor satirically revealing of their character traits. Here's what the Web site's FAQ section has to say about the A.V. department from which the above was taken:

What is The Onion A.V. Club, and how does it relate to The Onion?
This division of The Onion features Q&A interviews with entertainers, essays, and reviews of movies, music, and books, as well as the Savage Love column and the comic strips Red Meat and Pathetic Geek Stories.

I've emailed for clarification, but it seems as if the purpose of this section of the paper is to present legitimate, if quirky, interviews and reviews. At any rate, the points that I've made are such that they would apply to certain actual people, even if these specific quotes turn out to be fake.

Stephen Thompson, editor of the Onion A.V. Club, informs me, "Everything in the A.V. Club is real."

... unless his email was satire as well...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:59 PM EST


No Essays, Just Slogans

Sorry. I've done my morning scan of potential topics, even starting and deleting one post, but just cannot get in the frame of mind to write about anything that I've found. I did, however, find inspiration for a slogan among Lane Core's multiple posts about fallacious reportage at the New York Times:

The War Against Error

It'd make a good blog name, too, I think.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:15 AM EST


Not a Bright Morning Opener

What a sad story:

AT 3.30pm each day George wanders a kilometre from home in search of a miracle.

The loyal jack russell terrier waits at the bus stop where he used to meet his owner Amity Hartnett-Campbell after school, before making the return trip alone.

The sad daily journey has become a ritual for the grieving pet since Amity was killed in a car crash four months ago.

Everything can change in an instant. God accept her soul.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:48 AM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

The Redwood Review poem of the week is "Lighthouse Keeper," by Ingrid Mathews.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:48 AM EST


Tuesday, July 29, 2003

We'll See Whether We Can Believe It

Well, as much as I dislike predictable outcomes, here's my order for the final five comedians on Last Comic Standing:

Bottom of the heap: Dat Phan. I really don't think this is anything personal; he just went and did the my-mother-has-a-funny-accent routine. His delivery was better than I've seen it, but after the first scrunchy face, I find myself telling the television, "We get it! You're Vietnamese!"

Fourth: Tess. Her schtick seemed a little forced and rehearsed at times, but that thong joke was just great, and the strange blend of tramp and innocent cutie is unique and offers a lot of rich territory.

In the middle: Rich Vos. I liked Rich throughout the season, and I like his comedic style. I just think this wasn't his forum. I think he might be one of those comics who need a little time to unravel their sets. The five minute snippet just didn't give him time to build up to his punchlines. I think he'd be a good host of some show or a good character on a sitcom.

Runner up: Cory. She's just a classically funny lady. I thought some of her punchlines either needed more punch or better buildup, but her delivery is strong and her material is easy to relate to. (Anybody notice that her hands were shaking?)

The official winner: Ralphie May. What can I say? He had me laughing very hard. He's got presence, timing, priceless expressions, and good material. And I was pleasantly surprised by his politics. (Not that that should necessarily matter for comedy...)

The real winner: Dave Mordal. Dave covered every base. He was good extemporaneously during the show, his material was fantastic and original yet true to life, his delivery was professional, his persona was interesting, and he didn't play down to his audience. I still think it ultimately won't matter that he lost on this show.

ADDENDUM (08/06/03):
I've noticed this old post getting a number of hits now that Dat Phan has won the whole shebang. For thoughts on that... umm... turn of events, click here.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:18 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 07/29/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Crazy Child" by me.

"Crazy Child" Justin Katz, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Singing my song to painted walls

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:47 PM EST


Another "Army of God"... Great!

No really: great:

''If I have any information about Fedayeen or Saddam's followers, I must tell them. We must make friends with the Americans. I see them as angels. I call them God's army,'' said Sajida, a Shi'ite Muslim who says her two brothers were killed by Saddam.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:25 PM EST


If I Start Singing Showtunes, You'll Know Why

I am extremely busy... and extremely tired. That's not a good combination, although any posts that I do make may have that a delirious quality that might not be unrewarding.

As my first act of probably-not-as-funny-as-I-think silliness, I give you my new slogan: "The hardest working man with no business."

Yeah, I know.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:22 PM EST


Delusion as It Always Has Been

In response to my column this week, Randy Barnett pointed me to his wrap up of his guest-blogging adventure, which further addresses the increasingly disconnected worldview of the Left.

For the most part, I don't think anything that he writes there contradicts what I've written. The fact that New Media has risen to the challenge of responding to the homogenous voice of the mainstream is certainly an indication that society as a whole is pulling back from the leftward madness. I begin to differ, however, to the extent that Barnett seems to imply that the problems exist in some significant proportion on both sides of the political line and that they have always existed thus, merely toning down or raising their rhetoric given current reality. To be sure, delusion is not a partisan playmate, but one ought not dismiss the reality that society does — people do — shift across the spectrum. It isn't a wave in which everybody stands and sits but remains in their places.

Consider this, which he quotes from ritingonthewall's JB:

the radical left bugs me more than before, but i think that's because they're more vocal about their views. chomsky is easy to dismiss when he and his disciples sit down and shut up, but that doesn't mean that the basic set of views isn't there.

likewise, the really crazy right is pretty quiet right now as things are going at least sort of well. they have less to complain about, not least of which because the party that they're generally identified with now has a wider platform. also because they have more to lose for shooting off their mouths.

there's also the status quo dynamic. the right (not the far right as far as i'm concerned) is in power. the left isn't. thus, compared to the status quo, the left is further left. along with the blockbuster theory at asymmetrical information on in-power versus out-of-power factions, it isn't hard to construct a discursive milieu wherein the left seems way, way further out than it was, say, four years ago.

but that doesn't mean things are "objectively" all that different.

This passage, I'd argue, was written from within a "social construction" in which two sides are battling on pretty much equal terms, and the only rational position is between them. This, to possibly coin a phrase, is faux moderatism, and peels with just a little perspective. Chomsky, for example, is not as easy to dismiss as JB would have us believe. He is, after all, a famous "scholar." A high-profile academic. There is no correlation for such a position on the right. The University is entirely dominated by liberals, most of them far to the left of middle.

Chomsky, Said, whomever... they've never shut up, and it is only because their ideas are influential — in the case of Said, arguably affecting foreign policy in a Big Picture way — that conservatives, driven into think tanks and alternative media, have found it necessary to address them. JB is correct in saying that the masses' not paying attention to Chomsky et al. "doesn't mean that the basic set of views isn't there," but only in a limited historical sense. The views are, actually, relatively new, historically speaking, and are now reaching such a stark lunacy, particularly in context of world events, that others are beginning to recoil. As the others recoil, the delusions of the Chomskyites will likely increase in intensity (partly to account for their not being treated as the sages that they know themselves to be).

But the point returns to this: where are the crazy rightists whom JB would place in opposition to Chomsky? Not in academia. Not in the media. Not in Hollywood. Not in wherever it is that writer-types hang out. How, then, can it be said that they (we?) have quieted down, when they didn't have a megaphone to begin with? Here's one possibility: the Leftists sought out "crazy rightists" for the purpose of presenting them as representatives of the right. In that sense, the "crazy right" was partially a component of the liberal social construction (witness the Berkeley study about conservatives that JB also addresses).

As for the Left just seeming more Left because the government has moved right, well, there are apparently moderate Democrats who don't happen to think that's the case:

"The Democratic Party is at risk of being taken over from the far left," U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, the group's chairman, told reporters at a two-day DLC convention here.

Back to Randy's (and my) suggestion: society is pulling right, exposing the kooks on the left, who are in turn retreating farther left. It isn't that the Left, broadly speaking, hasn't moved; it has. Things are objectively "all that different." The government may be more conservative, and conservatives may have more outlets for discourse, but the mainstream suppliers of information are still "asymmetrical." In fact, the reality of a conservative government and of an international stage that currently acts as a quick-result testing ground for the political ideas of both sides have contributed directly to the requirement among those who would perpetuate the Leftist myths to distort reality.

Under the influence of JB, Barnett moderates himself as if out of sight of his original suggestion:

This very new contrast between the two media may account for the perception that the Left is doing this more (when they really are not). The new media is available as a contrast and is itself identifying more instances of this happening on the Left and in the old media.

In his original post, Barnett's point was that the Left is more obviously making facts fit their view and shifting those facts as necessary to fit their social construction. In this light, what I've just quoted from his subsequent post misses the point: the New Media is forcing the Left to tell one lie to cover the other, so to speak. Without the New Media — and the broader shift of society — the lies on top of lies wouldn't have been necessary because the first lies would have stuck; the flip-flops would not have just been less obvious, they would not have been made because the flip would have gone unchallenged at any significant level of visibility.

As I've said before, clarity and confidence have been made to seem the enemies of truth. And this factor has so permeated our society that taking that view is often an instinctive reaction, particularly among those who strive to stand in the middle.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:40 AM EST


Monday, July 28, 2003

What Can Be Hidden

Well, they aren't the weapons we want to be digging up:

U.S. soldiers discovered 40 anti-tank mines, dozens of mortar rounds and hundreds of pounds of gunpowder on Monday buried in Saddam Hussein's hometown - enough for a month of attacks on U.S. troops. ...

U.S. soldiers dug up the freshly buried weapons outside an abandoned building that once belonged to Saddam's Fedayeen militia in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown and power base in which he still enjoys widespread support.

But it's great that we found them. What strikes me with this news is that this is how our enemies handle weapons to which they want immediate access while on the run. Considering the even more secretive nature of the weapons that we really want to find as well as the likelihood that they were hidden by a regime still in power, this find gives some indication of what we face in that search.

So that's what strikes me about this news. What strikes me about the way in which it is presented is the large five-paragraph serving of bad news that the Associated Press inserted where I've put the ellipsis in my quotation. Can't have readers getting too optimistic, now can we?

On the other hand, radical Iraqi militants are helping to lighten the reportage by choosing names that obviously skipped a round or two of focus groups and test marketing: "Jihad Salafi Group." Salafi? That sounds like an excursion to view Italian meats in the wild.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:06 PM EST


Giving Everybody Candy

One reason that I've been light on the blogging today is that I'm in the process of reading Stanley Kurtz's comprehensive (long) exploration of the slippery slope portion of the argument against gay marriage. I'm reading it interspersed with the other things that I have to do (you know, like work), so I haven't got anything to say in response to the article as a whole.

However, one statement that Kurtz makes toward the beginning, that is probably in response to an argument that I've seen before and am beginning to question, is, "To consider what comes after gay marriage is not to say that gay marriage itself poses no danger to the institution of marriage." The objection that this seeks to fend off for the purposes of this particular piece appeared recently in Tom Sylvester's exchange with Law Professor Stephen Clark. "Why are same-sex couples entitled to so little consideration that they can be exploited as social insulation against the 'threat' of group-marriage?" wrote Clark, and Sylvester conceded that it was "an incredibly powerful point."

But was it? Perhaps subsequent to the assumption that gay marriage is an inalienable right, which is an assumption against which many, including me, would argue. But if the push for gay marriage is seen for what it is — a request for a new definition to marriage — then the "powerful point" becomes, at best, "emotionally influential rhetoric." From that perspective, it's similar to a complaint that a third grader might make against a teacher who, sharing her candy with another teacher, refuses to give a piece to the student on the grounds that she would then have to give a piece to everybody in the class. Even if the student in some sense "deserves" a piece of candy, it isn't an affront to his rights that he acts as "insulation" between the relative privileges of teachers and students in that situation.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:39 PM EST


Our Racist Nation

Sometimes, you just have to shake your head at the naked racism that is enabled by the doctrine of "multiculturalism."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:21 AM EST


Just Thinking 07/28/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "A Social Construction Coming Unglued," about social constructionism and the unraveling of the Left.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:10 AM EST


Sunday, July 27, 2003

Wow, Is It Sunday Night?

Whoa! A whole weekend without a single post. That hasn't happened since I started blogging!

Well, I apologize, if apologies are due. I've been extremely busy helping to rebuild a friend's book, and the 2003 Redwood Reviews came in late on Friday. They came out very well, and now comes the fun part of sending them out into the world. Actually, the whole process of publishing is fun — each stage in its way (some, to be sure, in a tedious way).

Another reason that I haven't posted is that, although I've looked, I haven't found any topics that have overcome the apathy barrier. However, I do have a Just Thinking column in the works, and as soon as I see something worth posting, I'll be sure to do so.

Hope you had a great weekend.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:00 PM EST


Friday, July 25, 2003

Measuring... Something

Although the whole thing isn't online any longer, last July, I wrote an essay in which I suggested:

Perhaps we find it difficult to intertwine morality and mechanics because we have no "scientific" language with which to discuss emotions in the same way we once had no mathematical language with which to discuss the physical universe. We can examine chemicals in the brain, as we can discuss chord structures in music, but these studies cannot make the leap to actually explaining what, how, or why we feel, which is a fluid subject of essences. In short, we are still acting in the emotional dimension similarly to how pre-Newtonian carpenters acted in the physical dimension; they intuited the laws of physics as we now intuit the ethical laws of emotion.

I'm reminded of that idea by an ongoing experiment performed globally by parapsychologists:

Now, imagine the Earth as a brain; humans - perhaps all life - as brain cells; and a network of Random Event Generators (REGs, like high-speed, electronic coin tossers) as electrodes. This is the Global Consciousness Project and it appears to be measuring, well _ something. Begun in 1998, it now involves more than 75 networked computers known as Eggs ("electrogaiagrams") in about 30 countries, including the US, UK (two), Russia, Fiji, Cuba and Romania.

The project grew from experiments by Dr Roger Nelson of Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research. For over 20 years, researchers at this leading parapsychology institute have been studying the effects of human consciousness on REGs, demonstrating to their satisfaction that individual minds can subtly influence random mechanical processes and create deviations from expected chance results.

Nelson's team claims that periods of widespread attention or concentration correspond to notable fluctuations in the Egg network's data. For example, significant results were recorded after the Turkish earthquakes of August 1999, millennium eve, the 2000 US presidential elections, and September 11 2001, when the GCP network responded in a "powerful and evocative way".

If this experiment were to be revealed as a fraud or anomaly, I'd attribute that failure to a lack of the proper tools or method of measurement rather than scoff at supernaturalists. On the opposite end of the spectrum would be those for whom even further successful and expanded experiments in this area would be proof that there is no God because they could point to the processes whereby the "something" occurs.

It's exciting and, not conversely, comforting to come across entirely new discoveries, new realms of understanding. But we should never expect measurements in the physical reality to address the emotional reality. Entirely as an exercise of imagination, I can foresee these discoveries expanding to the point at which it would be possible to suggest that these effects of "attention or concentration" are a mild version of the force that caused the universe and keeps it running. Even that would not be enough to tell us why or who. The good news is that we don't need cutting-edge science to tell us that.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:05 PM EST


Actual Causal Link Between IVF and Views of Children

Whereas I concentrated, yesterday, on humanity's rights in relation to the individual in the context of IVF, Pia de Solenni directs her focus on children:

Reproductive liberty has come to mean the liberty of parents to determine everything (medically possible) about their child. It means nothing about the rights of that child to be created within the conjugal embrace of loving and committed parents. It means nothing about the rights of the child to be accepted even if she's not perfect. Soon, it might mean that parents can return the child if she isn't up to the specifications they desired (this is not absurd: think of wrongful-birth suits).

Children born any-how deserve our love, and people of any age deserve the respect that they earn. But
the fact that an individual child doesn't lose worth does not translate into a society in which children don't lose worth.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:44 PM EST


Counting the Differences

This gathering spot for Southern New England bloggers is going to be fun. Today, I "met" David Grenier, whose blog sports advertisements for Dennis Kucinich in '04 as well as Industrial Workers of the World.

David notes the humorous tale of Marc Schultz, who was apparently visited at the bookstore in which he works by some plain-clothes FBI agents because somebody in a nearby coffee shop had reported him as a suspicious character reading suspicious material:

Trippi's partner speaks up: "Any reading material? Papers?" I don't think so. Then Trippi decides to level with me: "I'll tell you what, Marc. Someone in the shop that day saw you reading something, and thought it looked suspicious enough to call us about. So that's why we're here, just checking it out. Like I said, there's no problem. We'd just like to get to the bottom of this. Now if we can't, then you may have a problem. And you don't want that."

I thought it was a cute story, the sort about which we do well to chuckle in post-9/11 America, and Mr. Schultz certainly relays it in a manner suggesting that he's had many a good chuckle since it happened. My fellow Rhode Islander David, however, takes the opportunity (sans direct link) to propose turning the humorous tale into a light-hearted game:

So can anyone tell me the difference between our post-9/11 security state and, say, Bolshevist Russia? I mean, aside from the fact that Russians had health care.

Okay... let's see... I've got three differences:

One: Not only was Atlanta freelance writer Marc Schultz not imprisoned or executed, but he managed to sell his account — complete with a picture — to "the second-most broadly distributed newspaper in Georgia" (circulation: 140,000).

Two: A global clandestine organization largely populated by young, swarthy, often-bearded men recently "visited" thousands of people at their place of business and murdered 3,000 of them.

Three: Socialists liked Bolshevist Russia (healthcare!).

Oh, yes. Mingling with my fellow Rhode Island bloggers is going to be a whole lot of fun.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:33 AM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:22 AM EST


Thursday, July 24, 2003

"But Lukewarm Water Doesn't Kill a Frog..."

Eugene Volokh has added two posts on the topic of Leon Kass and IVF. In the first one he touches on something that I'd intended to address from an email that he'd sent me; this is from the post:

No-one, to my knowledge, views [IVF] children as less than human, or differently human, or having a different relation to us than naturally born children. No-one, to my knowledge, views humanness any differently because IVF-born people exist. Next time you talk to someone, imagine that he was born by IVF. Would it remotely matter to your evaluation of his worth, his personality, or anything else that he was conceived in vitro rather than in utero? What possible difference could that make to how we should treat him? And if it makes no difference, then what possible difference does his existence make to our understanding of our humanness?

Well, a grandparent does not view his grandchild as less than or differently human just because the child was born to unmarried teenage parents. That doesn't mean that the births of such children ought to be considered advisable behavior, and making it so would have broad implications for how we see society. I realize that this comparison is extremely limited, but what it gets at is that acceptance of the person born, by no fault of his own, under different circumstances than usual is not an indication that thorough acceptance of that method of birth doesn't affect our view of society and, extended, our view of humanity.

In fact, I'd argue that the acceptance of IVF children is, itself, an indication of our changed view of humanity: we've broadened it to include children not conceived in the womb. Only if we did consider IVF children to be less than human would our conception of "human" have remained unchanged. Now, it is quite another discussion whether this change was significant and, if so, worthwhile, and into that discussion would come such factors as killed and frozen embryos as well as the happiness of infertile couples. This is where Volokh could place his argument that he knows "of absolutely no evidence that IVF played any role" in other social trends, and where others could suggest that he also has no evidence that they did not.

His second post on the issue deals more directly with my belief that IVF expanded the definition of "human" to include those not conceived in the womb. Here's Volokh:

A correspondent writes that, though IVF-born people are clearly fully human, "The prior question of what it means to be a human -- formerly only possible through the physical union of a man and a woman -- is deeply implicated by all assisted reproductive technologies."

That just makes no sense to me; how could "what it means to be a human" possibly be affected by the location of the conception? First, as I understand it, it has always been possible to impregnate a woman by injecting sperm into her -- it doesn't require any advanced technology. I'm not sure whether a turkey baster would literally do the job, but I am pretty sure that it doesn't require vastly sophisticated tools.

Second, what would we say about an argument criticizing Caesarean sections (not just their use in a particular case, but their availability more generally), as follows: "The prior question of what it means to be a human -- formerly only possible through vaginal delivery -- is deeply implicated by all assisted delivery technologies"?

His choice of comparison suggests that Mr. Volokh doesn't see the problem with this for the reason that he's standing on it. Each stage of this progression involves a slightly different question, but he treats them as interchangeable. In a strict sense, adding Caesarean section birth to the only other way in which childbirth can happen changes something that all living human beings had had in common before that time. Similarly, turkey-baster conception would remove the common factor that all human beings were born through sex. These two examples both could be seen as having huge significance in matters of religion; they also affect our social view of the process of creating children (e.g., the emotional connection obviated by turkey basters and the added weight that the pain of childbirth gives to the decision to conceive). All things considered, however, I think you'd be hard pressed, as Mr. Volokh intimates, to find somebody who would prefer dead babies and mothers to whatever limited shift is involved in allowing non-vaginal birth.

However, one factor that ought to be considered as included in that limited shift is the ways in which it affects society's view of humanity. For example, to the extent that these practices prepared the way for IVF, they contributed to whatever wrong is represented by the new innovation. IVF, in its turn, has removed the common quality that all human beings were conceived within the womb. When I persisted, via email, with Mr. Volokh, asking what, exactly, he would accept as evidence that Leon Kass was right about IVF, he wrote back that Kass "could point to absolutely any actual causal link between IVF and absolutely any change in people's attitudes towards life, humanity, ancestors, descendants, etc." As I wrote in the previous post, and as I'll explain now, this "actual causal link" is prima facie.

It is certainly reasonable — perhaps ultimately correct — to suggest that removing "conceived within the mother's womb" from our generally held understanding of what it means to "be human" brought benefits to certain parents (and, by extension, the children who never would have been born) that outweigh the costs. But among these costs would be the fact that IVF has obviously — as made apparent by their direct linkage by Bova and Volokh — had an effect on our willingness to consider removing born of two parents from the definition of humanity in order to accept cloning.

After making the Caesarean section comparison Mr. Volokh states:

Our third, more detailed, argument would be "What it means to be a human depends on what people are like, how they act, what they think, and what their genetic endowment is, but not on whether they entered the world through a vagina or through an incision in the abdomen."

On the social scale at which Kass was addressing IVF and now addresses cloning, this third argument does not just apply to the child born, and focusing on that child is, to my mind, the central deception of proponents of the ever more socially significant "progress" of science. As a point of fact, IVF and even Caesarean sections have changed how we act, what we think, and what we are like. Kass's point was that changes to the process of conception would affect our view of humanity, not our view of an individual human.

This, however, is not an underlying problem of which Mr. Volokh is necessarily aware; he just rejects the claim that humanity has a right to dictate what humans can do to themselves (and, ostensibly, their children). The fact is that Mr. Volokh thinks the breeding of "super-humans" would be "wonderful." To be fair, his post was made too quickly to permit an exploration of what would be allowable in this direction, but if he's willing to allow genetically enhanced intelligence as a progression of thought that begins with IVF, I don't see what basis he would have for giving one's children wings... or fangs.

When Volokh insists that the "big caveate" for such steps would be that "they don't have unfortunate side effects," he clearly means side effects for the individual child. What he does not address — almost explicitly — are the unfortunate side effects for society and for humanity. Unarguably, that range of side effects cannot be comprehended, and my central question for those who take Mr. Volokh's position is: what gives them the right to make decisions for themselves as individuals that have unknowable consequences for all of us and for all of our descendents... ever.

I mean absolutely no disrespect — quite the contrary — when I suggest that somebody with Eugene Volokh's biography is likely to see the results of the social policy that he advocates in a much different light than the average person. The challenge for the rest of us is not to let the intellectual elite continue to use a narrow focus on the specific step that we face and an outright denial of our legitimate claims on them as individuals to persuade us further down this path on which they've such a tremendous advantage

It didn't fit well within the flow of the argument, but I do want to note that, in my view, the simple fact of killed and frozen embryos is an insurmountable cost to IVF and an "unintended consequence" that, of itself, has directly contributed to lowered value of human life.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:10 PM EST


Boiling the Frog on the Road to Hell

If I were one to believe that there's more to reality than a materialist view permits — and I am such a one — I might be inclined to think that something's going at this time in history to connect a bunch of seemingly disparate issues. Unfortunately, using the same analogies for all might come to sound more like reaction than thoughful response. So, although it's applicable, since I've already used the boiling the frog analogy today, I'll come up with something else. (It's extemporaneous, so forgive its cutesieness.)

Three guys are tied together at the Crossroads. One, who is wearing a sweater, wants to go north, arguing that it's the road to Heaven. Another, in a t-shirt, wants to go south, arguing that it's the way to Betterhereandnow. They decide that the third companion, in a long-sleaved button-down shirt, will decide between their arguments. At the outset, the Button Down suggests that they walk to the next intersection in the direction that is supposedly toward Betterhereandnow, despite Mr. Sweater's warnings that it is, in actuality, the road to Hell. As they walk, Mr. Sweater begins to complain of the heat, and by the time they get to the next intersection, Button Down has to admit that it is considerably warmer and suggests that they stop to discuss which way to turn. Arguing to continue on the same path, T. Shirt says, "Mr. Sweater gave all kinds of dire warnings at the Crossroads, and this is obviously not Hell. Why should we listen to him now?"

Now the context for this parable-on-the-fly. Noting the 25th birthday of the first test-tube baby (pictured here, although the article's not in English), Ben Bova writes:

Scientific American quoted Leon Kass, a biologist at the University of Chicago, who warned in 1978 that "the idea of humanness and of our human life and the meaning of our embodiment and our relation to ancestors and descendants" were at risk because of the first test-tube baby.

Fast forward to 2003. Test-tube babies are commonplace and the world hasn't self-destructed. But now people are pointing quaking fingers at the idea of cloning human beings.

"Cloning threatens the dignity of human procreation, giving one generation unprecedented genetic control over the next. It is the first step toward a eugenic world in which children become objects of manipulation and products of will." Who said that? The self-same Leon Kass.

The point is that every new capability in biology — particularly a new capability that deals with the creation of children — has been proclaimed to be wrong, evil or immoral by people who fear change. Yet today we live longer, healthier lives than any preceding generation of human beings.

To this, Eugene Volokh adds: "Indeed." Glenn Reynolds says a little more:

Leon Kass's fears about in vitro fertilization didn't exactly pan out. So why are we listening to him now on cloning?

Well, "we" aren't. But the White House, sadly, is.

Unless Professor Reynolds is referring to some unquoted statements, I'd like to know how Kass's "fears" have not panned out or — more correctly — are not in the process of panning out? This is prima facie territory; we're talking about cloning! How does that not represent a further step toward changing "the idea of humanness and of our human life and the meaning of our embodiment and our relation to ancestors and descendants"? Sure, Louise Brown is not a 25-year-old anti-Christ, but consider some of the issues that have popped up in society during her lifetime: partial-birth abortion; physician assisted suicide; cloning; Peter Singer.

One could argue (if one could find anybody to listen) that if a particular social trend does in fact end up harming society, everybody who ever warned against the trend, at any stage, has been proven correct — just too late, unfortunately. I don't believe that this is entirely true, inasmuch as taking a wrong road toward Heaven (to keep with my parable) can make temporarily heading back in the general direction of Hell advisable. However, to argue for continuation of a trend on the basis that a particular stage didn't bring society all the way to the forewarned destination is not an argument at all.

As the battle over cloning gets underway, I'd like to know for the record: do Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds support reproductive cloning? Will they support designer babies, when it comes to that? Will they support the growth of clones into which individuals can transfer their own brains? Will they support the generational transformation of families of particular lineage with sufficient resources into a super race? A super species? This may seem like the stuff of science fiction, now, but I'd like to know where people stand so that I'll be better able assess their positions when they point to Leon Kass circa 2003 as an example of the mistaken warnings of the past.

I guess what I'm asking comes down to this: what would be enough to convince Bova, Volokh, and Reynolds that Kass was not laughably wrong?

While I'm on the topic, I thought I'd also note Bova's assertion that "Even the test-tube babies are getting along quite well, thank you."

I assume he's not referring, here, to the 400,000 frozen embryos or the IVF children with various syndromes.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:27 PM EST


In Their Own World; Intellectual Conceit

In a post about campus conservatives, Erin O'Connor mentions something that seems to relate to all of the various issues involving people living in their socially constructed worlds, defining their own ideology as truth, and presenting falsehood as fact. O'Connor quotes from a Philadelphia Enquirer article that includes the tale of one college girl's receipt of an F on a paper that took the anti–affirmative action position and writes the following:

I would lay money on how this went: the professor sees himself not as an ideologue, but as one whose job it is to help students learn to see beyond their prejudices and unexamined assumptions. He does not see himself as particularly political, but rather as one whose clear thinking on questions of power, discourse, oppression, and opportunity has led him to the one right conclusion on the affirmative action issue. Thus, when students like Catherine Carre write essays defending positions he finds abhorrent, he can fail them not for having bad politics (he would never do that), but for being unable to think logically and write clearly. This is how invidiously the politically one-sided academy works. In the absence of balance, professors come to view their opinions as truth, they begin to feel free to penalize students who think differently than they, and they are able to fool themselves into believing that what they are doing is teaching those students to think, when what they are really doing is teaching them that in order to get an A, they must think--or appear to think--like the person who is giving the grade.

During my experience with higher education, I certainly came across the attitude that my thinking or writing must be off because my conclusion was wrong (in the professor's or admission board's view). The real danger is that this approach to "truth" among academics appears to be expanding into areas that have more direct implications for society than, say, 19th century American literature, such as psychology... and beyond.

I guess the question is whether the professors will be capable of the self-criticism necessary to observe what they've been doing or will sink further into the reality of their own creation. Actually, that's the question that faces just about all of us.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:29 PM EST


Even Its Reporters Don't Believe Reuters

If the media had any inclination to treat itself with anything even remotely resembling its proclivities for scandals and controversy in other parts of the public sphere, this would quickly be investigated:

This is from a story that Reuters news service ran this week with my byline:

"Jessica Lynch, the wounded Army private whose ordeal in Iraq was hyped into a media fiction of U.S. heroism, was set for an emotional homecoming on Tuesday . . . Media critics say the TV cameras will not show the return of an injured soldier so much as a reality-TV drama co-produced by U.S. government propaganda and credulous reporters."

Got problems with that?

I do, especially since I didn't write it.

Unbelievable stuff, and I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that one reason competing news agencies don't investigate each other is that they're all guilty of similar indiscretions. Well here's my memo to the mainstream media: Keep it up, and in the very near future, nobody is going to believe a single thing you say.

I sincerely hope that they don't bring down freedom of expression and the free flow of information when they fall.

(Both Tim Blair and Lane Core beat me to this one. Oh, and yes, this post was written by the below-credited Justin Katz on this day July 24, 2003.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:32 PM EST


Prayer vs. Perversity

Noting that the most often cited offense of John Ashcroft is that he not only allows, but encourages prayer in his office, Jonah Goldberg offers up a great arrow to put in your rhetorical quiver:

After all, when Bill Clinton was defiling an intern -- and vice versa -- the standard mantra from the left was "Who does it hurt?" Well, if you think consensual sex between an intern and the President doesn't hurt anybody I need to know why you think consensual prayer hurts people.

Prayer: the last objectionable private activity.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:20 PM EST


Hunter on a Different Planet

I've been saving a guest post on Glenn Reynolds's MSNBC blog by Randy Barnett for the column that I'm writing for next Monday, but I've been inspired to point out something specific that relates to it. Barnett writes:

But what I am now coming to appreciate is that increasing numbers of persons on the Left create in their minds a false world in which to live -- a world that better suits their preconceptions. They are not content to disagree with the goals of their opposition or about predictions of future policy results. They must make up facts about the world that fit their theories -- like the "homeless" crisis that immediately vanished when Clinton took office.

I couldn't help but think of this when Shiela Lennon linked with great approbation to a bit of dementia by Hunter S. Thompson:

The Rumsfield-Cheney axis has self-destructed right in front of our eyes, along with the once-proud Perle-Wolfowitz bund that is turning to wax. They somehow managed to blow it all, like a gang of kids on a looting spree, between January and July, or even less. It is genuinely incredible. The U.S. Treasury is empty, we are losing that stupid, fraudulent chickencrap War in Iraq, and every country in the world except a handful of Corrupt Brits despises us. We are losers, and that is the one unforgiveable sin in America.

Beyond that, we have lost the respect of the world and lost two disastrous wars in three years. Afghanistan is lost, Iraq is a permanent war Zone, our national Economy is crashing all around us, the Pentagon's "war strategy" has failed miserably, nobody has any money to spend, and our once-mighty U.S. America is paralyzed by Mutinies in Iraq and even Fort Bragg.

The American nation is in the worst condition I can remember in my lifetime, and our prospects for the immediate future are even worse. I am surprised and embarrassed to be a part of the first American generation to leave the country in far worse shape than it was when we first came into it. Our highway system is crumbling, our police are dishonest, our children are poor, our vaunted Social Security, once the envy of the world, has been looted and neglected and destroyed by the same gang of ignorant greed-crazed bastards who brought us Vietnam, Afghanistan, the disastrous Gaza Strip and ignominious defeat all over the world.

As is so often said on the right: you cannot parody these people. They live in a parody.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:16 PM EST


What's to Be Expected in the Culture War

I spotted this letter by Benjamin Thorp of Providence, RI, in the Providence Journal, and although it doesn't relate to anything that I had to say, today, I wanted to offer my "hear, hear."

Benjamin's main complaint is about the paper's biased coverage of issues having to do with homosexuality. Indeed: the paper's glossy, idealized coverage of the gay marriage debate (not that their reportage indicated that there's really anything to debate) back in October 2002 played a role in pushing me toward my current hard-line position. This time, the issue at hand is a local Boy Scout troop that's bucking the organization's policies on homosexuals. The Projo, as is to be expected, sides with the troop.

Did I say, "as is to be expected"? Well, as Benjamin points out, somebody not familiar with the twists and turns of the culture war might not think so:

Of course, most homosexual men are not child abusers, but according to a recent study published by the Family Research Council, statistics show that homosexual men, who represent less than 3 percent of the adult-male population, commit one-third or more of the cases of child sexual molestation. For those who can't do the math, that means that gay men are at least 10 times as likely to abuse children as the rest of the male population -- an alarming statistic. While policies that exclude certain groups can seem unfair, it is sometimes necessary to have such policies for serious reasons, such as the protection of children.

It is amazing to me that a newspaper that for months plastered its front pages with the child-sexual-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church would run a story that is thinly veiled advocacy of the idea of homosexual men spending the night in close quarters with young boys.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:04 PM EST


Celebrity Profiles

I'm not quite sure what position to take with this:

The Chicago Police Department apologized Tuesday for issuing a community alert saying a suspect wanted for a series of sexual assaults in Wicker Park resembled the entertainer Ice Cube, prompting a Chicago TV station to use a video of the rapper when it reported the story Monday night.

"We acknowledge the information should not have been in the alert," police spokesman Dave Bayless said of the reference to Ice Cube. "We took immediate corrective action. We apologized to Ice Cube for what was an honest mistake and came with no ill intent."

I can understand not wanting one's name to be brought into a bad story with which it is not connected in any substantive way. But on the other hand, Ice Cube has a familiar face (that's why he's called a "celebrity"), and if a wanted criminal looks like him, it seems foolish for the police not to alert the community in a way that they'll understand. When I was a kid, I spotted somebody after a bit of vandalism, and the local police showed me their book o' sketches. I remember thinking that a number of the sketches looked like celebrities. If it will help to catch a criminal as well as to make citizens aware of what to look for, why not take the most direct route?

Indeed, it seems as if it would narrow the range of people adversely affected by a description (black, medium height, medium build) down to just people who look like Ice Cube. Ice Cube isn't really going to suffer by the fact that he shares some features with a criminal, and to the extent that he does, it's attributable to the emphasis that the local TV news station placed on that aspect of the story. And this from a spokesman for the rapper/actor is almost laughable:

"This is an unfortunate and hurtful situation for Ice Cube," Labov said. "That his good name ever came in association with the events currently taking place in Chicago's Wicker Park area is damaging to Ice Cube as a father, husband and artist."

Has Labov ever read any of his client's lyrics? (To be fair, on a relative scale, Ice Cube isn't bad, but that relative scale is way off on one side of the objective one.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:50 PM EST


Bush's Limb and the Boiling Frog

I generally agree with conservatives who take the relatively optimistic view that liberals and Democrats are currently swinging hand-over-hand out onto a limb that may not even be connected to the tree. However, in the must-read column for this week, George Will reminds us that President Bush is crawling out onto a limb of his own — a thick one, but still apt to break if he puts too much strain on it:

This is the summer of conservatives' discontent. Conservatism has been disoriented by events in the past several weeks. Cumulatively, foreign and domestic developments constitute an identity crisis of conservatism, which is being recast -- and perhaps rendered incoherent.

George W. Bush may be the most conservative person to serve as president since Calvin Coolidge. Yet his presidency is coinciding with, and is in some instances initiating or ratifying, developments disconcerting to four factions within conservatism. ...

What blow will befall conservatives next? Watch the Supreme Court, the composition of which matters more than does the composition of Congress.

For some reason that I haven't figured out, Steinbeck's East of Eden is a big seller this summer (I know, in part, because of all the Google search hits to my site on the word "timshel"). In that book, Steinbeck relates the lesson of the frog and the pot of water: if you throw a frog into water that's already boiling, it'll hop out; however, if you put the frog in and then heat the water, it won't notice the change until it's too late.

This may sound silly (and I've certainly mixed metaphors with this post), but conservatives of the sort that George Will is addressing ought to start considering that it might ultimately be better to throw the country into their opposition's boiling water. Of course, that would be a frightening risk, but President Bush needs to be made to see that it is a risk that we are willing to take.

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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 Ambushed," by Anne DuBose Joslin.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:50 AM EST


Wednesday, July 23, 2003

A Story for Wonder and a Wonderful Joke

Jay Nordlinger kicks off today's Impromptus with some words about the recently deceased Cuban-American Salsa singer Celia Cruz. I love this story:

Celia did travel to the Guantanamo Naval Base once, in 1990. Miami congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who accompanied her, remembered: "She walked over to the fence that separates the base from the rest of Cuba and reached through to take soil from the Cuban side. Then something eerie happened. She was performing on this very hot, still day. But all of a sudden, the Cuban flag starts to ripple. There was no wind, and the base's flag that was a few feet away didn't move. But the Cuban flag was waving. We were all astounded."

Read the whole column, but be sure, at the very least, to catch the joke toward the end. (I think it would be better told using a "slap in the face" rather than a "kick in the rear.")

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:47 PM EST


An Honest Question About Psychology and Psychiatry

What is the purpose of psychology? I'd always taken the view that it is primarily to help people to be more content, to overcome unnecessary barriers to their happiness. Of course, there's also the secondary justification of just wanting to know how the human mind works. What I call "secondary" is certainly the more scientific aspect, but studying humanity — studying anything, really — is generally done with an eye toward improving the human condition.

The problem with the degree to which these two mindsets blend in psychology is that it is far easier for people to, and for people to be instructed to, deny problems rather than address them. Somebody with Tourette's Syndrome can only hope to manage the problem, which means a lifetime of effort and occasional slips. How much easier it would be (for that individual) if the entire world just ceased to care about the decorum that the Tourette's sufferer tended to break! This is where psychology, as the area of study that helps society to define and identify what is abnormal, has the dangerous flaw of being a useful, although rather blunt, tool for social engineering.

Psychology has never, as far as I know, been broadly approached with the strong internal definition that it is only meant to observe what is normal and abnormal as an abstract exploration of truth. Rather, research and application are closely linked, meaning that sometimes desired applications will guide the research, usually along ideological or (more coarsely) political lines. Consider:

Four researchers who culled through 50 years of research literature about the psychology of conservatism report that at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality, and that some of the common psychological factors linked to political conservatism include:

- Fear and aggression
- Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
- Uncertainty avoidance
- Need for cognitive closure
- Terror management

Of course, this is an extreme example, but as such, it offers a clearer view of the approach taken among the researchers' peers. Having been afforded such a view, it is incumbent upon the general population to look more deeply into the entire psychologically based social engineering project. I'm not going to go into the largest issue that I think indicates that we are already waist-deep in this quicksand, but consider that the American Psychiatric Association has recently debated removing pedophilia from its big book of disorders, while participants in an international psychiatric conference in Australia pondered the delusional aspects of religion.

Will we even be capable of reining this in, at this point? Only if we're honest about which knots need to be tightened, and it is likely that only a very small percentage of the population will find their own lifestyles unaffected by the squeezing.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:43 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:48 AM EST


Don't Buy the "Smear Campaign" Hype (Or Be so Sure About Who Is Smearing Whom)

[Note: a whole lot of people are coming to this relatively old post, so I thought I'd point out that I've picked up the topic again with all the latest information (which isn't much more than all the old information) as of September 29 here and here.]

Sheesh! Pop a controversial name like "Valerie Plame" into Google, and you uncover a whole lot of speculation presented as evidence for a lynching. The left half of the Internet is seething that "the White House" "outed" Valerie Plame, who works in some undisclosed capacity within the CIA, as the wife of Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who filed the now-famous report about the Niger-Iraq documents being false. This story will certainly expand, and it's already meeting up with the dubious claims of a "smear campaign" against the reporter who quoted some malcontents in the military. As Drudge subsequently illustrated, in that case, word choice, vague or specific, appears to be of utmost importance, and questionable parsing seems to be the dagger in the dark.

The Minuteman, in the best roundup of the Plame/Wilson epoch that I've seen, observes the web of quotation attributions and careful references to "administration" versus "government" officials. They are obviously being treated as different by all sources involved, and nobody with direct information has disclosed from which group the damning Wilson-Plame-CIA connection came. The Minuteman concludes, for the time being:

My current evaluation - Novak was coy in his original column as to sources. TIME pretty probably had CIA, or at least "government" sources, for info similar to Novak's. Consequently, the headline for this scandal might be "CIA in Disarray - Feud Outs Agent". If fallout from the Iraqi war includes a politicized and divided CIA, that is bad for the nation.

But better for Bush than the alternative, which is that his own aides outed a covert agent and compromised national security in order to punish an opponent.

If you're inclined to go in search of information, don't; there's just not enough out there to justify the time beyond what the Minuteman provides. Based on the little that is known (and I'm sure more is forthcoming), I'm thinking that there are deeper, broader battles being fought than simply the administration versus the Wilsons or even internecine feuding in the CIA. Consider this statement from Wilson to Newsday:

Wilson, while refusing to confirm his wife's employment, said the release to the press of her relationship to him and even her maiden name was an attempt to intimidate others like him from talking about Bush administration intelligence failures.

What strikes me as odd, in that paragraph, is that every bio of Wilson that I've found, such as this one, identifies his wife as "the former Valerie Plame." In that light, neither the release of "her relationship to him" nor the divulgence of her maiden name appears to be sinister. It is the "outing" of her as a CIA agent that is causing the rumbles of accusations, which makes this, from Wilson, peculiar, too:

But he said she did not recommend her husband to undertake the Niger assignment. "They [the officers who did ask Wilson to check the uranium story] were aware of who she was married to, which is not surprising," he said. "There are people elsewhere in government who are trying to make her look like she was the one who was cooking this up, for some reason," he said. "I can't figure out what it could be."

So, did the "administration officials" out Plame, or are they significant mostly for claiming that she suggested her husband take the trip? What's the controversy, as it relates to the White House, here? I'm starting to get the sense that a whole lot is going on underneath the surface. As I've said, if it is the White House attempting various smear campaigns, the administration is doing so in about as bumbling a manner as possible, something that it can ill afford in a nation with a hostile press. Of course, another possibility is that somebody is (or somebodies are) trying to damage the President's credibility and cast him as a less trustworthy figure than the American people take him to be.

Hmmm. Let's take another look at Wilson's biography...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:39 AM EST


Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Well, This I CAN Believe

Alright, I thought Dat Phan was much funnier tonight than he's been on any previous show, certainly funnier than Jeff, but I still don't think he should have been there to win tonight.

Dat just doesn't do it for me. I want to like him, and he's got some funny material but... I don't know. It's that intangible something. Maybe he just lost me with the long set making fun of his mother. I just don't find stupid-oriental humor unique or, well, humorous. And even his funny material — like the joke about people making fun of him on the street inadvertently saying actual words — I don't like his delivery. He also stumbles over lines and laughs at the jokes that he's about to tell.

On the other hand, tonight's show was worthwhile if only to remind me why I joined most of the people in the comic house (apparently) in disliking the cowboy. He did racial humor, too — in his case, Texan whites. Maybe it's just race-based jokes of any kind that turn me off. They're facile and don't shake out any real Truth.

At least I'm equal opportunity about it.

ADDENDUM (08/06/03):
I've noticed this old post getting a number of hits now that Dat Phan has won the whole shebang. For thoughts on that... umm... turn of events, click here.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:18 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 07/22/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Bellbottom Biker Blues" by You.

"Bellbottom Biker Blues" You, Alternative Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:25 PM EST


A New Game: Identify the Bigot

I'm willing to bet that few people would be able to identify this man by sight:

I'd also be willing to bet that you wouldn't be surprised if I told you he was some Southern segregationist, perhaps a mayor who supports the Klan in his town. Well, he's not, so here's another clue. He wrote the following, on the letterhead of his public office, to a black man from outside of his territory seeking to bring about colorblind government policy within that territory:

The people of [this place] have a simple message to you: go home and stay there. We do not need you stirring up trouble where none exists.

[We] do not take kindly to your ignorant meddling in our affairs. We have no need for itinerant publicity seekers, non-resident troublemakers or self-aggrandizing out-of-state agitators. You have created enough mischief in your own state to last a lifetime.

We reject your "black vs. white" politics that were long ago discarded to the ash heap of history. Your brand of divisive racial politics has no place in [this place], or in our society. So Mr. [Uppity], take your message of hate and fear, division and destruction and leave. Go home and stay there, you're not welcome here.

Figure it out? The picture is, and the letter is from, Michigan Democratic Congressman John Dingell. The troublemaking black man is Ward Connerly, who issued this much more intelligent response.

If I weren't inclined to feel akin to other people based on beliefs more than on skin color, I'd be pretty darn embarrassed. I wonder if Dingell's fellow Democrats and/or fellow Michiganders will let him know how embarrassed they are... or ought to be.

(via Erin O'Connor)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:43 PM EST


Oh Well, Drudge Pulled Back on Revealing the Administration's Wickedness

It's not a good sign when online news services refuse to perpetuate stories about the administration's "smear campaign":

PRESS: Maybe it was another miracle. Last week Lloyd Grove devotes almost half a page in "The Washington Post", a reliable source, to talk about Matt Drudge, reporting that after the ABC News showed a report from Iraq by one of their journalists interviewed some American soldiers who were very critical about having to stay so long in Iraq, and they said -- one of them said Donald Rumsfeld ought to be fired. Lloyd Grove reports that the White House contacted you and informed you that that reporter happened to be Canadian, and he happened to be gay.

DRUDGE: Well...

PRESS: Do you feel you were being used by the White House and why did you let them...

DRUDGE: Oh reporters... (CROSSTALK)

DRUDGE: ... used in Washington, D.C., I don't know. That would be a new phenom that I don't think I would get credit for. I don't know how Lloyd Grove found this out. I certainly didn't tell him. He instant messaged me as we do, and he says, what's this, the White House tipping you off on the background on this reporter, who, again, you're correct, got the interview of the summer so far...


DRUDGE: ... to actually have enlisted men calling for the resignation of Rumsfeld on camera showing their face unprecedented...

PRESS: And their badges.

DRUDGE: And their badges unprecedented, but we're in a new media era where satellite television is going to change the dynamic of war. I'm not prepared to come on MSNBC and talk about my sources, as I don't -- I would never ask you about your sources. Do White House staffers of all ranks help me in research and tipping off stories, yes, they do. But if you're asking me, if White House...

PRESS: Do you think...

DRUDGE: ... staffers said do you know what, the ABC News guy is gay, go after him. That's not how it happened, and it's not my fault if people in this town conceive it as that...

I guess my biggest problem with the "smear campaign" theory is this: if it were true, it would indicate that the administration has no clue how to perform even the simple hard-ball tactics taught in Politics 101. They would have brought the story more publicity to throw dirt that has tended not to stick in recent years and that the intended "victim" is entirely open about. You have to want to find dirt on the administration to believe that this was some sort of organized attack.

My second biggest problem derives from the huge clue that the rest of the mainstream media didn't grab this dirt (on Bush) and run with it — a pretty good indication that any bad-light-Bush story has shaky foundations.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:42 PM EST


Monday, July 21, 2003

Extemporanea for the Evening

Josh Claybourn went and brought up Tom Kinkade. Here's my fifty-three cents:

As one who has swung the pretentious artist club pretty hard in his day, I'll take the contrarian view: I love Kinkade. The first jigsaw puzzle that my wife and I put together once upon a time was of a Kinkade painting. His work is like fantasy-novel cover art without the soft-core porn; he is to Norman Rockwell what Tolkien is to Mark Twain.

Does it make me feel? Sure does, and something other than agitation, depression, hatred, or incredulity that somebody makes a living creating modern "art." Does it make me think? Sure does: "How easily we become conditioned to forget aesthetics and the wonder of the border where experience meets imagination." The question of a Kinkade painting is: what's hiding just out of sight? And I'm absolutely sick of self-referential concept art whose only concept, lately, has been better said by Austin Powers: "I'm fooling you and you don't like it."

I'm with the low-brow on this one and hope that we'll find out that Kinkade reads Harry Potter, drives an SUV, and types his letters on a PC. What does it say about the high-brow when a "vapid Hallmark card" is likely to feature better poetry than that produced by a laureate?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:53 PM EST


Tipped to the Dirt by Someone on the Internet

Mark Shea alerted me to the evil machinations of the executive branch:

Uh Oh

Not a good sign when the White House engages in this kind of stuff. I hope this was some lower level functionary's Big Idea and am skeptical that Bush would resort to such a tactic.

Mark linked to Josh Claybourn, who defined the "this":

Uniter, not a Divider?

In response to a story on troop morale, which is clearly declining, the White House communications division went after the reporter's sexual orientation and nationality. No word yet on what that had to do with the story, or who approved the personal attack.

Josh got the story from Ryan Reynolds:

White House Smear Campaign

You would hope that things like this aren't true, but you certainly don't put it past professional politicians -- sadly, even those in the White House -- to do it.

Six months ago, Bush looked invincible in 2004. Now ... who knows? The intelligence the administration received on Iraq looks shaky at best -- whether or not the president believes it was "darn good."

So what do we have now? A sputtering economy, a soaring deficit, a continual loss of lives in a country where they're hating us more and more every day after liberating them and, today, word that a member of the communications office is trying to smear media members through homophobia and xenophobia just because they did a story on plummeting troop morale.

My goodness, not the smear campaign! The iniquity! So how was this "personal attack" perpetrated? Well, I'm all prepped to turn to the source material (in our trustworthy, unbiased friend, the Washington Post):

Some folks in the White House were apparently hopping mad when ABC News correspondent Jeffrey Kofman did a story on Tuesday's "World News Tonight" about the plummeting morale of U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq.

So angry, in fact, that the next day, a White House operative alerted cyber-gossip Matt Drudge to the fact that Kofman is not only openly gay, he's Canadian.

Yesterday Drudge told us he was unaware of the ABC story until "someone from the White House communications shop tipped me to it" along with a profile of Kofman in the gay-oriented magazine the Advocate. On Wednesday, for 6 hours 38 minutes, the Drudge Report bannered Kofman's widely quoted ABC story -- in which enlisted people questioned the Army's credibility and one irked soldier went on camera to call on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign -- and linked to the Advocate piece with the understated headline "ABC NEWS REPORTER WHO FILED TROOP COMPLAINT STORY IS CANADIAN."

That's right, the White House was so angry — so "hopping mad" — about the ABCNews report that it made a point of bringing it to the attention of Matt Drudge and his six-million-plus daily readers. IMPEACH, IMPEACH! And the bastards even told Drudge where he could find information about the reporter! Sure, maybe they just noticed that the infamous Advocate article is the second hit on Google when you search the reporter's name, but still, the tricky manipulators surely knew that if Drudge looked into the gay Canadian reporter's past, he would find out that Kofman was, indeed, a gay Canadian.

Imagine the evil of the mind that would resort to such appeals to — ominous music — homoxenophobia! And the evil genius of the person who "authorized" this indirect, Internet-based smear-attack-campaign! Now, what would be the word for those who instantly translate vaguely related conversations between Matt Drudge and "someone from the White House communications shop" into dirt on the President? (I'm assuming Drudge didn't mean this White House Communications Office, but the Post article certainly doesn't rule the possibility out.)

I thought I'd clarify that, despite etymological implications, "homoxenophobia" would not be defined as "fear of alien twins."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:08 PM EST


The Media Hyperventilating Is Getting Ridiculous!

Is it the media establishment's intention to pick through every declassified page released by the administration to find any single syllable that might help a Democrat win in 2004? If so, The Washington Post certainly seems onboard:

"Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists," President Bush said in Cincinnati on Oct. 7. "Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints."

But declassified portions of a still-secret National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released Friday by the White House show that at the time of the president's speech the U.S. intelligence community judged that possibility to be unlikely. In fact, the NIE, which began circulating Oct. 2, shows the intelligence services were much more worried that Hussein might give weapons to al Qaeda terrorists if he were facing death or capture and his government was collapsing after a military attack by the United States.

See, the "Where are the WMD" line didn't stick no matter how many headlines repeated it. Now they're trying to back out of that issue and into another one:

The declassified sections of the NIE were offered by the White House to rebut allegations that the administration had twisted prewar intelligence on Iraq's nuclear weapons program. The result, however, could be to raise more questions about whether the administration misrepresented the judgments of the intelligence services on another basis for going to war: the threat posed by Hussein as a source of weapons for terrorists.

I hope everybody is learning to laugh when reading such media rhetoric as, "The result could be to raise more questions." It's almost as if the Post is losing confidence in its own ability to distort reality; it's already "raising more questions," so what's with the "could"? I'd say this prospective controversy won't catch either, for one simple reason: only the mainstream media was paying so little attention to what was really being argued to even be able to pretend that the possibility that a cornered Hussein would resort to WMD terrorism was some sort of top-secret intelligence assessment before the war.

But I'm not even ready to take the Post's summary as accurate:

One of the judgments was that Hussein "appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or [chemical or biological weapons] against the United States fearing that exposure of Iraqi involvement would provide Washington a stronger case for making war."

Another judgment was that Iraq would "probably" attempt a clandestine attack against the United States, as mentioned by Bush -- not on "any given day" as the president said Oct. 7, but only "if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable."

How many other "judgments" were there, and what was their message? For all we know, most of them foretold the horrible possibilities if the U.S. did not act, with these two as potential down sides. Note, also, that the second "judgment" mentioned here proved not to come about. The attack is way past "imminent." Furthermore, Walter Pincus (the Post reporter) doesn't say a single word about evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda were already working together in some degree well before the war. In the last two paragraphs of his article, Pincus reads as if he is struggling to implicate the President in something... anything.

Members of the media: that sucking sound you hear is your credibility disappearing. You'd best act quickly before the vacuum devours your revenue with a bang.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:32 PM EST


Bring the Troops Home!

I know the subject line of this post will surprise many regular readers, but I don't see what the United States can do when facing spontaneous protests of this magnitude:

The US-led coalition is facing growing opposition from Iraq's Shia majority with thousands of protesters taking to the streets of Najaf. David Blair reports

They came in their tens of thousands, some carrying swords, others waving the flags of the Shia Muslim faith and all chanting: "Down with the invaders."

Iraqi Shias massed in the holy city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, yesterday, staging perhaps the largest anti-American demonstration since Saddam Hussein's fall.

Tens of thousands! ("Tens or thousands"?) Some carrying swords! Swarming into the city! So much for Amir Tehari's hopeful words. I mean, look at this:

The spark for the demonstration took place on Friday when Muqtader al-Sadr, the son of a revered Shia ayatollah murdered by Saddam in 1999, denounced Iraq's new Governing Council. During prayers in a Najaf mosque, Mr al-Sadr branded the US and British-appointed organisation a "Zionist Council".

Iraqi demonstrators are convinced that America responded to this attack by deliberately humiliating Mr al-Sadr. They say that on Saturday morning American troops surrounded the Shia leader's home in Najaf and threatened to place him under house arrest.

American officers in Najaf deny this version. They say no soldiers were deployed around Mr al-Sadr's house. They suspect militant clerics mobilised their congregations across Iraq for the demonstration and say that the story about Mr al-Sadr's home is a lie to whip up anti-US feeling.

The Spark! The anti-Zionist flame! The anti-U.S. feelings whipped up! As David Blair reports (if "reports" is the right word), "If this was their objective, the demonstration's organisers appear to have succeeded." They succeeded! Give it up, you hawks! The post-war war is obviously lost when tens of thousands of Iraqis spontaneously — spontaneously! — enlist "lorries, buses, and even ambulances" to drive hundreds of miles to meet promptly at 10 a.m. and naturally — as if by rebellious instinct — organized themselves into "100-strong phalanxes." That's hundreds of phalanxes! The fury — and the spontaneity — is mind-boggling:

They massed around the base, roaring their anger. Cries of "down, down America" and "down, down Israel" rose from thousands of hoarse throats.

"We are Mujahideen. If our leaders say 'go and die' we will do so," said Enad Adil, a 33-year-old marcher.

Ahmed Hussein, 50, another demonstrator, said US soldiers were mercenaries. "They came from outside Iraq to invade our country. They don't represent Iraqis and they must leave. Our leader is al-Sadr."

The effort is hopeless when the average man on the street reaches back into his mind for his true feelings and matches the clerics' anti-Israel propaganda verbatim. Just look at the terrible ending to which the day came:

Then [a U.S.] officer addressed the crowd. Recalling the attacks on coalition forces seen elsewhere in Iraq, he appealed for calm and said: "Don't bring the violence of Baghdad and Falluja to Najaf." Later, the demonstrators collected their commemorative t-shirts and dispersed peacefully.

Before getting back on his streamer-bedecked bus, one angry Iraqi pounded his fist into his hand and said, "They told me there was going to be a football game with the Americans and the Israelis! Down, down with Team Zion! Long live the Iraqi All Stars!"

(OK, I made up the thing about the t-shirt and the soccer game. But you don't believe a thing the media says about Iraq anymore, do you?)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:06 PM EST


Down by the Seashore

Hey, while I'm busy doing the stuff that makes me busy, have a look at the Flash movie that will be the basis for the next iteration of Even the background isn't done, yet, let alone buttons and content and stuff, but I welcome feedback.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:56 PM EST


The Forces Aligned Against The Passion

As the release of Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion, approaches, it is becoming increasingly clear just how brave Gibson was to undertake such a project. The nitpicking from pundits and scholars has begun, from the mild showing off involved with correcting Latin pronunciation to full-on academic declarations of speculation as fact, all serving to prove that "thinking" and "research" in the West have come to require little more than seeking only those facts that support a preexisting bias.

Jonah Goldberg unknowing waded into this swamp of verbiage when he began posting this morning about criticism of the film. In the process, he practically invited a flood of criticism by citing Paula Fredriksen, an "expert" who gives the strong indication that she would not accept any portrayal of Christ that didn't do everything to (1) remove the Jewish authorities of the time from culpability, (2) downplay two thousand years of religion, and (3) contort the story beyond traditional recognition to accord with claims made by scholars on no more reliable basis than that's the only way they could fit the story into their own worldviews:

We already knew that Gibson's efforts to be "as truthful as possible" (his own words in the Times) would be frustrated by the best sources that he had to draw on, namely, the Gospels themselves. ...

The fact that Jesus was publicly executed by the method of crucifixion can only mean that Rome wanted him dead: Rome alone had the sovereign authority to crucify. Moreover, the point of a public execution, as opposed to a private murder, was to communicate a message. Crucifixion itself implies that Pilate was concerned about sedition.

That first sentence is truly a thing to behold. I think I'll write that down on a Paste-It note as the most concise example of academic non-speak that I've ever come across. How in the world is being "as truthful as possible... frustrated... by [using] the best sources that he had to draw on"? Wouldn't being as truthful as possible be frustrated by using worse sources than are available — or using no sources at all? Aha, there's the lesson! Gibson shouldn't have made the movie at all, or at least should have never uttered the words "Christ" and "history" in the same sentence, because the issue is the religious (boo!) basis for the entirety of Western Civilization (hiss!) and the supporting documents were not immediately committed to microfiche.

The truth is that Fredriksen's conclusions are created externally to even "the best sources" based on the bias indicated by the fact that, even assuming that Pilate wanted to send a message, there is no external reason to believe that the Jewish authorities were not involved, as "the best sources" say they were. Of course, it isn't at all clear that the crucifixion was uniquely remarkable as a message to the Jews, as some emailers to Goldberg argued. What becomes clear, however, when folks like Fredriksen begin listing the "contradictions" is that the person speaking is ridiculous, on the order of declaring that we can't believe that a party ate dinner because one person says that the drinks were served at 6:00 p.m. while another claims 6:30. One of Goldberg's emailers put it very well:

Such inconsistencies are replete in other historical records, but we seem to bring a different standard to the Gospels. Wonder why? Interpretation of the Gospels is riddled with these sorts of academic games. It can be very frustrating if you insist on a definitive answer. What bugs me are the people like Frederiksen who purport to have reliable answers when the record is JUST TOO THIN for sound conclusions.


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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:19 PM EST


My Fortune in Waiting

Some boxes in the closet of my old bedroom at my parents' house make this great news to me:

Storms is among a growing number of investors who have tired of taking their bumps bouncing around on Wall Street's roller-coaster-like stock market and have found vintage comics to be a safe equity haven.

"It's not for everybody. You shouldn't use your mortgage money so you can buy collectible comic books," said Storms, of Yonkers, an office manager with Verizon who has 25 percent of his financial portfolio tied to comics.

"It requires a lot of homework," Storms said. "You have to be knowledgeable about what you're doing. But there are many more selling options than in years past."

"Now is a great time to get into comic books because collecting is still relatively in its infancy," Zurzolo said.

I actually don't remember all that I had, but I did have some from the sixties. Most of my "treasures" were from the early '80s (1984 was probably the best single year for comic books ever), so by the time the kids are ready for college, they may be really valuable. Hopefully by then, however, taking out tables won't be necessary anymore. When I found myself absolutely broke after a semester at Carnegie Mellon, a friend and I took out a table, and my most vivid memory is of a well-dressed middle-age woman teaching her 12-year-old how to haggle by taking advantage of my desperation.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:36 PM EST


Just Thinking 07/21/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Transactions and Groping in Higher Education," a reworked and (hopefully) better put version of my post about the University of California's ban on sexual professor/student relationships.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:33 PM EST


Monday Morning Notice/Warning

With the afternoon already here, I thought I'd take a moment to let y'all know that I haven't taken the day off, and that I do have some pages open in a browser awaiting transformation into dust for the light of this blog. However, I also wanted to issue a warning: I am in what can only be described as "an extremely Monday mood." I'm much busier than usual (which is pretty busy), and I didn't sleep well (bad dreams that I don't remember).

Consequently, the prudent voice in the back of my head is offering its typically prudent advice: "Don't write about anything! Least of all controversial topics!" Well, I ain't gonna listen, although I will try to tone down my initial (through tertiary) responses when I do get around to posting. Nonetheless, an acerbic tone may very well seep into my posts... when I get to them.

Maybe eating lunch will help.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:59 PM EST


Saturday, July 19, 2003

Badmouthing the Bosses

Ask any grunt standing guard on a 115-degree day what he or she thinks of the open-ended Iraq occupation, and you'll get an earful of colorful complaints.

"Any grunt"? Well, that's not what I've heard, but it's certainly the story with which the news folks seem determined to stick with. Now the reporters are acting as if it is unjust — or even surprising — that low-ranking military personnel who presumed to publicly request Donald Rumsfeld's resignation face "retaliation."

Look, I have the utmost respect and sympathy for those men and women on the other side of the planet doing what must be done for the good of our nation (the entire world), and I'm certainly not one to deny others the right to bellyache. What bothers me in this scenario are the reporters who profit by making controversies of the natural reaction to unwanted orders, going so far as to present the "grunts" as insurgents and the leadership as some "retaliating" authority. Those quoted in the press were foolish to speak out, particularly to do so on the record, and their superiors had no choice but to make an example of them. The Robert Collier article linked above ends thus:

Nearby, Pfc. Jason Ring stood next to his Humvee. "We liberated Iraq. Now the people here don't want us here, and guess what? We don't want to be here either," he said. "So why are we still here? Why don't they bring us home?"

Well, guess what, Pfc. Ring: you just helped to undermine the President's assertions that the U.S. will not leave Iraq until it is a free and stable society. By providing Ring with a mainstream media megaphone, Collier just contributed to doubts among Iraqis who might assist the U.S. if they weren't afraid of the return of the Ba'athists. Ring and Collier just announced to the people behind the seemingly random murders of America's sons and daughters in Iraq that their efforts are paying off.

But does anybody doubt that this is exactly what the media, as a group, wants?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:26 PM EST


Of Writhing Demagogues and Christian Hollywood

Joel, of Sp3tator, links to my rough and dirty exploration of the al Rahma Orphanage/Prison of Baghdad in a post with the conclusion that the media isn't so bad... in comparison with the branches of the government. Although there aren't many institutions that couldn't be made to look better by being placed alongside the current federal branches in the United States, I do agree with Joel's conclusion, that the American media is such that "you need not pay a dime for any of it if it does not suit your tastes or needs" (something that isn't true the world over). I also like this description of one branch:

The Legislative branch is a tumultuous snake pit of writhing demagogues. The only issues they even feign to address are those that they feel will either raise their esteem in the eyes of the public, or lower their opponents esteem in the eyes of the public. The Country be damned. Although they will occasionally break from that paradigm if they see an opportunity to enrich themselves.

One thing about which Joel is not so cynical is Mel Gibson's The Passion:

But hear me well, this movie will be a hit on the level of The 10 Commandments, subtitles or no subtitles. There is such a hunger for hollywood level cinematography dealing with Christian subject matter, that it would boggle the mind.

I'm inclined to agree. However, I would note that, while many Americans would pay their dimes (around 100 dimes each) to see such content, it is not always true that we will be offered that which suits our tastes... much less our needs.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:07 PM EST


The Kids on the Block

Well, now we'll see how well I play with bloggers in my own back yard:

Welcome to SNE Bloggers! This is a community site developed to help link bloggers in the Rhode Island, Connecticut and Southeastern Massachusetts area together and provide a resource for relevant news and events. Inspired by similar sites in places like New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Dallas/Fort Worth, this was devised and designed by Jonathan Biggs (motor skills) with help from Jason Fournier (binarytoybox) who donated hosting and provided some crucial backend work. All you need to do to participate is live in the area and run a weblog or reasonable facsimile thereof...

One of the local bloggers, Ocean State Blogger, is another conservative! I had begun to feel as if I might be the only one in this state in which even the talk radio hosts are liberal-to-moderate. Well, I'll be nice, when I set up my blogroll next month, and list the liberals — even though I'll be surprised to see the favor returned.

(via Shiela "still hasn't blogrolled Dust in the Light" Lennon)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:46 PM EST


She Who Is Certain About Professor/Student Sex

There are certain writers, bloggers among them, whose opinions I will give double consideration when they are at odds with mine. Erin O'Connor is one such blogger. After a full day of periodic thought, I still can't bring myself to agree with her about the evils of banning sexual professor/student relationships. In response to the institution of one such policy at the University of California, Professor O'Connor concludes:

The policy will not catch faculty in illicit relations with students (not those who don't want to be caught, anyhow). But what it will certainly do is create an atmosphere of paranoia, one where the already overactive rumor mill goes into overdrive and begins to produce, through gossip, innuendo, and a newly prurient outlook, the sexually charged campus environment the policy ostensibly seeks to eliminate.

The question to which I keep returning is: Is this really "certain"? For one thing, both parties would be required to not want to be caught; how much are professors inclined to risk with the discretion of eighteen to twenty-one year olds? And why is it a foregone conclusion that making sexual relationships illicit will increase the sexual charge? Wouldn't the added significance — and potential repercussions — of such relationships leaven the output of that rumor mill and inspire professors to latch their churning emotions?

Frankly, some of the responses to the new University of California policy suggest to me that more schools' following suit might be advisable:

"It is extremely unrealistic, and some people are going to become criminal who were living perfectly responsible lives," said Judith Butler, a prominent feminist theorist who teaches rhetoric and women's studies at Berkeley.

"Extremely unrealistic"? Are the (ostensibly) most-formed minds of our society incapable of controlling their visceral lust? One wonders how many of these overeducated sexoholics are able to resist red meat. The deeper question that Prof. Butler raises is who decides what are "perfectly responsible lives"? The trend in our society is to answer that question with, "the people living them," but this sliding height is so loose as to be useless. I'm not so sure that a university's administration — those responsible for maintaining the institution in which professors and students interact — doesn't have an interest, a right, and even a mandate to set that bar.

Of course, each university can judge its own environment best. That's why find myself furrowing my brow at such language as this from Prof. O'Connor:

The ideologues who think grown men and women are too dumb to make their own sexual decisions and too immature to take responsibility for their mistakes ...

... I object strongly to policies that seek to monitor and regulate the sexual activities of grown men and women. ...this is infantilizing, intrusive, and insulting...

Well, are they? I mean, are the men and women at this particular university behaving in such a way as to indicate that they are dumb and/or immature? In the sentence before the "ideologues" jab, O'Connor summarizes the specific instance that finally set flame to an administrative inclination that has been smoldering in California since the '80s: "Theirs was a single drunken groping encounter, one that had a lot more to do with alcohol than a permissive sexual atmosphere on campus." Oh? What makes that less an act of sexual impulsiveness and more of an indication of maturity than, say, a professor/student couple striving mightily to keep their deeply emotional relationship appropriate until such time as they are no longer professor/student? Looking at a prior description that Professor O'Connor offered of the incident, I'm at a loss to identify the party who behaved in a mature manner:

Though Reisch was 25 at the time of her encounter with Dwyer, though she was, by her own lawyer's characterization, falling-down drunk the night it happened, though she invited him up into her apartment and chose to wait drowsy and prone on her bed while he used her bathroom, though she was well able to choose to make the series of transparently stupid mistakes that made their now-notorious disputed encounter possible, her accusations and her subsequent use of those accusations to drive an agenda reveal not only an unwillingness to take responsibility for her own role in the ambiguous groping encounter that has since been labeled "harassment" but also a truly draconian determination to make her own lack of accountability into the basis for sweeping institutional change.

Now, I would hope that, in this case, the university administration would decide the professor's punishment wisely from within the range of "a letter of censure to dismissal" (and a lack of guidelines is definitely a tremendous flaw in the policy). Nonetheless, it is reasonable to doubt that the professor in question — even if drunk — would have put himself into such a situation were there no "permissive sexual atmosphere" on the campus. As her latest post reads to me, O'Connor is taking the student as the only participant in the groping who made mistakes. I'd say the error was mutual and, therefore, find not unreasonable the implementation of actual "responsibility" for which the professor will have opportunity to be "mature" enough to take.

The problem, in part, is the unique dynamic of a campus. The professor/student relationship is not really a professional one as might be found in an office, nor is it entirely provider/client. In both of those other scenarios, while there are obviously dynamics of power and leverage, both parties come to the relationship as part of a discrete transaction that is often restricted explicitly in time and in location. In the case of a teacher and student — whatever the level of education — the transaction is the latter learning from the former, receiving some form of knowledge and instruction, intrinsically being formed as a person. In a campus setting, particularly, the line is less distinct between "on duty" and "off duty," and certainly, apart from any policy, affairs with professors are apt to color the educational experience of students in a darker shade than affairs with students are apt to color the careers of professors.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:22 AM EST


Friday, July 18, 2003

"Married in California"

A post in the Corner by Tim Graham reminds me that I haven't said anything about the "married" gay couple on CBS's The Amazing Race except to note that there appears to be a gay quota for each season. To be honest, I haven't been sure what to say about it.

On one hand, the agenda is obvious. The show has not, in any way, addressed the fact that, well, there's no such thing as "gay marriage" in California — or anywhere outside of Canada, for that matter. It isn't even addressed on the team's online bio. The failure to provide explanation of something as unique as gay marriage in such a way as to address the world as it is suggests that the creators of the show made a conscious decision to act as if the world is as they would, ostensibly, like it to be. To the extent that Americans can be made to believe that gay marriage "happened" while they weren't looking, opposition to it when the push is made will likely be lessened.

On the other hand, the show isn't meant to focus on the intricacies of the participants' lives. To be fair, the online bio for the "Dating 12 Years / Virgins" team, Millie and Chuck, doesn't delve into their somewhat unique relationship. Some social expectations come out in the mention that Millie once went on David Letterman wearing a bikini — "so she has a wild side somewhere deep down," which seems to suggest that anybody who would go on TV in a bathing suit can be expected to be sexually active and that people who wait until they're married to have sex must be no fun. This social presumption is highlighted by the next line in Millie's bio: "She enjoys volleyball, water skiing, rollerblading, snorkeling and swimming, and blows off steam by running, talking (or fighting) with Chuck, praying, and reading the Bible." Some of her hobbies don't strike me as contrary to a "wild side." But the point is that, while the show highlights unique aspects of the participants' relationships, it doesn't generally explore what makes them unique.

Of course, that it would include "gay marriage," conveyed as such, is intrinsic to the whitewashing — there is, after all, such a thing as virginity. Particularly worrisome is an aspect of this apparently unremarkable gay marriage mentioned in the bio:

Reichen's views on relationship are much more liberal than Chip's -- He enjoys flirting with other guys, but that makes Chip upset.

Ultimately, the show is walking a fine line pretty well, and I've grown to have more trust in the American people than my socialization taught me was justified. Nonetheless, it is important to be cognizant of the hidden (and not-so-hidden) agendas of those who have more influence than they should — like the producers of "reality TV" shows.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:03 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Fantasia in C Minor, Opus 64," by Zona Douthit.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:52 AM EST


Thursday, July 17, 2003

Teenagers Think They're Smarter than Grownups

I haven't paid any attention to attempts to give atheists the hip new moniker of "brights" because, well, it's foolish. It's the sort of thing adolescents do. Ironically, it's a giggly and glib appeal to anti-intellectual inclinations. Not that this is uncharted territory for atheists, whose central self-justification and outward marketing seems often to be that they're smarter than believers — that they're too mature and intelligent to require superstition.

A few years ago, I noted some problems with Jim Versluys's "Right-Wing Case Against Religionism" in The Houston Review. Versluys writes:

History is replete with atheists and agnostics who are the best and wisest minds throughout history. Outside of the obvious atheists, many of the wisest people throughout history have been either completely nonplussed by the notion of God or secretly atheistic and merely tolerant of God's children. The list is so long I feel no need to comprehensively list every atheistic sage: from Hobbes and Hume to Orwell and Strauss, some of the wisest men in history have been atheists of one form or another.

The opposite corollary -that belief in a God almost precludes wisdom- is easy enough to prove on a daily scale. The streets of Houston and Manhattan are filled to the brim with common people and their common idiocies, overwhelmingly people who believe in some kind of God or higher meaning. Mostly, the extent to which God and His commandments are ignored or made irrelevant is the extent to which those people are able to be wise.

Ah yes, the intellectual and logical rhetoric of "lists so long" that one need only offer a few names, all of men born within 315 years of each other. And that lovely caricature-ization of religious believers! So, for me, the "brights" stuff is merely a continuation of the "smarter 'cause I say so" line of argument. Perhaps next atheists will offer the visual evidence for atheism that their tongues are pink.

But I bring this all up, now, because Minute Particulars Mark has pointed out something that I missed by not paying any attention even when the New York Times lowered itself [ha!] to allow Daniel C. Dennett column inches to profess his brightness:

I recently took part in a conference in Seattle that brought together leading scientists, artists and authors to talk candidly and informally about their lives to a group of very smart high school students. Toward the end of my allotted 15 minutes, I tried a little experiment. I came out as a bright.

Now, my identity would come as no surprise to anybody with the slightest knowledge of my work. Nevertheless, the result was electrifying.

Many students came up to me afterwards to thank me, with considerable passion, for "liberating" them. I hadn't realized how lonely and insecure these thoughtful teenagers felt. They'd never heard a respected adult say, in an entirely matter of fact way, that he didn't believe in God. I had calmly broken a taboo and shown how easy it was.

Here's Mark's conclusion, with which I agree:

Here's the problem. I find atheism banal. I really do. I have many posts on it and continue to post on it, but it's not the atheism itself that interests me or "threatens" me in some way, it's the fact that someone could really believe such ideas. Dennett's stunt is not inappropriate because it shatters some superstition or torpedoes a taboo or two; it's inappropriate because it's uninteresting, irrelevant, and presumes an intimacy with the students that he doesn't have. He seems to be giddy about his little prank while showing no understanding of common human interaction. Intellectually "experimenting" on young minds, presuming that you're enlightening high school kids by sharing with them your unsolicited and unexpected beliefs about something at the core of our human condition, seems bizarre at best and intrusive at worst.

My first thought on reading Dennett was that those "very smart" teenagers must not pay a whole lot of attention to the world in which they live. In contrast, since I came around to being intellectually honest enough to give rational arguments for God's existence a fair listen, I've been surprised at how many people actually do believe in God. Growing up in a New Jersey suburb of New York City, religion was not a topic that I heard addressed in school, except as an historical matter incorporated with various civilizations. If I ever felt "lonely and insecure," it was not because I lived amid religious fervor (because I didn't), but because reality without God cannot be otherwise than "lonely and insecure."

Here's the paragraph from Dennett after Mark's quotation ends:

In addition, many of the later speakers, including several Nobel Laureates, were inspired to say that they, too, were brights. In each case the remark drew applause. Even more gratifying were the comments of adults and students alike who sought me out afterward to tell me that, while they themselves were not brights, they supported bright rights.

There's so much in that scenario and in Dennett's presentation of it that leaves me shaking my head. For one thing, somehow, I have a hard time believing that intellectual elites are hesitant to "come out" as atheists. More likely they expected and wanted the applause. For another thing, imagine being an insecure religious student in that room!

I don't know, folks. This whole "bright" think looks to me, at best, like complete bunk or, worse, the cutesie left hand trying to keep our attention away from what the right hand is doing. As Lane Core quotes from an article in The Age:

Studying the mechanisms of religious belief could lead to a better understanding of what goes on in the minds of people with psychiatric delusions.

An international conference in Sydney this week will hear that some religious beliefs - including that a virgin gave birth to the son of God - qualify as delusions.

Versluys enlists the name of Orwell to justify feeling smarter for being an atheist. Well, I think Mr. Orwell might be able to find a storyline in all this — something about disingenuously smiling soldiers with the word "Bright" on their chests rounding up the poor delusional religious oppressors for "readjustive therapy."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:17 PM EST


Iraq: Perspective All over the Place

Instapundit notes a report in the New York Post by Amir Tehari that concludes thus:

THERE are two Iraqs today: One as portrayed by those in America and Europe who wish to use it as a means of damaging Bush and Blair, and the other as it really exists, home to 24 million people with many hopes and aspirations and, naturally, some anxiety about the future.

"After we have aired our grievances we remember the essential point: Saddam is gone," says Mohsen Saleh, a geologist in Baghdad. "A man who is cured of cancer does not complain about a common cold."

This part particularly caught my attention:

In the early days of the liberation, some mosque preachers tested the waters by speaking against "occupation." They soon realized that their congregations had a different idea. Today, the main theme in sermons at the mosques is about a partnership between the Iraqi people and the coalition to rebuild the war-shattered country and put it on the path of democracy.

Even the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr now says that "some good" could come out of the coalition's presence in Iraq. "The coalition must help us stabilize the situation," he says. "The healing period that we need would not be possible if we are suddenly left alone."

Meanwhile, John Hawkins links to a report on a related issue from Newsmax, replete with samples:

In the nearly two years since President Bush named Iraq as part of the "Axis of Evil," the American press has been working overtime denying that there was ever any link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.

But that's not what the same news outlets were saying before the 9/11 attacks, back when Bill Clinton was president and needed justification to attack Iraq.

Just weeks after Clinton bombed the daylights out of suspected hideaways for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, he used his January 1999 State of the Union Address to warn America about both bin Laden and Saddam, mentioning the two terror kingpins almost in the same breath. ...

But rather than launch an all out assault on what reporters now call the "dubious" assertion that Saddam and bin Laden had made common cause, the press took Clinton's ball and ran with it.

The rule of thumb with the mainstream media appears less and less to be "adjust for bias," and more and more to be "don't believe a thing."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:25 PM EST


An Invitation to Intimidation?

I've found Shiela Lennon to be very friendly when our topic of conversation is literary, and she's been very supportive of The Redwood Review. However, her politics are so far to the left of mine that, in that range of topics, we might as well be talking to each other's feet. That's why I found this post on her Providence Journal blog to be a little disconcerting:

Who's filling GOP treasure chest? You can search a datebase for donors to the Bush/Cheney campaign on this web page. If you want to browse the list for friends' and neighbors' names, check the Rhode Island box and see all 25 pages of local donors.

And what would be the purpose of sleuthing out the political donations of one's friends and neighbors? Somehow, I don't think the list was meant to be used in a similar fashion to online databases of pedophiles. Should I request that National Review start mailing my subscription in a nondescript envelope?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:18 PM EST


Seeing Through the Smoke, or Are You Kidding Me, Professor?

Tom Sylvester has respectfully addressed an email from Stephen Clark, an Associate Professor at Albany Law School. (The link goes to the first part, scroll up for the rest.) In the third installment, Sylvester's exchange overlaps an issue I'd seen before:

I don't like to think about this issue in terms of political expediency. But committed gay and lesbian couples ought to have those legal protections and benefits as a simple matter of fairness. If it's true that there isn't actually a strong constituency for "marriage per se" in the gay community, but just for the legal goodies that go with it, then perhaps some sort of civil union arrangement is the way to go. As for Professor Clark's point about Americans being a "fair and sympathetic people," I agree, and that's why I wish this issue would be settled through democratic means in the legislatures, not by the courts.

I particularly noted this from Clark: "obstinate resistance to any and all legal assistance to same-sex couples is forcing the very marriage issue that the resistors oppose most." As Sylvester points out, that's akin to what Jonah Goldberg has recently written, some problems of which I explored the other day. However, with the new discussants, after the fourth installment of Sylvester's exchange, I thought to give this some thought:

That approach ("you're either with us or you hate gay people") is effective in that it discourages people from openly expressing concerns about ssm. Nobody wants to be called nasty names. But that approach is seriously flawed, as it boils down to an accusation of bad faith.

I'm not as opposed to ssm as Clark thinks. I was just calling for an open, fair debate. Naturally, many ssm advocates are happy with current media coverage, which presents their opponents as little more than cranky old white guys holding "Homos Go To Hell!" signs.

A large part of me will be happy when gays and lesbians in committed relationships will be able to marry, which I think is just a matter of time. Last week, I dreamt that I was at a debate over ssm where I argued with some Heritage Foundation staffers. Maybe that's my unconscious telling me that I support same-sex marriage. But I also think that dream was a sign that I've been thinking and writing about the issue far too much….so I'll stop.

What this set me on the road to considering was the degree to which my position is in reaction to specific advocates of gay marriage rather than their points. That wouldn't necessarily affect my ultimate judgment, but it's a helpful aspect of one's own mind to consider. What would the implications be if the debate is mired in demagogic accusations of bigotry, on one end, and a reaction to that framing, on the other? Then Mr. Clark helped me out significantly by emailing Sylvester the following:

Interestingly, if they are correct that mixed-sex marriage is really so Vampire-like that it can't exist without sucking the blood out of gays and lesbians, we should put a wooden stake in its heart, because it can't coexist with individual human dignity. Indeed, that's exactly what we did with another institution, black slavery, that similarly invigorated one class through the wholesale oppresion of another.

Marriage as it has always been defined subsists on the pain and souls of gay people? It is like slavery? This guy teaches college students? This psychotic rambling from somebody in a position that ought to bring respect has given me my new first question when starting in on this debate: Are you arguing from delusion? When and where was this "obstinate resistance to any and all legal assistance to same-sex couples"? When were homosexuals barred from legally declaring each other "next of kin"? And if they were, where was the big push — of the size that we're starting to see for gay marriage — to throw out the restriction? I don't remember it, and I think I would because I'd have been against maintaining such restrictions.

Some might suggest that I've come late to the battle. Well, if that's the case, then most everybody in America is even later. When were they asked — preferably through legislative initiative, but also through visible litigation — to offer assistance to real, committed same-sex couples? Because as far as I've seen, there was the Vermont civil union issue, and now there's the push for nationalized gay marriage. Where was the democratic movement to build on the fact that the sky didn't fall in Vermont in order to give gay couples recourse to some of the benefits of declared commitment?

I don't think it happened. I think all of this bile and all of the accusations are just a distraction, a ploy for political and emotional leverage. I think gay advocates assessed the current climate of the country and decided to go for the big prize, and a strategy of defending civil rights plays well with the intended audience. They want to push the agenda through the courts as quickly as possible, and they don't want to acknowledge that they are, indeed, asking for something entirely new.

To the extent that fair-minded people give credence to the suggestion that "opponents of gay marriage" have acted in the way that gay advocates are claiming "forced" them to shoot for marriage, those fair-minded people are not helping to remove the gloss that's been slathered on the issue. It's an old strategy, Clark and Sullivan's: accuse the other side of the bad faith in which you, yourself, are engaging. I hope and pray that the fair-minded American people aren't duped.

Sometimes the way in which advocates argue for a cause is very relevant to the debate over whether to grant that for which they are fighting.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:37 PM EST


College Campus or Semiadult Day Care?

I thought I'd posted on the ordeal of Steve Hinkle, but I guess I decided that it was just too black and white... umm... open and shut a case for me to add anything that wouldn't be said elsewhere. Suzanne Fields approximates my opinion:

Just when you think the politically correct clowns on the campus can't get any more ridiculous, they shoot another live white man out of a canon.

Steve Hinkle is an undergraduate at California Polytechnic University (Cal Poly). He has been found guilty in the campus kangaroo court of posting a flier on a student bulletin board offending the sensibilities of a small group of students so intellectually fragile they belong in a day-care center.

(I much prefer to see that "canon" as a clever pun than as a typo.)

In a nutshell, the white Republican Hinkle had the audacity to post a flier promoting a speech by a conservative black writer in the public common room of the multiculti center of his campus. A group of black students, who had never heard of the writer and who apparently cannot stand to hear opposing views, complained to the campus police, and the sham "legal system" of the university ordered Hinkle to apologize to the offended students because he wasn't fully self-conscious of his own skin color and didn't behave within the boundaries prescribed for his race. Hinkle refused and now might be expelled.

It has become common for the government to exert its influence by way of funding, and if that's the practice, then Cal Poly deserves to have its pipeline shaken. Nonetheless, I'm inclined to prefer mocking the pantywaists who run the school, gifting them with the sting of being revealed as fools by the rabble, and making a conscious decision not to take their institution seriously — certainly not seriously enough to recommend that others attend it.

I'm telling you, deliberately presenting one's university in contrast to all of this nonsense — rejecting political correctness, post-modernist gobbledygook, and even (gasp!) affirmative action — is about to become a major marketing angle for some institution with an observant and intelligent administration that is sufficiently brave and able to present the decision in such a way as to reveal the lie of those who would fling libelous accusations at it.

ADDENDUM (07/17/03 12:38 p.m.)
An article in the Atlantic offers more specifics:

When Hinkle approached a public bulletin board in the lounge of the campus Multicultural Center, some African-American students who were sharing pizzas nearby objected. They told Hinkle not to post the flier because they found it "offensive" and "disrespectful." By all accounts, his response was something like, "How do you know it's offensive? Why can't we talk about it?" The offended students then said that the flier violated the Multicultural Center's "posting policy," and threatened to call the campus police. Hinkle left, without posting the flier.

He didn't even post the thing! The Atlantic also puts the episode in context of "higher education" more generally.

(via Instapundit)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:54 AM EST


Whither the ACLU?

Obviously, if true, this was ill-advised, arguably contrary to Church teaching, and certainly contrary to the acceptable thrust of the occasion:

Lawyers for the family of Ben Martinez say they have filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe and one of its priests.

Court papers filed last month say Rev Scott Mansfield said at Martinez's funeral last year that the deceased was "living in sin", "lukewarm in his faith" and that "the Lord vomited people like Ben out of his mouth to hell".

As a Roman Catholic, I'd be angry at this priest's alleged representation of our shared faith. Whether his statements had a basis in truth or not, language such as "vomited to hell" is going to push more people away from the Church than it is going to persuade to live better lives (which is not to say that the priest couldn't have formed the same message in a more hopeful and productive way). However, the idea that a priest could be sued in civil court for something that he said on his own pulpit could not be any more clearly contrary to the First Amendment.

I've no reason to disbelieve the "church officials" who "deny the family's claims," but if this case goes further, those same officials had best begin pointing out that the government is explicitly forbidden from forcing a religion into a nice comfy mold for modern sensibilities, lifestyles, and points of view.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:33 AM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Hogmaney (New Year's Eve)," by Christine L. Mullen.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:44 AM EST


Wednesday, July 16, 2003

An Unobtrusive Reminder

It's been a good couple of weeks for Dust in the Light and for Timshel Arts. As I recently wrote in a column, after this summer, I'm planning to seek additional or new sources of income. I'd love for it to come from those activities in which I engage out of personal desire and drive, but that would require some unforeseen windfall.

At any rate, I thought I'd take a moment to offer an unobtrusive reminder that, if you'd like to help me feel as if the moments (ha! — hours) spent writing and reading aren't entirely stolen from the rest of my life, you might consider paying a visit to Confidence Place: The Timshel Arts Store.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:46 PM EST


First Attempts: Good Ideas That Collapse Quickly

I suspect that there will be many appealing and momentarily plausible suggestions for avoiding the culture war over gay marriage. Jonah Goldberg posts one such suggestion from Corner reader Doug Lach:

Since one of the main concerns of pro-marriage folks is the effect on children, (and justifiably so), I propose that the legal, state recognized definition of marriage be restricted to couples that have children. Furthermore, to address the illegitimacy issue, that once a couple gives birth to a child, they are automatically legally married, with all of the attendant responsibilties, whether they like it or not.

This would also help address the concerns about monogamy voiced by folks like Stanley Kurtz, because by definition, if you fathered children by more than one woman (without first obtaining a divorce), you would be legally married to both, and therefore a bigamist, and could be punished under the law.

Two problems come into view after even a moment's honest consideration of the idea: divorce and abortion. If divorce is still allowed, couples that have children but don't want to get married will simply file for divorce; the prevalence of the practice immediately after the birth of children would surely bleed through marriage regardless of longevity. Furthermore, many couples that choose neither marriage nor divorce will simply kill the children. Others will attempt to hide the pregnancy and ditch the babies.

In a different America, the idea might have some merit, but in America as it is, such a change would surely bring a net gain in social corrosion and, in my view, evil.

ADDENDUM: (07/16/03 1:50 p.m.)
Jonah Goldberg has posted more on the topic. I agree that the ease of divorce and its loss of stigma have been detrimental to marriage and to society as a whole. The following point, however, can be discarded pretty quickly:

Another question would be, if Kurtz et al are right about homosexual promiscuity being a permanent incompatibility with marriage, we'd probably see quite a few same-sex couples having second thoughts about making the commitment.

Not really. Some have argued (although I haven't the time to go in search of the link) that promiscuity would merely be defined as an acceptable part of marriage. So, unless we're going to "increase the cost" of adultery as well, the problem isn't resolved. And somehow, I don't think the Supreme Court is going to look favorably on laws targeting adultery to which even the spouse consents.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:39 PM EST


Pure War Is Unjust

Lane Core links to a great column in the Washington Post by Charles Krauthammer that highlights the backwards criteria that some seem to have for the use of military force:

The only conclusion one can draw is that for liberal Democrats, America's strategic interests are not just an irrelevance, but also a deterrent to intervention. This is a perversity born of moral vanity. For liberals, foreign policy is social work. National interest -- i.e., national selfishness -- is a taint. The only justified interventions, therefore, are those that are morally pristine, namely, those that are uncorrupted by any suggestion of national interest.

Catholics — and others who prefer to follow Just War Doctrine — who spoke against the Iraq war might (or should) have a problem with that characterization of "morally pristine." After all, if the threat from Iraq wasn't sufficiently imminent to justify war, then starting wars in countries that offer no threat to American interests whatsoever ought to be even less justified. Such folks, when pressed, often put undue weight on President Bush's motives — either stated or "real" depending on whether the President's many morality-based statements have been introduced into the argument — to declare that the war might have been just had the President not mentioned national interest at all.

Somehow, it starts to seem that Just Wars can only be initiated by liars and con artists.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:30 PM EST


Putting One and One-Half Together

(John Hawkins of Right Wing News has started posting blog posts within blog posts. I don't quite get the premise, unless his view of a "post" is more akin to "column," so when he actually "blogs," he has to further separate it from his blog. Personally, I'd prefer separate posts for each point, whether fully developed or not, so that one could link to them individually. Anyway, that's why, if you follow the link below, you'll have to scroll down.)

I came across two completely unrelated topics by two different writers, and there just seemed to be a natural connection. The first is Jonah Goldberg warming up to address some of the conceptual flaws of Minority Report:

With the aid of some clairvoyant teens, the police can predict murders before they happen and hence stop them. The program has been so successful, premeditated murders simply don't happen in Washington anymore because the murderers know they'll get caught before they do the deed. So the only arrests Cruise and his team make these days are for crimes of passion -- husbands who want to kill their wives in a fit of rage after catching them in flagrante with a lover etc. The obvious controversy/concept is that people are being arrested for crimes they haven't actually committed. Boo hoo, that's wrong etc.

Okay. Turn to John Hawkins writing about the media scavenger hunt for WMD controversies:

Just look at this title, "CIA: Assessment of Syria's WMD exaggerated." Woah! Sounds big huh? Know what the crux of the story is? "Anonymous sources" claim that John Bolton was going to exaggerate the threat of Syria's WMD today, but the speech was postponed. Yes, Bolton didn't actually say anything today, but he was going to exaggerate -- really he was -- the anonymous sources say so! Bolton was going to lie & people were going to die! Impeach Bush and Bolton now! Now!

Where's Spielberg when his insight would be really applicable?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:21 PM EST


Helping and Hurting Marriage

As much as I'd like to think otherwise, I'm really getting the impression that people who support gay marriage are just casting about for an argument — any argument. In the case of Charles Murray, that requires some presumption that he really does support gay marriage (it could just be that he's a categorized libertarian), but his first post in the Corner certainly fits the pattern. He compares marriage, as an institution, to religion and opines the following:

What about the state interest in promoting this absolutely crucial institution called marriage? That's real, but like so many state interests, it is not necessarily promoted by getting the state involved. The religious analogy comes to mind. In Europe, the state "helped" the Christian religion big time--and pretty much killed European Christianity in the process. The same thing may be happening from the state's involvement in--read, perversion of--marriage.

The religion analogy requires a bit more specificity; different countries in Europe have handled religion differently. Approaching European Christianity with a broad view glosses over an important point: there are various ways for the government to "help" a particular social institution. Consider the market: a government can help it by offering incentives (e.g., tax breaks) for people to start and expand business, or a government can "help" it by taking it over and running it. Marriage falls closer to the incentive model, while the religion that has been strangled in some European nations has fallen closer to the state-run model.

Failure to take this difference into account enters into Murray's post at the very beginning:

Suppose the state no longer used marriage as a basis for anything. People could designate anyone they wanted as their partners for purposes of obtaining Social Security benefits, tax benefits, etc.--spouses, gay partners, maiden aunts, whatever. Marriage would revert to what it was before the state started tying benefits to it: a covenant between two people that has gravitas because it is morally (better if religiously) grounded, but with contractual aspects enforceable under civil law.

What would be the basis for offering benefits to partnerships if those partnerships are disconnected from any particular relationship that benefits society? There would be none. Take the tax benefits; all that we'd get would be a contractual musical chairs as people ran around looking for others with whom to "partner" before April 16. Heck, somebody would probably start a business that helped clients link to each other, even if strangers, to capitalize on the benefits. A simple tax cut would be much cleaner and more efficient.

Furthermore, the idea that marriage would "revert" to a previous state distorts history and ignores entirely current reality. Murray seems to be imagining an historical scenario in which something resembling our modern idea of "state" existed side-by-side with marriage, with a leader one day putting forth the concept of "tying benefits" to matrimony. I believe the truth is closer to a scenario in which the modern state evolved in a culture (actually, multiple cultures) in which marriage was already seen as granting certain benefits.

Moreover, from whence would this reacquired "gravitas" come in our judgment-free society? Modern society is certainly not such that groups that act from morality are encouraged to speak and act on that basis. In Canada, criticizing homosexuality on religious grounds has increasingly been treated as a civil rights violation. Far more likely than an increase of moral primacy for marriage would be the declaration that churches could not discriminate against homosexuals. And for heterosexual couples, the calculation may very well become that the "contractual aspects [that would be] enforceable under civil law" of marriage do not justify going beyond whatever alternative contractual standards might arise.

Murray envisions a country in which individuals forming their partnerships would seek contracts to ensure that the benefits that they derive from those partnerships have some security. So, any relationship at all would have both some form of contractual security and the civil benefits of marriage. Somehow, he believes that this would be healthier for marriage than the present system:

Right now, the meaning of marriage is constantly diluted by treating other arrangements as legally equivalent. The cohabiting heterosexuals sue on grounds that their relationships are de facto marriages. I'd much rather put the cohabiters out in the cold. You want the benefits of the contractual obligations of marriage? Go out and write a contract.

I'm not thoroughly fluent in the exigencies of "palimony" and the like, but I'm quite confident that there must be some basis for a party to claim that a relationship was a de facto marriage. I'm also pretty confident that the claims that can be made on that basis are specifically defined in each case. At any rate, I've got good news for Charles Murray: it's quite possible that the Federal Marriage Amendment would indeed "put the cohabiters out in the cold," considering that "marital status or the legal incidents thereof" would not "be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

In the case of homosexuals, this would require that state governments define specific contract relationships with specific benefits and requirements to which gay couples could commit. In the case of cohabiting heterosexuals, well, maybe they'd have further incentive to tie the knot.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:54 AM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

The Redwood Review poem of the week is "Safe at Home, September 11, 2001," by me.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:08 AM EST


Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Further Consideration; Still Scratching My Head

Having reread the sentences that I quoted from Andrew Sullivan this morning, I think I've found what might have been his thought process. The only way I can make sense of it is if the second half of the paragraph, about varying views on the FMA, isn't meant to be but so connected with the opening about those opponents of gay marriage who think the amendment isn't strong enough.

But I'm still scratching my head about his conclusion:

...if the language of the amendment can provoke genuine and deep disagreement by serious parties, wouldn't it be similarly open to a radical spectrum of intrepretation by courts and legislatures? And isn't such a vague and sweeping amendment precisely what shouldn't be written into the federal Constitution?

Here's the First Amendment, far and away the most popular and most cited amendment ever:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Of course, we all know how the years of litigation have honed this paragraph's meaning, but try to approach it in the same way in which we're looking at the Federal Marriage Amendment now. Should individual states be able to "establish" religions? "No law" would seem to bar contrary laws. What does it mean to "establish" a religion? Is it allowing a group to donate plaques with Bible quotations at the Grand Canyon? And what is "abridging the freedom of speech"? Is it a principal forbidding a student anarchist from handing out disruptive material, or is it another principal forbidding Christians from handing out candy canes with notes about their religious significance? And could people who wish to peaceably assemble be required to apply for permits?

Come to think of it, other amendments have such "vague and sweeping" words in them as "reasonable" and "excessive."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:12 PM EST


I CANNOT Believe It... Again!

I cannot believe Dat Phan beat Dave Mordal on Last Comic Standing. I don't know where they find these audiences.

Dave's set was hilarious. It was smart, but not too smart (meaning over the head or elitist). It was well delivered. Dat, on the other hand, as nice a guy as he might be, just wasn't funny. To be honest, during his set, as he began bringing up his childhood and seemed to miss a line and then laughed at the joke that he was about to tell, I was reminded of that scene in Punchline when Tom Hanks loses it on stage.

I just don't get it. Was it anti-Minnesota bigotry? Is the Asian-imitating-his-mother shtick really that appealing to people?

ADDENDUM (08/06/03):
I've noticed this old post getting a number of hits now that Dat Phan has won the whole shebang. For thoughts on that... umm... turn of events, click here.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:14 PM EST


Ensuring a Channel Change

I just caught a less-than-riveting interview with Captain Marine Scientist on Fox News's The Big Story. I don't think the fella understood that he was only on television as a result of the humor value of thousands of yellow rubber duckies washing ashore in New England. In an accusatory monotone, he proceeded to explain that pollution from the United States affects the whole world.

Now, I'm not going to dispute his facts (although I would insist on an acknowledgment that evil and pollution are not the only exports of America). However, the Captain MSes of the world would do well to learn that the spotlight is not always on them (when it's on them) because of their cause. It would have been so easy for the guy to transition into his warning about pollution while maintaining the novelty and levity created by the ducks. First of all, some attempt at transition ("Unfortunately, rubber ducks aren't the only things floating around out there...") and some well-placed levity ("Most of the plastic fragments that the fish eat don't cause them to squeak.") would have gone a long way.

If what promises to be a relatively light segment becomes co-opted for overt and venomous activism, most of the audience will tune out. And the activist might not find himself asked back when waves of whoopee cushions inundate North Carolina.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:08 PM EST


Why I Still Like Cox & Forkum


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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:34 PM EST


The Ramifications of Ridiculousness

Tom Bevan makes this astute point about the many directions in which certain segments of the West are finding themselves pulled:

Think about the absurdity and hypocrisy of this for a moment: Krugman wants to vilify the Bush administration for not piecing together scraps of intelligence, speculation and theory to "predict and prevent" a one-in-a-million terrorist attack scenario and then turn around and vilify the administration when they take seriously intelligence reports - reports that the British government continues to stand by even to this very moment - that Hussein attempted to purchase material to make a nuclear bomb.

The ridiculousness of this part of Krugman's argument does, I think, put a nice highlight on why this issue may not damage President Bush the way the Democrats hope and may even backfire on them in a big way.

This is particularly significant in light of my previous post about North Korea. There is not sufficient delay between the availability of irrefutable, will-never-be-subject-to-any-doubt evidence of "imminence" (in Just War terms) and a city in ashes for our government to triple-check every single bit of intelligence. The degree to which the media, the Democrats, and others who find themselves in their company are endeavoring to cast a shadow over the President's willingness and/or ability to make prudent decisions about the threats facing America is indicative of a dangerous callousness.

As a political matter, the question seems to be whether the American people will blame future attacks on the President or on those who've made it their mission to question his every move. It sometimes seems as if President Bush is in the uncomfortable position of giving his opponents a broader field of strategy to the extent to which he is successful in protecting his country. As long as there are no attacks within the States, they are able to fault him simultaneously, or as convenient, for doing too little and for doing too much.

In the end, the necessity of discretion on the part of those with classified information leaves us with little choice but to trust the President to do his job to the best of his ability. That means trusting him to keep his hands firmly on the controls without regard for the nipping at his heels.

(via Instapundit)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:53 PM EST


Something to Keep in Mind About North Korea

I simply had to pass along this chilling reminder about the dangers of a nuclear North Korea from Stanley Kurtz:

This country is wasting its time on a silly debate about Iraqi WMD and missing the point. There really is an axis of evil. Any part of it with nuclear capacity will sell bombs to all the rest. The end result will be the destruction of a major American city-possibly the decapitation of our government. After that, we face military rule and at least the temporary suspension of government as we know it. We are at great risk. Yet for the most part, the press is silent about this.

If you've got a moment to spend on dark thoughts today, devote it to considering just what it would mean for our country — our lives — if everybody in Washington, D.C., were to be vaporized. Of course there would be war, perhaps involving nuclear response, but I'm after the more mundane implications. Of course, of most significance would be the lives lost in Washington and the waves of grief and tragedy that their deaths would cause among loved ones the world 'round, but think of the general disruption, as well.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:25 PM EST


Sullivan Seeks It Every Which Way

From the outside, it's difficult to understand why Jonah Goldberg reacts the way he does toward Andrew Sullivan. I've made it no secret that I think it mistaken to see Sullivan as anything other than a demagogue for his own clique when it comes to certain issues, but I can understand some reluctance — especially among those who know him personally — to agree. Nonetheless, one would think that Sullivan's rants about gay marriage would be subject to a heightened level of skepticism. Take this:

Connor and the FRC oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment for the same reasons the Concerned Women for America do: they believe it's not restrictive enough. They want an amendment that would more explicitly rob gay couples of any protection whatever under the law - preventing them from hospital visitation, property rights, shared healthcare, and on and on. I think, as I've argued elsewhere, that the current FMA would do all of these things - and many legal scholars agree. Others argue that this wouldn't be the case - but if the language of the amendment can provoke genuine and deep disagreement by serious parties, wouldn't it be similarly open to a radical spectrum of intrepretation by courts and legislatures? And isn't such a vague and sweeping amendment precisely what shouldn't be written into the federal Constitution? You can be sure, for example, that if FMA passed, the far right would work very, very hard to have it interpreted in as broad and restriuctive a way as possible.

Simply put, this is not a coherent argument. The first thing to note is that this is a follow-up post to one hinting about an FRC piece by an outgoing leader that has since been removed from the Web site (that's why Sullivan's link goes to a Google cache). The next suspect component of this little confabulation is the phrase "many legal scholars agree." I'll expect the list to be forthcoming; as far as I'm aware, Sullivan has found one with a name, Eugene Volokh, and a couple among his own readers.

The latter half of the quoted paragraph above is the incoherent part. Can you imagine a legal phrasing that wouldn't be subject to reinterpretation by "radicals"? The English language is not so perfect as to deny the willful recourse to parsing. (Definition of "is"?) Furthermore, if amendments to the Constitution can only be passed when the entire country is in complete agreement, then why would anything fewer than 100% of the vote be required to pass them?

But Sullivan's mistaken thinking (or disingenuousness) isn't as mild as this would imply. He has pointed to a faction on the social conservative side that objects to the FMA on the grounds that it would do what Ramesh Ponnuru and I said it would do. How in the world is this an indication of "a radical spectrum of intrepretation"? The only range of interpretation is that suggested by the amendment's supporters and that insisted upon by Sullivan.

Now, I realize that Andrew Sullivan will almost surely never give me the publicity that would be intrinsic in addressing me, but that doesn't mean that any argument that I put forth — such as why his interpretation of the FMA was wrong — is therefore irrelevant. It also doesn't excuse him from being intellectually honest enough to point out that, just as "the far right would work very, very hard to have it interpreted in as broad and restriuctive a way as possible," the far left would work very, very hard to have it interpreted in as narrow and loose a way as possible. Some might suggest that part of the genius of our Constitution is that it doesn't concern itself with dictating the size of chocolate squares in Switzerland.

The basic question, here, is whether the fact that Andrew Sullivan has misinterpreted it invalidates a proposed amendment to the Constitution. Although his mitigated tone around his reading suggests that he has been unable to do otherwise than to attribute at least some merit to responses to his overheated claims about the FMA, Sullivan has failed to address those responses directly, making his search for ideological (but not interpretive) disagreement among social conservatives look like a search for a trapdoor into a tangent.

It doesn't help that Jonah Goldberg takes Sullivan's latest flails as vindication for his "Time to face facts: Gays gain victory" column:

I'm not going to get into my whole anti-slippery slope thing again, but I think opponents of gay marriage sometimes misunderstand that occasionally giving in a little prevents giving in a lot. ...

Opponents of gay marriage want to concede nothing. I think that's misguided on public policy grounds (see below). And, in political terms it keeps the pro-gay marriage coalition unified.

This illustrates precisely what many folks complained about in Goldberg's defeatist column. Note that he's accepted Sullivan's simplifying torch and thereby done more to maintain the unity of "the pro-gay marriage coalition" than would a dozen deleted-but-cached online notes of dissent. In this respect, his is advice that cannot be followed, because the debate about how much to concede would, itself, give off sparks of the sort that he and Sullivan have already taken as proof of the intransigence and (in Sullivan's view) bigotry of "opponents of gay marriage."

As Rod Dreher posts, in context of Sullivan's treatment of Pat Robertson, directly above Goldberg in the Corner, apparently coincidentally:

I realize it suits Andrew's polemical interests to lump social conservatives (specifically, those of us who oppose gay marriage) in with Robertson's indefensible carrying-on, but it's unfair and inaccurate, and he should withdraw the guilty-by-association charge.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:07 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 07/15/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Everybody Thinks" by Dan Lipton. I cannot recommend the CD from which this song comes, Life in Pictures, enough — if you like musically intelligent, slightly quirky pop/rock music. To find out more, read my review, click Dan's name, or give "Everybody Thinks" a listen.

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:18 PM EST


Picking Sides

By the by, I've no conscious intention of making this an exclusively FMA–devoted blog (Federal Marriage Amendment). However, it's an extremely important issue, in my view, and I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about it. A couple of years ago, I was pulled into the back and forth between Andrew Sullivan and Stanley Kurtz. Although my position was then more evenly placed between the two, bald problems with Sullivan's argument and the true ring of Kurtz's warnings spurred me to learn more about it. There are many paths into an issue, and despite what proponents of gay marriage might think, bigotry is only one of them in this case.

At any rate, I thought this passage from David Frum's "What's Right" column in the July 14 National Review might be helpful in placing yourself, at least to kick off the process of thinking about the issue:

The hard truth is that the demand for same-sex marriage is a symptom of the crisis in marriage much, much more than it is a cause of that crisis. To oppose same-sex marriage effectively, you have to believe that marriage is more than a contract between two consenting adults, more than a claim on employers and the government for economic benefits. You have to believe that children need mothers and fathers, their own mothers and fathers. You have to believe that unmarried cohabitation is wrong, even when heterosexuals do it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:40 AM EST


Monday, July 14, 2003

Of Holes and Cannons

Take a look at this political cartoon and come back (actually, it'll open in a new window, so you won't really leave).

Note the astounding imagery! States' rights is an ancient cannon — with cobwebs, no less — and the protestor is pictured as intending to destroy the Supreme Court in the name of "banning sin." I rarely disagree with C&F's cartoons, but this seems backwards in critical ways. Are states' rights really being cited in such a way as to destroy the Court? Or is the court stuffing elite public opinion into the end of the cannon threatening to cause it to explode?

For further indications of this turned-around thinking, read the text below the picture. Forkum quotes a letter to the editor of The New York Sun by Harry Binswanger. The cartooning team might have appropriately turned that cannon on Binswanger's argument considering the size of the rhetorical hole in the following:

Scalia in his dissent on the sodomy decision writes: 'It is the premise of our system that those judgments are to be made by the people, and not imposed by a governing caste.'

Sounds like he's trying to keep meddlesome government out of people's lives doesn't it? But look at the switch he has pulled: the 'judgments' he wishes to protect are the laws passed by the Texas legislature -- laws arresting individuals for behavior that, whatever one thinks of it, is clearly within their rights. The meddlesome 'governing caste' is the Texas legislature, which the Supreme Court properly told: stop arresting individuals for private, peaceful, consensual activity.

Yes, I'm sure the Texas law does reflect the will of the majority of Texans. So what? Slavery represented the will of the majority in the ante-bellum South. Hitler's Reich reflected the will of the majority of Germans in the Nazi era.

Unlimited majority rule is a form of statism, not Americanism. Our system, contrary to Scalia's notion, holds individual rights above the power of any majority to infringe, 'and among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.' A right is the individual's protection against the will of any collective, whether that collective is called 'the State,' 'the people,' or 'Das Volk.'"

Yes, of course there's the fact that Binswanger faults Scalia for making some sort of deceptive switch between "individuals" and "government" only to concede that the majority of "people" (Scalia's word) in Texas probably supported the law, but that's not the most dangerous leap in his thought. Note that he compares the $200 fine that sparked Lawrence to slavery and the Holocaust. The problem that this represents expands beyond its obviously being rhetorical hyperbole, as indicated by Binswanger's apparently unconscious shift toward declaring the Texas sodomy law to have been "unlimited majority rule."

To such people, any expression of group rights might as well be "unlimited majority rule." Is that belief seriously held, or does it merely indicate a gap, perhaps conscious, in those folks' understanding of reality? The option that they favor is essentially "unlimited minority rule."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:41 PM EST


"Not as a Clever Philosopher Would Design It"

Michael Potemra's review of Skepticism and Freedom: A Modern Case for Classical Liberalism, by Richard Epstein, in the July 14 issue of National Review sports this quotable passage (with which I was sufficiently impressed to undertake the task of typing it):

Here, as elsewhere, the theory Epstein favors is concerned with life as it is actually lived, and not as a clever philosopher would design it if he were starting from scratch. This preference is crucial, and goes a long way toward explaining why America's experiment with classical liberalism has largely succeeded, while states based on ideologies — paternalistic, one-size-fits-all theories of The Good — have failed. Living, as the ancients realized, is more an art than a science; and therefore, like artists, human beings flourish best in a system of liberty within certain basic limits (such as the prohibition of force and fraud).

This brings to mind two great quotations. The first might suggest why I found Potemra's phrasing to be so "quotable." It is Herman Melville in a 1849 letter to Evert A. Duyckinck:

I could readily see in Emerson, notwithstanding his merit, a gaping flaw. It was the insinuation, that had he lived in those days when the world was made, he might have offered some valuable suggestions. These men are all cracked right across the brow. And never will the pullers-down be able to cope with the builders-up. And this pulling down is easy enough — a keg of powder blew up Block's Monument — but the man who applied the match, could not, alone, build such a pile to save his soul from the shark-maw of the Devil. But enough of this Plato who talks thro' his nose.

The second I offer by way of suggesting why it is that these cracked philosophers are capable of painting their smallish ideas with grand colors and why they are doomed to fail in their projects. It is Mark Shea today:

Any other unwitting testimonies to normal healthy Catholic instinct you can think of? For instance, what is the psychiatrist's office but a testimony to our need for the sacrament of confession? What is Oprah but a sort of video testament of the need of the human soul for a Blessed Mother? What have all the tyrants of the 20th Century been but great signs pointing to the demand of the human soul for a savior?

Mark you, none of these fill the hole. But the fact that they don't doesn't mean the hole does not exist. It mean the hole is so ferociously devouring that it will swallow *anything* in the desperate hope that it can be filled.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:02 PM EST


Warming Up for the Battle

Opponents of gay marriage are beginning to raise their voices. Here's a sure-to-be-famous paragraph from a piece by Maggie Gallagher:

The answer to this question is, I think, abundantly clear from 40 years of experimentation both here and in Europe. The consequences of our current retreat from marriage is not a flourishing libertarian social order, but a gigantic expansion of state power and a vast increase in social disorder and human suffering. The results of the marriage retreat are not merely personal or religious. When men and women fail to form stable marriages, the first result is a vast expansion of government attempts to cope with the terrible social needs that result. There is scarcely a dollar that state and federal government spends on social programs that is not driven in large part by family fragmentation: crime, poverty, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, school failure, mental and physical health problems. Even Medicare spending is inflated, as elderly singles spend more of their years in nursing homes.

Ms. Gallagher also offers this great sentence about gay marriage's effect on hopeful social trends: "A nascent and promising movement for social recovery will be strangled at birth." A more-appropriate image could not be found.

Meanwhile, Lee Brockhorn offers a reminder of the basic impetus behind the movement for those seduced by the suggestion that the government ought to get out of the marriage business altogether (an idea to which I must admit devoting more than a moment's consideration when I first tiptoed into the gay marriage debate):

For centuries, our laws have understood and promoted marriage (though it pre-dates government recognition) as an institution that channels adults' erotic desires into the productive pursuit of rearing children, who must be formed into adults capable of sustaining self-government. It has also been understood as an institution necessarily based on mutual fidelity, sacrifice, permanence, and, crucially, the sexual complementarity of men and women. But this understanding, already weakened greatly by the sexual revolution, must now be gutted further in order to legitimize same-sex marriage--or any other combination of bodies that consenting adults can devise. Protecting the interests of children must now take a backseat to ratifying diverse and infinitely elastic "expressions of commitment" between adults, whatever their effect.

Brockhorn also provides a magnificently phrased shake for those conservatives who worry that a culture that has rejected evidence of the dangers of its libertinism will side with gay marriage so as not to be required to rollback some of its own excesses:

It is indeed true that the argument for traditional sexual morals implicates the behavior of many (perhaps most) Americans today. In response, I simply say: So what? For decades, conservatives have been shouting from the rooftops, bearing witness to the societal chaos created by the new understanding of sex and marriage--the broken homes and traumatized children, the resulting rise in divorce rates, crime, illegitimacy, teen pregnancy, and on and on. So why should conservatives shrink from making this argument now? If anything, the imminent judicial imposition of gay marriage might finally awaken some heterosexuals to the real damage that the sexual revolution has wrought. On the other hand, if this argument fails, it will merely reveal that marriage is in even deeper trouble than we thought, regardless of the outcome of the gay marriage struggle. Thus, the argument over gay marriage is not strictly about saving marriage as traditionally understood; rather, it is to determine once and for all whether that vitally important understanding even still exists.

Commit this idea to memory: "If anything, the imminent judicial imposition of gay marriage might finally awaken some heterosexuals to the real damage that the sexual revolution has wrought." As Bryan Preston, of JunkYardBlog, puts it, in context of Donald Rumsfeld's victory over an arrogant Belgian law, "sometimes simply standing up against stupidity is enough to defeat it." In the same post, in response to a recent entry of mine about the Federal Marriage Amendment, Preston highlights the first step:

I think that this is what has Andrew Sullivan shrieking--if the FMA passes, it will pass because a majority of the country will have willed it. And it will leave civil unions up to the democratic process in the various states. To Sullivan, a much better place to have this fight would be the courts, because all it will take is one or two or a few judges and a "living" Constitution and gay marriage will be a reality, whether the American people actually want it or not. I suspect that he believes (as I believe) that in the democratic process, Americans will choose not to redefine marriage and will approve the FMA.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:35 PM EST


Reminded of al Qaeda

Odd that it would fall to alternative- and small-media outlets to remind the country, after all of the hoopla over one statement about uranium, that evidence of links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda is looking pretty strong. Wouldn't it just be perfect if U.S. forces found Saddam and Osama hiding in the same place? I wonder how the mainstream media would attempt to spin that one...

("Although they were found just rooms apart in this remote mountain village in Pakistan, there is no clear evidence that they were aware of each other's presence.")

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:14 PM EST


Barney: Satan's Tool

My daughter has recently discovered Barney, so I'm certainly capable of being persuaded that the purple dinosaur brings a subliminal message of evil (especially the earlier costumes — yikes!). However, I would tend to be skeptical about a supposed preacher proclaiming the following:

Sporting a tacky polyester suit purchased from a thrift store especially for the occasion, "Bromley" deadpanned that Barney's message of "Satanism, occultism and witchcraft" is leading our kids by the hand inexorably toward the slippery slope of "cocaine, gang violence, pornography, abortion, homosexuality, and maybe even marijuana." Perhaps even more dangerously, the mere inference that real dinosaurs existed millions of years ago threatens to undermine the Christian faith: "If one truly believes in the Bible, the world is six thousand years old, period! What we're seeing is the promotion of the evolution theory, and putting in the minds of children that the Bible is not necessary to explain the origin of man."

Although the account to which I've linked (written by the founder of the Tampa Bay Skeptics) focuses on one indignant, bigotry-decrying religion writer, I'm not inclined to defend him — considering that he seems to have inclinations to give credence to the view that Jesus never really made messianic claims. My main offense is to a media culture that could fall for such nonsense. How predisposed to believe that religious people are nuts do reporters have to be not to do the simple background check to discover that a particularly wacky preacher is, in fact, a stand-up comic? This certainly doesn't add points to the credibility of CNN and the Associated Press!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:09 PM EST


Just Thinking 07/14/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Stepping to My Whiteness," about "whiteness studies" and "the privilege walk."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:04 PM EST


Sunday, July 13, 2003

The Core of Soul

Davey's Mommy links to a sad, but inspiring, story about a grown, intelligent man's long-distance tractor ride. You really should read the whole thing, but here's a passage that D.'s Mom quotes that, in my view, pretty well sums up the fruits of faith:

"And my Dad did it all so uncomplainingly," says Cooper, who was three when his mom got sick. " He gave not even a hint that he thought life had cheated him, or given him a raw deal. On the contrary, he was life-affirming and so full of joy. Without ever saying so, he considered caring for my Mom a sacred vocation, something God had called him to do."

The fact that it is a commonplace makes it no less true to say that this is an on/off trait that has largely to do with faith. In contrast to the story at hand, I've known people who've had everything working in their favor — every advantage — who've still felt cheated.

If you blog and feel compelled to mention this story, make sure to link to Davey's Mommy so that we can get her firmly in the range of "Flippery Fish" (at least). At the moment, she's just on the cusp of evolving from life as a "Slimy Mollusc."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:36 PM EST


What Is This Full Faith and Credit Thing

Here's the text of the Full Faith and Credit Clause (Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution):

Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.

I went in search of it because Noah Millman emailed me with a great question about the clause's implications for the Federal Marriage Amendment. Here is my reply:

Your question about Full Faith and Credit is a good one and brings out all of the messy angles of this issue (which, in turn, highlights how against the grain of our entire society such actions as changing the definition of marriage run). I have to be honest that Full Faith and Credit is a bit of a mystery to me, and I'm mostly taking my cues on it from others who know more (e.g., Kurtz and Ponnuru). I mean, it seems as if Full Faith and Credit broadly construed would make the idea of independent states moot, resigning them to various departments in the national bureaucracy, and that can't be right (in Constitutional intent, at least). My sense is this: if a state makes a declaration, such as "this person is a convicted criminal" or "this person can drive an automobile" or "this couple is married," the relevant parties must be treated as such in other states. That doesn't mean that I can drive by Rhode Island speed limits in California.

In the case of marriage, it doesn't seem to involve portability of specific benefits that accrue to marriage in any given state. For example, if Mississippi were to offer a significant first-time-buyer credit for married couples to purchase homes, a Mississippi couple that moves to Oregon wouldn't be able to demand a similar perk. In other words, Full Faith and Credit seems generally to be akin to saying, "whatever your state's rules are pertaining to public status A should apply to people who had public status A in our state." I could be entirely wrong, however, and I don't have time to research it.

If I'm anywhere near the truth, then the FMA specifically addresses the issue because, as I've argued, states would have to formulate "civil unions" from scratch, itemizing the benefits. Therefore, a Vermont civil union couple in Arkansas would have to be treated by the standards for civil unions in Arkansas, which could be zilch.

At least, it seems as if that's how it ought to work.

I thought I'd post this because it is an area that needs to be explored and about which I can only guess. I emailed Stanley Kurtz, and he replied that Full Faith and Credit is a relatively untested area in the courts, and that covering the topic is going to take a couple of columns. With or without the Federal Marriage Amendment, a whole lot of law requires working out — shaping, in some ways — so it seems as if it would be premature for anybody to declare that Full Faith and Credit will or will not do this or that. However, it's important to keep in mind that it's only one component of a very tangled issue.

ADDENDUM (07/12/03 9:11 p.m.):
Mr. Kurtz emailed again with a clarification. It seems as if my description above is in the right direction, but if anything, my explanation is more concrete than reality. Since "civil unions" (or whatever they would be called) are not a universally recognized arrangement, as is marriage, they wouldn't be nationally mandated (otherwise, there would have been a fight over this when Vermont enacted them). If several states enacted somewhat similar arrangements, there would likely be legislative and (more likely) judicial judgments made as the governments of each state determined how much overlap there should be.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:04 PM EST


Back in the Spoons

I was just notified via email that Spoons of The Spoons Experience has come out of blogging retirement. Before he quit, his blog was a relatively regular stop of mine, and I look forward to seeing where he stands on issues now that the entire world has changed... well, the season, anyway.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:51 PM EST


How Easily We Control Ourselves

Victor Lams has created his second animation based on The Handbook of Epictetus. The "visual punchline" aligns perfectly with the moral.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:18 PM EST


And Back to Addressing Mood

Lane Core offers three poems by Father John Banister Tabb. I like the third, "My Portion." It reminds one that it is good to always look for the better effects of worse times.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:16 PM EST


Basking in Agreement, III

In a related note (lest we forget the big picture), Theodore Gatchel addresses the responses to some of the measures that the U.S. government has taken post-9/11:

LESS THAN TWO years ago, Americans were wrestling with the question of why the government had failed to predict and prevent the disastrous attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A commonly expressed idea at the time was that intelligence analysts had collected the necessary information, but had somehow failed to "connect the dots." Today, with the country in a debate over the accuracy of intelligence about the threat posed by Iraq, it might be useful to look at the earlier intelligence "failure" to see what we have learned in the meantime.

Even when accurate, intelligence is of little use if America's leaders are unwilling to act on it. Suppose, for example, that the government had "connected the dots" in early 2001 and predicted that a group of Arab Islamists living in the United States would simultaneously hijack four airliners and use them to conduct a coordinated set of suicide attacks. What could the president have done? What type of action would the American people have supported?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:12 PM EST


Basking in Agreement, II

As Tim Blair puts it, "In the gigalitre soup of war justification, uranium from Niger amounted to one-tenth of a crouton." He then quotes the following from a letter to the editor of the Australian:

There were many valid reasons to go to war in Iraq, but after ... seeing the reaction of most people to the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have yet been found, it simply confirms to me that the US, British and Australian governments were correct in using the existence of WMDs as their sole justification for launching the war.

Why? Because for many people, anything other than a very simple argument would only have confused them. A powerful example of this is the fact that many people are actually now saying that not finding the weapons proves that there were no such weapons in the first place. They ignore the fact that in the decade before the war, UN inspectors documented thousands of chemical agents.

I don't think the various governments used WMDs as their sole justification, although I suspect that saying so is, in some degree, exaggeration for effect, and it does meet the opposing argument head-on.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:09 PM EST


Basking in Agreement, I

Well, I've relaxed some this weekend, have spent some time splashing around the pool and designing the beach scene that will be the backdrop to my first Flash site, and now I thought I'd bask in some agreement (for a change, it seems).

First up, today's Providence Journal editorial:

On the famous missing weapons of mass destruction: A little perspective, or at least memory, may be in order. Saddam Hussein enthusiastically used chemical weapons; he was known to have had his people working on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in the 1990s; the United Nations thought the menace so severe that it carried out many inspections (though Saddam blocked them for a while), up to just before the war. During all this time U.N. inspectors frequently decried the regime's lack of cooperation.

Furthermore, people seem to forget that such weapons are extremely easy to hide. And remember that Iraq is about the size of California. There are enough anthrax spores in a coffee cup to wipe out a city. And precursor chemicals that can be put together to make chemical weapons can be stored separately, labeled as pesticides, and then very quickly combined as weapons.

Now, as long as the doubters and leftists don't find an erroneous statement from President Bush that Saddam didn't really drink coffee...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:50 PM EST


Saturday, July 12, 2003

The Latest Debating on the Federal Marriage Amendment

Ramesh Ponnuru has responded to Eugene Volokh and Andrew Sullivan (read up from the link). (Ramesh mentions this post of mine, which summarizes the discussion so far.) He makes the following great point, which is important to keep in mind when discussing the FMA:

Whatever the state has decided, legislatively, to reserve to marriage, the courts may not extend beyond marriage. That leaves state legislatures with a lot of running room.

If one takes seriously the legal threat that the amendment's supporters do—that without the amendment, the courts will impose same-sex marriage—the amendment leaves states with more running room than they'll otherwise have.

This statement speaks directly to something that jumped out at me from Andrew Sullivan's response to Ponnuru's previous statement:

Say Massachusetts decides by a mixture of court rulings and legislative action to legalize gay marriages. The FMA would bar this from happening - denying the state the right to determine marriage, a right the states have always enjoyed.

Sullivan isn't just interested in leaving legislatures and popular referenda open as options: court imposition is an integral (almost exclusive) component of the entire strategy to enact gay marriage nationally. The truth of this can be seen in appeals to the phrase "gay rights," as well as the national movement against the Texas sodomy law. As I noted shortly after that ruling, I heard gay activists on the radio declaring that the Texas law affected homosexuals everywhere. Take that as context for Sullivan's concluding paragraph:

It needs to be exposed for what it is: an unprecedented attack on states' rights, on minority enfranchisement and the Constitution. Next week, it will be wheeled out as a response to the Massachusetts Court ruling. Don't believe the mollifying language of its backers. They mean business and they have gay couples in their sights.

This sums up Sullivan's position very well: the appeal to "states' rights" (in contrast with his view of the Lawrence case, to be sure) and the Constitution as well as the attempt to link his cause to that of the traditional Civil Rights movement, all buttressed and flavored with the accusation of raw bigotry.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:09 PM EST


Waste of Numerical Significance

I just realized that the previous post neglected to capitalize on its number: 1776. Well, in belated fashion, I hereby ask, "Who are you?"

I'd like to think that I'm Ben Franklin:

But, Mr. Adams, but, Mr. Adams,
The things I write are only light extemporania.
I won't put politics on paper, it's a mania,
So I refuse to use a pen in Pennsylvania.

But I know there's more that would be wrong in that characterization than the fact that I no longer live and write in Pennsylvania. Of course, one could dream of being Jefferson:

John Adams: You write ten times better than any man in Congress, including me. For a man of only thirty-three years, you possess a happy talent for composition and a remarkable felicity of expression. Now, will you be a patriot... or a lover?

But, I guess I must own up to being more like John Adams in the narrow range of this game:

Well, if I'm the one to do it,
They'll run their quill pens through it.
I'm obnoxious and disliked, you know that, sir?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:33 PM EST


Message from a Slithering Reptile

Hey, I'm a slithering reptile! In other words, the TTLB Blogosphere Ecosystem has found enough links to Dust in the Light to rank me as the 1,015th blog out of the 3,371 that it tracks. (That's actually the last slot in the group of blogs with 23 links, the first blog of which comes in at 987.) If you happen to have a blog that isn't included on the list, you can add yours here. The more folks from our little enclave of the Internet that sign up for this sort of thing, the larger (and more influential) that enclave will seem.

On a related note, as part of the site redesign that currently has me stubbing my fingers, as it were, piecing together my first Flash page, I will be switching to Moveable Type. Upon getting that page up, I'll put together a blogroll. I hadn't realized, when I started this blogging thing, that people actually do peruse them. I also hadn't realized that getting one's name on such lists contributes to rankings like the Ecosystem.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:36 AM EST


Friday, July 11, 2003

I'm Honored... I Think

Steve of Sum Ergo Cognito devotes his very first content-driven post to finding anti-gay sentiment in my post about Steve Loomis, the ex–Army officer who was dismissed based on his sexual activities. Here's Sum Ergo Cognito Steve's conclusion:

Just what kind of "light" does Katz mean to shine? From this piece, it seems like he plans to fixate upon instances where gay people behave rather badly and try to associate these with all gay people everywhere. Katz asserts that the mainstream media have handled the story in a misleading way, not indicating quite how sordid Loomis's behavior may have been. The media described Loomis as having engaged in "private consensual homosexual activity" which is true, and which the Supreme Court recently ruled, between civilians at least, is beyond the reach of state criminal law. What difference does it make to Katz precisely what was going on in Mr. Loomis's house six years ago? It's important because it was icky. [Oh! That's why! — ed.] And many anti-gay arguments are really just new (or sometimes very old) ways of restating some heterosexuals' aesthetic discomfort with homosexuality. The mere idea of homosexuality has become considerably less shocking to the general public over the last twenty years. Thus opponents of gay rights have to go farther, rather than simply speaking the proper name of the "unspeakable vice" they must look for something that still has a little shock value, something that will still make people uncomfortable. So they make a big fuss over some of the less seemly features of the gay community. Bathhouses, "bug chasing" or kink, it doesn't so much matter if it can make the ladies in the pews clutch their pearls. Sometimes it seems like gays have an unfortunate way of encouraging these stereotypes. Still, that's why opponents of gay rights have been losing for the past couple of decades, because they don't have an argument, just an appeal to discomfort. And saying gays are "icky" just doesn't seem to cut it anymore.

For the record, I did not go in search of this particular story; it more or less found its way to my attention. Furthermore, Steve's emphasis on the extreme nature of the circumstances loses its sting when it is realized that he also doesn't find anything objectionable about Loomis's behavior. And that is the region from whence his failure to comprehend my point derives. (Of course, it could also be my failure to state it in such a way that he would get it.) Consider this sentence:

The media described Loomis as having engaged in "private consensual homosexual activity" which is true, and which the Supreme Court recently ruled, between civilians at least, is beyond the reach of state criminal law.

He makes — and the legal arguments that are made in support of even the most extreme and, yes, subversive cases will make — no distinction between, say, gay sex within an entirely monogamous, committed relationship and group S&M within a military hierarchy. That was the core of the moral argument against the ruling (see Santorum, Rick); it also has suggestive implications for the motivation of the media to leave out such information as the reason that Loomis's house was targeted in the first place. If the Supreme Court is going to consider public opinion about sodomy, then it should also have considered public opinion about the more-extreme behaviors that it let in the door.

Whatever one's opinion of the previous paragraph, however, it only serves to situate one along a spectrum of possible positions on the issue; it doesn't assist in communicating across the libidinous divide. To do that, it is necessary to admit what Steve writes off as an argument of convenience to substantiate my bigotry: that this activity is subversive. First of all, the United States military ought not be a dating service. I'll be honest that I don't know how frequent transfers are from one chain of command to another, but creating channels of loose sexual activity throughout the military cannot be healthy for the institution's structure. (That, incidentally, is why I would take the same stance had the young private arsonist, or even the three other soldiers, been female.) More importantly, the photo shoot created a situation in which a private burned down the home of an officer.

Steve might counter that such things wouldn't happen as a result of more-ordinary homosexual activities, and he might be right. But to safeguard those activities, he's willing to accept PTC Loomis's case under the heading "private adult consensual sexual conduct," and gay advocates are working in that same spirit.

This, to answer Steve's question, is the "light" that must be shone. It isn't a matter of digging up sordid details in order to paint the most unappealing picture possible. It's a matter of understanding what the ramifications of our policies in this area actually are. This ought to be clear from the fact that I, in this scenario, was the one who sought to show that Loomis's case was not of a kind with "all gay people everywhere." Contrary to Steve's belief, if "opponents of gay rights" (a problematic phrase that I won't lengthen this post to address) have "been losing for the past couple of decades," it is because advocates of libertinism refuse to address actual arguments, choosing instead to tug on the lines attached to the emotion by the hooks of "rights" on one side and "bigotry" on the other.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:53 PM EST


My State of Mind

I need to take it easy. If you've read my exchange with Joshua Claybourn or any of several exchanges in Mark Shea's comment boxes (this one in particular), you'll understand why.

I'm not going to attempt to explain the specifics of what I've found so frustrating; that ought to be clear from the exchanges themselves. What has inspired me to try to move on is that I've remembered not only the relative insignificance of it all, but also that each of us involved in discussion is only human.

For example, poking around his site, I've just discovered that Josh Claybourn is a college kid. I don't mean that negatively: he's certainly mature, well-spoken, and motivated for his age, and he's sure to be successful. What this brings to mind, however, is that, when I was his age, I was just beginning to find my way back to sanity from a couple years of a drunken blur, and part of that recovery was trading in my manual labor job for resumed attendance of college (on a much lower level of prestige than I'd thrown away at 19). The point is this: although he's certainly much more level-headed than I was at 21/22, it isn't a travesty of justice that I think he's stolen a rhetorical base or two and reacted to me unfairly. Unfortunately for the interaction between myself and Josh, I read his mild jabs just after Mark, whom I respect, had accused me of being unduly touchy and a commenter had suggested that I'm suffering from a learning disability. On the substance, I still believe I'm correct in my arguments. As an emotional and rhetorical matter, I've obviously lost perspective.

Mark, on the other hand, is still a bit of a frustration. I'm sure he hasn't meant to do so, but it has really begun to feel — to me and to others who've emailed me — like he's deliberately poking at the nerves of some of his readers, particularly when he seems to ignore the responses to his jabs, subsequently citing argued evidence as if there had been no discussion. Furthermore, it's been very difficult to nail down his position (although within the past few hours he's endeavored to clarify). Of course, given the medium, even this shouldn't be allowed to affect readers too much, but it is within this heightened atmosphere of dispute that I've slid a bit.

Today closes out a vaguely unpleasant week. I think I'll go take a bath and continue trying to catch up in my reading of the Harry Potter series — even if Stephen King thinks I ought to be predisposed to think it evil.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:45 PM EST


Big News Is No News

Instapundit points out what ought to be major news:

The document shows that an Iraqi intelligence officer, Abid Al-Karim Muhamed Aswod, assigned to the Iraq embassy in Pakistan, is ''responsible for the coordination of activities with the Osama bin Laden group.''

Now, I'm not going to leap on this exactly for the reason that it ought to be such a clincher. So — although it is entirely in line with what I believe to be the case, so much so that it wouldn't affect my belief to find this particular evidence false or faulty — I'm just going to add it to my list of items that are already enough, in my estimation, to prove the President's case.

The thing that really gets me, however, is that in a news climate in which major news organizations will spin to the point of lying anything that can possibly be grammatically construed to suggest that the President and "his" war were in some small way wrong or deceptive gets scrawled across the news cycle in big letters, an item — not from an anonymous source, but from a respected judge — is resigned to the Tennessean. (No offense is meant by that, of course.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:33 PM EST


Fame Finds the Redwood Review

Shiela Lennon, Providence Journal blogger, has noted the online version of the Redwood Review.

Thanks, Shiela!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:49 AM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "The House of the Green Fairies," by Gary Bolstridge.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:37 AM EST


What the FMA Will and Won't Do

I'm not a legal scholar. However, there are areas — such as interpretation of language — in which literary understanding overlaps legal understanding. I mention this up front because I'm about to address an instance of legal wording the implications of which people on opposing sides of an argument are debating in fine detail. (Of course, the debate being as narrow as it is in this case suggests that the question is one that would ultimately be decided in the courts, which are building quite a reputation for declining to parse so carefully.)

Here is the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

Personal agenda seems to have a significant effect on how these words are read, with those who oppose the amendment making it sound as overbearingly reactionary as possible, while those who support it are attempting to decrease the size of the pill, so to speak. One reason for these perspectives is to expand or contract that potential support for the amendment. Another reason, sometimes separate, is that people are attempting to discern what their opponents' arguments will be post-enactment.

Here's Andrew Sullivan's reading, which falls on the far end of the against/overbearing side:

Note how the states are effectively barred from providing anything that resembles marriage or any of the "legal incidents thereof." It's an attempt not only to reverse any state that wants to have same-sex marriage but to invalidate all domestic partnership laws, any state-provided benefits, or any support for same-sex couples anywhere anyhow. It's a massive power-grab from the states, in an area where states have always had constitutional authority.

Ramesh Ponnuru, in contrast, responds to Sullivan thus:

There may be sound arguments against the FMA. But Sullivan's claim is ridiculous. What does he suppose the words "be construed to require" are doing in the amendment? The amendment is aimed to prevent a judge (or executive-branch official) from inferring same-sex marriage or same-sex marriage-lite from a state or federal law. It precludes a state's adoption of gay marriage (that's the first sentence). It precludes a judge's imposition of civil unions (that's part of the second sentence). It does not preclude a state legislature or popular referendum from creating civil unions or whatnot.

And, a little closer to the middle, but on the Andrew Sullivan side, Eugene Volokh offers this:

Now I realize that courts could interpret the FMA differently; courts have certainly interpreted lots of constitutional provisions in ways that don't track their literal text. But it seems to me that the reading I outline is at least plausible -- and I think it's actually the most plausible:

  1. The first sentence mandates an unchangeable definition of marriage ("Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman"), thus prohibiting state legislators and voters from allowing gay marriages.
  2. The second sentence bars state laws that require local and state government officials to recognize civil unions, domestic partnerships, and other attempts to track the incidents of marriage -- "[no] . . . state . . . law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups" -- thus prohibiting state legislators and voters from setting up such civil union schemes.

As part of his reasoning, Volokh offers the following example:

A gay couple enters into... a union [according to a statute that requires all state and local government officials to treat civil unions as tantamount to marriages]. One partner, who works for the state, goes to his human relations director and says "Please add my partner to the insurance policy." "Nope," says the director; "I only add married people to the policy, not you newfangled gay civil unioned types." "But wait," says the employee; "you're required by state law to treat us just like a married personcouple." "Not so," says the director; "the Federal Marriage Amendment specifically says that no 'state . . . law[] shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.' You're telling me that I'm required to confer the legal incidents of marriage -- here, addition to the insurance plan that my department reserves only for married people -- on you, even though you're an unmarried couple. But the U.S. Constitution says that I cannot be so required."

First the easy part: gay marriage would be out, whether state or federal, whether via the judiciary or the legislature. That, in fact, is the point of the amendment. But what about "civil unions"? Well, Sullivan says that all "domestic partnership" type laws would be stricken from the books. Volokh concurs, using an example of a departmental policy involving marriage and finding "attempts to track the incidents of marriage" to be contrary to the amendment. That "tracking" word is key; it's where the mushy discussion of "what is marriage" comes in.

The first thing to do is look broadly at what married couples can do — take cosigning for loans. Well, other partnerships can cosign loans; are Sullivan and Volokh suggesting that family members' and business partners' ability to cosign loans will disappear? I don't think so. This is an extreme example inasmuch as just about anybody, to my knowledge, can cosign loans with each other. However, it does offer a point of view from which it appears that a legislature would just have to add "civil unions" to the list of relationships that yield specific capabilities. To use Volokh's example, the state government could declare that state workers' insurance policies must extend to civil unions, making them not purely a "legal incident" of marriage.

The range of possible laws and consequent litigation would be as broad as from legislation enacting civil unions that track exactly with marriage all the way to legislation that specifies every contract and capability that would thereafter extend to civil unions. The process of solidifying public policy within this spectrum is exactly the debate and discussion that supporters of the FMA wish to require. In a way, it's a gamble, on the part of those who oppose gay marriage, that states won't define the privileges of marriage away. By the same token, however, without the amendment, the odds would be further stacked against a deliberate and considered social, political, and legal evolution.

The fact that folks like Sullivan don't seem inclined to propose language that might open up the legislative window while keeping the judicial window closed suggests that what they are truly after is judicial legislation, so to speak. If that is the case, discussion of the fine points of legal wordplay is a distraction. Perhaps, if that is the case, all discussion is moot, and politics and power are the only relevant factors.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:27 AM EST


Thursday, July 10, 2003

The Desensitized

Remember that scene in A Clockwork Orange in which the scientists strap Alex to a chair and flash violent scenes on a screen in front of his propped-open eyes? The theory was that this experience, in conjunction with drugs that made him ill, would condition him to become sick even at the thought of violence. In his 1986 introduction to the version of A Clockwork Orange that introduced the twenty-first chapter — the one in which Alex matures beyond his violence — to the American audience, Anthony Burgess defines his title thus:

I do not think [the previous American version, which robbed Alex of moral progress, was a fair picture of human life] because, by definition, a human being is endowed with free will. He can use this to choose between good and evil. If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange — meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State.

I thought of this in context of news of a new type of medication. Before I tell you what it does, let me give you the characterization of Barry Romo, a national coordinator for Vietnam Veterans Against the War (with whom I surely disagree on many issues other than this one):

"That's the devil pill," he says. "That's the monster pill, the anti-morality pill. That's the pill that can make men and women do anything and think they can get away with it. Even if it doesn't work, what's scary is that a young soldier could believe it will."

The pill in question is to be taken during or shortly after some traumatic event to prevent it from sticking in the memory — or in the conscience. The less dangerous, perhaps altruistic, application would be, say, helping a victim move on after a horrific car crash. A more controversial application would be military. This is about as perfect an example of the Devil's choice as we are apt to get: seeking the good on the left can blind us to the evil on the right. Who would be so harsh as to speak out in opposition to the good on the basis of some "hypothetical" evil? As Leon Kass, chairman of the US President’s Council on Bioethics, puts it:

"The impulse is to help people to not fall apart. You don't want to condemn that," says Kass. "But that you would treat these things with equanimity, the horrible things of the world, so that they don't disturb you . . . you'd cease to be a human being."

On the darker side of this movement away from humanity, anybody who's ever tried to imagine the thought processes of a murderer (or has read Crime and Punishment) knows that a major psychological obstacle to actually following through with the act is that the murderer can never truly get away with nobody knowing. Society has been working to erase God's role in that respect, and now scientists are working to remove the self, as well. (To be sure, society has gone a long way toward accomplishing the latter without the benefit of drugs, by means of "understanding" and the ever-expanding reach of victimization.)

But even the lighter side is only beneficial in a superficial way. How do we ever learn from or transcend the inevitable horrors of life if we are not made to face them? Everybody has heard the phrase to the effect of history forgotten being history repeated. Well, how much of a trauma was 9/11?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:32 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "How to Pet a Cat," by Lori Dillman.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:49 AM EST


Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Who's Your Candidate?

Shiela Lennon links to a survey that tells you how well candidates (as well as non-candidates) for President match your criteria for voting.

Although she doesn't mention in which way she was surprised, Shiela apparently didn't expect her result. For my part, I was only surprised at the extent of the outcome that I expected: President Bush aligned with my answers 100% (although none of the questions really got at areas in which I disagree with the President).

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:17 AM EST


On the Iran Front

I've wanted to be visibly supportive of "revolution" in Iran. However, the support for the protestors just seems so obvious, nobody is really opposing them from the West, and my influence on the situation is nonexistent. But so as not to be entirely silent on the issue, I point you to Jeff Jarvis, who has been on top of the situation, and offer some links that I've come across today on the topic:

Instapundit ponders the tough question of whether it is better to face Tiananmen events or to be patient.

Kathryn Jean Lopez notes that the Iranian Siamese twins have been getting more coverage than the Iranian protestors and wonders about the significance of the fact that the twins' operation was financed by the mullahs.

Lileks brings the whole thing down to a personal, individual level more efficiently, and with more humor and feeling, than just about anybody else could.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:08 AM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:41 AM EST


Well, Here Comes the Wave, Carrying Lying Sharks

The effects of the Supreme Court's Lawrence decision are already being felt:

LTC Steve Loomis, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart, filed suit late yesterday with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims challenging the constitutionality of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and based on the recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Lawrence v. Texas which declared that the Texas sodomy statute violated the United State's Constitution's guarantee of a right to privacy. LTC Loomis is seeking to reverse his 1997 discharge from the United States Army.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), which represented LTC Loomis during his initial discharge proceedings, noted that his case is the first of several likely to be filed in the wake of Lawrence. "Lawrence has a direct impact on the federal sodomy statute and the military's gay ban," said SLDN Executive Director C. Dixon Osburn. "Under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' the federal government regularly intrudes in the most personal aspects of our lives. That is wrong and it is time for the government to change." ...

The Army based its discharge on a videotape seized during an arson investigation. An arsonist set fire to LTC Loomis' home in 1996. Civilian authorities investigating the arson found the videotape, which depicts LTC Loomis in private adult consensual sexual conduct, and handed it over to Army officials. The Army used the videotape as the basis for discharge, ending the decorated veteran's distinguished career. The Army provided LTC Loomis no assistance in responding to the tragedy of losing his home or possessions.

I've italicized the instance of the phrase that is about to shake American society to its core. But something about this version of the story just seemed off — something to do with the apparent surety and lack of compassion (for lack of a better word) with which Loomis was discharged. So, I googled him, and found this from a 1997 CNN report that further makes the manner of the discharge, even if the "don't ask, don't tell" policy tied the administrators' hands, seem unfair:

"In my case, it was private relations with another soldier, off-post, off-duty, not in my chain of command, and they say conduct unbecoming -- read that 'sodomy,'" Loomis said. "But how many single soldiers or married soldiers do exactly the same thing? And how many of them have it held against them?"

But what was that "same thing"? Loomis tells us how we should read the official reason for his dismissal ("conduct unbecoming"), and the army did seem a bit harsh if he was simply having a little consensual fun. And what was the arson thing all about? Well, a hard-to-find WaPo article certainly clears things up:

The board of inquiry concluded further last December that some of the homosexual sex involved "force, coercion or intimidation" -- a finding Loomis vigorously protested, attributing it to the inexperience of Army investigators who viewed the confiscated videotape. ...

The fire was set by an Army private, Michael A. Burdette, who had met Loomis the year before and had posed for nude photos in Loomis's house. Desperate to retrieve the photos but unable to find them after breaking into Loomis's house, Burdette started the fire in hopes of destroying the pictures, according to Army records. Burdette was discharged from the Army in January after pleading guilty in state court to arson.

The fire marshal who came across the incriminating videotape in a camera on the scene has testified that he seized it thinking it might show the arsonist igniting the house. But Burdette does not appear in the tape. Loomis and his supporters argued use of the tape as evidence was improper, but Army officials at every stage of appeal affirmed its inclusion.

Army investigators did not pursue the three men pictured with Loomis, who has since identified them all as soldiers. ...

So, in a nutshell, the "private adult consensual sexual conduct" in which the 50-year-old officer engaged — that must be the "same thing" done by unknown numbers of "single soldiers or married soldiers" — was having sex that, to the uninitiated, appeared to involve "force, coercion or intimidation" with three fellow soldiers as well as taking nude photos of a young private. And that's not "conduct unbecoming"? That ought to be acceptable in the environment that faces members of the United States military?

The idea that the army's hands ought to be tied in such cases because it is all "private adult consensual sexual conduct" is insane! Of course, once the story's gotten the full glossing treatment of the mainstream media, almost the opposite seems to be the case.

In the coming cultural battles, we're going to have to be prepared to shine a lot of light on these instances of "oppression" and "bigotry." And we're going to have to become (or remain) willing to stand up and say such things as will make Andrew Sullivan blush — for example: "This is subversive!"

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:49 AM EST


Tuesday, July 8, 2003

I CANNOT Believe It!

I cannot believe that Robert Cantrell lost to Ralphie May on Last Comic Standing tonight. And 85% to 15%!

Rob's set was probably the single funniest few minutes of television that I've every seen. Frankly, I think it was probably too smart for the audience. Ralphie was funny, but standard, in my view.

Well, I look forward to following Rob's career.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:30 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 07/07/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "For Those Who Remain" by Joe Parillo. Sand Box is currently the biggest-selling item in Confidence Place, something that doesn't surprise me in the least. Give it a listen.

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:20 PM EST


Lileks on Savage

Lileks is good on Michael Savage today (scroll down).

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:53 AM EST


A Balanced Impression on Shea

So as not to be seen as always beating on Mark, I wanted to recommend his column on nostalgia for youth. It's dead on, in my estimation.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:42 AM EST


I Don't Know Whether to Laugh or Cry

Mark Shea again:

It was an orphanage.

Not a particularly nice orphanage. But not the dungeon where, we were instantly assured, children had been held for crimes against the regime for years. Not to worry though, the war brought definite changes for them: their orphanage has been looted. ...

Can you see why I'm having misgivings about all this? How many other "facts" were exaggeration done for the Greater Good? I'm just a stupid citizen. All I know is what Caesar tells me about such things and what the media serves up. My intelligence connections to Iraq are remarkably limited. If it turns out I've been fed a line of BS this time, why should I trust it next time?

What I find curious about this is that Mark makes direct reference to only knowing "what the media serves up" but believes the orphanage angle to the exclusion of the prison angle. Well, here's what the New York Times has to say about the "orphanage":

The orphanage had been home to 107 girls and boys whose parents were killed or imprisoned, or were unable to care for them. As the Americans advanced on Baghdad, they mistook the orphanage for a jail or prison and released all the children who were there. ...

... Today 23 boys and 11 girls live at the orphanage. But because conditions at Al Rahma were bad under Saddam Hussein's regime, according to employees, some children are reluctant to return, fearing that even under the new management they will be treated badly.

So to resort to description rather than one-word descriptors, we've got a building controlled by the government to which children were sent when their parents were "killed or imprisoned." When the marines arrived on the scene, they "released all the children," most of whom are "reluctant to return." Now, you tell me: what word applies to that scenario?

Going back to the original story, there is one specific detail that I'd like cleared up:

Around 150 children spilled out of the jail after the gates were opened as a US military Humvee vehicle approached, Lieutenant Colonel Fred Padilla told an AFP correspondent travelling with the Marines 5th Regiment.

"Hundreds of kids were swarming us and kissing us," Padilla said.

"There were parents running up, so happy to have their kids back."

Was that parents line a lie? Or could it be that those were parents who had been released from their own prisons and went to get their children? As the original story says, "It was not clear who had opened the doors of the prison." Could a parent have opened the door?

Beyond this detail, what external factors might lead one to call such a facility a "prison" rather than an "orphanage"? Well, here's an article by Accuracy in Media in reaction to the original prison story:

Ironically, these children may have been the lucky ones. Over the past decade, international organizations like Human Rights Watch, have repeatedly reported on the imprisonment, torture, and execution of children by the Saddam Hussein regime. Children have been among the nearly 300,000 persons who have "disappeared" in Iraq since the later 1970s. Children have been routinely and repeatedly arrested to force their parents to confess to crimes against the regime.

For example, a March Boston Globe story detailed the interrogation of a former Iraqi secret police thug who had specialized in torture. The thug admitted torturing children as young as five or six to "get their mothers talking." He claimed that Iraqi torturers never killed the children, just "beat them with steel cables." But he was contradicted by a BBC story in which another former regime torturer said it was common to kill children if their parents wouldn’t talk. ...

The existence of children’s prisons in Iraq was reported last September by Scott Ritter, former U.N. weapons inspector. Ritter said that his inspection team had first come across a children’s prison in Baghdad January 1998. The prison Ritter saw held toddlers to pre-adolescents and was for the children of parents who opposed the regime.

Ritter said it was a "horrific scene." But he refused to elaborate any further. He says he was afraid that the story was "so horrible that it can be used by those who want to promote war with Iraq." Ritter said he was "waging peace." We suspect that the liberal media has been following Ritter’s lead. That would explain the apparent blackout in the media on this story. In an Internet search, we could find only one additional reference to it in a Washington Post editorial. The rest of the media have ignored it.

Well, maybe this "orphanage" is a different place. The Times gives the name "al Rahma." Searching the name in Google, I came across this from UNICEF (emphasis added):

In 1998 the Government embarked on the physical rehabilitation of Al-Rahma Centre for street and working children, with the support of UNICEF and Enfants du Monde. This was designed to separate 6-14 year old children, previously placed with sentenced and convicted older children and juveniles in conflict with the law, in a caring environment, while at the same time promoting their reunification with their families. The institution opened in 1999, and is the only one of its kind in Iraq. It can accommodate up to 150 boys and girls.

The Agence France Press report of the opened prison said that it was in northeast Baghdad, while this Reuters story places al Rahma at the "southwestern edge" of Baghdad. So clearly, the claim of "children's prisons" has not been debunked. Of course, Reuters makes one wonder what the difference between the one-of-a-kind orphanage and a prison might have been:

Police brought Zena to the centre 18 months ago after her parents abandoned her. ...

The new head, Sheikh Bakr al-Saidi, said the children, many of them former street hawkers brought to the centre by police, simply ran away.

So, add to my descriptor-less description the fact that police often brought the children to the facility. As for the U.S. culpability for the looting, well, there's this:

Saidi alleged the looting was led by the centre's former director, Mohammed Habib, an official of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, who came with a gang to empty the complex on Baghdad's southwestern edge and set light to store rooms holding records. ...

The children are given two meals a day of rice and soup, some sleep in metal-framed bunk beds, others on mattresses on the floor. Despite the privations the children have faced since the looting, they say it is a better place without Habib.

"He was an angry man, full of nerves and revenge," Khaidar said. "He used to beat me and he wouldn't let us play football. If Muhammad knows Habib is gone, maybe he will come back."

Sounds to me as if Muhammad might return if the prison that he left is made into an orphanage.

ADDENDUM (07/14/03 11:20 p.m.):
Welcome, Instapundit readers. Just a note on this post: When I wrote it on the eighth, I threw it together for use as part of an argument elsewhere on the Internet, so the layout of ideas is not the smoothest. Reading it now, though, I still can't shake the feeling that the patchwork quality of it is in part a result of the difficulty of knowing what to say about the Times article. From what I've dug up, it looks like the two stories in question are very possibly about different buildings, yet the argument that there wasn't much difference between this orphanage and a prison is still valid.

As Mark Shea put it, all I know is "what the media serves up." I'd certainly place this one within the range of the Times's spin, which means that I'm ready to disbelieve "the paper of record" and that others will refuse to do so no matter what.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:19 AM EST


Recycling the Damning Evidence

Mark Shea links another development in the African uranium story as if it is new. Here's my comment:

The environmental fanatics must be ecstatic about all of the recycling going on of "where are they" stories. Every new development gets promoted as if it is an entirely new incident:

CIA envoy said no uranium sales — Aha! Deception

CIA confirms that envoy said no uranium sales — The Evidence Keeps Piling Up

Envoy publishes article in the NY Times — When will the flow of damning information end!

White House confirms that, in retrospect, eight syllables about uranium from Africa from an hour-long speech might have been ill-advised — My goodness! Yet another instance of deception!

There have been a couple such stories (such as the bio truck), but this uranium thing is my absolute favorite. Somehow, the professional reporters continue to find this bit of information irrelevant to the uranium stories:

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.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:02 AM EST


Monday, July 7, 2003

Sullivan Just Gets Worse and Worse

As expected, Andrew Sullivan has dismissed John Derbyshire's latest column on homosexuality. Sullivan's point? Anti-Semitism is wrong. Yup, you read that right. Rather than address the evidence and anecdotes that Derbyshire provides to make his case, Sullivan picks some choice sentences and conclusions and argues that they must be wrong because they are similar to statements once wrongly made against Jews.


So, for the most part, Sullivan has supplied about what I expected. For some reason, though, I thought I'd look a little more closely at this paragraph:

So they exaggerate and hyper-ventilate. Here's Derbyshire on Jeffrey John, a new assistant bishop in the Church of England, openly gay but now celibate: "So now the Episcopal church has an "openly gay" (i.e. proselytizing homosexual) bishop." Huh? The man is not only not proselytizing for gay sex; he's given it up himself! His proseltizing consists entirely in his honesty about his sexual orientation. Yet Derbyshire would have him break one of the Ten Commandments and bear false witness about himself. Notice further that a simple statement of fact is now interpreted as something aggressive, imposing, threatening. That is unhinged. I've been openly gay for a long time but I have absolutely no interest in whether anyone else is; I have never tried to persuade some straight guy to have sex with me or fall in love with me. I dare say I know a few more homos than Derb and very few of them see it as their mission to "proselytize" anyone. All they're doing in being honest about their orientation is being honest about their orientation. It carries no more implications than someone telling me they have a wife or husband or kids; or that they're Mormon or Italian.

Actually, Andrew, here's Derbyshire on Jeffrey John:

However, Canon Jeffrey John, the priest at the center of the Oxford fuss, tells the world that the 27-year relationship with his partner (also an Anglican clergyman) ceased to be physical in the 1990s. He can therefore claim that he is not violating church teaching at all.

The statement that Sullivan thinks is "unhinged" is about a different gay Anglican:

So now the Episcopal church has an "openly gay" (i.e. proselytizing homosexual) bishop. The Rev. V. Gene Robinson, 56, was elected bishop of New Hampshire on June 7, in a vote by clergy and church activists. Robinson abandoned his wife and two infant daughters in 1986 to pursue his "lifestyle."

In case you're wondering, Robinson is still living with the lover in question and, since he has not made any public statements (that I can find) that he is nonetheless celibate, I'd say he's still "practicing." Information about the nature of the separation and Robinson's current relationship with his daughters is scarce as well, something that I suspect would not be the case were it all teacups and roses.

So, Mr. Sullivan, is deception of this sort, made in the interests of your identity group, an indication of subversion? Well, I'll take a blog post on the topic from today as the answer:

Both the Anglicans and the Catholics,in the next few years, will have to deal with how many Western Christians feel about the dignity of gay people, while seeing their ranks boom among intermittently polygamous but rampantly homophobic Africans. It's an irresolvable conflict. My prediction: eventual Anglican schism.

Naw, no subversion here.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:18 PM EST


Too, Too Savage

I've written some things that weren't condemnatory about Michael Savage in the past, although I don't think I've ever "defended" or "supported" him in any direct, explicit way (use the search engine above if you care what specifically I wrote). But he has definitely gone too far, making me glad that I stopped even bothering to tune into his radio show momentarily during my dog walks months ago.

Probably the saddest part of his firing, though, is this line from that link:

GLAAD spokeswoman Cathy Renna said of Savage's firing: "It's about time.

"This latest attack made the clearest case for why Savage has no place on any reputable news network. MSNBC witnessed firsthand exactly the kind of verbal assaults GLAAD's been warning them about for the past five months, and to their credit, they backed up their promises to hold Savage accountable."

The thing is that GLAAD was wrong five months ago, and Savage just confirmed them in their wrongheadedness.

ADDENDUM (07/07/03 7:37 p.m.):
Alright, let's be fair. I just ran an errand and turned on Michael Savage's radio show to get his side, and I'm inclined based on what he said to revisit something that made absolutely no sense to me in the article linked above:

The incident that resulted in his firing began innocently enough. Savage was taking viewer phone calls about airline horror stories, and a male caller began talking about smoking in the bathroom.

"Half an hour into the flight, I need to suggest that Don and Mike take your ..." the caller said, before he was cut off and his words became unintelligible.

Now, I missed Savage's full explanation, but I caught enough to gather that, in the spot where the caller was cut off, what he was saying was still playing in Savage's earpiece, and it was a personal insult intended to provoke him. Savage says that he signaled to a producer and responded thinking that they were off the air.

Don't get me wrong: If the sort of things he said by way of response are that close to his lips, I don't want Michael Savage being a visible representative of my side in the culture wars. Mostly because he wouldn't be representative, but also because he facilitates the undermining, for no legitimate reason, of those who are representative. Still, it's easy to forget how wrong the media can get incidents and how inclined it can be to be wrong in a particular direction.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:04 PM EST


"A Brilliant Strategy in Its Simplicity and Effectiveness"?

Well, Tacitus disagrees with my characterization of suggestions about a "flypaper," "swamp-draining" strategy in Iraq:

Are terrorists not striking the US because we met them on their home ground in Iraq -- or are they not striking the US because it's logistically difficult and terror strikes on America are comparatively rare anyway? And why didn't the Russian decision to meet their terrorists on their home ground in Chechnya, or the Pakistani decision to meet their terrorists on their home ground in the tribal areas, prevent the terror strikes in those nations?

And, oh yeah, how many terrorists attacking American soil have ever come from Iraq?

Hey, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there is indeed a plan to use the American army of occupation as an attrition magnet. If so, it's a ridiculously bad plan, as it plays directly to our own weaknesses (and, in fairness, the weakness of any modern, democratic army). That we've got people now cheering what is essentially the same strategic concept employed by Falkenhayn at Verdun or Navarre at Dien Bien Phu is deeply troubling.

I more or less agree with that first paragraph; it goes a bit far to suggest that terrorists aren't striking on American soil because they've got a heavily armed representative branch of our country right next door. That lone middle sentence, however, suggests that Tacitus isn't giving full consideration to the argument that the "flypaper" people are making.

If the suggestion is that a U.S. force in Iraq is attracting terrorists from around the region (Warren specifically mentions Israel-bane Hizbullah), it matters not at all that the terrorists have not, themselves, been Iraqis. In contrast, it certainly doesn't hurt the flypaper argument that Iraq did offer supplies and financing to non-Iraqi terrorist groups.

I don't believe that organized terrorists are canceling their travel reservations and hopping in Uncle Akbar's pickup truck to go 'n' git the Americans in the next country. On the other end, I don't believe that the swamp-draining is the central objective in Iraq. While we're there, however, capitalizing on the possibility that terrorist organizations such as Hizbullah will pay us some attention seems a beneficial tactic. Consider the international guff that Israel takes for bringing the fight to Hizbullah. Consider also that most opponents of President Bush and "his" war in Iraq reject to the point of omission connections between al Qaeda and such "regional" terrorist groups.

In this context, the strategy that some are suggesting isn't one of waiting for terrorists to head all the way to Baghdad to get whupped, but of making connections and justifications for squashing the groups more explicit. Commenters have suggested that one flaw in the strategy is that terrorists are not a static population, that our presence in Iraq will increase their numbers, even as we knock them off. This obviously ought to be part of any calculation, but it also points to a flaw in their own argument: the necessity of recruiting requires terrorist groups to address the "American affront" in some way. If they allow the United States to quietly rebuild Iraq, they'll begin to lose their pool of potential recruits as well as their core marketing angle. If they act, we have justification for squashing them. Unlike with the Israeli/Palestinian war, however, the Americans are already on the ground in Iraq, without local terrorist bureaucracies to keep their subjects in a miserable, agitated state.

In a related note, Tacitus commenter Reed Richards makes a suggestion that everybody ought to consider before diving into this argument:

BTW, they can read, and aren't stupid. If you loudly announce your plans, they are apt to change theirs.

A counterbalancing factor is that, as Tacitus points out, a weakness of a democratic military effort is certainly public opinion, so counteracting the doomsayers in public discussion is an important component to military success. Of course, most bloggers have the advantage, here, of having neither large audiences nor direct sanction of the White House. Unlike, say, Tommy Franks:

"The thing that ... I spend most time thinking about is the notion that could lead one to believe that these coalition forces in Iraq are sitting back and waiting for something ... for these criminals and these Fedayeen Saddam (paramilitary) elements to come and attack them — and that simply isn't the case," Franks said. "This is all about offensive operations in Iraq and that's what our troops are doing."

I'd like to come across two things in the near future:

1) Some rough data concerning the number of U.S. enemies (Iraqi or otherwise) that have been captured or killed since the main thrust of the war ended.

2) Suggestions about what ought to be done made by those who ridicule such suggestions as the "flypaper" — particularly from those who supported the war. (This doesn't include those Democrats who supported the war but are now attempting to retroactively wiggle out of that support, because one can't expect them to act from a sense of accountability.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:07 PM EST


Ain't It the Truth

We bloggers must keep perspective. We must keep our activities in their place. And we must be able to laugh at ourselves.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:33 AM EST


Religious Bias? Naw...

Tim Blair offers an example of subject identification (or lack thereof) tilting stories:

Here are some opening paragraphs from recent stories about Bad Religious People:

A Roman Catholic priest and a Clay County Sheriff's deputy were among 18 people charged in a Kansas City area prostitution sting.

Bail was reduced today for a former Catholic priest accused of molesting a boy in Oceanside, but charges of child molestation and failing to register as a sex offender remain in place, for now.

A former Catholic priest who pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual abuse has started his 18-month prison sentence at the Maryland State Detention Facility in Jessup.

Prosecutors said they will file charges Monday against a retired Roman Catholic priest accused of molesting five boys,

A Contra Costa judge released a former Catholic priest accused of child molestation on his own recognizance Friday morning, one day after a U.S. Supreme Court decision overturned the law under which he was charged.

And then there's this:

A 75-year-old religious leader has been charged with sexually assaulting a nine-year-old girl at a playground, police said Thursday.

Can you guess?

(In addition to the answer to the mystery question, Tim's got all the relevant links.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:57 AM EST


Sanitation Implies Dirt

Erin O'Connor writes about the K–12 sanitation of educational and testing materials. She does so in the context of a controversy over a college professor's... umm... low vocabulary that I haven't the time to investigate thoroughly enough to voice an opinion (although I think I'm less inclined to offer professors the benefit of the doubt in such cases than is Ms. O'Connor). However, this passage solidifies an idea that surely exists vaguely in the minds of many an intelligent person:

Even more palpable, ironically, is the prurience produced by the overzealous attempt to sanitize content of any potentially sexual reference. How is it that an udder is supposed to make kids think of sex and not of, say, milk? How is it that a grandfather is supposed to make girls think of being raped rather than, say, of being held by a dearly loved family member? What kind of mindset must one adopt to be able to design such materials? And what sort of mindset does such material produce in kids?

Could it be that the policing prurience of the publishers and testers produces a comparable prurience in the kids who are taught and tested with this bowdlerized material?

It really ought to be obvious. Consider the example of the illustrator who had to give an artistic sex-change to the grandfather holding his granddaughter on his lap. Those who misinterpret incest into the picture are most in need of being taught that they are wrong to do so. If children never come across such scenes in mundane places that transfer an inherent okayness, then the only option left is to conclude that the assumption of incest (for example) is legitimate. This mindset, extrapolated, corrupts a perfectly healthy interaction (indeed, one of a sort that is conducive to mental health).

Of course, this isn't only a problem with issues involving sex. People who protest a word such as "niggardly" need to learn that the word is not inherently racist. Legitimizing their reaction inserts racism where it does not exist and raises racial friction where it need not be.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:44 AM EST


A Newbie Learns from an Old Pro

Well, now I don't feel so badly about losing interest in the endless prattling about President Bush's "bring 'em on" comment, nor am I inclined to worry about my dwindling hit count (which is, for perspective, only about fifty-plus times last year's figures, down from the hundred-plus times numbers that I was getting before the Iraq war). Lileks has allayed my fears with the sort of casual explanation that seasoned pros offer to anxiety-ridden newcomers:

Now the pressure's off for the summer; it will be whatever it turns out to be. The summer-themed material is already half-off at Target. Politics settles down to a dull throb for the rest of the summer, and most sensible people ignore it. I remember this season in DC - withdrawal. Nothing going on; it hurt. Oh, the local dealers have some news, but it's low-quality, and they’re still stepping on it like Rockettes at an ant-squashing contest, and hence everyone's walking around nervous and not quite satisfied but not quite in trouble, yet.

Good. I now feel free to splash in the in-laws' new aboveground pool for a while and to kill time reading and learning new software. This is how the current-events tide flows this time of year. And it's pointless to get worked up about the liberal AM radio hosts' incredulousness about the "bring 'em on" comment. It's their problem, really. Imagine the frustration required to inspire such carping — there's nothing they can do, their entire worldview has been crumbling since the fall of 2001. About half of the American public had started the process of perspective change the year before.

Advice to self: endeavor to behave differently from them. Ignore them. Go about life. Keep a cool head. Keep cool.

(And hope that a majority of Americans does the same.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:59 AM EST


Sunday, July 6, 2003

Just Thinking 07/07/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Close to the Canvas," about the effects of abstraction and technology — movement away from physical reality — on the visual arts.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:27 PM EST


Cute, but Disconcerting

Glenn Reynolds links to a cute reporter-meets-subject story:

BBC newsgirl Jane O'Brien has dumped her fiance and run off to marry an FBI agent she met while reporting the Gulf War.

Jane, in her thirties, became embedded with the spy while sending back reports for the flagship 6 and 10 O'clock News programmes. ...

"They knew everyone knew about the relationship, but it was like love's young dream and they didn't care."

Now, I'm as much of a sucker as the next person for tales of love conquering ambition, but this particular story leaves me with a few questions: Should the FBI agent be disciplined? What are the implications of this for embedding female reporters with military units? What are the implications for women employed in those units?

I don't know, exactly, how I'd answer these questions, but I do believe that it's important to remember that this isn't the latest summer date flick. It's a matter of fact and, as such, has real-world effects.

ADDENDUM (07/07/03 10:48 a.m.):
Tim Blair vaguely suggests that the story had some Australian counterparts.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:07 PM EST


So Much Strategy That We Don't See

I'm starting to think that it's foolish to make too-specific arguments about the current foreign-affairs doings of our government. Of course, we must keep an eye on our leaders, but some suggestions, such as this from David Warren, just make so much sense that whole swaths of complaint and anxiety come to look embarrassingly naive:

[The "experts"] notice that the U.S. forces in Iraq have become a new magnet for regional terrorist activity. They assume this demonstrates the foolishness of President Bush's decision to invade.

It more likely demonstrates the opposite. While engaged in the very difficult business of building a democracy in Iraq -- the first democracy, should it succeed, in the entire history of the Arabs -- President Bush has also, quite consciously to my information, created a new playground for the enemy, away from Israel, and even farther away from the United States itself. By the very act of proving this lower ground, he drains terrorist resources from other swamps.

This is the meaning of Mr. Bush's "bring 'em on" taunt from the Roosevelt Room on Wednesday, when he was quizzed about the "growing threat to U.S. forces" on the ground in Iraq. ...

This is exactly what President Bush wants. To engage them, away from Israel, in mortal combat. To have an excuse for wiping them out -- a good, solid, American excuse, from which Israel has been extracted.

What a brilliant strategy in its simplicity and effectiveness! This seems to me an inherent difference between Presidents Bush and Clinton. With Bush one can trust that there is a strategy, a plan. With Clinton, one could trust that less was being done than was being proclaimed — the operative s-word was "spin," not "strategy."

And this is part of why I don't feel like too much of a fool for being pulled along with the tide of popular opinion: almost my entire politically aware existence was with Clinton as President. Furthermore, the average citizen can't be faulted for an inability to dig his way through to the probable truth once all of the bias and inadequacies of the media have been waded. As Warren writes:

I almost tire of mentioning how the media -- specifically, the "liberal" mainstream media that determine how 60 per cent of Canadians and 40 per cent of Americans think -- get everything backwards. So that by the time one has unwrangled their reflexive views, one is stupefied by the doublings, quadruplings, and sextuplings of negatives.

Is Warren's suggestion about the Bush administration's plan correct? I couldn't say for sure. It certainly makes sense, as a strategy, and I have the confidence in the administration to believe it capable of formulating such a plan, and I trust in the administration to follow through even if the timeline doesn't turn out to be politically expedient. Assuming that Warren is at least in the ballpark, however, one is then faced with a maddening probability: the administration will not get even the credit of having succeeded until the plan is viewed as long-ago history. The naysayers will just go on to say "nay" about something else, and that 60% of Canadians and 40% of Americans will have lost an example that would be edifying to consider when assessing future events.

(via Instapundit)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:57 PM EST


Making Childhood Someplace That Children Don't Want to Stay

I hadn't thought of it this way before, but I wonder how much all of the "over-safing" of childhood is motivating children to become young adults — with all of the exponentially greater dangers that come with it — as quickly as possible. "The Dulling of American Playgrounds" makes me think that this might be the case by offering two pictures: 1955 and 2003. The 1955 picture is one of those weird metal-bar structures that didn't really seem to have an intended game, yet I remember them being among my favorites — climbing through the bars, being a spy or a soldier or just an active kid. The 2003 picture is one of those mostly plastic constructions with a bridge here, a tunnel there, but mostly platforms (low platforms) everywhere.

The old equipment offered physical challenges and something on which to overlay imagination. The new equipment is just there... why bother? "Hey, I'm over the bridge! Hey, I'm through the tunnel! Look, Ma, I'm going down the stairs the wrong way!" Not only can young kids physically and imaginatively accomplish the same games without the benefit of a super-safe structure, but those same structures practically exude an aura of early, early childhood — to be shunned sooner than later. Will today's kids look back on the playground and still get a twinkle of youth in their eyes when they are adults?

Gigi gathers a few bits of gravel to pile on a metal bridge, then wanders off to pick clover, while her parents talk animatedly — the way grown-ups do when asked about the playgrounds of their childhood.

"You know what we never see anymore? The merry-go-round. I loved that! I would ride until I was nauseous," says her father, Michael McGaughey.

"But somebody was always flying off," Gigi's mother gently reminds him.

Yeah, but those somebodies almost always got back on or went to play on something else. Moreover, such equipment gave even much older children something to enjoy. And frankly, I'm not impressed with the trade-off:

One study based on emergency room care did find that head injuries related to swings dropped to 2.6 per 10,000 children in 1997 from 3.5 in 1986.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:13 AM EST


Saturday, July 5, 2003

"Where Are They" Perspective

I saw, on FoxNews, a little while ago, that troops in Iraq are finding regular old weapons (guns 'n' stuff) buried in coffins in graveyards. Apply that type of stealthy thinking on the Iraqis' part to more-illicit weapons, and you'll have some perspective on the question of WMDs.

Just a thought for the afternoon.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:06 PM EST


Friday, July 4, 2003

Victor Lams, Comedy Genius

Victor Lams's et cetera blog is a daily stop of mine. To be honest, it's often a quick stop, but I have to make it because I'll often come across something new and hilarious in multimedia or something that captures an underlying truth in old-fashioned written-word-media as only humor can, like this.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:30 AM EST


Independence Day Smirking Chuckles

Hey, go check out the cartoons at Cox & Forkum. It won't take long, and you won't be sorry.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:27 AM EST


Happy Independence Day!

Enjoy it y'all! And a special thanks to all those who are now or have ever worked and put their lives on the line to keep the United States independent.

(Posting might [or might not] be light today.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:05 AM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Guest of Honor," by Justin Katz.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:02 AM EST


Thursday, July 3, 2003

They Don't Offer "Biased" Reporting... They Just Don't "Report" What Doesn't Fit the Bias

Lane Core gets to the heart of the major media's relative silence about what's going on with gay marriage in Massachusetts (among other issues related to gay marriage):

But I'm telling you this: when a national, world-famous publication like Newsweek doesn't mention a very important aspect of a high-profile situation it's because they don't want their readers to know about it. Or, at the least, they don't want their readers to find out about it in the pages of Newsweek.

That, by the way, is why mainstream media has not been telling everybody, until the past week or so (if at all), that the "judicial oligarchy" (to borrow a phrase from Dom Bettinelli) of Massachusetts will most likely force homosexual "marriage" on its subjects populace within a few weeks. They don't want the general public to know about it until it has become a fait accompli. [all emphasis marks in original]

This, in my opinion, is right on. The mainstream media goes well beyond accidental oversight to the point at which such omissions must be intentional. That means, for example, that somebody at Newsweek, at whatever level, must have consciously decided that Newsweek readers don't need to know about the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment. See, half of duping the public is to lull it into a sense of security. The article's contributors (all twelve of them) do offer the superficial "don't worry" skim off the top of the issue that gay marriage advocates always hold up like a shield:

Scalia's fulmination was impressive, but (as even he might privately concede) it was also an overstatement of the legal and political reality, at least for the immediate future. While gays can now claim some constitutional protection—their new right to privacy under the Lawrence decision—the federal government and the states can override those rights if they have a good enough reason, a "legitimate state interest." Thus, national security could trump privacy in the military and preserve the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays. Or the state's interest in preserving "traditional institutions"—like marriage between different-sex couples—might overcome a homosexual's right to not be "demeaned," as Justice Kennedy put it. After Lawrence, gays can no longer be branded as criminals. But that does not mean they will enjoy all the rights of "straight" citizens. The current Supreme Court has shown, albeit erratically, a federalist streak: it will not lightly trample "states' rights"—that is, second-guess the power of states to make up their own rules, especially if popular opinion is running strong. ...

A few other states, most notably Massachusetts and California, seem to be edging toward the recognition of gay marriage, either by legislation or judicial fiat. But the stronger movement, at least for now, appears to be in the other direction. Some 37 states—and the federal government—have adopted "Defense of Marriage Acts," which define marriage as applying only to a man and a woman, and—significantly—bar recognition of same-sex marriage from other states.

Mentioning that opponents of gay marriage believe the situation dire enough to require a Constitutional amendment, however, might lead readers to wonder what the circumstances and likely outcomes really are.

I thought I'd note, too, that Lane offers evidence that I did not, in fact, coin "judicial oligarchy" (see here, here, and here) — at least not uniquely. Oh, well.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:55 PM EST


And the Stories Go Around

For a moment, I thought I was either crazy or capable of dreaming the future. I've been noticing that everybody's been posting about the 400,000 frozen embryos. It sounded familiar, and sure enough, I mentioned those poor souls on May 8, with this as my conclusion:

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:23 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Stillpoint," by Denise Lussier.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:38 AM EST


Time to Make It a Crime

This ought to be outright illegal:

An experiment that created human "chimeras" by merging male and female embryos in a test tube was condemned yesterday as scientifically vacuous and ethically questionable by leading proponents of research into IVF.

A team of privately funded researchers made the hermaphrodite chimeras - a mix of cells from two separate embryos - as part of a study into ways of treating inherited disorders. But their colleagues have denounced the study.

"Scientifically vacuous"? "Ethically questionable"? Oooo... mad scientists everywhere are shaking in their booties. Try this one: a crime against humanity. People think that this is a wave that cannot be held back. Put a couple of would-be Dr. Frankensteins in a cell with Charles Manson for a couple of years, and you'll see it quickly recede.

(via Mark Shea)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:37 AM EST


Battling the Telemarketers

Could somebody form a non-profit organization to do this on a larger scale:

An exasperated resident turned the tables on a company that hounded him with telemarketing calls, calling it more than 100 times in two days.

Marc Plaisted said he started calling Minnesota Auto Glass after the St. Peter-based company's telemarketers called him up to three times a day — even after he asked them not to. ...

"I just called them every five minutes and let them know that, no, I don't have a crack in my windshield, because this seems to be something they are very concerned about," Plaisted said.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:33 AM EST


"These Findings Had Been Largely Ignored"

I still recall the discussions in high school, under the direction of our "hip" (i.e., ex-hippy), during which the potheads laid out all of their pro-pot arguments. In their view, it was apparent, the drug was no more harmful than a nice cold glass of milk. Well, that's not exactly true:

Regular cannabis users are at greater risk of developing mental illness later in life, according to research.

One study found that the risk was seven times higher for heavy users, said Professor Robin Murray of the Institute of Psychiatry in London.

Although I wouldn't consider myself an advocate either way, I wouldn't object to pot legalization. However, I have noticed a tendency for proponents of the drug to forget that it is, indeed, a drug — that is, more than a vitamin.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:31 AM EST


The 2003 Redwood Review Is Up!

As you can see by the previous entry, announcing the poem of the week, the 2003 Redwood Review is up and full of all sorts of new fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and images for your edification and entertainment.

Take a look! Feedback is welcome.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:58 AM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:56 AM EST


Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Rummy & Me

As is often the case, Donald Rumsfeld and I are on the same page with the press:

"There are so many cartoons where press people are saying 'Is it Vietnam yet?' hoping it is, and wondering if it is, and it isn't," Rumsfeld told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing. "It's a different time, it's a different era, it's a different place."

The CNN page to which the above link will bring you has all kinds of frightening opinion-poll graphics, and I can't help but think: "So what?" The flames of the war have subsided into smoldering embers, and one would naturally expect high levels of excitement about our activities over there to dwindle. This is especially true considering how few people actually pay attention to the news.

This is where media bias and the power of the headline writer really start to show. The public isn't interested in paragraph-17-level detail, so for the vast majority, their impression of non-calamitous events come from whatever they can read through the glass of newspaper dispensers.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:38 PM EST


A Note on Today

Hey, folks! I'm hoping to get the new online edition of the Redwood Review up 'n' running today, so posting may be light... or it may not. Who knows?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:30 PM EST


Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Goldberg's Behind on Gay Marriage

Seemingly to work his way out of the lonely hole that he dug for himself by suggesting that social conservatives surrender in the homosexual battle of the culture war, Jonah Goldberg has found the federalism escape hatch:

So what's wrong with federalism? Would it really be so terrible if gay marriage were legal in Massachusetts but illegal in Kentucky? I remain unconvinced that marriage is a "fundamental right" and therefore immune to government regulation. I also remain unconvinced that fundamental rights cannot be regulated. After all, when my dad was a kid, some books were "banned in Boston" (a huge selling point) but legal in New York. And free speech is certainly more of a fundamental right under our Constitution than marriage (I'm just going by what the thing says). If folks in Hawaii want gay marriage, ask yourself how much it would really matter to people in Wyoming. What if you live in Hawaii and you lose the democratic battle? You can always move to Wyoming. And, if you're gay in Wyoming and you lose a similar battle? Well, you can move to Hawaii. Would this create all sorts of annoying paperwork because marriages would be less "portable" from state to state? Yes, yes it would. Would this be unfair to some folks? Sure. But everyone is going to have to realize that nobody is going to get everything they want on this issue. So I say, eat your rootmarm and get over it.

My last sentence before the blockquote sounds a little more sarcastic than I meant it to; I really do find Jonah's argument well considered and thoroughly reasonable. But I think it represents an unrealistic restatement of suggestions already made and rejected... rejected by the advocates of gay marriage (probably because they think they're winning). To be sure, Andrew Sullivan tries to position his argument within the context of federalism, but taking a broad view of his writing on the topic shows that he does so disingenuously.

Indeed, the first thing to come to mind when I read the above paragraph from Goldberg was that Rick Santorum essentially made the same argument about sodomy — it shouldn't be a federal issue — and was attacked with the intent to kill, or at least maim, his public career. I wrote at the time that federalism would be ideal but isn't acceptable to "activists." When the Supreme Court's ruling on the Texas sodomy law was announced last week, I heard homosexual activists on the radio talking about how that state's law oppressed homosexuals all across the country.

And that is why those who oppose judicially instituted federal gay marriage must act on a national scale, as with the marriage amendment. It is a defensive maneuvre, not an aggressive one, and as such is necessitated by the opposing side. The suggested amendment, I believe, leaves the way open for individual states to institute various marriage-like policies for homosexuals. Perhaps the combination of so decisively losing this battle and having an alternative route to pursue — via legislature — homosexuals will shift their internal culture in acknowledgement that they can't "get everything that they want on this issue." In doing so, hopefully they will act in ways that indicate to the rest of society that their relationships are closer to traditional marriage and love than to corrosive expressions of lust.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:59 AM EST


Teachers in Rhode Island

Well, the teachers' unions are still flexing their muscles in Rhode Island. My feelings are summed up pretty well by fellow Rhode Islander Darlene Ciolfi-Donley in a letter to the editor:

Mr. Rustigian says that "teachers pay taxes also." Well, I surely would not mind paying taxes if I got 100 percent of my health care covered, worked an average of 6 hours a day, 180 days a year, had my summers off, enjoyed several paid holidays, and then could end my career with full medical coverage for life and a pension with annual cost-of-living increases that exceed the rate of inflation -- and be still young enough to enjoy my vacation home in retirement.

I'd say that the teachers better watch how conspicuously they flex. A trend of taxpayers' making comparisons of teachers' deals with their own might do more harm to their contracts than the protests and strikes do good.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:16 AM EST


Studio Matters Notes & Commentary: Artist Zen and Other Stuff

Maureen Mullarkey's latest Notes & Commentary piece is "The Zen of Painting and Some Other Things."

It is a pleasure to read Maureen's intelligent and passionate handling of art that one might, on first impulse, disregard as junk scammed upon a self-presumably cultured elite. It is esoteric, to be sure, but that somebody like Maureen gives it careful consideration ought to make us take another look. Consider the following, which she derives from a series by Shigeno Ichimura:

Contemplate what? A secular age drains contemplation of its life's blood. The de-sacralizing of meditation in contemporary culture turns work like Ichimura's into a soothing backdrop to something else, hygienic and decorative. Divorced from its spiritual and religious ends, contemplation—like yoga and sand-painting—is enlisted to serve utilitarian intentions. Staying young, losing weight and relieving stress are among the profane benefits of a state of prayer. In the arts, the theatre of one's own "creativity" cancels any plunge into the ego-denying emptiness of Absolute Tao.

Knowing myself to be of busy imagination — utilitarian and apt to approach contemplation as one would approach a cosmic jigsaw puzzle — my first response was to look for images within the vagueness:

The one on the left is called "Horizon," and it seems unlikely that the title does not relate to the suggestion of a road heading off into the desert at the bottom of the picture, but whether the title capitalizes on an incidental image is difficult to say. What's at the end of the road? To me it looks like a mushroom cloud. The next image seems to me of children, with the one a little left of and lower than the middle of the canvas kicking at the ground with his high-top sneakers. After that we have portraits of death, skulls suggested in the shifts of shade. As for the fourth, well, a product of my times am I, for what could I see but a crop circle?

And therein lies what I take to be Maureen's point: "the theatre of one's own 'creativity' cancels any plunge into the ego-denying emptiness." I suppose one could get around to spiritual meditation by way of contemplating these impressions, digging through self to get to the bottom of our reasons for seeing what we see, but this is to take a long and unproductive route to the simple emptying so as to be filled with God.

The second portion of the essay is refreshing to read from one inside the art world in the context of wishy-washy "artistic" wishes for world peace:

Thoughts and wishes? Into the universe? We are out beyond the spiral nebulae where good intentions make hankerings come true and pull rabbits from hats. Rational consideration of the ground required before peace can be built is too strenuous. Artminds slant toward gnosticism, encouraging artists to go into business as latter-day shamans. An artist can transform a toilet brush into an art object just by calling it one. Why not stuff the pressures of history into a gunny sack just by choosing to? Wish-think is a high form of creativity. It permits an artist's impulses to trump messy realities.

Odd that the same mentality that so comically emphasizes the mystical forces of well-wishes and intentionality should lead to a loss of true and honest spirituality. But then, perhaps it isn't so odd: phony spirituality involves the all-consuming wish to live in a reality that does not actually exist. It is exponentially more difficult to be spiritual in a real world that isn't all flowered quilts, in which the toilet brushes must sometimes be used sans metaphor.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:00 AM EST


What a Way to Start the Day... the Month

I turned on the morning talk-radio show, to which I rarely listen, while I made my eggs this morning. Can you guess the conversation? "Is Iraq becoming another Vietnam quagmire?"!

Two things bug me about this. The first is the premature worrying. The hosts of the show know people (who know people) who are serving in Iraq, making them — you guessed it — experts at how low morale is over there. Add in a couple highly selective in-the-field quotes from a consistently anti-war newspaper (I forget which one they cited... take your pick), and you've got an epidemic of low morale. Hey, I want our troops to have everything they need to make their work over there go as smoothly, and as safely, as possible, but the fact is that it's a job. I don't think I'd be very excited if my job shifted into a multi-year project on the other side of the planet. But this has got to be done, and anybody who thought it would be finished by now (July, for crying out loud!) wasn't thinking clearly.

The second annoying thing about the conversation is the entire lack of imagination — even vocabulary. The second they began expressing their views, I knew those two buzzwords would arise: "Vietnam" and "quagmire." Who wants to listen to that yet again and over and over?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:02 AM EST


Songs You Should Know 07/01/03

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

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:13 AM EST


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