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Saturday, August 31, 2002

Prelude to a Season

Much cooler today. And the lack of rain throughout the summer has brought some of the leaves down early. The preview of a much desired autumn.

Today I fed my daughter with Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor (Op. 64) on the CD player, and then we danced (hopped) around to Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D (Op. 61). "Ba bummm buh badah." And I wrote poetry while she napped. Autumn is good for poetry. Winter is for novels, and summer for short stories. What about the spring? I don't know. Maybe essays — nonfiction.

Now it's Rufus Wainright's first CD and working on the Web site, catching up with myself and preparing for the future. I think maybe I'll include a CD of my reading of First You Must Burn (my poetic novel in progress) with the book — folded into the leaves.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:16 PM EST


What are religious people afraid of finding out?

Mark Shea has a great column up on Catholic Exchange. He addresses the belief among non-believers that religious faith is a stubborn position that forbids questions because they might undermine the faith itself. For example, believers must be afraid to understand evolution because it must contradict the belief in God.

Of course, this is entirely backwards. Evolutionists' mistake is in believing, themselves, that evolution contradicts God. The same is true of any science that investigates reality. Similarly, while the standard line is that, as humankind figures stuff out, God keeps getting smaller, the more intricately we understand what it is that God has done, the broader and more intrinsic God becomes.

It's difficult to bridge this gap in debate because the faithless just do not get it. God isn't hiding in the recesses of what we do not know; He is in such plain view that we often fail to see Him. We are not inventing scientific theories; we are discovering what is already there. And faith does not forbid questions; it allows them because the faithful already know that which is truly important.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:21 PM EST


Friday, August 30, 2002

More Nimby

Ms. Grizzly says, "Not in my back yard."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:38 PM EST


Consequences Schmonsequences

et cetera Victor has a wonderful screed about the Catholic Church letting fly its political voice, throwing its tax exempt status to the wind. I wholeheartedly endorse the plan.

See, if we were a different type of organization (say, People for the American Way), we could set up a "Catholic Church Foundation" that would raise tax exempt money to funnel to the regular, politically active "Catholic Church" through accounting tricks. That would be dishonest.

Of course, it is also dishonest, in its way, to keep one's mouth shut to save a few bucks on the tax return. Taking the long view, to the extent that the Church can curb expensive social experimentation, it will eventually save money in both taxes and the money it expends to clean up the messes made by wrongheaded policies.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:17 PM EST


Racism Masked as Critical Theory

While running errands, I heard Paul Harvey comment that universities are hiking tuition and complaining that they aren't receiving enough public money. He went on to describe some of the foolish courses that they think justify both government funds and tuition (e.g., "Thinking Queerly"). Now I come across this racist garbage, and I have to ask: how long until we stop funding this stuff?

Noel Ignatiev, a white guy with a lot of meaningless letters after his name, is the editor of "Race Traitor," a journal with the goal of "bashing the dead white males, and the live ones, and the females too, until the social construct known as 'the white race' is destroyed — not 'deconstructed' but destroyed." Sounds racist, yes? Well, it is. However, there's a whole lot of academic mumbojumbo that is specifically meant to make the theory too slippery to criticize. (Although, I took a stab at showing the complete and utter inanity of one of Ignatiev's influences, C.L.R. James, in an essay/book about Moby-Dick.)

Here's how the game works: The academics are essentially defining the elite as "white" and the "oppressed" as black. Purely and simply, this is racism because it defines what is properly a class distinction under the rubric of race. So, point to the Irish (indeed, Ignatiev wrote a book about them), as an example of how a minority group can overcome obstacles in Western society, and you're told that they were black but became white. Furthermore, because "whiteness" is the oppressor, this transition is inherently evil.

The game is partly revealed by such foolish examples as "to oppose monarchy does not mean killing the king; it means getting rid of crowns, thrones, royal titles, etc..." This glosses over the fact that the "big idea" of the critics is, keeping with their analogy, to define "anti-royalism" as "anti-Tudorism," for example. Thus, they may shift from the broad to the specific as convenient. To wit:

"Destroying the Tudors does not mean killing the actual people who are Tudors."

"So how do you propose to end royalism?"

"By deposing, killing if necessary, the Tudors."

If whiteness is merely the name given to oppression, why not just speak in terms of oppression? The answer manifests itself when the critical theory is used to buttress suggested ways of acting within the world. Although, every "oppressed" people has been included in the "black race" for theoretical purposes, when discussing who ought to benefit from affirmative action or reparations, conveniently, we go right back to skin color.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:47 PM EST


Teacher Screening

Well, I'm off to have my background checked at the state Attorney General's office. If I'm the third person to go today, might they make me take off my shoes?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:25 AM EST


At What Cost?

I also wonder at what cost we put all adults who deal with children in bubbles. As one who will soon be teaching children, I've been put on guard for touching or ending up alone with them. I'm not an extremely touchy guy anyway, but I still wonder what signals it sends to children that grownups in their lives "don't want" to hug them or speak in private with them. What does it do to children's conception of faith that the priest must become an even more distant figure? Does it make God more distant, too?

I know, I know "nobody's saying that you can't [fill in the thing that nobody's saying]," but it has seemed to me that, given a choice between walking a fine line and keeping a safe distance, most people will choose the latter. And I do not trust that sufficient consideration has been given to the benefits of the behavior that we're so happy to discard. Human beings are apt to destroy broad, subtle layers of society out of a reflexive dislike of limited, but palpable, harm.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:24 AM EST


Assumed Guilty

Already, "zero tolerance" has struck fear in the hearts of innocent priests.

It seems to me that "zero tolerance" puts the burden of proof on the accused — assuming him guilty. To me, the worst effect is this shift in emphasis. With "zero tolerance," the statement becomes "prove to us why you don't deserve this punishment."

I know people are uneasy putting the burden of proof on the accuser (instantly given the title "victim") because sometimes it's impossible to prove that something "improper" happened thirty years ago. But I still trust any given priest more than any given person in America. Just because some abusers chose unstable people because of the advantage in "my word versus yours," doesn't mean that the credibility of all children or unstable teenagers ought to be raised.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:12 AM EST


Thursday, August 29, 2002

A Cause by Any Other Name...

Real live "native peoples" are letting the enviros know what they think of them.

I agree with Instapundit and won't hold my breath to see the mainstream media make a stink about this.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:40 PM EST


Reason 3,856,103

I am so glad that it isn't the "Gore administration." Can you picture members of such a "team" delivering "a forceful — nearly angry — presentation" to a UN lynchmob? I rather think their speech would resemble Peewee Herman's attempt to trick an entire biker bar by saying, under his breath, "I say we let him go!"

And I really don't want to see Ol' Al do the big-shoe dance to "Tequila"!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:55 PM EST


Impromptus Again

Today's Impromptus by Jay Nordlinger is typically wonderful. He hits on many of my (and his) favorite topics: race, language, education, transsexuals, liberal totalitarianism, and Castro (these last two are different... in ways). Here's a taste (he's writing about "'Click and Clack,' a.k.a. Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the Car Talk brothers"):

It seems that the brothers hate bigness. One of them told Mayer, "I went into a movie theater the other day and made the mistake of saying yes when the guy behind the counter said, 'You want the large soda?' This guy gave me — it have must been two gallons.... Two gallons of Coca-Cola! I mean, I was peeing all night!"

Well, guess what, baby love? You didn't have to drink it. And you don't have to buy, or ride in, an SUV.

I wonder, for the millionth time, why it is that the only choice so many people are willing to allow is that to abort a child.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:44 PM EST


Le Pays Pompeux (or the Gall of the Gauls)

Now, for all I know, the folks at the Pentagon worry themselves sick over the opinions of Frenchmen. But this quote from a story in the New York Times about a "change in tone" in France's position with respect to the United States seems a bit unrealistic about the importance of the Gauls:

Another [French] senior official put it more bluntly, "We're driving the Pentagon crazy by keeping silent."

I'd suggest that the only people who'll be driven crazy by this silence are the writers for Saturday Night Live and Jonah Goldberg.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:42 PM EST


Remembrances and Confessions

So, since I've left my blog so barren this morning (car inspection, doctor visit, and so on), I'll confess something of which I am ashamed.

The increasing talk of the 9/11 commemorative videos released or soon to be released has brought that horrible day to mind. More important, the extent to which people are disappointed that they're getting an adulterated version has really struck a chord in me, particularly with respect to the jumpers. That image is burned in my mind.

I don't remember which station had it — probably Fox — but the most emotional shot for me was a man in tie jumping and lifting a shirt above his head as if it might suffice as a parachute. The wind ripped it out of his hand so quickly that, if you blinked, you mightn't have noticed what he had been trying to do. Well, the confession: I almost laughed.

Such an attempt is exactly the sort of thing that a child questions when he first learns about parachutes (just as, when I asked my father why my G.I. Joe had a circle cut out of the middle of his parachute, I wondered whether the neck hole in a shirt would suffice). It is also the sort of feat on which one might rely in a dream. But seeing this question — this dream — actually tried made me forget, for a split second, that it wasn't a movie that I was watching.

But then, having almost laughed at this desperate dead man (white like me), I saw a black woman bawling, pointing, and shouting, "they're jumping!" This is why I want this footage shown. Sure, I want to keep our country's ire up so that we'll see our necessary war on terror through, but in that moment, I wondered how anybody could be racist any longer or, for that matter, continue to leverage race for personal gain.

Maybe if we see the horror, note the reactions of the people in the street below, and note our own reactions, we'll finally get past all the foolishness.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:14 PM EST


Wednesday, August 28, 2002

We HAVE to Ask Why They Don't Hate Us!

This post from Right Wing News brought a tear to my eye. Here's the original from which it came.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:27 PM EST


Who's the Innocent?

This post on Amy Welborn's In Between Naps blog about a published assessment of the Boston diocese's "unused" property has sparked a debate about who owns what, who should pay for what, and who deserves to get paid what. A recent comment likened suing the Catholic Church over the scandal to civil rights lawsuits against private companies. Here's my response:

As I've noted before, we're walking a line in this discussion between "moral right" and "legal right." Personally, I don't think it ought to be legal to sue private companies for their behavior, no matter how discriminatory: they're private companies and ought to be able to conduct business with whomever they please. If the government wants to withdraw any money that it contributes to the company, that's another matter.

Of course, another way of punishing such a company is to not give it your money and to pressure other people to not give it their money. As it is, litigants are punishing an organization by taking its money through the force of the government. And I'll be more apt to believe the "suing to make a statement" argument when the millions start going directly to charity or something rather than fortunes to lawyers and chump change to the claimants.

My second disagreement with you is that the "innocents" (why the quotation marks?) in a corporation suffer only in that they do not make money that they had hoped or expected to make. They are not further liable for paying the company's legal fees. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, the innocents suffer by losing places of worship that they largely maintain at their own expense or, worse, by losing charitable services that a Church facility provides.

Let's give a human example: an elderly couple donates a plot of valuable land to their church when they retire so that the church can expand and do for others the good that did for them. It becomes a congregation area at which charities hold events. A class action suit requires the Church to auction that land, and it ends up as a McDonald's, with the proceeds going to lawyers and individual families.

Ever hear of a shareholder or employee donating land to a company?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:28 PM EST


Everywhere There's Wind

It's everywhere! Windmills are being attacked in Pennsylvania, as well! Only this time it isn't the ultrarich waterview elite, it's the granola-in-the-mountains-nimby elite ("nimby" = "not in my back yard"). Check out this selfishness:

Members of R.E.S.C.U.E., which originally stood for Return Susquehanna County Under Ecology, are worried that the 47 turbines would forever alter the character of the mountain ridge, parallel to Route 296.

"It's like paradise," said Paul Ferraro, a group member. "That's the biggest stretch of undeveloped land we have, and once it's gone, it's gone."

Ferraro acknowledged that wind was strong along the ridge top but said there were other mountaintop sites nearby that would be better, as they already are being used for farming.

To translate: "Hey, I like to hop in my Jeep Cherokee, throw on my Timberlands, and hike up there. Even though there would be several hundred yards between each windmill, it just wouldn't be the same. Why don't those farmers just give up some of that land that they've already spoiled? The world would be such a better place if our group could just dictate where to put these things!"

Which is sort of what the Sierra Club said:

Area Sierra Club members also have urged caution, stressing that they support wind power but want to make sure the turbines are put in the right place.


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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:19 PM EST


Institutional Multitasking

Alright. This silly way of thinking about organizations is beginning to bug me.

Neil Cavuto, of Fox News's Your World, interviewed CJ Doyle of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts about Sam Adams's part in the Dopy and Antnee ordeal. Cavuto, playing devil's advocate (perhaps literally), asked Mr. Doyle whether the Catholic Church didn't have bigger issues to address at this time. Doyle responded by asking at what point Catholics can react to attacks.

My bigger issue with this disappointingly common question is that it treats an organization like a teenager. "Gee, Cathy, I don't think you should worry about redecorating your room when you've got homework to do!"

Not only is the Catholic Church a big organization, but most of the activists, like Mr. Doyle, are acting on behalf of separate groups. This "can't do this 'till that is done" argument is actually akin to telling a group of Boy Scouts sitting around a fresh camp site that they can't gather firewood until the scoutmaster has his bag unpacked.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:15 PM EST


Class Often Overrides Left v. Right

Froma Harrop of the Providence Journal writes of rich Massachusetts ocean-front property owners proving that Hollywood millionaires aren't alone in their desire to battle any movement — no matter how insignificant — of the outside world into their petty self-indulgent lives (that's me: fair and balanced).

I think the implications of rich folks fighting against wind-generated energy as environmentally unsound (!) are even broader. Seen in light of the current inanity around "sustainability" and removing the scourge of electricity from innocent African tribes, I think it ought to be pretty clear to we lesser mortals on both sides of the political divide that many of the issues being fed to us by the elite liberals are opiates.

Yes, I know that, in the past, conservative ideals have been used in much the same fashion. However, the winds of fashion seem to have shifted to the left. Same greedy rich people, same objectives, different tactic. Right now, the right is right, but that could change.

That's why I'm so big on thinking.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:15 PM EST


California, Again — Taking the "Parent" out of "Foster Parent"

David Limbaugh comments on a partisan bill that has just made it to Democrat Governor Gray Davis's desk that would enable foster children to rat on their foster "parents" for violating their civil rights by disallowing overt homosexual behavior:

It would also effectively accord civil rights status to transsexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality. Foster children would be able to turn their foster parents in if they demonstrated insufficient sensitivity to their sexual orientation, expression or behavior.

I wonder if that might include forbidding gay sex within the foster parents' home. Or any sex, for that matter. Such a measure can't be far behind, even if it isn't within reach of the distortion of these current "civil rights" laws that we've come to expect.

California, it seems to me, is working to take the "parent" out of "foster parent." Essentially, charitable people, who only want to make a difference in children's lives, are being made into little more than butlers commissioned by the state to watch over its children.

Between this and the mess in Florida, I think it's time to throw foster care on the Privatization Wish List.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:12 PM EST


Punishment, Religion, and OBL

When thinking of what to do about bin Laden (if he isn't already dead), I've come to a bit of a philosophical dilemma. On the one hand, I don't think justice would truly be served if we only gave him a one way ticket to Allah. That would also give him that coveted title of "martyr." On the other hand, even the most harsh modern prison would allow him to continue spreading his evil ideology to some degree and would put his punishment at the ever-softening whim of political fancy. Holding him in even a slightly accessible place would also give his followers a concrete "cause" around which to rally. I'm not sure how one idea that I've toyed with jibes with Christianity, but here it is. (Note that I don't have any expectation that my proposition would ever make it through the struggle between the "clement" and the "bloodthirsty.")

What if such rare and terrible criminals were rendered immobile and put somewhere unreachable where they could do nothing but ponder what they've done? For example, if OBL were firmly strapped into a space capsule and put on some form of life support and shot into space, he'd still have the opportunity to repent and ask for God's forgiveness. If that's too expensive (or just outright creepy), perhaps we could develop a similar, more practical punishment here on earth, like cementing him deep in the ground in the desert or something — immobile, but with a narrow window to look out at a world of which he is no longer a part.

Thinking these thoughts makes me squeamish because they essentially involve psychological torture and have a bit of the taste of revenge (but not so much as if I had suggested that we make it a tourist attraction and allow visitors to pee down the hole), but maybe extreme crimes call for extreme punishment.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:30 AM EST


I'm Not Intolerant; You're Just Stupid

In a comment box over on, Oliver Willis poses the question, "Are conservatives: a. Not smart enough to be professors, b. Taking jobs in the private sector to fill their pockets, and not anyone's mind?" Of course, one of conservatives' complaints is that liberals enjoy filling people's minds too much, at the expense of their being able to fill it themselves.

But "a" raises a broader issue. Ironically, the question was asked in response to a post referring to a column by Walter Williams about diversity, sister propaganda jargon to "intolerance." What sparked Mr. Williams to write the column was a recent study in the American Enterprise that found conservatives to be an endangered species on America's campuses. The issue is that such ideological hegemony in such an ideologically diverse nation can only result from deliberate exclusion, but those within the collegiate community are free to make up whatever reasons they wish because they are shielded by their insularity.

One point that I haven't seen raised, but that seems more than a little relevant to me, is how far "left," by any objective historical measurement, one has to be in modern America to self-identify as "liberal." For a rough idea of where you sit, you can check out this political self-survey. I ended up dead-center, which is entirely correct in historical context, yet I'm considered (and self-identify) as quite solidly conservative by today's standards.

One implication of this scenario for individuals is that the real shift in the liberal-to-conservative conversion is often no more than a realization that what you are does not correspond with what your political group currently claims to be. So the only change, necessarily, is being willing to admit that you've had your label wrong, and the correct label has been made tantamount to stupidity, selfishness, and evil by those who've been fooling you all along.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:46 AM EST


Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Have I Written About the Death Penalty, Yet?

I don't think so.

Over in the Corner, Rod Dreher tells of a man who was convicted of murder 17 years ago being released based on new DNA evidence. Dreher then comments that it is better that people who deserve to die live than that people who are innocent die.

For me, what it all comes down to is that prison, while certainly not somewhere most people want to be, is still too soft for hardened criminals. I hate the idea of the death penalty, but I also hate the idea of the alternative: cable TV, working out, earning PhDs, publishing books, etc. On the one hand, I don't like the idea that people who've been put to death may be absolved years later. But on the other, I don't like the idea of killers being freed years later based on politics.

It's a tough call. In my opinion, some sort of extra-harsh punishment for death penalty-level cases would solve it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:56 PM EST


For the Wishawuzza Talking Head File

John Gibson had California Democrat Congresswoman Jane Harman on his the Big Story show on Fox News to talk about invading Iraq. Beyond the predictable "of course I'm for regime change (inasmuch as the voters want me to be), but let me list all of the reasons that I'm only saying that," there were a number of times I would have loved to have been on the other half of that television screen. Mr. Gibson was obviously annoyed, but he kept his cool just a bit too much. I know, as with everything, it's probably a lot harder to actually be on a talk show than to pretend from home, but here are some of the points that I would have loved to see Mr. Gibson make:

When Ms. Harman, from the very first word after her requisite statement of support for regime change, decided to change the topic to the economy, Mr. Gibson politely asked her whether she was trying to change the subject. At home, I imagined him saying, "Hey! I invited you on my show to talk about Iraq, not to read off your Democrat talking points."

Later, Ms. Harman suggested that all of the debate over whether Congress needs to approve a war would distract the Senate from approving a Homeland Security bill. By this point, I think Mr. Gibson had given up on her. But he might have said, "Ms. Harman, you're not suggesting that the cream of America's political crop can't debate a bill and discuss a war within the same few days, are you? I'm only a lowly reporter, but I debate a half-dozen different topics each day!"

Some might suggest that this is why it appears that it is in Democrats' best interest to keep their constituents poor, undereducated, and preferably unable to speak English. Probably neither I nor Mr. Gibson would be the ones to say it, but perhaps we'd both mention that other people probably have.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:05 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 8/27/02

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

Singer Doug Fallone has told me that I'm crazy, but I still think this song is about me (which isn't exactly a compliment). (Actually, he said, "You're so vain. You probably think this song is about you.")

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:04 PM EST


They're coming for us.

This is priceless. Thanks to Right Wing News for alerting us to the danger.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:28 PM EST


A Possible Future?

First, picture Bill Clinton with his photo-op Bible under his arm. Then, go read this from Condoleezza Rice.

She's black, female, an academic, a Republican, a pianist, and a Christian. In other words, she's not a construction; she's a person. Think America will be ready for its first female and first black President in 2008?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:26 PM EST


Case in Point: Harvard Students Argue as a Distraction

Over in the Corner Stanley Kurtz mentions that, for the first time in 20 years, Harvard will be forced to obey the law and allow military recruiters in its Office of Career Services. Protesters vow to block the ability to actually recruit by occupying the recruiters with debate about gays in the military.

Nothing like a little open-mindedness and allowance for options at Ivy League schools. I'm sure Air Force recruiters will be brave, but that job is going to take heroic patience.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:58 PM EST


A Note on Discourse

Several experiences since I entered the blogosphere have confirmed, for me, something that I suspected in college. A significant factor in the dreadful state of discourse and debate is the way in which we're taught to construct arguments.

Everybody, except maybe recent college graduates, knows that the first thing you do in an argumentative essay is provide your thesis — your big idea. In theory, this is a great way to give your reader a light at the end of the rhetorical tunnel, providing an indication of where the path lies. In practice, with the domineering philosophies of post-modernism and critical Marxism, providing the bottom line up front merely allows the reader to skip to the end and respond with prepared, boilerplate points.

This is most obvious in quick media such as blog arguments and debate TV. Discussion begins with two opposed points of view, and the two discussants shout incompatible declarations at each other because they have reached their conclusions, obviously, from different positions and, usually, different priorities for evidence. Frequently, one is arguing from emotion (broadly speaking) and the other cold reasoning.

Of course, there's a middle ground for everything, but I've found it much more difficult to reach when each person is guarding a statement to which they've committed rather than beginning with agreement and locating points of departure.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:51 PM EST


Monday, August 26, 2002

Jeez, lady, what are you thinking? "Accurate information"? Phooey!

Right Wing News points to this story about a Philadelphia newspaper's receiving heat for picturing 18 of the people wanted for murder in the city on its front page. The problem: none of them were white (which isn't selective: none of those on the city's wanted-for-murder list are white). Here's the paper's craven response to public outcry:

"We apologize if the graphic treatment offended black Philadelphians," Foley said. "We were trying to explore and provide accurate information about an issue of great concern to our community. We welcome comments and criticism from our readers on any issue, especially sensitive issues such as this, because it helps us get better as journalists and truth-seekers."

I'd say the paper has (or had) a lot to learn if it thought the definition of "accurate" is anything akin to "real." It's more like "correct," as in "politically correct." Saddening that the response to anger at portraying the truth led the newspaper to apologize and thank the people who'd rather filter reality for helping it to become a better "truth-seeker."

I guess the only question now is whether the newspaper will self-censor, give cases of white murderers disproportionate coverage, propose that the police begin a murderer quota system, or work to create incentive for whites in the area to murder at higher rates.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:31 PM EST


Round and Round the Morons Go

John Hawkins addresses an environmentalist's lamentation that primitive societies are throwing aside their "authentic" cultures the moment electricity finds its way into their little villages. I won't grapple with the argument itself because Mr. Hawkins takes on that burden, but I do want to mention an historical tidbit that I came across while doing my obligatory (for English majors) studies of racism in Western cultures.

In Victorian England, certain zoos had exhibits of native Africans living as they did "in the wild" within the exhibit. This was, of course, an evil, racist travesty. I can't help but muse that Gar Smith (the environmentalist in question) desires much the same thing, only he has the advantage that technology is such that he can go on "primitive tribe" safaris, watch documentaries on TV, or look at pictures on the Internet.

The "natives" aren't people to these hypocritical lefty fascists, they're animals. Smith and his ilk also work to remove choices from their "less-educated" fellow Westerners through lawsuits and phony "international summits." But for the elitist environmentalists, it is a matter of choice as to how much modernity is allowable.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:27 PM EST


Is Everything Online?

Zork is online! (thanks to for the link)

If you want to see how I blew many hours on my Commodor 64 pre-virtual reality, check it out. I eventually got frustrated, though, because I kept bumping into this "hooded figure," and I couldn't figure out what to do. I tried everything. I even killed him, but he turned out to be me right before he died. There was probably something I had to find or do first, but I won't, for the foreseeable future, have the time to figure it out. There's always retirement...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:53 AM EST


The New York Times Adds to the Gem in the Manure File

There's a good article in the New York Times by Bjorn Lomborg, ex-environmentalist and brave pursuer of honesty in the environmental movement. One line, however, bothers me and tells the tale of Lomborg's political direction:

In fact, for the same amount Kyoto would have cost just the United States every year, the United Nations estimates that we could provide every person in the world with access to basic health, education, family planning and water and sanitation services.

We all know what "family planning" means, and it is gratuitous slipped between "education" and "water" on Lomborg's list. Of course, a mild, appropriate, form of "family planning" would accompany education and basic health services as a matter of course.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:00 AM EST


Sunday, August 25, 2002

I Must Be Busy: I Forgot to (Humbly) Self-Promote!

My Just Thinking column for this week is my 850-word assessment of the Catholic Church's current ordeal and a humble suggestion of one possible strategy to answer a reasonable number of the needs and demands being lashed to this particular cross.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:41 PM EST


Dissent in Support of Toppling Saddam

Rev. Msgr. John F. Moore, the Executive Editor of the Anchor, the diocesan newspaper for Fall River, MA, used his "the mooring" column in the August 23 issue to speak out against war with Iraq. I sent the following letter to the editor:

Dear Editor,

As much respect as I have for your Executive Editor, I just could not, in good conscience, allow August 23's "the mooring" to pass without comment. The column's statement of purpose is to "surface some important moral and ethical guidelines" if war with Iraq "is a given." My objection is that the only guideline that is actually offered is to reject the "given."

I agree that "Peace... is not merely the absence of war," but all of the attributes of true peace that Msgr. Moore lists are being denied to our world not by the United States, but by its enemies, including Iraq. Does a nation that is "blinded by passion" exhaust such effort preparing for the future of its enemies' nations? Does a country for which "charity is out the window" devote such massive resources to rebuilding the lives of people who've been oppressed for decades?

When tyrants who perpetuate "the ancient bondage of war" have been met with only blind appeasement from the "international family," the only "way that leads us to peace" is a firm resolve to remove them from power. We are not being "plunged into a darker world of violence and war" by the Bush administration; we are already there, and we must struggle to regain — or gain for the first time in history — the surface. Christians are massacred and imprisoned in the Far East. Terrorists seized the Church of the Nativity as a defensive fortification in the Middle East. People have been attacked in cafeterias and in their high-rise offices. From Los Angeles to Kashmir, bullets are raining down upon innocents for the sin of differing religion.

And our nation, which you portray as a rabid horseman of war, is the peacemaker. Blessed are the peacemakers. God bless America.

With sincerity and hope,

Justin Katz

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:12 PM EST


When Highbrow Sinks to the Seedy Depths

Amy Welborn directs her readers' attention to Stephen Holden's review of the Mel Gibson movie "Signs" in the New York Times. I especially like Holden's phrase, "lowbrow sensibility." Compare and contrast Mr. Holden's two most recent closing paragraphs (emphasis added to both).

Regarding Signs:

Until this point, "Signs" has toyed provocatively with the notion that the alien invasion might be one frightened, isolated family's shared hallucination. How much deeper and more challenging "Signs" might have been had the extraterrestrials been depicted as possibly delusional blips — leaving some doubt as to their actual existence. Had "Signs" resisted putting on the final angelic touch and showing its little green men, it might have offered us a mystery worth contemplating about the relationship between faith and fantasy.

Regarding a bellydancing movie about a widow's sensual double life:

As Lilia metamorphoses from a shy housebound widow into a woman calmly rejoicing in her body and her sexuality, Ms. Abbass marks her character's every blush and hesitation in the process of letting go with a winning delicacy and sweetness. "Satin Rouge" quietly but unambiguously applauds each tentative step on her path to a fuller life.

Ah yes: The lowbrow quest for faith is so much more shallow and superficial than slipping into the fulfilling depth of life in a seedy sexual underworld. And viewers must always be left the option of choosing to interpret God out of a movie, but the benefits of unbound sexual expression should never be questioned. And a mystery "worth contemplating" is the kind that confirms answers that you've already got.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:51 PM EST


Saturday, August 24, 2002

What's in a Camp

Instapundit defends against TalkLeft's response to John Hawkins's dissection of Jonathan Turley's op-ed about Ashcroft's "desire for camps for U.S. citizens he deems to be 'enemy combatants'" by warning that making such a big deal out of a small facility is tantamount to crying wolf. This gives too much credence to TalkLeft's extraneous argument.

The ominous connotation of "camps," and the reason that Turley inserts the exaggerated term to malign Ashcroft, is the insinuation of massive and indiscriminate imprisonment — many people incarcerated in one place for dubious reasons. Therefore, the number is relevant because 20 people, say, out of millions is less suggestive of indiscriminate jailing than 10,000. This is a favorite spurious debating trick that the folks on the political left love to use: proposing that an inability to give an exact number allows reductio ad absurdum thinking.

To prevent terrorism, the authorities require some leeway to act on information that isn't necessarily up to prosecutorial snuff or intelligence that is best not revealed. We citizens should certainly be vigilant, but the only people who could make a reasonable guess about how many supposed "enemy combatants" are too many are the recruiters for Al Qaeda.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:36 PM EST


For the Right Wing Double Agents File

This letter to the editor by Peter Benevides in the Providence Journal points to more evidence of the "vast right wing conspiracy." Mr. Benevides is writing about the attack on fatty foods (and fatty people):

The latest verse to this ceaseless chorus holds that "restricting calories may slow the aging process by reducing production of cell-damaging free radicals," which in turn accelerates "nerve-cell death in the brain."

What marvelous phrases! The quotation is from "Study: High fats, calories may boost Alzheimer's risk for some" in the AP. Until I found the source, I thought that Mr. Benevides might be one helluva parodist. As it is, it seems there's something more sinister going on.

Think about it: "free radicals" causing "death in the brain." It can't be unwitting that the jargon of the health nuts has revealed that their findings represent a perfect metaphor for modern America's ills. Replace "calories" with "federal money," and you've got an explicit statement about the cause of our nation's fatal, delusion-inducing disease.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:48 PM EST


Putting News on the Right Page

Anybody who watches Fox News or comes into contact with political center or right commentary about the media knows that the major complaint in the bias department is the use of editorial-style language and informational tactics within supposed "news" articles. There's a corollary to this that isn't getting as much attention as it probably should: editorials and op-eds being used as sources of news. I addressed this trend in last week's Just Thinking column about the public conviction of Steven Hatfill (aka the "person of interest" in the anthrax investigation), but I've come across it quite a bit.

John Hawkins explores another instance in an investigative column on Right Wing News.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:52 AM EST


Dust Around the Internet

While performing that most modern form of vanity, searching for myself and things related to me on the Internet, I spotted two mentions of Dust in the Light that I thought I'd mention.

John Hawkins of Right Wing News chose Dust in the Light as his "Site of the Day" for Friday 8/23/02. I linked to Mr. Hawkins's essay about U.S. interventionism and have been stopping by his site daily. He reminds me that any category of thinkers (conservatives, in this case) needs a range of styles. I always try to understand what it is that those with whom I disagree are seeing that makes them believe as they do, and my beliefs often jumble for brief periods when I come across ideas that have more than the usual merit or that I haven't seen before (though I always come back stronger). It is an invaluable service to people like to have easy recourse to compatriots who offer confident ballast to our side. There are untold numbers of people out there trapped in the left-wing illusion who could use a dose of Mr. Hawkins's clarity.

Speaking of ballast and clarity, I also noticed that Dust in the Light is on the Catholic blogs page of Gerard Serafin's A Catholic Page for Lovers. I've been turning to Mr. Serafin's Web site for a few months whenever I lose sight of faith's serenity and perspective, with which I strive to lace every aspect of my life.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:01 AM EST


Friday, August 23, 2002

Discussing Faith in Good Faith

Mark at Minute Particulars comments on my sprawling response to Jody.

Mark suggests that "one key misunderstanding between those who claim to 'believe' and those who don't is the simple matter of what the term 'believe' means, at least in the Catholic Tradition." I don't think it has anything to do with Catholic Tradition, and I don't think it is a difference of opinion about what "belief" means — rather, what belief is. Among Catholics, you can say that so-and-so is a "believer," and everybody will understand the specific meaning, but that is only because the "in our religion" goes without saying in that context. But most Catholics and non-Catholics alike understand that the word "believe" can apply much more broadly.

The major problem with communication between "believers" and "non-believers" is inherent in those two terms. Jody-style Atheists feel as if they are viewing the world from outside of belief — that they "believe" in nothing. This cannot be true because aspects of life exist that are inexplicable but with which we must integrate that which we comprehend to form a usable picture of our lives. To borrow a bit from "postmodernist" thinking (God forbid! Actually, like science, it's a useful tool.), beyond specified knowledge of processes, we cannot think from a position outside of beliefs. (Even basic mathematics requires some degree of assumption.) To form the psychological bases for interacting within the world, we must have some sort of belief that tells us how and why to apply our knowledge. My central point was that, at the fundamental level of belief that separates a Catholic (for example) from an Atheist, neither can claim a concrete, provable justification for his position.

Mark also suggests that I would disagree that Jody shows "good faith" during the course of debate. I don't disagree inasmuch as Jody does link to the original writing and does not change quotations or take them dramatically out of context. In fact, until a discussion reaches the point at which no further movement is possible, I've found Jody to be relatively cordial. This factor, combined with knowledge that he does do good in the world away from the computer, is what frustrates me about aspects of his arguments and style of arguing and what keeps me trying though I know it's futile.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:08 PM EST


Catholics Battling over How to Handle the Scandal

I left the following comment at In Between Naps:

As a recent convert, I've found this whole controversy among Catholic bloggers to be terribly saddening. Mostly, I think fevers are running high, so people aren't seeing where they're discussing slightly different topics or where they're only arguing a matter of degree — not a yea or nay.

Of course, God will "sort this all out." And I believe one could also say "of course" to the proposition that members of the church at every level raising their voices will be part of God's method of doing so. However, the language being used by those members seems to set a different tone.

We are right to publicly question, but, at least the headline "The Pope Let Us Down" and the way in which people are taking Rod's side (I haven't had a chance to read the essay yet), suggest that the game is done: We've been let down; the Pope rejected plan A, and there can be no other solution. That isn't a question, but a judgment — one that leaves the question, "What now?" Leave? Wait for a new Pope? Hire politicians to help us sort it out?

I've read, in one comment box or other, somebody say that Rod's point is that "an otherwise great Pope has dropped the ball on this issue." But "dropping the ball" is only "letting the team down" if the run in question was the last chance for victory.

This is where, I think, others like Fr. Johansen, come into the disagreement. His point seems to be that the process of handling the scandal is far from over, and it is incorrect to claim that the coach has already let the team down by not putting in a second string of players right away (sorry to carry on the metaphor, but it's convenient).

Personally, I agree with Mark Shea that "zero tolerance" is a poor, unCatholic, idea if it means that there will be zero tolerance for even being accused of abuse or that abuse will be defined as even an appearance of impropriety, and I agree that the bishops should not be freed from responsibility simply because their first move was the obvious and obviously incorrect one. I also believe that it shouldn't be the object of the Catholic Church to ensure that worried moms don't stray based on hasty assessments of what is and isn't happening.

The duration and nature of the problem are such that there is time to "fix it right," and it will only hurt the Church, causing further losses of people with slippery faith, if it reflexively acts in a way contrary to its message. Maintaining demands for a thorough, resolved, and Christian solution will do more to exemplify that we believe that God is working with us and through us than will stamping our feet on the stands.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:53 PM EST


Truth in Advertising?

I know we're not supposed to make these observations, at least not give them voice, and I probably wouldn't have given this more than a passing thought if I thought there was any chance that it wasn't on purpose.

I'm talking about the full-page UPS ads on the back of recent issues of National Review. They're brown & white pictures of employees accompanied by their stories of ascension within the company. The overt message: they'll use the hard work, business ethic, and determination with which they've carried themselves through the ranks of a friendly company to ensure that your package arrives on time.

In June, we were told of Richard Camejo, International Air Operations and Cargo Manager (Hispanic). In July, we heard the stories of Stacey Marcus, UPS pilot, and Jim Winestock, "rising executive" (both black). The August issue brought us Keith Jones, Director of Corporate Health and Safety, and the latest issue sports a picture of Ken Lee, Vice President for International Security (black and oriental, respectively).

I think it's wonderful that all of these people have built successful careers based on a willingness to learn, work, and apply themselves. However, I can't help but wonder why no white people have apparently done the same. If they all shared some other feature, I'd think it an interesting, but inconsequential, coincidence — it isn't that they're all minorities, but that this fact is created for a reason. Were all of UPS's white executives (or other higher-ups) just rich white kids who didn't require any upward mobility to reach their positions? Otherwise, to what demographic is the UPS advertising department trying to appeal? And what, really, is the message that they hope to convey?

As it is, I'm inclined to disbelieve the statement on Stacey Marcus's ad: "At UPS, [talent, ability and heart] are the qualities that matter. Not whether you're a man or a woman, black or white." Especially when the tag line for the ad campaign is "What can brown do for you."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:17 AM EST


Daydreaming on a Drizzly Day

When I was younger, I was astonished that my mother could prefer autumn to summer. Sure, she grew up in the midst of "foliage" in Vermont, but still... summer is summer. Now that I don't have summers off, I'm beginning to see what she meant. There's something full and ripe about autumn.

I've been sensing lately, in the media, around town, and in myself, a sort of lackadaisical doldrums. People are waiting for the next step in the war on terror; we're waiting for the economy to just go ahead and get better as we all know it's going to do; we're waiting for some rain to feed our lawns; we're waiting for that next step in our careers; we're waiting for the primetime shows to start up again; we're just waiting.

We're restive, too, like families who've taken their vacations too late in the season and are having a hard time keeping their eyes off the future and on today. We idly poke around the Internet or shuffle around the stores or cycle through the stations.

When something does happen, maybe everything else will just kick in.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:16 AM EST


Thursday, August 22, 2002

Taking the Next Political Step?

OK, honesty time. As political as I find myself frequently being, I hadn't registered to vote until last October (at age 26). Since then, despite the occasional pleas from the party, I haven't become a contributor or an official member of any Republican organizations, and I'm so busy that it would take an awful lot for me to do more than keep a cursory eye on the local Rhode Island races, especially with the state's Republican office endorsing a pro-abortion candidate with more government-expanding ideas than I'd like to see. But politics is like that — a series of tradeoffs.

But reading this summary of a primary debate in the Providence Journal, I found a candidate with whom I can agree on down the line on big issues and tone (so far): Dave Rogers. In light of Victor's accounts of a politician using the Catholic church as a campaign tool in Michigan, I was especially pleased to read the following paragraphs in a Providence Journal profile of Rogers:

On the campaign trail last week, Rogers attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the Mother of Life Center, an antiabortion counseling center on Atwells Avenue in Providence.

As the participants sang and recited the rosary in the vacant lot, Rogers stood on the periphery. He did not work the crowd, and offered only brief remarks at a reception at Holy Ghost Church after the event, attended by former Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy.

"I was there in support of the project," Rogers says. "There is a time and a place to be a politician. A church ceremony is not one of them."

Maybe those incumbent-breaking out-of-state contributions can help unseat Patrick "He's from Rhode Island?" Kennedy. The Dave Rogers for Congress Web site can be found here.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:34 PM EST


Believe Your Eyes?

Sometimes I wish that David Horowitz had the (usually bothersome) habit of writing of himself in the third person in enlightening personal anecdotes like this because I know that those who are already suspicious of the man will use the self-referentialism to discount him.

But I'm glad that he's out there playing his role, being censored by Ted Koppel, and then writing about it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:28 PM EST


Forgot to Mention (and Update)

I forgot to mention a wonderful tidbit regarding that sex in St. Patrick's prank. I'm actually surprised that nobody's mentioned this.

While at the police station, 37-year-old Brian Florence (the man in the couple) had to be rushed to the hospital for a thrown-out back. The hospital? St. Clares.

I also should note that, since I wrote the post about this incident, Mark Shea has pointed out that WNEW has fired Opie & Anthony, as has their syndicator. There's still an argument to be made for revocation, but I think the point has been made.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:19 PM EST


Anti-Catholicism and the FCC

The writers of The Politburo "wonder if it is in the public's best interest when the changelings at the FCC become official arbiters of good taste," with reference to the agency's possible revocation of Infinity Broadcasting subsidiary WNEW's radio license based on Opie & Anthony's complicity in this disgusting insult to Catholics. While I share a wariness of the government's acting as an arbiter of taste or censor of potentially offensive material, I think there's much to be said for revocation in this specific instance.

The first issue to address is whether I would support the same action were it not my own religion being maligned. Of course, I can only assert this, but I think I most certainly would. I wouldn't be alone, either. An interesting point is that many people cannot imagine Opie & Anthony having the audacity to encourage sex in a Mosque or a Synagogue. Although I was unable to find the point list for their "daring sex" contest, I would be very surprised if either type of religious location were on it. In other words, I find it inconceivable that the FCC would ever have to make that call; society has already put such behavior so far out of bounds that the most audacious (read "depraved and worthless") shock jocks wouldn't even think it. And if they did, Infinity would have pulled the plug mid-broadcast and probably fired everybody on up the chain of command that had allowed it to happen.

That said, the unique nature of broadcast licenses must be acknowledged. Radios don't use private wires, as do telephone, cable TV, or broadband, but utilize "public" airspace, making the frequencies "public property." The airwaves must be regulated; otherwise, in heavily populated areas, they would be rendered useless by all of the overlapping traffic. However, this particular public property is obviously very valuable, and companies make a whole lot of money through it, to the exclusion of other groups' doing the same. In this way, the licenses are a bit like NEA grants to artists, which the government — on behalf of the taxpayers — is free to revoke. It isn't as if the police are going to storm the station and take away its proprietary airwaves by force.

The closest analogy that I could come up with is a public bulletin board at a town hall. Obviously, the town would have the right to remove any offensive material. Now suppose that the space proved so valuable that the town had to formalize its allocation and did so via auction. The fact that a local company has paid for a license to post on that board does not negate the town's right to remove offensive material and disallow that company's further posting. The contrast of this visual example with radio also raises the interesting question of why broadcasting audio of two people having sex, accompanied by a description, isn't pornography; it certainly isn't art or political speech.

At the end of the day, I'd prefer if the company had been so outraged (or afraid of people who were outraged) that it had reacted swiftly to send the message that such acts would not be tolerated. I'd also prefer if society were such that people were more active in meting out chastisement (through boycotts or the deliberate creation or encouragement of competitors) without relying on the government. But the world being what it is, the act being as unambiguously offensive (and illegal) as it is, and the usable NYC radio band being the coveted, profitable public resource that it is, I have no problem with the FCC putting WNEW's slot up for auction.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:26 PM EST


Bright Future for a Revolution Update

I've written, in previous Just Thinking columns about how changes in technology are opening a window for dramatic changes for the better. Publishing (including "publishing" music) advances are "democratizing" and perhaps "meritocratizing" art and information; the increasing popularity of AM talk radio and Fox News are challenging mainstream news outlets in familiar media; and blogging and the general ease of Internet communication are expanding and expediating the flow of information. These trends, in their own ways, contribute to an environment in which the "powers that be" are finding it more difficult to manipulate the picture of current events that the public sees.

Some, including Instapundit, suggest that Cynthia McKinney's defeat in Georgia is an example of the power of new conduits for information. I agree. However, the "bigger fish" — such as the New York Times — are proving slow to realize the shift. In its coverage of the McKinney loss, the Times leaves itself open to criticism from a well-informed populace. Take the following paragraph:

Ms. Majette also outraised Ms. McKinney by nearly two to one, pulling in more than $1.1 million in campaign funds, much of which came from pro-Israel political action committees and individual donors outside of Georgia.

The data provided by Open Secrets, while only accurate as of 7/31/02 (giving Majette only $875,557), clearly shows that much of McKinney's money came from out of state as well. It also shows that up to the end of July, Majette had received very little from out of state, illustrating the Times' skewed picture. Beyond noting the skew, it should be remembered that this information is actually moot. The entire country has a right to work to influence elections that have national ramifications; although ultimately, the local voters decide.

Taking the Times' information as correct, the sudden jump in money from outside of the state speaks volumes about the growing influence of alternate forms of media, which were the primary disseminators of information about McKinney's "loony" behavior and Arab donors. However, information is only as powerful as it is useful; people's ability to access it is only as consequential as their ability to understand it. Jarvis C. Stewart, a Washington lobbyist and major Democratic fund-raiser, hits this right on the head (once you subtract his obligatory spin):

The black electorate is increasingly well-educated, more entrepreneurial, business-savvy and politically moderate... Many who were not raised in the era of the civil rights movement don't relate to or see the benefit in polarizing politics.

In other words, the race hucksters and demagogues had better take note that change is in the air. There's an entire nation of well-informed, interconnected fact-checkers on the watch, and they're now smarter than you want them to be.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:49 PM EST


Where I've Been All Morning

I had to go to a morning-long seminar hosted by the Catholic school system in which I'll soon be teaching on spotting sexual abuse and avoiding being accused of it. I may be just at the beginning of this curve in age, but I feel I've been inundated with this material since I was in eighth grade. From episodes of Different Strokes to English classes explaining the proper pronunciation of "harassment," somehow the full range of abuse/harassment makes it into conversation.

Ultimately, this is probably a good thing, albeit a waste of time when you've been hearing it for over a decade. However, it's not something you want to spend the entire morning of your third wedding anniversary listening to. At least my wife and I attended together (maybe she'll stop beating on me, now).

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:43 PM EST


Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Repeating Myself

Jody writes a sprawling rebuttal to my calling him a "Fundamentalist Atheist" (along with addressing other posts of mine). Frankly, I don't have the motivation right now to address it all, mostly because it would be a futile exercise: he's fully convinced that he's right, and therefore, he ignores what I've actually said and offers disingenuous assertions of his intentions and past behavior.

The problem, endemic among Atheists, is that he fails to comprehend how faith actually manifests in society (what it is), as made clear by his analogy that believing in God is the same as believing that pixies operate his computer. What this enables him to avoid addressing is that very few people of faith would argue over the functioning of his computer, we would only point out that his computer was created — and created for a reason. The computer might be used for any number of purposes, from the horrid to the humane, and computer science, of itself, cannot tell us which are which. The same goes for evolution and all of science — it is a theory of process and cannot go beyond the bounds of describing the mechanics of the universe. The same is true of civil society: process. In fact, many of the underlying foundations of civil society have grown out of and rely upon the precepts of religion. But we've been over this before.

Atheism is a belief. Reasoning and logic may be applied within it, but the same is true of belief in God. Again, logic and reasoning are processes. The claims of Atheists "are presented as certain, but also as far from sacrosanct," and "Anyone can come along, challenge the assumptions, challenge the facts, challenge the interpretation and put forth an alternative view — provided it too accounts for the data in question" because they address the processes — the science. Once any of the discussants appeal to an external justification for why things are as they are (chance v. God) or how they ought to be applied, they are no longer dealing in provable data or processes.

This is where Atheism (and Jody) becomes disingenuous. The statements "So could there be a god?" and "Produce the data, present a convincing argument and we'll see what happens." aren't meant as concessions. If they were, Jody would be agnostic. Jody is an Atheist because he is convinced that there is no God, and no evidence will ever be sufficient. A voice in the sky? A delusion. The parting of a sea? Some inexplicable phenomenon; just give me time to explain it or explain it away. Oh, and by the way, statistics tell us that the odds are pretty good that in a big, complex reality, unexpected — inexplicable even — events will eventually happen. This is called FAITH. Either you believe there was a cause, or you believe that it was chance. Investigating the processes will not necessarily convince you either way. Of course, everybody will have a different degree of miraculousness that they will accept as explicable. This is why, at this moment, he and I believe differently even though we are looking at more or less the same "data."

Jody, individually, is further disingenuous when he writes, "My point in any of my posts isn't about being a bigot, or prejudicial or even hateful." Oh baloney, Jody! The glee that you've taken in injecting yourself into theological discussions on explicitly Catholic Web sites proves malice. Comparing all religious people to mass murderers is bigotry, otherwise the word has no meaning. And that is the intended meaning of "Fundamental Atheists." It's a turn of phrase — a coinage — so it won't necessarily jibe with your dictionary. Fundamentalism, colloquially, is the most extreme and intolerant branch of any belief system.

To discount all of the good that religion does for individuals and societies — outright to deny the extent to which it is entwined with every structure in our culture except as an oppressor — is to be inordinately and incorrectly prejudicial. Tell it to the Christians in India, who, although they make up 2.3% of the population, provide "20% of school education, 10% of all programs for the illiterate and health programs, 25% of all projects for widows and orphans, 30% of all available structures for lepers and AIDS patients." Tell it also to the African Catholic priest who spoke at my parish a few weeks ago and explained that the people in his country have no resources except what their churches (Catholic, Protestant, or Muslim) provide.

Jody claims no dogma, but states: "That we'd be better off with out [religion] is my opinion. That it's caused much, and will continue to cause much, unneeded and unjustifiable suffering is a fact that all of the indignation and spurious claims of hypocrisy can't change." Yeah, it's just his opinion that I and mine are no better than terrorists. And he need never question whether my indignation and claims of hypocrisy have any validity; he can just pass off my reaction to his perfectly balanced comparison of my heartfelt and well-contemplated beliefs to pixie dust to irrationality. That he can accuse me of trying to pass him off based on his apparent anger when I have given his arguments much more credulity, even, than they deserve, suggests that it isn't worth anymore of my time to argue.

How do you argue with a man who derisively mocks even the most nuanced belief in God, calls even heavily scientific studies "backwards," and yet asserts: "I have yet to meet an Atheist that doesn't leave open the possibility that their view and belief could be wrong."? How do you argue with a man who, in the midst of a panegyric to Atheism and condemnation of religion says, "I'm making no claims, nor have I ever made claims, that atheists or secular humanists are any better, inherently, than any of the array of true believers scattered across history."? The answer is that you can't because he takes his beliefs as fundamentally correct and indisputable.

Well, I guess I ended up addressing his essay, after all, though I'm sure not to his satisfaction. But certainly to mine, anyway.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:54 PM EST


Daily Instapundit Copping

UN Human Rights Chief Mary Robinson, while in Beijing, tells the Tehran Times how important it is to criticize "developed countries" (aka the United States). Of the People's Republic of China, Ms. Robinson claims, "They're very strongly of the view that [a UN-China program to increase legal officials' understanding of international standards on human rights] is important for their development." Yeah, I wonder if they patted her head and gave her a lollipop when they told her that.

In 956 words, John Hawkins nails it — from our national heritage ("Our ancestors came to America in the first place to GET AWAY from everyone else in the world and it's very easy for us in this age of global communications to understand why.") to the burden of a potential future ("if we took twenty years off it wouldn't surprise me to look at a map and see nothing but a giant swath of China red covering all of Europe, skulls & crossbones covering all of Africa, and nothing but a green patch with the words 'Forbidden Zone' where the Middle East used to be.").

Matt Welch provides an example of why NPR almost made me feel as if I was schizophrenic before I ventured into the AM dial.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:51 PM EST


Different Perfection

When I was a young(er) music minor in college, my sight-singing professor responded to my dislike for Bach by saying, "His music is just so perfect."

At the time, I preferred the "turbulent humanity" of Beethoven. With my youthful conviction, I believed that Bach had merely been the first to explore an obvious area — had been the first composer to climb out onto the Baroque plateau and begin to run. There may be an element of truth in this, though it simultaneously raises the man above his music and diminishes his influence on the music. In other words, Beethoven may have had to plod his way through a thicket of change, but Bach faced the decision of choosing in which direction to sprint. Who was the more constrained is difficult to say.

But now I hear the perfection in Bach, and I think what I refused to hear before was the divinity underlying it, as I had refused to marvel at the fact that the plateau of perfection had been there to run across. We're practiced, in these days, at finding divinity in humanity. We need to rediscover the humanity of the divine.

Perhaps I make no sense. I'm off kilter, today — off key. That's why I'm listening to Bach.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:15 PM EST


Allowing Science in the Classroom

Jody linked to this article as evidence of "backwards" thinking in Ohio.

My reply:

It is fundamentally incorrect to exclude the possibility of God from scientific inquiry. It is not "religion" ( "a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices") to consider the theory of intelligent design. It is, however, a religion-based move to insist that students studying the origin and history of life can only consider a scientific theory.

Frankly, I don't see anything wrong with giving students the following note:

"This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

Open mind? Careful study? Critical consideration? Got a problem with any of these?

His rebuttal:

Justin, there is a difference between "theory" in common usage and "theory" in science terminology.

ID is not science. It's not a theory. It's not testable, its not falsifiable. It 's religion in ill fitting clothes.

And me once again:

You have a lovely way of concentrating on incidental examples and ignoring the rest of an argument. My sentence was that it is "not religion to consider intelligent design." Science cannot dogmatically exclude God because it cannot disprove Him; science can only address the functionality of the universe. To suggest that science and God will never intersect is to take a de facto stance that there is no God in the same way that you accuse ID of assuming that there is a God.

But, to address your comment, I'll even give you an article of somebody on your side: Kenneth Miller argued against including ID in the Ohio classroom. How? By addressing the science. Obviously, he believes it's testable and has been successfully falsified; I'd have to do more research than I've the time to do to pick his argument apart. Suffice to say that ID is as testable, if that's the criterion, as the suggestion that evolution was chance.

And therein lies the problem: ID isn't necessarily counter-evolutionary when you limit evolution to a "scientific" process. It can only seem so to those who take the chance part on faith.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:50 AM EST


Note on Chalcedon et al.

As I suspected, Jody's strategy is to hold up fringe religious groups as representative of all religion, both specific religions and faith as a whole (see his previous bigotry in this respect), while allowing himself the full range of Atheism, as convenient. Furthermore, he attempts to dissuade defense of faith by equating it with defense of fringe groups like Chalcedon.

Remember when you were a child and some friend or other would attempt to lay forth the rules of a game in such a way that only he could win?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:54 AM EST


Tuesday, August 20, 2002

And Conservatives Are the "Insane" Ones?

In a world in which some college students' first reaction to their country being attacked is to "show sympathy" for — not the families of the victims — the coreligionists of the attackers, in which some consider official religious ordination and having a pizza delivered to be civil rights, in which some consider it clever marketing to sell death bags, and in which Anna Nicole Smith can understand something instantly that the New York Times editorial board hasn't been able to figure out for decades, the state of California is having a serious discussion about whether parents should have the right to home school their own children!

Note to any who are wondering: the fact that something doesn't make sense doesn't mean that there's some connection that you're just not smart enough to see; in fact, it usually means that somebody's trying to pull one over on you.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:53 PM EST


Instapundit finds some great stuff.


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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:26 PM EST


Mark Shea has said that if you scratch an Atheist you'll find a fundamentalist.

Of course, Atheists have the same range of obstreperousness as people of other beliefs. Although, Jody might not even concede that.

On his site, he had compared Chalcedon's mission statement with Khilafah's. I told him to be fair and sent him similar pages for the American Humanist Association and Atheist Alliance International. (Truth be told, Khilafah doesn't fit as well in the series.)

His reply:

Justin, neither the Humanists nor Atheists claim divine superiority for their (supposedly) different beliefs. Neither the AHA nor the AA is advocating the overthrow of democratically elected governments, an abrogation of the right to free speech or even that of freedom of religion. ...

Kalifah and Chalecdon each make themselves out to be "The One Truth" of which there are no others. What's more, they advocate for the silencing of all who disagree with them.

Now that I reread these comments, I think Jody has broadened the comparison to include other impressions of the groups than what is provided in their mission statements, and that gets us into a much broader, less reconcilable, discussion. But let me respond briefly:

1. He's right; the Humanists and Atheists claim natural and intellectual superiority (because, well, that's their God).
2. According to its Web site, Chalcedon doesn't advocate overthrow of elected governments or the silencing of opposition either (see below), and it really broadens the discussion to bring in whether Atheists and Humanists are working to silence public expression of religious faith.
3. And the fact that an Atheist would seek to exempt only his own beliefs from the stigma of "intolerance" that comes with believing yourself to be in possession of "The One Truth" suggests a blind fundamentalism that is truly unique in the world.

But, as the college professors say, sticking to the text, this was my quick cut-and-paste-job response:

Chalcedon: Chalcedon labors to articulate in the clearest possible terms a distinctly Christian and explicitly Biblical solution to the prevalent evils of the modern world. Our objective is nothing short of setting forth the vision and program for rebuilding the theological fortifications of Christian civilization... we propose an explicitly Biblical system of thought and action as the exclusive basis for civilization.

AHA: The mission of the American Humanist Association is to promote the spread of humanism, raise public awareness and acceptance of humanism, and encourage the continued refinement of the humanist philosophy. The AHA works democratically to establish and protect the rights of humanists in a peaceful, sustainable world of hope, opportunity, and fulfillment for all.

AAI: Our primary goals are to help democratic, atheistic societies become established and grow and to work in coalition with like-minded groups to advance rational thinking through educational processes.
Chalcedon: We believe that the source of godly change is regeneration by the Holy Spirit, not revolution by the violence of man... No government in any form can make men Christians or truly obedient; this is the work of God's sovereign grace. Much less should civil government try to impose Biblical law on an unbelieving society. [The following weren't in my original response:] ... A guiding principle of Chalcedon, in fact, is its devotion to maximum individual freedom under God’s law... We advocate instead a series of independent but cooperative institutions and a highly decentralized social order

AHA: Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethics based on human and other natural values in a spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities.

AAI: The Alliance focuses the power of these diverse independent groups to facilitate common purposes and give atheism a growing voice in public affairs. The goal of the Alliance is to establish strong, democratic atheist organizations in every state, and indeed, worldwide.
Chalcedon: we expose the bankruptcy of all non-Christian (and alleged but compromising Christian) systems of thought and practices.

AAI: Blind religious mania is a rising threat to society. It seeks to repeal the advances made in establishing civil rights and civil liberties for all citizens.

Look, I'm not sticking up for groups about which I know nothing. All I'm trying to point out, Jody, is that the rhetoric is the same, only you believe the humanist/atheist jargon ("special words") to be truth.

I own up to, at bottom, only being able to claim beliefs and faith. Do you?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:22 PM EST


On Inconveniences

It occurs to me that I'm actually pretty lucky that my worries this morning were such trivial matters as having to make an appointment to get my car inspected. Running errands in Israel can involve putting your life on the line. Stopping by the police station in Cuba or China must be frightening, rather than simply inconvenient.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:06 PM EST


Good and Bad Over at NRO

Of course, I recommend Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus. Richard Dreyfuss (yes, you read that right) has a goosebump-inducing homage to Charlton Heston. Ramesh Ponnuru uses a marvelous one-liner as a segue: "On Sunday, the Times was subtracting from the sum of human knowledge in another field."

William F. Buckley addresses an issue that some certainly see as humorous but that is only the more contemptible for the carelessness of its derision ("Scum" I say to all involved in this prank and even to those who laughed at it. Scum. These people should take a look at themselves to see what they've become.) But Mr. Buckley's column ties to a lesser offense of a similar genre published by his own online magazine.

Before reading Mr. Buckley's column, I was only going to comment on Bryan Preston's as an instance of bad writing. However, it seems not unfair to put the opening paragraph in the context of Mr. Buckley's topic:

As war with Iraq nears, a slightly modified version of the popular phrase "What would Jesus do?" is undoubtedly on the minds of Bush-administration officials and Pentagon strategists: What will China do?

Bad writing because the cliche introduction doesn't work logically ("what would Jesus do" contemplatively and reverentially asks for guidance by example; "what will China do" is a strategic question). Inappropriate because it compares an important religious figure (God and our Savior, for believers) with a godless, abusive Communist regime. Offensive because it is unnecessary and careless.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:58 PM EST


Important Things Are Happening

The news never stops, of course, and I've been trying to keep up today, but I haven't been able to write much (although I did write quite a bit yesterday).

I've been running errands, so my absence is understandable. After all, how can I worry about embassy takeovers and such when I go to the walk-in clinic for a TB shot for school and they aren't taking walk-ins today; to the police station for a background check and they only do them until 10:30am on Tuesdays; to the town hall to renew my dog's license and he's behind on his rabies shots; to get my car inspected but they're backed up and are requiring appointments...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:28 PM EST


OK. You Can All Relax Now.

The visit to the doctor's office went smoothly. My daughter screamed even less than she did the last time (although she didn't like the throat examination much). The shots were quick.

And, once I'd been revived, we were able to get a perfect appointment time for the next visit and head on home.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:54 AM EST


Monday, August 19, 2002

Did I Mention That I Was Once a Tough Dock Worker?

Tomorrow morning we go for the next round of baby shots. Last time we went, our daughter was still pretty oblivious, not really fixing her blue eyes on us during the shots themselves and quick to forget them. Now, she is so much more aware — old enough to interact with us, but still too young to understand why we're allowing some strange lady to poke her with needles (and still too young to bribe with gifts).

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:43 PM EST


Rigged War Games

Drudge gives this story his super-big headline. Personally, I don't see the big deal.

It's difficult to read between the lines and assign motivation to any of the principal characters, but I can imagine plenty of legitimate reasons that the person conducting a war game for experimental purposes would constrain certain parties. On the other hand, I think the attempted innovative strategies of participants merit study even if they are not allowed to be pursued in the costly ($250 million!!!) simulation.

In short, I think the fact that the simulation managed to find strategic weaknesses is a good thing, but I hope investigation of those weaknesses isn't restricted to this particular study (and I suspect it isn't).

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:10 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 8/20/02

The Timshel Arts Song You Should Know for this week is the appropriately titled "August on the Vine," by Rosin Coven.

Although this band is definitely not for anybody who found Harry Potter objectionable for reasons of its witchcraft theme, their first CD, Penumbra, was among the final pieces of evidence I needed to realize that independently produced art is — far from being invalid — often better than the mainstream garbage. Their mixture of serious musicianship with campy darkness (they call it "Pagan Lounge" music) would have found a mainstream outlet only with difficulty.

As the music critics might say, Rosin Coven's work is spellbinding; a punster might ask: which craft is witchcraft?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:52 PM EST


And since you were going to ask...

My best line was:

Hi. I've got a problem. Y'see, I wanted to come over here and ask you for your phone number, but I don't have any pickup lines. So how's this: "Hi. My name's Justin. May I have your phone number?"

Of course, delivery was the key, but the line had about an 80% success rate before I began delivering it like a — umm — line. Like I said, I was absolutely baffled and spent a whole lot of time wondering what could be going on their heads...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:37 PM EST


It's All Victor's Fault

Periodically, I've been checking in on the teenage blogger, Sophie (aka Little French Girl), whom I mentioned a week or so ago (I may have mischaracterized her some in that post). My first reason for this somewhat guilty pleasure is that it was not too long ago that I spent an inordinate amount of time contemplating what was actually going on in the heads of female college freshman, and here is one offering a behind-the-scenes look without the emotional baggage that coincides, for a teenage boy, with being "just friends." My second reason is that, in His perennial effort to keep me capable of seeing various points of view (and keep me on my toes), God has blessed me with a daughter who will be college-age in just under 18 years, so preparation for that day is valuable where ever I can get it.

An 8/18 post (her direct-link thing isn't working) describing a trip to the mall and two boys who "gave her attention" speaks to the first justification because, at certain periods, I was both of those boys. In fact, some days, when I would leave my job in a record store and go wait for my friend to get out of work at the mall, I was both of these boys within a matter of hours.

The first is a pickup-line wielding cad in the mall. Although I was never so uncouth as to "high-five" unknown girls, and I had much better lines than this guy ("meeting your boyfriend?"... please), I did engage in this activity quite frequently. Some teenage guys are, in fact, pigs, and I suspect Sophie is intelligent enough to make such distinctions. However, I do remember that my primary motivation for similar behavior was always to reach the more-meaningful relationship behind the awkwardness of initial meetings (I swear!).

The second boy was "cute and nice, but shy, guy" working, coincidentally, at a record store. They spoke of weightier things than random high-fives, and he let her slip away. He may have been grappling with the same problem as The Pickup Kid: a fear and bafflement at crossing from strangers' fleeting affections to entry into one another's lives.

The whole tale left me feeling a bit sad. Perhaps this sensitivity derives partially from my emotions' memory, but I think mostly it is a reaction to the difficulties that we all have communicating with each other. I wonder how often it is the case that the first person with whom one manages the smooth transition from stranger to lover ends up being one's spouse. Perhaps that ability to communicate tacitly is the basis for "love at first sight."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:26 PM EST


The Bright Side of Housing Setbacks

I had meant to include this bright side among my comments on my housing setbacks but forgot to do so when I actually got around to writing the post:

At least now the plan to secure a piano for the house isn't hindered by a likelihood of having to move it in the near future!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:43 PM EST


Fair and Balanced My Foot... Sometimes

Sometimes Fox News really disappoints me, but only because it does so much better than the alternatives. Recently, after Al Gore gave a speech in which about the only truth was that he was once Vice President, The Big Story (with somebody standing in for the vacationing John Gibson) had two Gore supporters on to discuss the speech.

I just now saw one of Fox's daily hosts interviewing an NEA spokesman about the controversy over the group's suggested teachings about September 11. Did the news station offer a conflicting point of view? No. Instead, they allowed the NEA guy to rattle off his prepared speech and ended with the interviewer saying, essentially, "Well I'm sure everybody would applaud teaching tolerance."

Having no opposing guest is fine if the interviewer is willing and able to call a spokesman on such spin as, in reaction to the controversy, raising the isolated incident of that Texas rube who killed a man from India, thinking him Arab, last year. We live in a huge country, and one could probably find a handful of crimes between any two groups. Is the NEA going to address the Egyptian who murdered two people at LAX just because they were Jewish?

Since I presume the "nation" in National Education Association is the United States, why doesn't the group suggest that our teachers point out how amazingly tolerant Americans actually are, emphasizing how none of the mass assaults of American Arabs that the hate-America crowd predicted actually happened? Better yet, it could contrast American tolerance with the hand-chopping punishments in Saudi Arabia or the one-point-of-view policy in Cuba or the recent "unanimous" vote in Iraq to allow Saddam to be the only candidate on the next election ballot.

I hope, for my daughter's sake, that none of her teachers try to fill her head with the NEA's garbage when she starts going to school. Actually, I hope it for the teacher's sake, too.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:10 PM EST


How They Getcha

I've recently written about unfairness and money, including, specifically, my housing situation. Well, I just got a call letting me know that, because my wife has been an itinerant substitute teacher who is beginning a real teaching job this fall and I have pieced together half of my income over the past year through various endeavors, we won't be able to buy a house for another year, at least.

Now, I understand all the various perspectives that come into play here, that everybody must look out for their own interests, and all that, but this just stinks. My wife and I fall right in the part of the curve at which slightly more success would put us in a decent position while slightly less would bring us help (of course, we're in the demographic grouping that has the most unfriendly curve in this respect).

I wouldn't dream of reacting to this by seeking subsidies or government assistance, but I can understand how the general unfairness of such situations could lead others to do so. The upshot of it all is that, despite our ridiculous rent payments, we are ineligible to pay our own mortgage... only someone else's.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:39 PM EST


Hey! Look Down Here! Down South!

A libertarian initiative to repeal the MA income tax is gaining steam, leading to poll results of 37% in favor. My only gripe is that this story is appearing in the Boston Globe, when it should be in the Providence Journal.

My message to these government-responsibility activists — beyond "give 'em hell" — is that it might prove easier to succeed in a smaller, more independently minded state such as Rhode Island. We have the added benefit that everybody knows our state government is crooked, so the libertarians' message would ring even more true.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:05 AM EST


Perhaps It's an Old Horse to Beat

I know this is hardly a groundbreaking rhumination, but when writing my Just Thinking column for this week, I couldn't help but think about how unaccountable members of the media are. Staying within some very loose guidelines for libel, journalists would have to cause quite a bit of damage for anybody to push through the chain mail that they make out of freedom of the press, protecting sources, and shouts of censorship.

With "media bias" becoming its own polemic issue, it is especially difficult to convince others of the damage being done. Were there demand, I'm sure some form of standards could be devised. Of course, I'm not at all for the government's regulating the media, but I believe that it would regulate itself were enough people to look elsewhere for their information. I suppose this is happening, to an extent, with talk radio, the Internet, and Fox News, but it is still often shocking what the New York Times, for example, gets away with.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:26 AM EST


CD Symbolism

Victor, of et cetera fame, writes of some memories evoked by listening to long-time members of his CD collection.

As it happens, I'm in the midst of yet another stage of culling out all of my CDs that I can bear to sell for less than a third of what I paid for them. It marks an important, usually depressing, moment each time I become inclined to take this step. This time around, it isn't so bad; I'm merely attempting to cut back some of our debt and maybe taking small steps toward being able to afford to record a CD of my own. It isn't easy giving up all of those memories, though.

There's a metaphor somewhere in the fact that I'm cashing in, at a tremendous loss, on what represented a prized collection when I was a teenager to address adult issues. I'm just too tired right now to give it much thought.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:47 AM EST


Sunday, August 18, 2002

Just Thinking 08/19/02

Whew! My Just Thinking column is up. It's about Steven Hatfill's tribulation with the FBI and the media. The column is a little long, admittedly, but I actually did research for it, which may increase — even further — the degree to which it is worth your time to read it. More readers would certainly increase the degree to which it was worth my time to write it!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:34 PM EST


Right-Wing Double Agents?

By now you've heard of New York City Councilman Charles Barron's racist remarks at the reparations rally, and maybe you've heard of his "it was a joke" excuse. I suppose the excuse could be countered by pointing out that Barron called the movement a "war" and promised that, the next time black Americans come for reparations, they'll take it through physical violence.

But I have a different take. I'm beginning to think that all of these insane lefties are really right-wing double agents. They couldn't possibly be so stupid as to offer, by accident, such perfect summaries of their activities as Barron's remarks:

I want to go up to the closest white person and say, "You can't understand this, it's a black thing," and then slap him, just for my mental health.

In broader terms, the racist councilman wants to attack white people, just because they're white and it makes him feel good (and lines his pockets), and excuse his behavior as something that whites cannot understand but must forgive because he is black. The scary part is that, similarly to Robert Fisk excusing Afghans for beating him, a certain class of white folks would take Barron's abuse as a form of purification — a physical expression of the guilt with which they allow themselves to be beaten continually.

Personally, I say, "bring it on Chucky." I've got a lot of debt that I'd love to pay off with your money.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:55 PM EST


A Few More Thoughts on Reparations

How much are these people asking for? It would have to be a huge amount to end up making any real difference in the lives of almost any black Americans (except the prosecuting lawyers monetarily and public figures politically). If it's mainly symbolic, why not push for an "official" apology? I'd agree that that'd be pretty useless as well, but that's the point.

And as for who pays for whom, when the nation is broken down demographically, the percentages of current citizens whose ancestors were directly involved in slavery and the slave trade (on either side) is minimal. Even so, take just the branch of my family that goes back to the first guy to receive land from the king in Virginia: that wealth has obviously dissipated in the generations since, inasmuch as I'm hardly wealthy. Even what wealth my family can claim derives more from more-recent immigrants and self-made households in the time since. I know the line is that those people benefited along with the nation based on the slave trade, but if other ethnic groups have overcome adversity to take advantage of the United States' prosperity, why can't blacks? If it's just a racism question, why couch it in terms of slavery?

In the end, it almost isn't worth arguing about reparations because the supporters are merely using slavery as a tool to manipulate the system and their own compatriots. I sincerely hope that this is a last gasp, after which our nation can move on toward a raceless society.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:45 AM EST


Reparing a Race?

I caught a few minutes of the Millions [hundreds?] for Reparations rally on C-SPAN, yesterday (that was about all I could take). The young woman giving a speech at the time I tuned in was incredulous that only one school district in the country has an "Afrocentric" history curriculum. (Actually, since she used "African" and "Afrocentric" pretty interchangeably, I sort of wondered if she really did mean the continent.)

As is often the case with these cause-driven people, they cite a questionable indicator as unmitigated proof that a larger action must be taken. I'm sure many people — educators, blacks, whites, historians, social workers, etc. — would seriously question the value of specializing curricula for black children. Not only would it increase a knowledge gap with other children, but it's balkanizing and of questionable value on its own merits. Yet, this woman stated it as a prima facie good in support of the need for reparations. (Huh?)

You know, I might even support reparations for blacks if there were any chance that that would be it. But until black Americans overcome the hurdles that have slowed their progress as a group for 30 years — children out of wedlock, black-on-black crime, mainstreaming of fringe culture, and an underlying sense of entitlement and victimhood, to name a few — certain "activists" among them will continue to dream up one gimmegimme solution after another.

It is all too telling that the majority of spokespeople for this "cause" are wealthy college professors, lawyers, and millionaire "civil rights" advocates. I think it's past time that society brush aside these self-interested "activists" and fix the underlying problem: a lack of confidence, feeling of responsibility, and desire for self-determination.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:38 AM EST


See, even with all the technology...

Last night I dreamed a blog post. It was darn insightful, I must say. Of course, I didn't remember it when I woke up...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:19 AM EST


Saturday, August 17, 2002

How It Starts?

I can't get that Web site out of my mind. It's instructive to see how the group goes about its cause. Reading similar (identical?) Arab/Islamic Web sites is different in that the travesties that they claim are so distant and in a country to which many have never been. But with this Hispanic version, the strategy is clear:

1. Make the minority group feel oppressed by exaggerating every little conflict, whether related to ethnicity or not, so that poor service at a deli seems one step away from ethnic cleansing.
2. Lie and remove context to create the illusion of conspiracy, thus engendering a sense of hopelessness because the oppressive forces are so overwhelmingly powerful and manipulative that the only plausible resistance is revolutionary and terroristic in nature.
3. Invent false histories to underlie the feelings of oppression and hopelessness with a sense of entitlement.

Another thing that is frighteningly clear is how open our PC culture is to this dangerous nonsense. So many Americans take Palestinian propaganda at face value. According to different, but related, sensibilities, American companies are quick to chant multiculti-mumbojumbo to appease a group that claims to be "a small Mexican-American independent news and information service" without investigating to whom they are apologizing. The companies then give a tremendous club to these groups by essentially allowing them to strike back at those who speak against them by getting them fired in the name of "racial sensitivity."

I suspect that the ubiquitous and various nature of information in America, if maintained, will prevent groups like La Raza from ever succeeding in inciting suicide bombings, but one can understand how it must work for small isolated groups, like the Palestinians, with no informational ballast. On the other hand, I'm frequently shocked at the extent to which otherwise intelligent people accept propaganda that plays to their personal hopes and biases, and even more cowardly terrorism than the suicide version is not unknown within our borders.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:31 AM EST


An "Is this on purpose? Lord help us." Moment

I'm researching the anthrax letters for my column, and I came across this gem in a pile of manure from an article by a propaganda mill for La Raza, a group that intends to "return" the Western United States to Mexico. I've decided not to offer any links because I want nothing to do with leading people to this disturbing site. Sadly, I'm sure that if you investigate, you'll find plenty just like it. Take a look at the humorous part, and then I'll go on with something deadly serious that'll show you why I've made this decision:

[Regarding the anthrax letters:] They are purposely making it seem that they are coming from a foreign person with a lack of English speaking abilities because they have misspelled Penacilin. We believe that the sentences "Death to America", "Death to Israel" and "Allah is Great" gives the whole conspiracy away.

Poor English when citing poor English as a sign of conspiracy might seem as if it must be an intentional joke until you check out the anti-Semitic hatred that the rest of the Web site conveys. It is deadly serious. I suppose it makes sense, though: would-be terrorists seeking to "reclaim" chunks of another country probably flock together. I'm sad to say that the group appears to call itself "Catholic." They've got the Our Father on their Web site. The words "forgive those who trespass against us" are frighteningly ironic. How can people go so wrong?

There's a lot on this Web site that made my stomach churn. Not the least is a link to "Hate Email," which consists of a single letter (there's another mentioned, but it isn't shown) threatening the group with "truth" (gasp!) and two craven apology letters from two major corporations, whose employees sent the "hate" emails, spouting "tolerance" and "multiculturalism" to a group that justifies showing the Daniel Pearl video by explaining:

The Israeli problem threatens the security of the entire world and it should be everyone's business to know as much as possible concerning the problem in order to avoid a global conflagration.

The horrid video starts up automatically when you click on the link. I covered it with my hand while I read the text. And doesn't this text read like a thinly veiled threat? "You could be next in the global conflagration."

Absolutely disgusting. Lord, help these lost souls to find their way back to you before they hurt anybody more than they already have.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:26 AM EST


Friday, August 16, 2002

What if you had the following conversation with an ex-Surgeon General...

Surgeon General: Children don't go through puberty at 17 anymore; they go through it at 11. Obviously every parent and healthcare worker thinks that sobriety is the best policy, but if kids are going to drink anyway, they ought to be able to have access to the safest environment possible.

You: But shouldn't I have some say in whether my child is drinking?

SG: Well, we ought to provide for children who don't feel that they can go to their parents to get the alcohol that they need. If they could, then they would come to Planned Intoxication with their parents.

You: Alright, how about making Title X optional for localities so each area can decide whether parents ought to know that their children are drinking.

SG: Look, we're telling poor inner-city minorities that we're going to take away welfare, and we're going to take away healthcare, and we're going to take away their education, and we're going to keep them poor, uneducated, and in slavery.

You: Well, we're out of time. I appreciate you talking with me tonight; it's always great to chat with you.

I swear, as closely as I can recall, this exact conversation just occurred between John Kasick and Joycelyn Elders (former Surgeon General under Clinton) on the O'Reilly Factor. I did not embellish anything except replacing sex with drinking. The conversation seemed surreal enough to me without the change, but since Mr. Kasick didn't shout out "WHAT!??!," I thought it might not be overt enough.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:25 PM EST


Beethoven Under My Skin

I'm listening to a CD of Maurizio Pollini playing some Beethoven piano sonatas. I want a piano! As busy as I am, I feel like a part of me is slipping away, and having only a keyboard with a too-limited range pushes me over the edge of practice motivational capacity.

Pollini's now playing Sonata No. 15, Op. 28, "Pastoral." I used to be able to play this; I could play it again. But before I can justify finding a way to finance a piano or ship my old one up from my parents' house, my wife and I have to settle in a home from which we probably won't move for a good long while.

The necessities of life conspire.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:14 PM EST


Blogger Learns Restraint, Film at Eleven

I was going to post a quick analysis about how this AP article that appeared on the Web site of the local Newport Daily News distorts the facts of incidences in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I discovered that doing a sufficiently thorough job would require too much research and time and would still leave me open to criticisms of linguistic nitpicking.

This article exemplifies the lengths to which one must go to illustrate bias in a satisfactory manner. But subtleties of language really do matter to an incredible degree. Giving the same "facts," one could describe the scene of Nasser Jerar's death as Israeli soldiers shooting a Palestinian in the back before collapsing a house on a crippled Palestinian activist, an actively scheming Palestinian terrorist leader shooting his next-door neighbor and choosing to die rather than surrender, or anywhere between. (I think you can guess on which side of the middle line I fall.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:03 PM EST



Yesterday, an AFC (away from computer) friend expressed astonishment at the depth of my posts. It isn't bragging for me to relate this because it isn't necessarily a depth of profundity; rather, his comment spoke to the time that I must put in to some of my more in-depth posts. While I probably spend more time blogging than I ought to, I don't really spend all that much time typing into little input boxes. These are the things that occupy my mind when my mind isn't otherwise occupied (trips to the post office, walking the dogs, showering, etc.) whether I write them down or not. But still, my mass printout this morning elicited some thought about the value of what I'm doing.

I can tell by my Web statistics that Dust in the Light receives many more "hits" than my entire Web site did before I began blogging. I can't tell, however, how many hits there are per person. I suppose it doesn't matter since, while being broadly read is great, frequent visits evince more interest. So, it's certainly worth my time to: think things through for myself, communicate thoughts to at least a few more people than just my wife and parents, and have one more line out in the world to catch attention.

And that's the interesting, wait-and-see question. If I keep plugging away at the books and the column and the music and the Web site and the blog, something career-oriented is bound to come of it, no?

Well, this post was perhaps a bit more nakedly honest than is advisable, but I thought it, and here it is.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:53 PM EST


Second Blog Friday

(Note: this doesn't mean I'm done posting for the day.)

Just because I'm what my wife calls a "packrat," I've decided to print out the posts on my blog when they disappear into the archives after a week. Actually, I'm doing it because there may be something in them to which I'll want to refer for future columns, books, etc., and if the server goes down, they'll be lost forever.

After printing out all of those up to last Friday, I've decided to make it a daily, rather than weekly, ritual — so many pages already! Thanks to all who've increased the number of printouts by making comments. Keep it up; there are binders to fill!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:02 PM EST


Both Sides of the Impromptus

A typically good Impromptus by Jay Nordlinger today on NRO.

He starts off with a story about the Democrats deliberately upstaging NY's governor (Pataki, a Republican) by mimicking his September 11 recitation of the Gettysburg Address with ads on September 10. I could see similar ads after the eleventh, as a sort of "me, too," but I think I'd feel the same about this if it were Republicans placing the upstaging ads: despicable.

Jay ends with a blurb about an Apple Computer advertising campaign. If he's talking about the "Real People" campaign — with REAL STORIES of people who've "made the switch" from PC to Mac — I would make a couple points. I'm now on an HP running Windows XP, which is much more stable than previous Windows iterations. The bigger point is that, for the same price as a baseline Apple eMac ($1,100), I got twice the machine (1.4GHz vs. 700MHz, 512MB SDRAM vs. 128MB SDRAM, 60GB hard drive vs. 40GB hard drive, and so on). When Andrew Sullivan made the switch about a year ago, he was most impressed with the iPod MP3 player that came with his Mac, but that wasn't free, you know! It's a false comparison. It's like comparing Chevy and Pontiac if a Cavalier cost the same amount as a Grand Am, but Chevy only advertised the Corvette.

Why does it seem so often the case that the party with the "populist chic" is the one for rich folks? Maybe it's because "the little guy" is usually seen as the "underdog," but the bucks & votes of the masses add up to more than the bucks & votes of the elite.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:30 AM EST


How to Become a Published Author

I can't stand to watch Today on NBC. However, my wife does so occasionally, and she directs my attention to particularly foolish stories. This morning Matt Lauer interviewed Karyn from

In brief, this Karyn person decided that one way to defray her $20,000 credit card debt was to put up a Web site and beg. That's it. That's the big news, the big innovation, the big idea. But wouldn't you know, somehow this woman lucked out and began receiving offers from Hollywood to buy her story! To write a book!

Every now and then, I catch one of these quirky "life interest" stories on Today, Oprah, or another show, and it seems that all of the subjects have been offered book deals. Sometimes I think the worst way to go about becoming a published author is to write, let alone to devote time to the craft of writing.

And, by the way, Karyn and I are in much the same boat, only I've got a daughter. I'd rather people buy my novel, but Timshel Arts (that's me, by the way) does take donations.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:16 AM EST


Life Happens, and Sometimes It Stinks

Our dog was sprayed by a skunk last night. Not directly, and through a fence, but the entire house smells. We've used a de-smelling shampoo three times and some lemon juice. Hopefully that'll do it. The funny thing is that, at first, we could barely tell whether he had been sprayed. This might have been either wishful thinking or the fact that we were standing in a cloud of the stuff while smelling him. Ugg!

Skunk spray — the first chemical warfare.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:55 AM EST


Thursday, August 15, 2002

Stacking Good One-Liners for Statistical Purposes

I riffed a decent one-liner over at Victor's et cetera blog, and, since such gems come rarely from this brain of mine, I thought I'd begin collecting them all here so that, over the years, perhaps they'll begin to foster the illusion of frequency.

Victor had offered the following metaphor:

... there are those days when I feel as though life is really just one big chocolate cupcake of disappointment sprinked with just enough candy good-things on top to make you keep on eating it even though you don't really want to but it's too late now because you've already eaten so much already that you might just as well keep eating it until it's gone no matter how badly you'll feel about yourself afterwards.

To which I replied:

Don'cha know that you can get just the sprinkles if you know the chef?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:19 PM EST


In the Computer Classroom

When I visited my soon-to-be classroom, I felt confident with the computers, clicking around the software, following networking wires to make printers work, honing the picture on the television that shows the teacher's (my) screen for the class to see. I fiddled through a filing cabinet full of CD-ROMS and a desk full of papers and more CD-ROMS.

In the desk, I found the carbon copy of a filled out "Inappropriate Behavior" report. A girl had "rolled her eyes" at a previous teacher. What am I getting into?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:06 PM EST


A Counter-Argument to Keep on Hand

In comment-box discussion with Jody below, he stated the following:

I have thought about the fact that the "..vast majority of believers of any faith feel themselves better, more whole, for their beliefs." I especially thought about it as good feeling believers slammed planes into large, imposing trade towers or took to cleansing their neighborhoods of others who also felt better and more whole for their, different, beliefs.

I think I'll keep this piece of disgusting bigotry in my counter-argument file because it does raise a good point. Next time I hear somebody — most likely a liberal, but not necessarily — try to draw a circle around "fundamentalists" of all religions — September 11 killers and American religious "celebrities" alike — I'll ask him what his position is on blaming all of Islam for the acts of the religion's extremists. Surely, if we can hold the "vast majority of believers" in contempt for the acts of 19 monsters with dubious claims to religiosity, we can hold the specific religion that they claimed culpable.

The funny thing is that, somehow, Jody believes Christians to be intolerant.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:25 PM EST


On a Lighter Note

Starting this fall, I'm teaching computers one day a week at a Catholic elementary school. I went in today to get a sense of what they've got for equipment and software. They've some educational games that are newer versions of ones that I played in early computer classes ("Oregon Trail"). Of course, those were all text and stickfigures; now, they've got talking cartoons and other multimedia features. There were actually a couple of those old, green-screened computers piled in the corner. You know, the ones that made a Commodor 64 look like a supercomputer.

Anyway, being in the school reminded me of the couple times I went there for meetings in the spring. Having never been in an in-session Catholic school before, I was absolutely shocked at the difference in atmosphere. The children seemed friendlier and less suspicious; they were certainly more polite. I realize this is an impression from one school and an aspect in which high degrees of variation are likely, but still, it really struck me.

Another thing struck me. The only decoration that I remember well from my public elementary school was a creepy statue of two giant hands reaching out of a chunk of roughly carved stone in the hallway, looking not a little like they were coming out of a grave. In the school in which I will be teaching, there are reminders everywhere: "God Loves You"; "You Are Special." What a different environment in which to learn! I remember "You Are Special"-type posters in my elementary school, but they couldn't have been so profusely spread, and they always seemed to beg the question, "To whom?"

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:27 PM EST


Those Things That Really Matter

Feel like shedding a tear or two?

With all the equivalence and fashionable darkness and pettiness, perhaps we should all take moments to remember people like this girl.

She wrote poetry like this:

Scars that you left behind,
Are now a smile
Lagoons of sadness,
In the end of days,
within the stories words ...
have turned into albums of good days,
stuffed in a dusty room

... and is dead. Killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:47 PM EST


Update: International Intellectual Dispute

Headline: Theory of Logical Debate and Intellectual Consistency Causes Furor in Germany

Maybe it'll sweep across the U.S. intelligencia, too? One can hope.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:31 PM EST


Conservative Insanity

Just thought of something regarding Cohen's comment (you could read it below, but it's worth me showing you again): "Being conservative is like being criminally insane: You can't be held accountable."

Can you guess what seems to be the most frequent initial comment of first-time talk radio callers (beyond "love your show," of course)? Here it is: "Before I found your show, I thought I was crazy!"

I remember those days! Listening to NPR on my long commute home a few years ago, I felt the same. Nothing that I heard made any sense; none of the points and arguments that I would have made were offered. Surely, people out there were making those points... weren't they?... arguments must make sense... mustn't they?... there is meaning... isn't there?... Horatio?... Mrs. Lot?...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:05 PM EST



I never miss a Jay Nordlinger "Impromptus". Here's an example of why:

[Quoting a Todd Purdum article in the New York Times] "American inattention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict"? Inattention? To be brief, Israel has almost died from American attention. Any more attention, and Arafat — that Euro darling and member of the billionaires' club — would be King of Jerusalem.

I'd give you more context, but you'd be better off reading the column.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:40 PM EST


Said the scientist, with his nose pushed up against a Monet:

"There must be a reason these two differently colored groups of paint molecules have collected in this pattern."

Admitting that they're "missing something fundamental," scientists are looking for an equation for God.

I've already got one: 3=1.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:09 PM EST


Amazing How Point of View Works

Richard Cohen of the Washington Post slams Anne Coulter's book, Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right in his column.

I haven't read Slander. I am, however, having weathered the collegiate storm as the usually lone conservative in each classroom, having associated with many liberals (who more frequently share my artistic interests), and having attempted to publish with them, familiar with their mastery of the "plausible deniability" strategy when discussing issues publically, which leads to Coulter's difficulty in relating it (although 35 pages of endnotes helps). Cohen, however, just plain crosses the line into silliness:

Is it time for an intervention? I ask this because such anger, such intolerance, such rage, such a compulsion to denigrate and to distort is hardly based on any reality. If, as Coulter says, liberals control the media and much of the animal and plant kingdoms, then how is it that the president du jour and others of recent times -- Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush the Elder -- happen to be conservatives? I must be missing something here.

Such harrumphing says something not only about Coulter but about her audience. Who are the people who read such tripe, who listen to talk radio and its chorus of conservatives (nary a liberal on the air) and who buy books such as the one under examination today?

What explains their rage and, while I am asking questions, could you think of another commentator -- especially one on the left -- who could have written what Coulter did about Muslims and go on to bestsellerdom? Being conservative is like being criminally insane: You can't be held accountable.

Point 1. In a column that began by complaining that Coulter is the slanderer (her book should be called "Mirror"), does it really serve a purpose to just fling the insults back again? Are these pundits adults or school children? "No, you're intolerant!" "No, you are — and deluded!" "No, you're deluded!"

Point 2. The president comment is ridiculous. First of all, if somebody tells me that a candidate is an idiot but I agree with the policy that supposedly makes him an idiot, the somebody still let me know that I agree with the candidate. Second of all, the masses of people can get information through other means than the most prevalent, liberally biased, sources (see Point 3).

Point 3. Funny how Cohen expands his vituperative to the entire audience of people who made Coulter's book #1 and make talk radio a potentially lucrative medium. Hey, we must all be foaming lunatics since we look for other forms of media than the leftward-skewed version that he prefers. We couldn't possibly find any truth in what we find there.

Point 4. I don't think any commentators on the left said what Coulter did (invade the terrorist nations, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity) before attempting to publish a bestseller. And if they did, wouldn't that make them... umm... Coulter-like conservatives? I hate to be mean, but Cohen's question is pretty foolish for a columnist in a major newspaper to ask. It sounds like he just hates the idea that we raving lunatics (evidenced by our not being liberal) just don't like his ideas.

Point 5. Read this one-liner again: "Being conservative is like being criminally insane: You can't be held accountable." In what reality does this guy live? I'd raise the point of their latest president, but Cohen would probably come up with 400 pages of footnotes.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:47 PM EST


Alas, Shall I Never Graduate High School, Alas

Victor, of et cetera, links to the Web site of Little French Girl. Her "About Me" page is absolutely precious — she seems intelligent, so I'm sure it's half ironic.

But then there's the other half: ah, the darkness of gorgeous teenage girls. I went through a "no one knows like I know the depths that are to be known" phase (though I was never a teenage girl, nor gorgeous), so I guess I can't begrudge others' enjoying it for a time.

But I hope she knows deep down that it's a phase — and a common, atavistic one. Her little sayings reminded me of the titles of Emmeline Grangerford's drawings in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885): "Shall I Never See Thee More Alas," "I Shall Never Hear Thy Sweet Chirrup More Alas," and "And Art Though Gone Yes Thou Art Gone Alas."

Mark Twain must have smiled knowingly at Emmeline's real-life model, if there was one.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:09 AM EST


Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Let's Connect Some Dots, Shall We?

In an otherwise well-argued column on NRO about the UNC teaching Islam controversy, James Bowman writes:

Mr. Sells is a professor of "comparative religions." Neither Haverford College, where he teaches, nor the University of North Carolina could continue to exist as academic institutions (except in the sense that the Islamic madrassahs are academic institutions) if they thought that it was possible to say that one religion was superior to another.

For my part, I would find an area of "comparative" study to be more or less useless unless it attempts to make qualitative judgments. A comparative religion professor can surely say, for example, "this aspect of this religion seems to maintain better harmony among its followers than does that religion," without making the leap of faith to believe the tenets of the religion. Similarly, you can "compare" people by eye color, if you want, but unless that tells you something more than that people have differently colored eyes, is it worth a whole field of study?

This reminds me of Susan Sarandon's comments echoing the "let's figure out why they hate us" reaction of the multiculti crowd. Example: "Surely, we can't say that a group of people is 'wrong'; they're just different; no qualitative judgment can be made between Western society and Islamic society except to say that we're bigger so we must be badder."

Which brings me to an article to which Jody linked (sorry! he's just a great source for things with which I disagree). The article is about studies of female promiscuity in isolated (dare I say "primitive"?) cultures. Here's Jody's take:

It's an ongoing myth that every society has always been about one man and one woman in a permanently joined relationship, forming the keystone for culture. It's not the case. There have been as many ways to structure family, fidelity, love and commitment, as there have been societies on the planet.

True enough, although I'm not sure that many people actually do perpetuate that "myth," especially since the founding of National Geographic. But Jody does me the foil's favor of not stopping there:

Ours puts a public face on an ideal that has really never been the case. That wouldn't be so bad -- ideals can be great goals. after all -- if the unwillingness to discuss the realities involved with the practice of that ideal and the assumptions behind that ideal, weren't so terribly cloaked in shame, denial and frankly hypocrisy.

It is precisely that unwillingness that has gotten us into the mess we are now in with unwanted births, poverty, and yes, even AIDS.

Luckily for me, the place where Jody makes his judgment is also the place where he starts to make leaps. First of all, in the previous quote, that "ongoing myth" is, in fact, the keystone of our culture. This is an important distinction because, while the article addresses universal biology, Western civilization as a culture has long acknowledged "the realities involved with the practice of" its ideals (see "temptation" and "sin"). Since it would be foolish to attack an entire culture for not being absolutely perfect, the question in a qualitative comparison is whether the "shame, denial and frankly hypocrisy" — even the "unwanted births, poverty, and yes, even AIDS" — outweight the benefits of our way of structuring "family, fidelity, love and commitment."

This is where Sally Lehrman's summary of the research described in her article is demonstrably false. She explains the conclusion as being that "'Slutty' behavior is good for the species." Later she explains that:

In other words, the much-touted evolutionary bargain of female fidelity for food -- trotted out by evolutionary psychologists with maddening regularity -- just doesn't hold up. ... evolution has nudged women a bit toward promiscuity and sexual adventure ... some [anthropologists] say today's emphasis on female monogamy may have more to do with socio-economic trends than evolutionary instincts. ... monogamy may well be counter-evolutionary or an adaptation to modern life

Ah yes, evolution, which, according to Merriam-Webster is "a theory that the various types of animals and plants have their origin in other preexisting types and that the distinguishable differences are due to modifications in successive generations." Therefore, wouldn't "an adaptation to modern life" conceivably be "evolutionary"? And doesn't the "evolutionary instinct," i.e., quest for survival of the species, lead to changes in "socio-economic trends"? (Are they really different categories?)

While it's certainly plausible that for a period of human history, promiscuity was a beneficial cultural trait, where these anthropologists err is in stopping evolutionary progress with the beginning of Western culture. The implication is that evolution pushed human women toward promiscuity but had nothing to do with our move away from it — that our prudishness is forced on our "natural" proclivities but that, somehow, the "human nature" with which we must grapple was a product of evolution.

The "messy" results of our cultural attitude toward sex are really side effects of success: for example, we have a successful enough culture to travel the world and bring an African disease to a heavily populated Western nation. Were any of the tribes investigated in the studies to be faced with AIDS, they'd be wiped out. Many have been, I'm sure. The only reason we can examine these "pre-Western-hang-up" tribes is that they haven't had to evolve: they're pockets of lucky, less effectively evolved cultures. Modern people may pine for the simple, sexual life of the tribes, but that would be a counter-evolutionary impulse.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:49 PM EST


The Princess Bride: Source of Wisdom

In the comments box of my "U.S. Celebs" post below, Sean Roberts says the following:

I'm reminded of the gag in "The Princess Bride" where Wallace Shawn keeps exclaiming "Inconceivable!" every time the hero eludes death. Finally, one of his henchmen remarks "I do not think that word means what you think it means."

The end of this episode presents another lesson that is relevant to our handling of September 11 and terrorism. When it is Wallace Shawn's turn to battle Cary Elwes (the hero), they do so with intellect. Elwes puts one cup before each of them and tells Shawn that one has an odorless, colorless, fatal poison; Shawn must pick which one to drink. After much vacillating, Shawn switches the cups behind Elwes's back, and they drink.

As with today's leftist intellectuals, Shawn created an incredibly complex scenario out of a simple 50:50 chance. Of course, Elwes had outsmarted "the genius" by withholding the information that he had previously had the foresight to build up an immunity to the poison and by lying about having only poisoned one cup. In other words, for all of Shawn's second guessing and rationalizing, the choice before him was false. Elwes was playing according to a different set of criteria in which winning held the only value, and Shawn's real mistake was to squander that which had given him a strong negotiating position in the first place (a knife to the heroine's neck, as I recall) and "competing" on Elwes's terms.

Anyone have a few extra bucks to send a copy of "The Princess Bride" to Colin Powell?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:09 PM EST


U.S. Celebs Across the Pond

Seen the latest oh-so-superior comments to the European media from a mega-rich American celebrity? Susan Sarandon joins the ranks of lalalanders who seem proud at their ability to use a derivative of "jingoism" in a sentence ("a jingoist kind of thing started taking over") while proving that they haven't taken the time to envision what it would truly mean.

"We're not supposed to talk about how there might have been something leading up to [September 11], that it could have been prevented, or that our actions have ramifications," said the woman who sang "Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me" in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

No, Susan, nobody minds you asking such questions; we just don't like that you've already got the answers — and they're wrong.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:00 PM EST


The People's Republic of America; or, How many social issues can a trip to the post office bring up?

While I drove to the post office, local talk radio host Steve Kass was discussing government encroachment on parents' rights to inform their children about sex. This is actually the topic that soured me on local talk radio a few months ago.

The female half of the infantile, uninsightful show, "Mental Floss," Jennifer Brien, just assumed that she (by means of the government) had a right — even the responsibility — to teach my daughter her views on sex. I interrupted my lunch to call in and ask her what gave her that right. Her response? Essentially, "You parents aren't doing a good enough job."

Ms. Brien follows a pretty standard liberal line, so I wouldn't be surprised to hear her give the "better that many guilty people go free than one innocent one be punished" in a death penalty argument (I'm just using Brien as an example). Why wouldn't it also hold that it's "better to let many parents teach their children about sex poorly than to take away the right of one to teach his children well"?

This may suggest the underlying reason that welfare seems like such an obvious good in the eyes of these people: We are all already wards of the state. It's just that some of us need only guidance and some need more-direct support. Funny how "choice" and "education" can lead us around the circle toward China's forced policies around reproduction.

At any rate, after the radio station began using (seemingly frequently) the Mental Floss team as substitutes for the other hosts (most of whom I like), I opted to exercise my still-extant right to listen to music on the FM dial... except on the way to the post office.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:02 PM EST


Jumping on the Latest Bandwagon

If you pay attention, you'll begin to see conservative writers making the point that it has become impossible to parody the insanity of the PC-left-wingers. Here's why. I'm sure if you looked hard enough, you'd find a conservative somewhere who mentioned taking away G.I. Joe guns as an obviously implausible satire of airport security.

In fact, it seems to have gotten to the point that to parody might be to suggest. If my comment below about plastique sinking to the bottom of thermoses of breast milk causes any mother to be required to chug the entire contents, I apologize fully (imagine if it had been formula! Yuck!).

On a serious note: how does Norman Mineta have a job? How does he show his face?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:48 AM EST


Sometimes it takes a bad point to make a good one.

British radical Muslim leader, Sheikh Omar Bakri, simultaneously does his darndest to give examples of why sedition is (or ought to be) illegal and provides the most blunt statement to date of why the Europeans ought to keep their whining in check when it comes to the U.S. war on terrorism: "Britain is irrelevant. What would they hit? Big Ben? It's not worth it."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:35 AM EST


Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Digging into the Blog

There are some interesting, important, albeit detailed, arguments to be found in Jody's and my discussion among the comments in my "HIV Eradication: Still Just Wishful Thinking" post below.

They're worth looking at if you want to see how "scientific studies" morph into these absurd statements on which our hugely important social and governmental policies are based. In fact, I'd have made them posts rather than comments if they weren't so detailed.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:54 PM EST


Economics News: You Gotta Be Kidding Me

The headline of an article by Lynn Arditi in The Providence Journal: "R.I. Recovery Stalling."

The opener:

Ask the experts what two local economic indexes released today are saying about the Rhode Island economy and the words they come up with are "stalling," "wallowing," and "painfully slow growth."

So slow, in fact, that the question becomes: Is this really a recovery?

Paragraph 22 (after much gloom):

And confidence is key. One of the big risks now is that fears about the weakening economy will make consumers skiddish enough to cut back on their fall purchases.

Midway through the article the specter of the dreaded "double-dip recession" is raised. Of course, persistent readers will get to end on this note:

So, is this a recovery?

"As much as you can call the last thing a recession," [Glenworth Ramsay, an economist at the University of Rhode Island and manager of the URI/Providence Journal Index of Leading Economic Indicators] says. "Maybe we're going to have another non-recession."

I know I can't counter the effect of the state's only major paper talking down the economy, but despite its claims that "for the first time in four months, employers cut back on their use of temporary workers, shedding 35,000 temp jobs nationally last month," I can tell you that, for the first time in almost a year, my phone started ringing for temp jobs last month.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:05 PM EST


It's a Big, Multifarious Country

I wonder how many other quirks, like Victory Day in Rhode Island, the federal government will run into while taking over airport security around the country.

Any states in the union particularly averse to ridiculous security measures?

I doubt Rhode Island will fit that bill, but it'll be fun to start getting my "dumb airport security" jokes from the local paper.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:49 PM EST


For the Wish-ah-wuzza Talking Head File

Last night, I caught a couple minutes of Hannity & Colmes on Fox News. Conservative David Horowitz and liberal David Corn were debating whether Democrats are crossing the line in their anti-Republican rhetoric. Mr. Horowitz made a point about Democrats deceiving poor inner-city blacks and Hispanics, to which Mr. Corn responded, "So you're saying that blacks and Hispanics are stupid?"

Mr. Horowitz's response was, "Oh that's a good debate point."

What he should have said was, "Not at all. Anybody who hears nothing but deceitful nonsense can fall into the same trap. Just look at left-wing intellectuals."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:07 PM EST


HIV Eradication: Still Just Wishful Thinking

In his latest response in our discussion of a UCLA mathematical/scientific study that touts drugs as the key to "eradicating" HIV, Jody offers the following statement:

This is the first, hands down, black and white, kick you in the balls until you throw up, indication we have that this bloody epedemic, a blight on the world that has caused more pain, suffering and despair than all the imaginings of Hell ever fathomed, can be ended before the children concieved this summer open their eyes for the last time on the last day of their natural lives.

The fact is, if every HIV infected person in the world ceased to engage in the behavior that transmits the disease, it would be eradicated in just the amount of time it takes for currently infected people to die. This has been known for decades, and it hasn't changed. The problem is that it isn't likely to happen.

The mathematical study essentially examines new infection rates (R0ARV). At a value of 1 (one additional person infected for each who contracts the disease), the epidemic just continues along because each infected person merely replaces himself or herself. For perspective, an end to HIV-transmitting behavior alone would lead to an R0ARV of 0; heavy use of ARV drugs alone would lead to an R0ARV of 1.

The three components of R0 are likelihood of infection, number of partners, and duration of infection. ARV drug use does diminish the likelihood of infection. However, it dramatically increases duration of infection (which, since with HIV "duration" equals "life," is a good thing). Increased "duration" can dramatically increase the number of partners because, first, it lengthens the lifetime in which HIV-positive people can transmit the disease and, second, as we have seen in recent years, the drugs lead to complacency about the disease.

I do believe that ARV drugs ought to be used, but they can do no more than heighten the effect of changes in behavior (again, the exact opposite phrasing of the study's conclusion). Promoting them as "like a vaccine" is callous because it would only be true in a best-case scenario of lowered risky behavior plus heavy ARV usage but reduces the chances of lowering instances of risky behavior.

This leads into another discussion, but within "lowered risky sex" are abstinence and condoms. Condoms can lower the new infection rate, but not only are they not 100% effective, actually getting people, especially promiscuous people, to use them has proven difficult. In fact, to the extent that encouraging condom use encourages sex, risk is increased.

My problem is not with the study itself; it merely states the obvious, only mathematically. But the conclusions within the report are skewed beyond the implications of the data, and the public-facing conclusion, the press release, is an extreme example of propaganda. From the calculator to the newspaper, we go from numbers that prove that a dramatic change in group behavior is the only factor that can eradicate the disease to a headline of "UCLA AIDS Institute Scientists Show Antiretroviral Drugs Can Eradicate AIDS Epidemic." They simply can't do so without behavior change; whereas behavior change can accomplish the same goal without drugs.

This movement away from the statement made by the actual data is there, beyond dispute. I can't claim to know the motivation, but I can guess that it ranges from a desire to disguise the "so what" factor of the study's results to willfully deluding the public for reasons that are political in nature. The bottom line is that the presentation of the data does more harm than the discovery of the data does good. This is true of any influence that impedes society's mass realization that behavior has got to change.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:23 PM EST


Apologies and Coming Attractions

Good morning!

Sorry to be so long to post today. First, I was having trouble accessing my Web site, then I saw this response from Jody and researched the AIDS report that he and I have been discussing in the comments box attached to my "Wishful Thinking Masked as Science" post below. THEN, news about anthrax found in a mailbox in NJ led me into the intricate world of Steven Hatfill and reporting of him.

I was going to offer up a quick post regarding Mr. Hatfill — whether, in Norman Mineta style, he was just the third "person of interest" in line or the leftist media raised him up so as to blame a white male rather than relate it to terrorism — but found it to be a much more interesting topic. There is fertile ground here for investigating how information finds its way to us, so I think I'll write next week's Just Thinking column on this.

As for the AIDS study, I'll have a post later today explaining to Jody why, to the extent that we're talking about the same thing, he's wrong. (Preview: We are in agreement about eradication being the goal and even, with slight variations, the method of reaching it. However, the way this study is being presented — the mindset that this presentation indicates — will work against that goal.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:31 AM EST


Monday, August 12, 2002

Songs You Should Know

My entry for the Timshel Music Song You Should Know for this week is "Too Good to Be True" by... well... me. Since this is only my second week blogging, my ego-delimiter demands that I assure you that it is simply my turn in the rotation. (Hey, before I had the Redwood Review stuff rotating on my homepage, I even left myself out of the song rotation for months on end because all of the links would have been me.)

Check it out.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:37 PM EST



Sometimes it's nice to walk the dogs in the dim-lit time directly after the sunset. Crickets, tree frogs, and other lively-makers of the night begin to fill the air with hum. The waves lap more noticeably, although they are more subdued. Primetime television murmers through open windows. And a porch with its light on looks like a stage setting.

(On the ground at the bottom of the porch stairs, STAGE CENTER, blankets are lain. OFF STAGE are the sounds of children — laughter and shouts — and the sound of summer fair music. Children enter STAGE RIGHT. GROWNUP enters STAGE LEFT and says, "Settle down for the fireworks." They do so, noticing who sits with whom. Some hold hands.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:14 PM EST


Blog Infrequency

Sorry to be so short on posts today. I've been in the "comment box" trenches of the posts below duking it out with Jody. It's unlikely that the two of us will ever agree, but there may be value in those who aren't firmly set on an issue hearing our opposing arguments. Perhaps through discussion, people with differences can shed their less-reasonable appurtenances, as well. Take a look and see what you think.

Oh, and I've been working, too, but that's not as interesting a reason to blog infrequently.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:08 PM EST


Coastal Antipathy

Russ Smith addresses the "get over it" advice of self-proclaimed dissidents throughout the country regarding September 11. "Not surprisingly, most of these people live in California."

I know we haven't seen any further large-scale terrorist attacks, though I believe our leaders when they tell us that it is only a matter of time before one slips through (imagine what they know that we don't!), but I'd say the terrorists would be poor strategists indeed if they didn't continue to pound the East Coast, leaving the Pacifics (those on the West Coast) alone. If, God forbid, the future causes the average West Coaster to see only a big gap where the Golden Gate Bridge used to be or a fallen Space Needle, I don't think 11 months would be sufficient for our fellow citizens to fuggetaboutit.

Here's an interesting question: Had September 11 happened in LA, would any Easterner have the gall to offer a request for "a respite from Los Angeles' post-Sept. 11 sanctimoniousness" as did Richard Karpel, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN), regarding New York?

I don't know. I'm asking. But taken with other nuggets out of the West, it does seem that they've a tendency to think that everything is "all about them."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:32 PM EST


Iraq & Post-modernism on NRO

Doug Bandow offers a reasonable summation of the the case against attacking Iraq. I find some of his points valid, some less so. In the latter category, his statements about why Saddam wouldn't work with al Queda seem almost naively innocent in their view of how alliances work, especially among despots. Moreover, although I realize that opinion columns are limited in the ground that they can cover, it seems to me useless and unpersuasive to present an argument purely against an action, without even a closing "do this instead," especially when the article is about the unpredictability of the action. What about the unpredictability of no action? In this case, what about sanctions — which ought to end not only for the sakes of the Iraqi people but also because this is a thorn in the U.S.'s side in the region and at home but cannot be ended with Saddam still in power? What do we do to progress in our preventative war against terrorists and supporting regimes? Bandow seems to fall in with the "exhaust other options" crowd, but what are those options? At least, of what sort are they?

Without presentation of options, arguments "against" are, as Stanley Kurtz says, in his piece on NRO today about post-modernist thinking, "a kind of paralysis."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:46 AM EST


Sunday, August 11, 2002

WARNING: A Blog-Specific Post

It has come to my attention that my post about links might have poorly conveyed my motivation for taking it as my "policy." My intended way of handling links is meant to drive traffic to sites I like more effectively than just having a links list would.

I have nothing against mutual admiration or against members of a group writing for and about each other. However, at a certain point, lengthy lists of links stop being useful, and people tune them out. They become like reciprocity trading cards, and as their numbers increase, they begin to lose value. Look at Instapundit! I trust Glenn Reynolds's judgment (and would love to be linked to on his site), but as a visitor to Instapundit, how do I choose among 100 recommended bloggers? (Note: I didn't count them.)

Since I do feel inclined to lead visitors to sites that I read regularly and find valuable, I thought it'd be more helpful to each site if I took that inclination as further justification for linking in the part of my own site that people actually read: the posts.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:55 PM EST


Just Thinking 08/12/02

My weeklyJust Thinking column is about my conversion from "Orthodox Intellectualism" to Roman Catholicism.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:20 PM EST



Ever wonder what happens when members of the political world attend your parish? I'm sure many pastors make a point of ensuring that God remains more important than politics; other pastors become caught up feeling privileged to be in the presence of parishoners who "really matter." Victor over at et cetera has been documenting a case of the latter.

There's no need for me to recap here, but in brief, Michigan's pro-choice attorney general has been using her home church (as well as other Catholic churches around the state) to campaign. In response to criticism of his most famous parishioner, Fr. Doc Ortman wrote a Clintonesque essay redefining Christians' proper position as "pro-choice" (it really was something). Now, the politician is having to contend with people within "her" church who actually believe what they say they believe.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:42 PM EST


A Note on Links

I was thrilled, today, to discover that I am fifth down on Sean Roberts' "Favorite Links" list on his Swimming the Tiber blog, and I wanted to take a moment to thank him.

Likewise, Victor over at et cetera links to Dust in the Light, and I am grateful to him as well.

I also wanted to take a moment to address my intentions with blog links. As you can see, the left and top of this page do not scroll, so I don't really have room for links. I suppose I could create another page, but looking at the extensive lists of Web sites on blogs other than the two I've mentioned (take Mark Shea, for example), it seems to me that, at a certain point, the Law of Dilution kicks in.

For that reason, I intend to make a point of referring frequently to sites that I frequently... err... frequent within the body of my posts rather than list them.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:30 PM EST


Writerly Advice

Don't become a writer. I say this knowing that anybody who ought to be a writer won't be able to follow the advice. Perhaps I should rephrase: If you don't feel that you have to become a writer of some sort, you'd do best not to worry yourself with it.

I'm writing a novel in verse (i.e., poetry). Why? I don't know. Yesterday, I spent the better part of the day working on two lines — sixteen syllables. Worse is that, as a general rule, the more difficult you find a genre or a particular piece, the smaller your audience will be. But this is what I mean... I have to write this book, it has to be poetry, and it has to be perfect. It is as if the book exists apart from me and won't leave me alone until it's written, so it actually becomes more efficient for me to write it than to try not to write it.

Of course, one can write and not be like me in this regard. In fact, I write many pieces that don't require such effort. But once you go down the writing road, those projects are out there deep in the forest of ideas calling... calling... "come this way off the path"... "write me."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:56 PM EST


"You've Got Me; Who's Got You?"

Sorry to title this seriously minded post with a quote from the first Superman movie. In a way, its more apt than just for the words. Lois Lane knew she couldn't fly unless Superman had her in his arms, and while she asked "who's got you," she only held on more tightly. She didn't need to know how he flew; she saw that he could.

What reminded me of this scene was the gospel reading at this morning's mass, Matthew 14:22-33, in which Jesus walks on water. Probably an entire essay could be written on the following point, but I'll have to let it work its way around my head for a while. What I noticed immediately was that, when he began to sink because he doubted himself, Peter still did not question Christ's ability to save him; he didn't ask, "Who's got you?," as an atheist might.

This touches on a subject about which I've been writing quite a bit lately: the necessity, all the way down the line, of choosing faith. The pragmatist will assume that somebody (or -thing) must "have" Christ, whether he was really on a strip of sand or surfing — every miracle will have an explanation, invisible strings. With that taken as a given, when Peter began to sink, he might have assumed that Christ would also sink and turned back to the people on the boat to throw him a rope. But Peter had a sufficent degree of faith in Jesus to know that He could, indeed, save him.

Peter's doubt shows our own difficulty thousands of years removed from seeing Christ's miracles with our own eyes. Even though he has already been standing on the water, Peter still needs that visible, tangible hand to reach out for him. But God had been holding him up all along, Jesus' hand or not. In other words, while Peter did not need to ask "who's got you," he did panic when he asked, "Who's got me?" And he needed to see himself held up to believe what had already been obvious.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:33 PM EST


Yippee! It's Pay the Bills Day!

Hey, I know there's truth to the maxim about "the more you have, the more you want" and all that, but I sincerely hope that I'll have the presence of mind to take satisfaction, one day, when the rent doesn't bring my bank account below the mark at which there are no fees and the debt doesn't loom above us like a house of concrete cards.

But that's why I do the finances before I go to church: so that I'll remember how inconsequential this stuff ultimately is.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:27 AM EST


Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings

We watched it last night. I thought it was really good, at least inasmuch as I lost three whole hours of prime working time and hardly noticed. Of course, there are the parts of the book that didn't make the movie (at least one of which I had really been looking forward to) and aspects that the movie played up (perhaps from later books) that differed from the book. Sometimes I wondered how much somebody who hadn't read the book would understand what was going on in the film.

All in all, I could understand the reasons for the changes made in the transfer from book to film. Some things just would have been too difficult to explain without printed pages at the creator's disposal; other things saved the moviemakers time. The one thing that kind of bugged me, and this is just as much my own fault, was that I had only had time to read "The Fellowship of the Rings" before seeing the movie, and the movie ends a chapter into "The Two Towers." Even not having read that chapter, I wondered how the movie could possibly end the way that section of the book does. I know it's literary sacrilege, but I'm not sure why Tolkien, himself, ended where he did.

Other than that, I fear that there are things that the movie gave away that the book has held in store thus long. Most of this type of decision will probably prove understandable for the movie, but I guess I'll have to read it all before I see the second movie.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:20 AM EST


Saturday, August 10, 2002

A Coincidence? Or Just a Really Boring Article?

The New York Times has a very very very long and boring article by Lisa Belkin that attempts to explain that there is no meaning in life. Well, it doesn't go as far as that, but it does attempt to explain away coincidences. You can read the article, if you want, although I don't recommend it, but I just wanted, although I don't have much time to debunk the debunkers, to point out a couple things that struck me about this ode to the grand faith in nothing.

Mrs. Belkin makes a statement regarding a 9/11 numerical "sign" (which is, I'll admit, far fetched) that pretty well points to my objection: "This seeming numerical message is not actually a pattern that exists but merely a pattern we have found." Since she isn't talking about hallucination, I'd suggest that the pattern would have to "exist" in order to be "found."

Finding a reason or a pattern where none actually exists ''makes it less frightening,'' [mathematician John Allen Paulos] says, because events get placed in the realm of the logical. ''Believing in fate, or even conspiracy, can sometimes be more comforting than facing the fact that sometimes things just happen."

I don't think that many people would dispute that sometimes things just happen. However, the existence of random events does not mean that some are not random. And notice the implication that believers are just cowards. The suggestion is that reality is just a bunch of numbers, and anybody who believes otherwise is just afraid to admit it.

The problem is that mathematically minded people are even more afraid of that which cannot be explained. As with Jonah Goldberg's postmodernists, having adopted their useful tools as a belief system, they explain away anything for which they have an equation or believe them away if they do not have adequate tools. ("Yet," they would say.) According to Mrs. Belkin, people's having unusual circumstances make them late for work in the World Trade Center on September 11 "certainly looked like miracles but could have been predicted by statistics." Really? Statistics could have predicted that an alarm clock would stop working suddenly or a car would have a flat tire or an individual would have even the most mundane-but-unusual delay? No, what they mean is that they 1) could predict that strange things are possible and 2) could predict that a certain number of people on 9/11 would be late for work for strange reasons. However, they can't tell us what that number ought to be or why they happened to be the people whom they were... except for chance (remember, people are just statistics, so the fact that one lives and another dies is immaterial to the equation).

Look, I'm not calling a flat tire a rift in reality, just a meaningful instance. Of course it's possible, but what are the odds? Belkin: "The mathematician will answer that even in the most unbelievable situations, the odds are actually very good." This means that the odds of somebody winning the lottery are pretty good, but it doesn't tell us that the odds of you or me winning it are very poor. In other words, the answer to the question is that there certainly are odds. Thanks.

Hebrew University psychology professor Ruma Falk makes the stunning suggestion that we care more about our own stories. No! You don't say. Actually, she suggests that we'll notice when we win the lottery, but not really care when another person does. Again: so? The example in the article is Belkin's "how I met my husband" story. I have a similar tale. Falk suggests that they seem meaningful to us because they are our stories, but this ignores the fact that, for Mrs. Belkin and myself, of all the people we've met in perfectly ordinary circumstances, the ones whom we would wind up marrying we met amid memorable circumstances.

I know I'll never convince a statistician that my meeting my wife was "meant to be." A statistician will never convince me that it wasn't. I just want people to admit that this constitutes a difference of belief, not one of the certainty versus delusion. But it seems that is what Mrs. Belkin would have you believe. The one person whom she cites who believes that coincidences have meaning, SQuire Rushnell, seems hand picked for his flakiness. Even so, we never do get even his view, just that it's likely that he's a con artist.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:12 PM EST


My Bottom Line on Homosexuality

I'm sure that this will come up, so I thought I'd best address it while I've got a moment: my bottom line on homosexuality (honestly, no pun intended). This is intended to be a base statement from which discussion would ensue, not a presentation of an argument.

I believe that homosexuals would be better off if they strove to follow the Catholic Church's teachings regarding their behavior. I'm not speaking purely with respect to dogma and the personal and social stigma of not following it, but also in terms of individual psychological and spiritual well-being. As with any behavior to which we are inclined but that we strive to avoid, lapses are likely, and it is rationally foolish and emotionally contrary to Christian principles for individuals or society to give them the weight of utter and irreconcilable failure.

Those people who find their attraction to be inalterably toward others of the same gender ought not to be deprived of the opportunity for the love and emotional closeness that acts as an earthly representation of God's love. However, such a relationship ought to be one in which both partners help each other in striving toward the ideal — a more-familial, albeit coupled and private, affection — while seeking to understand the demands and proper expression of their personal faith.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:34 PM EST


Should Andrew Sullivan Preach Chastity?

In the comment box of my post about wishful thinking about AIDS drugs masquerading as science, "tonymixan" makes a comment that suggests an interesting question. He says, "I await the day Andrew Sullivan declares that he is leading a chaste life and that is the answer to the AIDS mess."

Why is it that it should seem so laughably unlikely that an intelligent man like Mr. Sullivan, who is HIV positive in a world that has discovered that even restricting sex to HIV-positive men is not safe and will exacerbate the larger problem, should resolve himself to chastity and encourage others to do the same? This, to me, reaches the underlying problem with the homosexual community: it seems, particularly among men, to perpetuate an adolescent sexual view as an inextricable component of the orientation.

I realize, here, that heterosexuals have, as part of their maturing process, the advantage of the taming influence of marriage, which has an effect even on those who are not yet married. This factor, in my opinion, leads to one of the stronger arguments for legal gay marriage. However, it is incumbent upon any who would make this argument to explain why marriage would have such an effect when the threat of certain horrible death for individuals and continuation and exacerbation of a plague for society does not.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:40 AM EST


Friday, August 9, 2002

My First Blog Friday

I may or may not post anymore today, so I wanted to mark the occasion of having made it through my first work week as a part-time blogger. I'm sure that, as time goes on, I'll learn to integrate this new addiction with the rest of my life, so the weeks won't be such a blur.

But I'm glad to have you with me, so it's worth the extra work (and as a matter of time wasted, I have to wonder if I'm much worse off now because I can get those ideas that used to bug me all day out of my system pretty quickly). Of course, it'd be even more worth it if you would consider buying my book (Hey! Mark Shea self-promotes on Fridays!). Even if you don't agree with my opinions, you might like the novel. Then again, the opposite can also be true.

At any rate, thank you for reading throughout the week and responding by comment and by email when you've seen fit. I do intend to post over the weekend, so come on back y'all!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:58 PM EST


What Exactly Is the Movie Industry Objecting To?

"Just because we have the technology to do it doesn't make it right," says Directors Guild of America President Martha Coolidge in The Salt Lake Tribune. She's talking about new services that are cropping up, particularly in heavily religious communities, to edit objectional material from lawfully purchased videos and DVDs. "Films are made by people who care passionately about what they do and what their work says."

Since I don't have all day to relate the many scintillating critical-theory discussions in college that bear on Ms. Coolidge's objection that tampering with video "obliterates the intention" of the creator, I'll just get to the heart of the matter.

A film's creators cannot possibly imagine that they have any control over, or any right to control, how I choose to watch a movie presented to me for viewing in the home. I have every right to fast-forward through sex and violence, hit mute when bad language is thrust through the television at my child, or even watch scenes out of order with the TV upside-down and covered with blue cellophane. Likewise, I would have every right to purchase technology that automates these actions for me. I don't think there's much room for argument thus far because I haven't touched the medium on which the film is sold. But what of that medium? If I pull all of the tape out of a video and string it around my house, surely I am within my rights, having purchased the physical object. Likewise if I paint a DVD and use it as a frisbee.

I can understand the difference between changing the way I view a movie and changing the movie itself. I can also understand the difference between changing the function of a physical disc or tape and changing the content. However, I just do not see how, for my own private use, I lose the right to manipulate the physical item in order to view the movie as I see fit. Public presentation of copyrighted material is another legal matter altogether. And I'm not up on specific laws as far as renting videos out is concerned, so maybe there's some gray area here. (Although, I'd say that if the editing is noticeably acknowledged — indeed, desired by the rentor — there really isn't much room to cry foul.)

Most of all, though, I just have to wonder why it is that the movie industry, of all groups, would put forth the argument that a "person who is troubled by the content of a film should simply not watch it." Is it because they know that they're much more likely to undermine parents' objections if the parenting choice is all or nothing?

Someday, Jody and I will agree on something, but moviemakers claiming the ethical high-road in this instance is a bunch of [beep].

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:42 PM EST


The Nifty Road Best Not Taken

If not for my cognizance of my extremely limited influence and my belief that somebody in the business has already thought of it, I'd think twice about mentioning this. As it is, let me suggest this as the next stage in the evolution of virtual reality of which we should be wary.

"Storefronts" of online stores within the role playing games. Players could peruse CDs or other goods within the context of the game, and purchases would be shipped as with any other online transaction ("Yes, M'Lord, I'll have those medium Bugs Bunny boxer shorts brought to your castle."). In the case of music, the files could be downloaded to the computer's player immediately at the same time that the CD is shipped. Players could go to virtual movie theaters, or perhaps they could send messenger dragons to order pizzas that are actually delivered to the home.

Sometimes an idea's niftiness is a good reason to keep it off the boardroom table.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:24 PM EST


And, just in case you were gonna bring it up...

... online virtual reality games differ from blogging in that a blog is just another tool of communication to address issues in real life, interacting in our real capacities and allowing our words to have consequences.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:42 AM EST


Social Progress?

Well, it's happening. Goodbye real life with no "Undo" button, hello virtual reality. This article from Fox News about "persistent-world, massive-multiplayer online games (MMOGs)" portrays exactly the combination of online chat-room, video game, and role playing that can enable the Internet to become an alternative to life.

Here's the progression: the movement started with role playing games in which players became elves, dwarves, knights, and such in a "Tolkienesque" world. However, many of them spent a good portion of their time experiencing medieval life (e.g., blacksmithing), some even having virtual marriages, rather than slaying dragons. The next stage is "The Sims Online," which will create a dragonless world in which attractive folks go to work, run errands, and hot-tub.

The medium's defenders, such as Sony Online Entertainment marketing vice president Scott McDaniel, say, "the games don't bring out obsessive behavior that wasn't already there." While true, this defense ignores the reality that sometimes enabling is just as dangerous and irresponsible as encouraging.

Isn't there value to learning to accept ourselves as we are and to dealing with the consequences of our actions, without the benefit of restarting as another character or undoing individual acts?

And what if the power goes out?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:34 AM EST


If you love your copyright, set it free.

Instapundit raises questions about the future of the music industry considering changing media types.

As it happens, I'm editing a document for my day job with a high-tech market research company about digital rights management (DRM) technology. It's my opinion that the record companies are trying so hard to hold on to their pentapoly (monopoly of The Big Five) that they're going to lose it. Especially with music formats that will need to be transferred as digital files (i.e., with no hard copy), customers aren't going to want to have to worry about having the ability to make limited or no copies to move from device to device. This includes DRM that's restricted to CDs (eliminating the ability to "rip") as people buy MP3 players to use instead of portable/auto CD players. I like Apple's DRM solution: a sticker on the iPod MP3 player that says, "Don't steal music" in four languages.

While the incumbent companies attempt to work it all out, developing standards and trying to get a feel for the new market without a temporary sacrifice of profit, I think there's a huge window for independent labels and DIYers that are willing to begin by giving music away and look for profits down the road.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:19 AM EST


I wanna participate in international intellectual battles!

A group of American intellectuals has taken the time to engage a group of German intellectuals in a letter-writing debate about the United States' right to use force in a war against terrorism. The latest letter from the Americans makes a statement that I suspect will characterize the entire exchange: "Our overall reaction to your letter is that, although you describe it as a 'response,' you respond only indirectly to our central argument."

This is the point at which intellectual discussion breaks down because only one side is willing to engage arguments, the other being interested only in polemics (hey — sounds a bit like Israel and the Palestinians...). In other words, between the two groups, the effort is a waste of time. But I suspect that our intellectuals (would I need a Ph.D. to join?) understand that the real value is in offering a response for other readers who have been hoodwinked by the Germans' argumentative sleight of brain.

Thanks to Instapundit for the link.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:43 AM EST


Thursday, August 8, 2002

Case Study: Wishful Thinking Masked as Science

Jody, blogland's most vocal atheist and an AIDS activist, links to a UCLA press release that carries the bold title "UCLA AIDS Institute Scientists Show Antiretroviral Drugs Can Eradicate AIDS Epidemic." Let's take a look.

The hook: "UCLA AIDS Institute researchers have predicted that widespread use of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs can eventually stop the HIV epidemic in its tracks — even in African nations where a high percentage of people are infected."

"It's sort of like having a vaccine out there," says Sally Blower, UCLA professor of biomathematics. Sounds great! Much better than the gloomy statistics we've been hearing lately about 65 million dead by 2020.

Now look very carefully at the construction of the paragraph that introduces the dark cloud:

Blower's team discovered that the rate of HIV infection was extremely sensitive to changes in risky sexual behavior. They concluded that any behavioral programs addressing HIV prevention and transmission must be tightly coupled with ARV drug therapy.

Changing risky sexual behavior is still the key. Notice how that next sentence shifts the logical order: the study is trying to prove that drug therapy works "like a vaccine," yet it is a currently known solution (behavior modification) that is stated as the add-on — "any behavioral programs," as if they're optional. The conclusion is the premise. Well, maybe I'm just too much of a language guy. Let's read on.

An increase in risky sexual behavior will worsen the epidemic — even if drug-resistant strains of HIV are not very fit.

What does this mean for San Francisco? "Our model suggests that it is possible to eradicate HIV in San Francisco," Blower said. "But given the high volume of unprotected sex and drug-resistant HIV strains, it's the worst of all possible worlds and doesn't look good."

The logic: Drugs will work! If behavior changes, which doesn't look likely. So here's the solution:

1. Treat more HIV-infected people to reduce the epidemic's severity.
2. Develop more effective drugs to reduce viral load. Even a slight drop in viral load would provide great benefit.
3. Prevent drug resistance from developing in order to prevent the transmission of drug-resistant viral strains.
4. Reduce the rate of risky sexual behavior in order to heighten the overall effect of treatment on the HIV epidemic.

Wait a sec! I thought the central problem was sexual behavior... why is that the last thing on the list? If the drugs cannot even prevent the epidemic from getting worse without the behavior change, how can reducing "the rate of risky sexual behavior" be said to only "heighten the overall effect"? This is like claiming that a pogo stick can reach the moon, with a space shuttle "heightening" its lift capacity.

Then Blower just restates the wish. It's shameful that public university academics are apparently in the propaganda business. It's criminal that people will die from heightened (false) expectations.

9 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:32 PM EST


Ain't Democracy a Pain in the Neck?

As I mentioned the other day, a grassroots movement of citizens concerned that rising property taxes were forcing older citizens out of my town followed established government procedures to demand that the spending increase be limited to 3.5% (ish). The Town Council declared that $569,311 would have to be cut from the school budget. A "new citizen watchdog group" has formed to ensure that the local public schools continue to provide quality education. As a parent of a one-day-to-be-in-school child, I think that's great.

But some things worry me. John Wojichowski, the new group's founder, told The Newport Daily News, "In November of 2000 we voted for elected officials. That day the majority of the residents spoke out and said these are the people who are going to make decisions for the town. On July 13, in my opinion, that vote was taken away."

So, to translate, two years after local officials were granted offices based on stump speeches, handshakes, and three-color posters, a large crowd of upset citizens is disenfranchising voters (presumably that includes them as well) by objecting to their spending habits. Sounds positively criminal. Not to worry, on the agenda of the new Portsmouth Residents Interested in Developing Education (PRIDE) is "pushing the Town Council to look at the charter provision for the special financial town meeting" that allowed citizens to curb government expansion.

Local mother, and PRIDE meeting attendee, Debby Lengyel worries about what responsible town spending will do to her children's education. Her biggest fear? That "we are possibly not going to be able to do anything about what's happening."

Yeah, taking away citizen influence on the local government sounds like just the right plan, then.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:12 PM EST


What "role" do kids need a model for?

Some "adults" transported kids to cheer R. Kelly into his child-port-related court hearing. Whether he's guilty or not, I wonder if this doesn't teach the youngsters that their favorite superstars can do no wrong.

Creepiest line: Field trip organizer Janet Edmond said, "Kids need something to reach for."

Reminds me of two elected officials whose last names both start with "C." Sure, they're influential and famous and have never been convicted of any crimes, but would you want your daughter working for them?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:27 PM EST


Commercial Tunes

Over in The Corner, James Robbins mentions commercials for luxury, leisure goods using punk-rock revolutionary songs.

This reminded me of a commercial that I saw pre-blog that struck me funny. I forget the make, but a bunch of SUVs are driving around playing polo (or something) to the tune of "Teenage Wasteland." The precious part is that the commercial cuts out right before Roger Daltry shouts, "They're all wasted!"

Guess we're not supposed to think about that stuff... just to begin to associate our favorite songs with the product.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:47 PM EST


My Next Invention

My daughter loves her bouncy seat (you know, those big-springed contraptions that clamp on to door frames). In fact, she enjoys it so much that I want one. Well, observing her attempting, with much concentration, to discover the mystery of a rattle on one of the trays that's attached to the seat, I had an idea.

How about bouncy seats for adults that have various attachments depending on application. One might be an office bouncy seat. Of course, it would have the standard cup holder (lids recommended), but it would also have a phone, a laptop, and other office necessities. Workers could just hang there if they were tired, but they could also bounce in order to save the time of exercising after work or at lunch. Companies could invest in the "Bouncy Seat Energy System," which would attach energy conversion adapters to the bouncy seats so that employees could help to defray the cost of electricity simply by Bouncing Away the Workin' Day™.

Just brainstormin'.

2 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:37 PM EST


Daily Dose of PC Policies Leading to What They Claim to Despise

A mother trying to board a plane at JFK in NY was forced by security to drink from each of three bottles of breast milk.

The creepiest sentence: Elizabeth McGarry's daughter "was taken out of her arms."

This is obviously just an extension of the "everybody's a suspect" mentality when you forbid reasonable judgment of whom the suspects might actually be.

Imagine if police acted this way after a murder. "We do have a description, but we'll be conducting random searches on Main St. to find the killer."

A NY radio host, Ron Kuby, made a telling statement regarding Ms. McGarry's ordeal: "I'm all for random searches . . . but I do think the number of Caucasian, lactating mothers who have passed through al Qaeda training camps is negligible."

No more so than the elderly, U.S. government officials, or even young white men (outside of Marin county).

And don't the security personnel know that plastique sinks to the bottom?

1 Comment (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:36 AM EST


Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Rhode Island! It's Time for Plan C.

This depressing, concise, and true piece by Providence Journal columnist Edward Achorn has inspired me to finally unveil a plan that I've been working on. I call it "Plan C" (for "conservative").

You see, I'm one of those folks who comes to conclusions and supports ways of thinking and acting because I've thought about them (usually) and think that they are right and true. Assuming that most conservative thinkers are the same, I'll trust that many of the policies, particularly in economics, that they support will really do what they are proposed to do: grow the economy and make the world a better place (insert image of sunny bay with smiling families and cartoon animals).

Therefore, I propose that conservative Americans (and those who empathize but are afraid — or just not ready — to claim the title) move, in droves, to Rhode Island. It is a very small state, and in just one or two election cycles, we could populate the state government with at least enough conservative politicians to change the state from a beacon for New England's welfare recipients to a beacon for businesses.

After a few years, our state will become known for its sensible policies throughout the New England region. The movement will spread. First the region, then the country. Good ideas will finally be given voice. The EU will stop dictating the proper width of holes in Swiss cheese. Society will advance. ("Dogs and cats, living together!")

C'mon people! Can you picture it?!!?

I hope so because I don't have the energy to devise a Plan D (no, not "Democrat," not "Death Ray," maybe "Delaware"...?)

2 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:53 PM EST


A Note to Build a Dream On

I love when walking the dogs coincides with the sunset over the river (or bay, whichever has more force at that time in the day). The sky painted on and the waves like melted chrome and the reeds swaying with the wind. And children ask to pet the dogs (but only one is safe) and rope weights chime on boats' masts and the bridge's lights twinkle on.

I think I'll begin making a habit of ceasing all stressful activities from the point of my walk on to bedtime. Only fulfilling or relaxing or contemplative things. And if I must work, I will do so with the caveat that I keep my reasons for working (wife, daughter, family, faith) at the front of my mind.

But certainly no conflict. Post-walk, I say only, "Thank you all for sharing a portion of your day with me."


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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:26 PM EST


Clarifying, at Least for Myself

I've run into a lot of opposition to the content of my last few posts, and when that happens, I think it best to either rethink or clarify my position. In this case, I think I'll clarify.

I think it would be an absolute travesty if the FPN wins any kind of lawsuit and manages to force, by means of government intervention, any changes to UNC's curriculum whatsoever. In fact, I think it would be a smaller travesty if anybody but FPN must lay out money for this adventure. I'm not even a fan of influencing change through threats of lawsuits, but it is a common practice, and the FPN gained the issue national attention and caused the school to rethink far enough to make the book optional.

The book itself is a bad idea in this context (again, from what I've read) because I don't think just distancing your group from a lunatic fringe is the best solution. The best solution for everybody is to understand that distance, to be able to see it like two points on a map. In order for this to happen, we need to understand where the fundamentalists root themselves in the Koran and where the rest of the Muslim world moves on and away from that spot. Just distancing the "moderates" and fundamentalists by ignoring the spot at which they connect can only lead to speculation.

Likewise with Christian and conservative reactions to this current controversy. Merely saying, as Mr. Goldberg did, that these wackos make us seem anti-learning begs the question when next we make a statement with which the "wackos" agree. The thing that I originally thought Mr. Goldberg and many others (such as the Catholic League) were missing was the statement of agreement against the university's strategy for teaching Islam followed by the clarification that our own argument against the school is in line with our criticism of the FPN.

Well, now I feel better — clearer headed — anyway. As always, I welcome thoughts. Just click on that "Comments" link directly below.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:48 PM EST


Continued Conversation with Jonah

J. Goldberg:

Look, my ultimate objection is that this is one of these cases where a bunch of yahoos make conservatives look like they're afraid of learning and knowledge. The university was begun in the 12th century and I think it should be more free not less free. Even though this means some will teach a bunch of crap.

I reply:

I concur, and my point is merely that we should use the case (which we didn't create) to point out why UNC's choice was wrongheaded, even for its own stated purposes (i.e., the nugget of correctness in FPN's approach), while explaining where FPN is wrong (also mentioning where the corresponding action on the Left is wrong).

To wit, we shouldn't deny our extremist compatriots, but educate as to where they go wrong with our text (and the WaPo article was pretty appalling in this respect).

I would also add that my original statements were made, in part, in reaction to this statement from the Catholic League, which, beyond mischaracterizing the FPN's initiative as seeking a "Ban on Quran," makes the false comparison between this instance and the teaching of various religions within the context of comparative religion curricula.

However, I do agree with the Catholic League in that I'll "be glad when the university wins in court."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:57 PM EST


Jonah Emails Me

Jonah Goldberg emails, in response to my previous post:

I'm afraid you're still missing the point. Universities should teach comparative religion and they are within their rights to do so. The fact that this isn't the best book is superfluous. A University has the right to pick the books it wants to pick. I have no problem shaming UNC for picking the wrong book, but I am appalled by the argument that ANY book would be wrong. Also, leaving it up to Muslim Groups to sue if a christian book is used, sidesteps the fact that a muslim group would be wrong to sue too just as a Christian group is.

I reply:

First, we're not talking comparative religion. This is an obligatory, general studies course (previous books being about the Civil War and illness). I'm not sure whether you read my first email (it's on my blog), but UNC's stated intentions for choosing this subject are actually undermined by the choice of this book (from what I've read about it)... sort of comparative religion within Islam.

Second, in America's current climate, a publicly funded university does not have the right to do whatever it wants. Anyway, I conceded that UNC is well within its rights and will likely win the lawsuit and that the FPN looks foolish at this point. But similarly, the FPN has a right to file a lawsuit (and is not, as far as I can tell, a public entity or controlling government establishment). I'm not arguing for the FPN to win the lawsuit and would argue against the ruling if it did.

I'm also agreeing with you that "shaming" would be the "right" way to go about asserting disapproval about selection of a given book. However, (in keeping with your anti-cliche crusade) sometimes two wrongs do make a right. From the perspective of events within the active world, we can be right to argue against groups on both sides of the debate (Right and Left, to be simple) without that being the entire story.

The Left sues wrongly, establishing an "ain't illegal, ain't wrong" atmosphere (but that's another issue), so I see only balance in the (farther-than-us) Right suing wrongly in the opposite direction on similar issues. In other words, each group is asserting its intentions. Meanwhile we, and hopefully a growing majority, can point to both in a call toward the correct view. That's what I thought you were missing in your total analysis.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:22 PM EST


Jonah Explains Himself

Jonah has responded to a wave of email that probably made more or less the same argument as I did in the previous post. The disagreement is one of specificity, I think, in that Jonah's complaint is against the folks bringing the lawsuit against the university and everybody else's is for the group's questioning the university's presumed intentions (whitewashing Islam).

The Family Policy Network will likely lose its lawsuit, especially now that the book is optional. However, the whole issue would probably not have come this far (and would have been even more likely to end in favor of UNC if it did) had UNC either chosen a more-balanced book or offered a countering book... at least had it done this in answer to the objections. (That raises another question: if it's important information that they're offering students, why make the book optional rather than propose another?). Does the FPN look zealous and a bit foolish at this point? Perhaps, but I'm glad they're willing to do so.

Jonah's point that he "can't imagine them suing if the assigned book" was a positive one about Christianity is superfluous. It wouldn't be the FPN's job to do so, given its objectives; it would have been left to an opposed group (e.g., Muslims), and I think we'd agree that such objections would arise. Jonah's hypothetical is also superfluous because we all know that a book such as Dave Shifflet's "Christianity on Trial" will never, in the foreseeable future, be given such a prominent place in a university's general, obligatory curriculum.

At this point, the issue falls in UNC's favor as a legal issue (one of rights), but I, for one, am glad somebody's willing to make the university go through the process of finding that out.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:27 PM EST


"Approaching Islam" as Mandatory Reading

Not to give the impression that I'm spending my day fretting about Jonah Goldberg, but he's raising good issues today. Over in The Corner, he asks whether he's missing something about the controversy over the University of North Carolina making "Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations" by Michael A. Sells a mandatory reading assignment. The answer to Jonah's question: yes, you are — two things.

First, the recently huge demand for classes about Islam is motivated by a desire to understand the religion — mostly how the supposed "moderates" differ from the folks who want to kill us and how each derives its differing view from the same text. If a group of Biblists drew from the Old Testament to excuse terrorism, the appropriate studies would put the violence of the ancient histories in the context of the Jews' history, the current times, and the subsequent advances of Judeo-Christian religious thinking.

As the professor who recommended the book, Carl W. Ernst, said (before dismissing his opponents by accusing them of a version of racism), "It's easy to take phrases out of context from any sacred book." So how does he suggest answering the demand for context? By teaching only a book that, by the author's own admission, intends to put aside the "vital question" of Islam's "violent or nonviolent nature" and talk about what "makes 1.2 billion people see it as meaningful." This neither answers the demand for information about the religion nor gives context. Indeed, it is proselytizing in the sense that it deliberately attempts to present the pros but not the cons.

Of course, the university falls back on the excuse that the book is only used as a tool that "starts a dialogue." But how can you start a dialogue about argumentative texts when you've only got one? I remember hearing, again and again, when I attempted to bring inconvenient external information into class discussion about a book, "But that's not in the text."

This blends with the second thing that Jonah is missing. The broader problem is that universities assume that students have ample experience with the "white heterosexual Christian American male" point of view (as they call Western culture). This is no longer true. In fact, the people whom society has chosen to teach "the canon" have decided that they no longer wish to do so.

I suspect that most Americans (especially college-age Americans!) really do want to understand why the terrorists do not represent Islam. But to understand that, we have to know where their roots are misplaced within the broader religion.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:12 PM EST


Goldberg's Philosophical Wax

Like me, Jonah Goldberg likes to wax philosophical with his columns. Sometimes I wonder if it isn't that we find it easier than addressing specific issues, but overall, I think it's a good thing to step back for a broader view and statement of belief on occasion.

In his two part column on NRO this week (Part 1, Part 2), he takes a long stroll to make a few points (which is understandable because, as he admits, he writes his columns pretty quickly) regarding some dangerous problems with post-modernist thinking:

1) It forgets or denies the existence of a higher purpose or external perspective (God in both cases).
2) It insists that "my" stage of learning is the "true" stage.
3) Since somebody somewhere must be smarter than any one person, it insists that truths cannot be compared because then point 2 would not be possible.
4) It forgets that thinking ought to be understood as a skill or area of amassed expertise.

All in all, I agree with Mr. Goldberg. However, I do see, in his writing, hints that this idea of his could be dangerous to loose upon the world to be misunderstood because it places a premium on that "amassed expertise or understanding" and could slip into elitism.

What I believe he fails to emphasize is that there is a validity to intuition, so that even somebody who cannot understand Stanley Fish (or Jonah Goldberg) is just as capable as the brainy class is of understanding the pith of reality (see point 1). Jonah does not appear to be a religious man; he certainly doesn't emphasize it. He doesn't necessarily have to do so, but I worry that, while he is correct that post-modernists are dangerous to the extent that they see their analytical techniques as belief systems rather than tools, he might fail to understand that conservative traditions and practiced learning are only tools themselves.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:13 AM EST


After the Heat Wave

Sleeping with the AC off and the windows open, the daughter, in her long pajamas, slept through the night. She woke with smiles, sending me off to walk the dog into a preview of autumn — cool air, colors rich, still humming "Dream a Little Dream," a whole season before us. A whole life, too... and beyond.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:18 AM EST


Tuesday, August 6, 2002

Room for Goofiness?

As artistically vacuous as it is, I love the Fox show American Idol. What an opportunity for those kids! What fun!

Tonight, the theme was big band. I'd have done "Dream a Little Dream," starting out in a slow, soft Bb croon, leaning over that old-fashioned chrome microphone, hitting the lowest notes I've got. Then, in the middle section ("stars fading but I linger on, dear"), I'd have kicked it up, at least double-time, maybe more, and changed the key. B natural, maybe; maybe C# — would I dare?

Ah well. Family and love of ice cream and serious art put me on different path. The true rewards are on this road anyway.

"In your dreams — whatever they be — dream a little dream of me."

(I predict that Kelly Clarkson'll win the show. She oughta anyway.)

2 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:16 PM EST


I Must Be a Selfish Conservative Now

My wife and I just bought a Pontiac Aztec — our first non-coupe. Despite all of my griping about the selfishness of SUV owners when I did my time as a pre-collegiate liberal, I don't know if I'll ever go back to polite, little economy cars. I can see the road in a way that I haven't been able to do since the SUV boom (perhaps a little "can't beat 'em, join 'em" here), big boxes & new furniture will no longer be a problem, the baby's car seat just lifts right in (no maneuvering required), and it feels like driving in a lounge even more than my 1975 Oldsmobile 98 did.

If the Californians continue to attempt to impose their nobody-walks-in-LA end run around consumer demand in the automobile industry, I'll be among the first to park my BIG car on the front lawn of the governor's mansion.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:19 PM EST


Isn't It Great When We Can Turn the Page?

I think that fella Bill and I have, in the comment box to my "Official Religions" post, more or less reached agreement that: 1) Zionism as a uniting movement for Jews is OK as long as it does not become an ideology toward manifest destiny; 2) addressing the situation as it is, a Palestinian state of some kind is desirable (as long as it is not merely a launching point for further attacks on Israel), with the particulars to be worked out by the involved parties; 3) Israel realizes this and would likely return to the table to discuss settlements and other specifics if it could at all do so without giving the impression of capitulation, yielding even more enthusiastic cries for pushing the Jews into the sea.

Bill might like to rephrase this last point, probably keeping much of the substance, because this is where we begin to disagree. The "settlements" (which are, as I understand, really not much more than individual homes... we're not talking cities on gravesites or anything) do continue to be established but would likely be on the table were negotiations to begin in good faith. To go further, I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that any new settlements would have been unlikely had the Oslo agreement been followed (meaning if the land were officially established as Palestinian). It also seems pretty obvious that the settlements are brought up most frequently by PA spokespeople for the purpose of excusing attacks that are otherwise unjustifiable.

And this is where the topic makes the leap that suggested that a new post might be in order: U.S. involvement. I contend that a wide variety of interests, from humanitarian to economic to military, demand U.S. involvement in some capacity. As the parties are currently acting, the Israeli side is the correct one to encourage (as it involves diplomacy vs. jihad, has proven the most amenable to compromise, and is overall more reasonable and productive).

Bill seems to disagree in that, even if all that I've written here is true, it is in the U.S.'s interest to be absolutely neutral so as not to "contribute to the terrorists hating us." To this, I suggest that our friendship with Israel is only a minor contributor to that hatred. It is obviously a visible, convenient morass for the purposes of anti-U.S. propaganda. However, to my knowledge, except for Sirhan Sirhan, the only Palestinian attack on U.S. citizens thus far happened at Hebrew U. a week or so ago.

The lack of Palestinian involvement in attacks on the U.S., combined with the historical lack of concern that other Arab nations have shown for the Palestinians except as propaganda pawns, suggests to me that being "so closely allied with one side in this national struggle, such that it contributes to the terrorists hating us," has it almost backwards. We are so closely allied with that one side because the other side — which is only locally represented by the Palestinians — fosters hatred for us.

For this reason, the U.S.'s interests are best served by quick resolution of the issue, which would require forced restructuring of the Palestinian leadership, guarded (as in protected) organization of humanitarian initiatives, and termination of terrorist groups, because the Arab nations do not consider such resolution to be in their own best interest. Unfortunately, neither the U.S. nor Israel seems able to gain enough internal or international support to do what would be necessary to move this branch of the larger conflict out of the way.

4 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:41 PM EST


The Problem With Choices

As part of an email exchange about the importance of U.S. involvement in world affairs, Victor Lams said:

It's undeniable that Saddam is a bad man. But it's also undeniable that Saddam is not the only bad man who happens to also be a head of a state. ... In terms of wickedness, he's got to be at least third or fouth down on the list (there's no one-child policy in Iraq!). That we would seek to remove Saddam, then, and not Jiang Zemin smacks of two things: a) we have a motive to removing Saddam beyond just that he's a bad man who could someday conceivably threaten our country or b) he's easily topple-able and therefore an easy kill to rack up some approval points.

The problem with setting up these choices is that the answer can sometimes fall in between.

Two shifting continua come into play, here. The first is that "badness" is a matter of degree, and international society cannot easily declare, "Everybody on this side of the Badness Degree Line is safe; those on the other side are toast." The second is that judging militaries for war planning isn't a matter of those we can beat and those we can't. I think it's safe to say that, one on one, the U.S. can beat any nation (anyway, patriot that I am, I'm willing to believe this); the question is whether it will take the expenditure of some gas for a single plane or thousands or millions of lives and many years.

Even with China's one-child policy being part of a much larger — and overt — oppressive, even murderous, government, it would be extremely injudicious for the U.S. to begin a war with the last Big Red at this point in time. If China's badness were to expand to the extent of attempting to take over Australia, that would be a different story. Of course, that crosses the line into interstate violence but (cut me some slack!) it serves to illustrate that both the badness (or threat) and the ease of answering it need to be considered.

In the case of Iraq, even leaving alone my belief that Victor underestimates Saddam's threat and badness, the challenge of toppling Saddam's regime is far outweighed by both the elimination of threat and the other benefits (Victor's "a" choice) that would accrue. One such benefit that pundits have stated but that the administration has (rightfully, I'd say) left unsaid is that not only would a toppled and rebuilding Iraq be a good example in the region, but it would also show that we are serious in a way that toppling the Taliban could not exemplify and that we are capable of toppling more-modernized regimes.

Toppling Saddam would change the tilt of the other bad-dude nations' Abaci of International Balances of Power. On the other hand, as he works toward WMDs, the degree of difficulty in removing him goes up.

2 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:26 PM EST


A man working his way toward official conversion...

... mentions, on his new blog, the difficulty of not sinning. My reply:

The idea of sin can be a hang-up. The key, I think, is to remember that God will always welcome you. As much as some would argue that our sin grievously hurts God, I think even more damaging is the harm that it does to us (which, I feel, is part of what pains God — on our behalf).

Come at it from two complaints that I had pre-conversion:

1) People who say, "Well I might as well do what I want because God will forgive me anyway." They know it doesn't work that way, and acting on that basis will only add one more layer — knowing deception — that they will have to repent.
2) That even a monster — Hitler, say — can somehow find forgiveness. Imagine the thrawls of the repentence that he would have to endure were he to admit to himself the magnitude of his sin! Perhaps hell is the eternal experience of that repentence.

The moral: Don't sweat the five sins before breakfast (and often we sin without knowing it until later). If you honestly strive to cease sinning and avoid taking advantage of God's forgiveness, ultimately you will have done as He wishes.

Mother Theresa believed (I'm pretty sure) that, to an extent, we can perform the Sacrament of Reconciliation (i.e., confess our sins) on our own. I agree, and I would add that I don't believe that God wants us to fail to see the gifts of life because we're too busy watching our steps.

1 Comment (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:09 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 8/6/02

"Mine All Mine," by Dan Lipton, is my entry for Songs You Should Know this week.

I took lessons with the same piano teacher as Dan through high school. He was better than me then, and he's even better now.

Check him out!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:33 PM EST


I've been accused...

..., in the course of debate, of looking to particular periodicals, such as National Review, to find out what my opinion is. Knowing me reasonably well, I can categorically deny this accusation. Beyond asserting that I've yet to find a single columnist, let alone a whole publication, with which I always agree, I offer the claim of convenience. It would hardly be efficient, in this busy world, for each of us to churn out lengthy essays on every point that is relevant to a discussion. One way to actually enable ourselves to finish our debates is to cite sources of opinion with which we reasonably agree on pertinent points. Certain periodicals yield more usable material for particular readers than do others.

Two such pieces regarding a raging debate on Iraq are on National Review Online, today, from John O'Sullivan and Benjamin Zycher.

3 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:13 PM EST


Official Religions

A fella named Bill asked me, over at Mark Shea's, what I thought of Israel's having an official religion (i.e., being a Jewish state). My reply is that the official religion, in this case, does not lead to restricted rights for those of other faiths (even unto being members of the government). This is in juxtaposition with the Arab states, in which a non-Muslim government agent would be considered akin to a foreign national being a member of the U.S. Congress.

John Derbyshire makes a good point (as an aside): "I grew up in England, where in spite of (or, depending on who you speak to, because of) there being an established church, there is very little religion; and my family had no religion at all."

An "official" religion, while something we avoid here in the U.S., is not a prima facie matter of oppression of minorities. In modern Western countries, the conflicts with religion-based ethnic minorities, Muslims or Catholics, for instance, are pretty clearly based on issues other than understanding of the Bible.

5 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:28 AM EST


Naw... Avoiding Reasonable Profiling Doesn't Infringing on Others' Civil Rights

Using the wrong word in an airport: $78
Stamp to mail fine: $0.37
Being able to claim that we're doing everything we can to stop hijackings: Priceless

What if this guy had said, "Do you have to rifle through my wallet?"

At least he didn't say, "I'm niggardly with my time."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:04 AM EST


9/11: The Movie

Fox & Friends had on an entertainment writer from the NY Post who proposed some casting choices for 9/11: The Movie:

President Bush = Dana Carvey ("somebody who can fall down")
Dick Cheney = The Invisible Man
Donald Rumsfeld = Clint Eastwood
Mohammed Atta = Adam Sandler ("so we can get rid of him early")
Zacarias Moussoaui = Ben Kingsley
Richard Reid = Brad Pitt
John Walker = Rob Lowe ("they're both pretty boys")
Usama bin Laden = John Turturro
Rudy Giulianni = Woody Harrelson ("somebody who can do the 'comb-over'")

Hey, I know that Fox & Friends is meant to be a light show, but I find the insinuation that "9/11: The Movie" would require a largely comedic cast to be more than a little bothersome. The only picks that seem somewhat thoughtful are Rumsfeld/Eastwood, Moussoaui/Kingsley (though age is a problem), and bin Laden/Turturro.

And what does it say about Ms. Postwriter's perception (I didn't catch her name) that the good guys would be played by comedians or joke picks (except for Rumsfeld) while the bad guys would be played by serious actors and heartthrobs, the ring leader Atta played by the too-endearing Sandler? All in all, a shamefully inappropriate segment, even for Fox & Friends.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:25 AM EST


"Breaking" Clarification

Matthew's version of the five thousand fed miracle, the one used for mass on Sunday, does not say "kept." However, it does say, "breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds." The "breaking" implies a continuous action, especially seen in tandem with the other three versions. There's certainly room for something to have been fudged with the translation (in either direction).

My amazement was mostly that everybody felt the need to leap into abstracts and implications when, at least for me, it would have been sufficient to point out that all of the other gospels use the word kept, and Matthew certainly doesn't contradict that. Of course, I find meaning and significance in the fact that, without Matthew's phrasing, we would not have had reason to dig as deeply for other implications (which I believe to still be valid).

I have no idea how these things work, but I wonder if the choice of the only gospel that even leaves room for the "miracle of sharing" interpretation says anything about the ideology of the chooser.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:17 AM EST


Career Milestone #31

Mike Hardy refers to yours truly as a "gadfly." Thanks, Mike!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:04 AM EST


Monday, August 5, 2002

And the Debate Goes On (Part V?)

After I ceded in the loaves & fish debate, somebody named Robin Rau took up another angle at Mark's blog, limiting miracles to inexplicable suspensions of natural law. Here's my response (actually two responses):

I don't know if I believe that God created a set of Rules of Reality that He chooses to suspend for special purposes. God created reality, but in a sense, His will IS natural law. Therefore, He cannot break it; He can only contradict our established perception of it. (The phrasing sounds like a limitation, but it is actually a lack of limitation.)

On this basis, I take a "miracle" to be God's "intervention" or "action" in human life. The miracle of the hopeless charity is that it is given hope and fulfilled, not that money atoms appear in a safe or the Vanderiches choose to donate money. (If God can make a pharoah stubborn, surely he can make a rich man generous.)

Quothe Robin:

If you define "miracle" broadly so as to include every action of God's grace (which in a sense is miraculous -- the transcendant breaking into the immanent), then we are of one accord. However, you surely do not mean to suggest that ONLY God can make a rich man generous -- which was precisely my point about the merely human virtues of good leadership, example, etc.

On the other hand, I think you want to be careful about dismissing the idea that God has indeed created an ordered (i.e., "lawed") empirical universe, which man can study and "rely"on in his reason and with his senses. This is after all, one way that God allowed (allows) pagans to approach Him -- through their study of nature. God's physical miracles we call "suspensions" of those Laws (e.g. gravity, thermodynamics, etc.) precisely because we see things that, by nature, just "can't be" (like levitation, bi-location, bleeding Hosts, etc.). To deny the settled and rational Order of God's material creation is to open the door to a "trickster God" and/or a rejection of all reason (one of the attributes in which we "image" God.)

Of course, if ONLY God could engender generosity, there would be no such thing as free will. (Not to blatantly self-promote... ok, why not... I addressed this to an extent in a column about angels.) However, (and I don't want to get into a long abstract discussion about time from God's perspective... really I don't) it seems fair to say that God is always asking us to find generosity within ourselves and giving us reasons to see it if we are willing.

As for suspending natural law... taking natural law as at least eternally aligned with God's will, we can conclude that God's will is consistent, as is natural law. But miracles cannot "not be" by nature for the reason that they happen. They can only "not be" within our concept of reality... the cannot-be-ness is a limit of our understanding of reality and, at the far end, of our capacity to comprehend (for example, comprehending infinity).

Suppose, to use the bread example, a scientist managed to capture the spontaneous appearance of bread in a testable way. She might be able to determine whether the atoms just appeared or the surrounding air molecules transformed. But this is all "how."

If the bread appears for the purpose of feeding a starving crowd, then we can make guesses as to the "why." But we can make this guess even if we know nothing about molecules.

The choice is always there to see a miracle or to see "something that I just can't explain YET." Therefore, in a practical sense, it makes little difference how inexplicable (contrary to "natural law" as we understand it) a miracle is.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:22 PM EST


And Loaves & Fish, Part IV: The Revelation


Let in not be said that I won't admit when I find I've been (partially) wrong.

Somebody named Theresa pointed this out to me in the comments box to my first entry on this topic (thanks, Theresa!), and I've gone back and looked at all of the gospels in several translations, and they all say something akin to "Jesus kept breaking the bread and giving it to his disciples to hand out to the people."

There it is: every time the disciples returned to Jesus he handed them more bread.

I'm flabbergasted that I didn't see this all day long. I'm further astonished that it seems to be a pretty common oversight... even among the "anti-naturalists."

I guess our mutual, extended, and quite shocking oversight can be taken as a sign that we must (as William Reiser wrote in "Drawn to the Divine") reveal ourselves to God rather than wait for Him to reveal Himself to us. It was there in the text all along. But I think missing it can yield the explanation of the Bread of Life speach that I described before.

So next year, if your homilist gives you the "miracle of sharing" spiel, you can leap up and tell him he's wrong in every way. All in all, a discussion well spent, I'd say.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:13 PM EST


Loaves & Fish, Part III

Of the accounts of this miracle, John is certainly the least ambiguous of the writers ("He Himself knew what He was intending to do."). Ironically, perhaps, John's the only one to offer the after-scene (Bread of Life), which I think supports what I've said. (Aside: For some reason, I recall that John was the only gospel writer who was actually there. Is this incorrect?)

After the walking on water miracle (which the crowd did not see), the crowd finds Jesus again, and He does not say "did you follow me because I gave you bread?" (which is what somebody at Mark Shea's claimed, the "I gave" being the operative phrase in his view). Jesus says, "you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled." (John 6:34). Not because they saw bread appear from nowhere, but because where Jesus is, they will find sustenance.

Then the crowd asks how they can perform miracles themselves (e.g., feed crowds). Jesus tells them that the real miracle, "the work of God[, which they have performed, is] that you believe in Him whom He has sent." (40)

The crowd asks for another visible miracle, and Jesus refers to manna and explains that God gives them "the true bread out of heaven": Jesus Himself.

Again, the particulars of how Jesus fed the crowd are almost moot. And it's almost as if He's speaking directly to us today through the Gospels: we want to see the magical bread, but this is not the miracle.

But I see this miracle as crucial toward transforming the literalist Old Testament (slaughtering fatted calves) to a more intricate understanding of our relationship with God, and a clearer explanation of how God works in our lives. Jesus is the sacrifice; he himself is the Eucharist. But we must choose to see his miracles, to have faith, no matter how comprehensible a particular event.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:09 PM EST


The Miracle of the Loaves and Fish, Part II

Over in the comment box of a post at Amy Welborn's blog that addresses this, apparently common, debate about the feeding of five thousand, entry #27 is from another recent convert (Gene), who says:

When the Apostles thought the situation was hopeless and wanted to send the people away, Jesus tells them to go feed the people. Jesus works those kind of miracles today, too, if the Church (the priests and the people) will just do what Jesus tells us. No matter how hopeless the situation seems, with church scandal and all, God will provide if we simply follow Jesus' teachings.

That got me thinking.

Surely, Rod Dreher, who complained of a sermon explaining that the actual miracle was the sharing that Jesus inspired, is correct in his anger to the extent that priests really are "explaining away" a miracle or saying that we, humans, are the miracle workers. Even taking the "naturalist" explanation (that the crowd had bread that they weren't planning to share), the "sharing" and the impetus to do so isn't the miracle, it's only a part of the process.

To this extent, many of the comments that I've read today have been wrong in the opposite direction. Arsebishop, in the #2 comment of a subsequent post on this issue at Amy's site said:

Those who say that the loaves and fishes were "multiplied" because some of the loaves and fishes were "hidden" don't have any evidence to back up their assertion.

But none of the gospels say that the loaves "multiplied."

Similarly, it is a mistake for so many people to make the common suggestion that if you're going to believe the explanation of the loaves miracle, you might as well use the same logic for the resurrection. They are quite different factually and scripturally (the latter meaning the way in which they are described in the Bible).

Jesus just said, "Give them something to eat." And they all ate. Similarly, consider an unlikely fundraiser (our parish expected diminished Catholic Charities Appeal collections based on the scandals — particularly this close to Boston — but we beat last year's amount by quite a bit, I believe): whether money multiplies within the collection box or some rich family donates a huge amount, the miracle is still wrought.

It would be an interesting contemplation to follow how that money found its way to the charity, but — just like today's debate about specifics — that explanation is next to moot. Jesus says, "Do. Have faith. It will happen." And it does.

Of course, I'd love to be the one to open the safe that nobody has gone near all night and find the collections have tripled, but "Blessed are they who have not seen and believe."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:06 PM EST


Maybe context will cool some of that hot water

I should note that the context of the discussion mentioned in the previous post was that increasing property taxes are driving seniors out of my town and making all citizens angry. Grassroots activists are calling for the local government to limit its spending increase to 3.5% (or so). Government officials' response is to argue that they'll have to take from the school. Not from unknown or unpopular programs — not even from the superintendent's $180,000 annual salary, but from usable, visible aspects of its most popular function. Just like Amtrak threatening to shut down popular routes first, even the local government has its bait & switch games.

But this is true even within the education industry. It seems that, in arguments about salaries, teachers at lower pay scales (like my wife's) are held up as representative. "How can teachers be expected to live on this?" We'll manage for the few years it takes to ratchet up, thanks for the concern. Now, how much does the principal make, again?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:27 PM EST


Nevermind my opinions on Iraq and religion... now I'm really asking for it

Yesterday a subject near to my heart came up in conversation: teacher salaries.

This may represent a challenge to popular dogma, but I believe that teachers have a pretty good deal, particularly in the public schools. Their salaries aren't ridiculously low compared with most people in other professions, the benefits and retirement are great, and having a third of the year off is a perk that only Congress can sneeze at. Nonetheless, I would not be averse to a society in which teachers, with the importance of their work and its difficulty when done right, earned as much as doctors (and not just because I'm married to a teacher).

But the system as it is represents somewhat of a trap. The unmeritocratic pay scale (years=money, that's it), the existence of tenure, the powerful unions, the lack of major barriers to entry (e.g., 8 years of med school followed by 36-hour doctor-in-training days and the burden that a mistake could kill somebody), and the ease of the job when done poorly all mean that more money does not necessarily represent more money where it is needed and deserved. In fact, I'd suggest that injecting more money into the field can only exacerbate the problems that exist.

In other words, some major restructuring needs to be done. (Of course, it must be admitted that many of the problems probably resulted from growing pains -- the "industry's" importance, complexity, and breadth have increased exponentially in recent decades.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:22 PM EST


For the "How'd They Do That?" Miracle File

In today's Gospel reading in Church, something struck me as strange in the telling of the story of the five loaves of bread and two fish feeding 5,000-plus people. This particular point has bugged me since long before I was Catholic, and it may be no more than my increased facility at writing, editing, and observing people that enabled me to finally put my finger on it.

Where's the description of the miracle itself? None of the four Gospels gives any indication of what actually happened (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Did the bread grow in the disciples' hands? Was there a basket that never reached bottom? If so, the point (or action) at which God bent the human understanding of reality would seem likely to have been noticed and related.

Contemplation brought me around to wondering whether it's possible that the miracle of the five thousand fed was accomplished by God's working through the people in the crowd. Maybe some who had recently eaten ate less. Perhaps, seeing the disciples (or a boy, by John's telling) give up their supplies, some people in the crowd slipped off to a proximate village and returned with more to add to the circulating provisions... so much so that 12 baskets were filled with the remainder.

Then it occurred to me that some might consider such contemplation blasphemous. But God had to cause the miracle somehow. If we get to the point of explaining how very rare weather patterns can create manna (though I won't hold my breath), would it have been less of a miracle in the Old Testament?

I guess the bottom-line question is whether we would count such occurrences as miracles today. I certainly do, and I'm always open to hearing of such miracles.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:09 AM EST


Sunday, August 4, 2002

Waiting 'n' Seeing Ourselves to Defeat

Earlier today on Fox News, an ex-official of some kind (I think he might have had something to do with weapons inspecting, but it wasn't the famous John Ritter) made two arguments that seemed contradictory to me at first:

1. Saddam is not anywhere near being a WMD threat.
2. If we attack Iraq, we might provoke a WMD attack.

On reflection, these points are logically consistent — Saddam hasn't yet got any weapons that would be worth starting a war to use, but we don't want him to use what little he has now.

Still, to argue against regime change on this basis presumes quite a bit: that Saddam is content with what he has now or has no intention of using or leveraging more-powerful weapons once his quest for them is fulfilled. Even picking a point in time between the doomsayers' unrealistic WMD estimates and the naysayers' quasi-religious reassurances, without this presumption, the ex-official's argument is a good one for regime change, especially with ex-Iraqi nuclear scientist Khidhir Hamza promoting that course of action on the other half of the television screen.

The equation is entirely in Saddam's favor — the further along his WMD project gets, the less we'll want to take measures to stop him.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:29 PM EST


Blogging: So Why Yet Another Late Entry to Yet Another Crowded Field?

Welcome to Timshel Arts' newest feature: a Web log (aka, a blog), or "perpetual punditry." As the subject of this post admits, the Blog Universe is an ever-more-crowded place. Why should I expect to attract attention among so many? Why would I take up one more project with so many doing the same exact thing?

Well, let me use my first post to offer my reasoning:

1) I've been spending an increasing amount of time emailing and debating on other people's blogs (see Mark Shea), so I thought I'd get some additional value out of that work and time by finding a way to utilize the resultant writing on my own Web site.

2) I've been increasingly frustrated that so many things are said in the world without the benefit of my response. From cute quips to serious rebuttals, I just needed a forum (other than my wife) to vent frustration at the missed opportunities of professional pundits or share interesting articles, ideas, images, etc.

3) Many of the people who come to my Web site probably aren't so Web savvy as to have delved deeply into the Blog Universe, so it isn't a crowded field to them. And blogging is, at least it has been for me as a Web site visitor, a very "sticky" application, as they say in "the biz," that can bring folks back again and again with the promise of ever-new material.

4) It'll be fun!

So there it is. The beginning.

For more of my thoughts and beliefs about blogging (yes, as with many new-tech terms, it's a verb as well), see my Just Thinking column for August 5, 2002.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:36 PM EST


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