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Sunday, August 31, 2003

Specialized Atheism

I'm currently reading The Physics of Immortality by Frank Tipler, which describes the Omega Point theory, or physics' definition of God. I'm not far enough along to offer substantive commentary, but I just flipped through to the end-notes, and found a comment that I had to address.

In attempting to show that belief in God will dissipate as society becomes technologically further advanced unless science is able to "discover" God, Tipler offers the following:

... a 1981 Gallup poll of leading American scientists (defined as scientists listed in Marquis' Who's Who in America) showed that to the question "Do you believe in life after death, or not?" 68% answered "no," 16% answered "no opinion," and only 16% answered "yes." Furthermore, a 1981 Gallup poll of American doctors and medical scientists (defined as persons in the field of medicine listed in Marquis' Who's Who in America) showed that to the question "Do you believe in life after death, or not?" 60% answered "no," 8% answered "no opinion," and only 32% answered "yes" (Gallup 1982, pp.207–12). Thus, even in America, the better educated a person is in the sciences, the more likely it is that the person will disbelieve in life after death.

Unfortunately, as Tipler admits, none of the surveys from which he is working made any attempt to ascertain when belief in God and life after death evaporated, if it was ever held. (Note that we have only the statistics for "life after death," which as figures below illustrate tends to receive a significantly lower percentage of "yes" responses than belief in God.) It might also be instructive to compare responses of the general public correlated to level of scientific education (Tipler shows that "education" broadly defined does not appear correlated to belief in God). As it is, there's no basis to declare a trend, considering that our two points are "general public" and "leading scientists."

Regardless, the factor that Tipler doesn't seem inclined to address is that scientists and doctors have pursued careers that require a specialized way of thinking. They have learned to focus on only that which they can see (or formulate in a provable equation). In other words, their education has trained them to investigate the material world and to disregard that which cannot yield repeatable results. This is entirely speculation, but I can't help but feel that doctors' closer work with individuals and occupational value for life help to explain why they are twice as likely to believe in life after death. And the fact that the scientists are (were) only as likely to have "no opinion" as to say "yes" suggests to me that there is an institutional atheism perpetuated through peer-group conceit rooted in that specialized focus. (If it were level of education and scientific understanding that shifted opinions from "yes" to "no," I would expect the doubters to number somewhere between the two, particularly among a supposedly "objective" group.)

Of further interest is a related sequence of thought within the same end-note. Tipler offers tables for international responses (in 1981) to the questions "Do you believe in the existence of God or a universal spirit?" and "Do you believe there is a life after death?" As shown in the following figures, which I've whipped up, the nations listed range from 95% (U.S.A.) to 52% (Sweden), for belief in God, and 76% (Irish Republic) to 26% (Denmark), for life after death. From this information, Tipler concludes, "Thus we see that disbelief is positively correlated with high standards of living—with the level of technological advancement—among the First World nations." Unfortunately (again), Tipler doesn't show where he gets his standard of living data from, nor does he address the question of whether it is moral turpitude bred by complacency that leads to the dwindling numbers of believers.

But again, the distribution of the non-yes answers implies, in my mind, a cultural bias rather than technological comprehension (remembering that Europe drank much more deeply from the pool of socialism than did the United States). The trend of disbelief is exactly the opposite of the trend of belief. In other words, for both questions, the "yes" category slopes down while the "no" category slopes up. This is predictable; however, in both cases, the "don't know" category is erratic. Again, this is only speculation, but if the diminishing belief were a result of increasing knowledge, I would expect the "don't knows" to be somewhere between the confident answers. As the numbers stand, this is only the case for two countries (U.S.A. and Northern Ireland), and only for the first question (existence of God).

Putting the two chunks of data together, Tipler states, "it is a strong exposure to science that corrodes belief in God, and the results of the European poll could indicate that the average European has more exposure than the average American." Let's just say that I'm skeptical that the general populations of France and Denmark are exposed to science nearly as much as leading American doctors are.

To address what I consider to be the most obvious objection to the above, I thought I'd explain, a little, why I would expect the "don't knows" to be between the confident answers if it were a trend of knowledge. Tipler is emphasizing, here, the movement of science supplanting religion. My point is simply that, if increasing knowledge were replacing religious tradition and emotional desire, it seems reasonable that people would be inclined to resist the change or to be torn between the two. Disbelief is, after all, still a matter of "belief."

Unless there is some specific level of scientific study at which the light of faith predictably goes off, it would seem that something else is at work, here, to make "yes" go so quickly to "no" than a working knowledge of the universe. Indeed, Tipler introduces both the European and "leading scientist" data in an attempt to undermine strong evidence that there was not, in fact, a significant decrease in Americans' faith from 1944 to 1988, a period of tremendous technological advancement as well as increases in average amount of education.

The deciding factor does not appear to have much to do with improved ability to consider all aspects of the debate. Therefore, it is not as crucial as Tipler makes it out to be that scientists save religion by discovering God. For starters, they could get over themselves and admit the limits of their studies and of the frame of mind that they require. The problem can be addressed from the other side, as well, among the theologians, who could do a better job of using their religious understanding to address and filter the advances of science.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:19 PM EST


Changing the Tune with Passion

Craig, of Lead and Gold, notes an apparently variable rule:

Hollywood can make movies which mock and twist the central Christian story. Yet believers were urged to see "The Last Temptation of Christ" before they criticized it. Those who wanted the film to be changed or boycotted were decried as censors.

All that free speech, robust dialogue stuff goes right out the window when we get to Mel Gibson and "The Passion."

I'm quite a bit too busy at the moment (and probably will be for another decade or so), but I intend, one day, to spend some time pondering the dynamic whereby people speak B.S. to the rest of society and both the people and society know it to be B.S., but all act as if it weren't. In the case of Hollywood, I'm of the opinion that it is starting to stink a bit too much for the charade to go on.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:01 PM EST


Saturday, August 30, 2003

Forgiveness and Religion

Donald Sensing tells contrasting stories that point to religious differences in the concept of when forgiveness is appropriate. Well worth a few minutes of your time, and the lesson is well worth remembering:

The commandment of Christ to love one's enemies and pray for them is not an order to feel affection for them in one's heart. It is a command to treat them in a way that is intended to lead them into righteousness before God. This is not a matter of moonlit nights and violin music. It is almost always unpleasant to do, and difficult.

A mitigating argument covering the inter-religious aspects of Sensing's post is worth reading, as well.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:56 PM EST


Empathy for the Selfish

Kathryn Jean Lopez is much more compassionate than am I:

One of the callers was an angry, suffering woman who was an unwed teen mother pre-Roe v. Wade, forced by her family to put the child up for adoption. She hates knowing that her baby is alive, having much rather aborted her child than let the child live, part of someone elseís family. This is nothing new, of course, in a day when wrongful-birth suits are nothing unfamiliar, and one feels for a woman so obviously in pain, but you certainly do have to pray that that adoption remains closed so that her child never has to hear that from his/her birth mother.

"One feels for a woman so obviously in pain"? We should surely pray for her to find the maturity of thought that will ease her suffering, but I can't get over her sickening selfishness. In essence, this woman would prefer that her child be dead rather than happy with another family. Well, perhaps she can take comfort in the possibility that her child's home turned out to be miserable and that he or she regrets ever having been born, but I don't think that the mother, now a woman at least in her forties, ought to be coddled.

Kathryn hopes that this specific child (now in his or her thirties) never has to hear from this specific mother. For my part, I hope that all people who were adopted and do not know their birth parents can remember that, even if their mothers hold this deplorable attitude, it has no effect on their own value as human beings.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:51 AM EST


False Assertions Worthy of Response (?)

I'm debating whether to write to the Providence Journal in response to a letter that the paper ran today by Roger Beaudreault:

Dr. MacAndrew says, "Kennedy is a badly educated Catholic from a badly educated family." Perhaps Dr. MacAndrew is unaware that church scholars have known for some time that a rite for blessing same-sex unions once existed in the early Christian church. It had disappeared by the early Middle Ages. As the church consolidated its political power and amassed great wealth, the pope introduced policies that sadly encouraged our modern-day homophobia.

Unfortunately, Mr. Beaudreault doesn't tell us who the "church scholars" to whom he refers might be. Having come across this assertion before (from Andrew Sullivan, I believe), I suspect that the late Yale history professor John Boswell's findings are involved in the analysis somewhere. Boswell's research is merely a representative of the modern academic way of thinking that forces its perspective into any historical or literary niche that can be misinterpreted to allow it. Another example would be academics who pivot on class to make history fit a simplistic racial model (e.g., whereby the Irish were once "black"). In Boswell's case, it is a matter of "reading" homosexuality into all close same gender relationships... ever. The practice doesn't turn out to be but so difficult, as Anton Marco shows, considering that such research removes inconvenient subtext and sublimates all specific considerations to the fact of a close relationship between men (or women). If anything, Boswell illustrates that homosexuality is sexualizing, and thus destroying, the ancient idea of friendship.

Seeking to give them the most feasible credit for accuracy, Boswell and Beaudreault can claim at best that some representatives of the Church might have unduly conformed to the ethos of particularly decadent eras (and localities). If turning away from those practices represented, in Beaudreault's words, "damage done to 'good' gay Catholics," then anybody inclined to claim that the Church has done damage to "good Catholic anti-Semites" would seem to have logically similar grounds for complaint.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:32 AM EST


And So Ends Friday

I apologize for my lack of posts today. We had a picnic at a pond that proved to be farther away than I had expected (taking three wrong turns didn't help). Then I had to do the work that actually pays the bills. And now, I've just accidentally closed the browser window in which I had collected the few Web pages on which I'd intended to comment.

Other than that, it was a bizarre and exhausting day. On the bizarre front, on my way home, bringing home the dinner that I'd just picked up, I saw an elderly blind (or effectively blind) guy staggering along a very busy — high-speed busy, with multiple exit ramps from a highway — road using a cane. I circled around and drove him to the little restaurant to which he was headed, helping him to avoid crossing the intersection of two high-speed busy roads. The funny thing was that, when I got home, my wife and daughter were watching the children's show Arthur, and it was about a blind "girl" (actually some kind of humanoid animal).

The "exhausting" comes from my 19-month-old daughter. She just will not stop! And she's quite a bit too daring for my tastes.

As for my double-life as an unknown volunteer pundit, I'll try to do better over the weekend. For one thing, I intend to actually write a new essay for my Monday column.

Good night, all.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:03 AM EST


Friday, August 29, 2003

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "The Reluctant Preacher," by Andrew McNabb.

Andrew could very well be the best writer whom I know personally. And his Catholicism permeates his work, but not in such a way as to diminish its audience.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:55 PM EST


Thursday, August 28, 2003

What Laws and Rulings Mean

I didn't mean for this Ten Commandments controversy to become my issue of the week, but the more arguments that I come across — particularly because many of them come from conservatives — the more I'm convinced that certain components of "common knowledge" are just plain wrong.

As a disclaimer, I want to mention that I am not really addressing Judge Moore's intransigence. I don't know enough about him to judge, but based on the little that I do know in relation to current events, I'd say that he would behave somewhat differently were his stance even equal parts principle and publicity-seeking. I also want to state for the record that I think approaching the Ten Commandments monument and its removal with more zeal than is appropriate for a representation is inappropriate. What I mean by this is that this specific monument ought not be seen as the crux of the battle, but merely as a symbol of religious expression based on which Christians (and other religious folks) can fight the ever-increasing infringement of the courts into our religious freedom.

What's introduced something new for me is that, today, Rush Limbaugh quoted the following from a column by Gregg Easterbrook:

Moore further said that the First Amendment precept, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion," does not apply to him because "I am not Congress." Drag this incompetent lunatic out of the court quickly, please. Anyone with entry-level knowledge of Constitutional law knows that the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, was intended to extend the Bill of Rights to state governments; that a 1937 Supreme Court decision specifically declared that the First Amendment binds state officials like Judge Moore.

Of course, included in this is evidence that Moore is perhaps not the best person to be taking up his side of the argument, or else Easterbrook has been selective in his quoting. Ignoring that aspect, however, I find those facts that "anyone with entry-level knowledge of Constitutional law" knows to be questionable at best. The relevant clauses of the 14th Amendment are:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of the law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In a limited sense, this extends the Bill of Rights to the states, but even so, in the case at hand, Easterbrook's assertion presumes that the monument somehow abridges, deprives, or denies something to a citizen of Alabama. I don't see that as the case. If anything, the federal government is abridging the right of the people of Alabama to place religious monuments on state-owned land. Furthermore, the Alan Keyes piece that I mentioned yesterday argues that Moore's complying with the federal court order to remove the monument would have essentially violated his obligation, derived from this very amendment, not to "enforce any law" that restricts the religious freedom of Alabamans.

As for the 1937 Supreme Court decision that Easterbrook suggests "binds" Judge Moore, I presume he means De Jonge v. Oregon. Not surprisingly, that court case deals with a different clause of the First Amendment: freedom of speech and assembly. Nonetheless, the following aspect of the decision applies more broadly:

The First Amendment of the Federal Constitution expressly guarantees that right against abridgment by Congress. But explicit mention there does not argue exclusion elsewhere. For the right is one that cannot be denied without violating those fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all civil and political institutions, -- principles which the Fourteenth Amendment embodies in the general terms of its due process clause.

In other words, the fact that the language of the amendment is "Congress shall" does not automatically mean that a law somewhere else that says "Judge Moore shall" is invalid. However, this case involved a wrongly denied right to free assembly — "wrongly" because there was no due process, which is the specific clause of the 14th amendment that this ruling cites as the "elsewhere." The judiciary of Alabama did not "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property" by the placement of the monument, so there is no process that is due. Indeed, De Jonge v. Oregon leaves open the possibility of a legislature answering the "due process" requirement by enacting laws, and the Alabama legislature amended its constitution (#622) in 1901 to include the statement, "Federal and state laws 'neutral' toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise."

Now, if only I could get one of these professional pundits to argue the point with me! (Rush would be good enough.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:41 PM EST


Lowry Bangs the Gong

Rich Lowry today offers a too-true "ouch" assessment:

Out on the Democratic hustings, it's as if Sept. 11 never happened. Of course, no organization contributed so much to the lax law enforcement that made possible the murder of 3,000 Americans that day than the ACLU. Mohammed Atta and Co. should have remembered it in their prayers as they screamed toward their targets. If the ACLU gets its way on the Patriot Act, some future successful terrorists will want to remember it in their prayers as well.

As Lowry explores, the USA Patriot Act is another topic about which folks in certain quarters refuse to accept arguments that contradict their conclusions.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:09 PM EST


Writing (and Thinking) for the Public 101

Ann Coulter's columns (at least the occasional ones that I come across) have begun to read as if she keeps a diary of one-line zingers and worthwhile points that she strings together to form an essay. A column from yesterday is typical; it makes some good points, but good points that could be better massaged into a train of thought. The following was one paragraph, however, that hit the mark for me today:

Liberals simply refuse to consider thoughts that would interfere with their lemming-like groupthink. They hold their hands over their ears like little children who don't want to listen to mother.

The target into which this arrow pricked was a letter to the editor of the Providence Journal by Louise Knight, of Chepachet, Rhode Island:

We elect candidates. We have a democratic system of voting our candidates into office. If we don't like the job they are doing, we vote them out in the next election.

California Gov. Gray Davis was elected twice, so the people must have wanted him. The right wing tried to impeach President Clinton, and in Texas Tom Delay is playing funny games with redistricting so the Republicans will have greater control over the House and Senate. Oh, don't forget the debacle in Florida!

To the great army of the unemployed, the minimum-wage earners and just plain folks: Next election, you be the judge.

Such letters often set me off in search of the op-eds that they summarize, like third-grade book reviews. And it is only recently that I've begun learning to curb my urge to send a letter in response (of course, the blog helps in that regard). I think what has always lured me into taking up the arguments is that they seem such simple points to rebut. Yet, when the person to whom one is responding won't take hands away from ears, even simple points can never be made.

Before I move on, I'll tie up Knight's loose thread: California has a (non-partisan) provision for recalls that has been attempted before (once, I believe, against Ronald Reagan), and it is left to the people to decide whether or not they still want Davis, not to some right-wing inner circle. As a point of fact, Bill Clinton was "impeached," but the Senate acquitted him of the charges; nonetheless, impeachment is a legitimate, albeit difficult, proceeding within our form of government, and Clinton lied under oath and showed tremendous disrespect for his office; moreover, there is a movement afoot among the Democrats to impeach President Bush, proving that the proceeding and the threat thereof is not a partisan exercise. Tom Delay is a U.S. Congressman, which is not an office within the Texas state government, and redistricting is a standard procedure used (and abused) by both parties when they have the opportunity, in some cases breaking out districts for no other reason than that it will ensure the reelection of incumbents. As for Florida, it was Gore and the Texas Supreme Court that sought to change the rules while the game was in progress.

As straightforward as I believe these points to be, I imagine that Ms. Knight's litany paints too much the picture that she wants to see for her to allow the colors to be blurred. The Democrats — those of large soft money donations from rich supporters — are for the people, the Republicans against; end of story. Any evidence to the contrary must be lies, spin, or irrelevancies. Leaving open those three slots enables one never to delve into the complex decision-making required to foster a healthy society, regardless of the topic.

A similar tactic is at work in the latest Providence Journal op-ed to stump for gay marriage, this one by Providence Unitarian Reverend Richelle C. Russell:

One group of people who live, work and love right alongside another group of people is completely left out when it comes to marriage.

I am interested in marriage for any number of reasons. As a career minister I have performed more weddings than I can count. As a Unitarian-Universalist minister, I am also able to bless same-sex unions. I have performed a good number of these, too. I will never forget the private ceremony that I performed blessing the union of two fine young men surrounded by their immediate families, all devout, high-ranking Mormons quietly living out their family values.

At all the holy unions I've performed, there has never been a dry eye in the house. All attending were acutely aware of the courage and commitment necessary for the same-sex couple to stand before their community to be blessed in a house of worship.

Russell herewith transforms the definition of marriage to his desire without so much as a thought to his having done so, much less to the social ramifications of such a shift. Parents cry when their sons "commit" to other parents' sons, so all must be joyfully fulfilled; end of story. What happens thereafter is irrelevant. Whether the Rev. Russell's point of view obscures the actual attitude toward marriage among homosexuals is moot. Those who refuse to act on the end conclusion of all of Russell's preconceptions and erroneous assessments must be bigots, because there can be no questioning of his suppositions. They are settled.

One lesson in writing that I recall specifically being taught was to purposefully anticipate and address objections. This practice underlies the maxim that clear expression results from and leads to clear thought. If an idea doesn't jibe with a neat little essay or worldview, one should not discard or ignore it, but make a point of incorporating it. And writers who won't thus challenge themselves are most unlikely to accept the challenge from others.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:06 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:49 AM EST


Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Adams Forgot his Franklin

Glenn Reynolds has added further updates to the post that I spent some time addressing yesterday. In an apparent effort to be fair and balanced, he links Clayton Cramer, who also takes up atheists' favorite Founder one-liners.

Let me re-quote John Adams:

It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

Well, although Cramer doesn't make the connection, he does quote this from Ben Franklin during a federal convention in 1781:

In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity.

In addition to linking to Cramer, Reynolds makes a point that would seem to bear on the question of whether, in rejecting the dictates of the federal government (as represented by the courts), Judge Moore was being true to his duties as a leader in his own state. Reynolds cites the following bit of Alabama Constitution and suggests that Moore broke with it:

That no religion shall be established by law; that no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship; that no one shall be compelled by law to attend any place of worship; nor to pay any tithes, taxes, or other rate for building or repairing any place of worship, or for maintaining any minister or ministry; that no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state; and that the civil rights, privileges, and capacities of any citizen shall not be in any manner affected by his religious principles.

Forgive what may seem deliberate obtuseness to the secularist-government crowd, but I don't see how this applies. The only clauses that even come close are the first two, and I don't think they quite make it. The question to which I find myself continually returning is this: How easy is it to "establish" a religion? From the simple language, one would think that it would require an act of a government declaring (probably through legislation), "The Evangelical Church is hereafter the official Church of the State of Alabama," probably with some explanation of what the practical implications of such status would be. But, boy, to listen to the secularists talk, one cannot help but be glad that establishment clauses exist at all: without them, a judge erecting a monument of the Commandments would seem to legitimate the local preacher's slipping behind the mayor's desk!

Similarly, I don't see how a monument of the Ten Commandments indicates that "preference" is "given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship." Primarily, a monument does not a law make. If judges and law enforcement officers are able to act without preference in the execution of their duties, particularly as described in the remaining clauses of the above quoted paragraph, then the monument has had zero effect, much less, indeed, than can be construed about use of the Bible for swearing in. To be sure, there was a period in Alabama when the judiciary felt it appropriate to hang the Ten Commandments within the courtroom itself, until the ACLU made it a federal issue.

At bottom, it ought not be a crime for a person or group of people acting within the public sphere to acknowledge their — and their government's — heritage. That such an intent should be newly discovered within decades- or centuries-old documents indicates that a dogma of another sort is at play here. It's one that I'd say is related to Alabama's 622nd Amendment, which acknowledges that "Federal and state laws 'neutral' toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise." 622 also mentions that the Supreme Court had stricken a similar law passed by the U.S. Congress, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, on the grounds that "the right to regulate was retained by the states." It would seem that the judicial oligarchy has changed its mind significantly since 1997: the right to regulate is now apparently held by the federal judiciary.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:41 PM EST


Going to Hell over the Ten Commandments

I'm in a close place about one aspect of the Ten Commandments controversy.

It took me a moment, after thinking to write that sentence, to remember where the wording came from, and once I remembered, I realized that the relevance to the topic at hand is much more than linguistic. It's from the pivotal moment of Huck Finn:

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll go to hell" — and tore it up.

All his life, Huck has been taught that slaves are property. Therefore, helping a slave to escape would be akin to theft, a sin. He can obey the law as he understands it, which he believes to have God's approval, or he can reject the law and offend God. Of course, the reader is supposed to realize that the laws permitting slavery, being immoral, are not in line with God's will, and that there is a higher moral law that he would be obeying by helping Jim to escape.

The reason I'm in a close place is that I agree with Rush Limbaugh that it sets a dangerous precedent for Judge Moore to disobey a higher court on the basis that he is following God's law. No, says Rush, take down the monument and take up the fight to work within the system for the same effect. This could include appealing to higher authorities within the government, whether higher courts or Congress, to rein in courts that have stepped beyond their boundaries. It could also include perpetuating the ideals denoted by the Ten Commandments apart from Roy's Rock.

On the other hand, I see more than a little merit in what Alan Keyes suggests after showing that it is clearly the intention of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that matters of public religion be left to the states:

Now, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as it applies the Bill of Rights to the states, lays an obligation upon state legislatures, officers and officials to refrain from actions that deprive the people of their rights. With respect to the First Amendment, therefore, it becomes their positive obligation to resist federal encroachments that take away the right of the people to decide how their state governments deal with matters of religion. This obviously has a direct bearing on the case of Chief Justice Roy Moore in his confrontation with the abusive order of Judge Myron Thompson.

His refusal of the order is not only consistent with his duty to the Alabama Constitution, it is his duty under the Constitution of the United States. Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, the eight associate justices of the Alabama Supreme Court, and indeed any other state officials in Alabama who submit to the judge's order are, by contrast, in violation of the federal Constitution, as well as their duty to the constitution and people of Alabama.

In this view, Judge Moore, as a public official of the state of Alabama, has a moral and legal obligation to assert the rights of his state even in opposition to a federal court, not based on God's law, but based on Constitutional law. That it is a federal court that is usurping the state's authority only goes to show the difficulty that a state would have in working within the system to assert its rights. What if, for example, a federal court insisted that the state of Alabama incarcerate all conservatives? Or what if a federal court insisted that the state of Alabama release all of its convicted murderers? Shouldn't the public officials of Alabama refuse to comply? It seems obvious that there are scenarios in which, while working toward peaceful resolution of differences, affairs ought to be left in a state of civil disobedience.

In this Ten Commandments scenario, there may indeed have been better ways for Moore to deny the federal government's jurisdiction. For example, it might have made his point stronger and more specific had he refused to submit to a federal court for judgment at all. And compliance is hardly as urgently dangerous as it would be if the judgment had meant roving packs of convicted felons on the streets. Alan Keyes actually suggests that Congress "pass legislation that, in order to assure proper respect for the first clause of the First Amendment, excepts from the appellate jurisdiction of the federal courts those matters which, by the conjoint effect of the First and 10th Amendments, the Constitution reserves to the states respectively and to the people."

Although such legislation strikes me as redundant — like passing a law that requires people to obey the law — I would support it. I am not, however, optimistic at the chances of making the argument to an American citizenry that has, over years of eroded principle, come to see the judiciary's word as gospel. How many Americans are even aware that Congress has the authority to declare that the judiciary has been exceeding its jurisdiction for years and must cease to do so? Perhaps a state leader's direct and visible rejection of the rapidly expanding purview of the federal courts will serve to direct people's attention to the facts that (1) there is a legitimate conflict, and (2) there is already a mechanism to resolve it.

Be the specifics of Moore's case what they might, I can't help but feel that Limbaugh and other conservatives overestimate the possibility of asserting federalism from within the federal government. That just doesn't seem to be how these things work. More likely, federalism will require states to reaffirm the belief that they are, indeed, independent entities participating in the United States. This could begin through a state judge's rejection of a federal court's authority over him on a matter of religious expression, but it will require larger numbers of a given state's government than just one man to declare their intention, if obeying the federal government is a moral obligation, to go to hell.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:26 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 08/26/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Gimple the Fool" by Mozaik.

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:47 AM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:46 AM EST


Just Thinking 08/25/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "To My Audience," a poem that I wrote a few years ago but thought merited further presentation (especially considering how behind I am).

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:08 AM EST


Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Funny Thing on the Way to the Courthouse

Glenn Reynolds links to a parody of sorts mocking the Decalogic goings on in that Alabama courthouse:

Alabama Superior Court Justice Roy Moore addresses his supporters outside the Alabama Judicial Building where a monument of Cthulhu was put in place by Moore which he has refused to take down, August 21, 2003 in Montgomery, Alabama. Alabama's Supreme Court judges, breaking ranks with their chief justice, ruled that a Cthulhu monument must be removed from the state court building to comply with a federal order, drawing protests from insane cultists who want to keep it there.

Reynolds then does the following nice lawyerly sidestep to ignore the underlying truth — that the Judeo-Christian God is inherent in the foundations of our country and its laws — of an email that he received in response:

Hmm. So the real question here isn't whether we have a state religion. Rather it's the claim that we do, or should, have a particular state religion. I'd certainly prefer Christianity or Judaism to the Elder Gods, if that's the choice. But I don't believe that the Constitution requires me -- or even permits me -- to make that choice.

The funny thing, in all of this, is that I wouldn't consider it a federal matter if a state courthouse built a monument to some pagan god or goddess (that chick with the scales derives from elsewhere than Christianity, I believe), particularly if the folks in the community supported it sufficiently to hold seance vigils. I'd shake my head at what those nuts in (most likely) California were up to, but I wouldn't think it an obvious travesty against the United States Constitution. Of course, relating to Reynolds's email correspondent, the parodist's scenario isn't very likely, for the simple reason that Cthulhu doesn't have millions of followers and a featured place in the founding documents — and hearts of the founders — of our nation.

Applying this litmus test of reality to the parody at hand, we also find that Deskmerc (the author) handily skipped over much the same distinction as Reynolds does: the real monument isn't an image of God, but a list of laws that permeated every culture and religion of the West. In contrast, I read through the entire parody without finding indication of what the laws of Cthulhu might be.

This, in my view, points to the underlying danger of the specious argument that government ought to have nothing to do with religion: one must ignore the degree to which our entire history and society is rooted in religion. It must ignore that right up through our nation's founding to the present day, leaders have acknowledged from whence claims of equality and justice come. The only alternative to ignoring it would be to suggest that we've "moved beyond" the need to filter our society through God, which establishes an explicitly religious view in the law at least as much as a Nicene Amendment to the Constitution would. And pushing open that gap in the thread of precedence, secularists make the law the arbiter of morality; if it ain't illegal, it must be moral.

One would think that civil libertarians would see the directly inverse ratio of the influence of religion and the required size of the government and be sympathetic to government acknowledgement of religion — broadly at the federal level, but allowing for more specificity toward the local level. But they don't, and they don't often consider what the outcome might be if government is pulled back at the same time that the reach of other forms of social influence is forcefully restrained. Libertarianism is all about the religion of Me — allowance of individual liberty come Hell, high water, or the wrath of Cthulhu.

I suspect libertarians might object to my suggestion that religion is being "forcefully restrained." They might reply that religion is free to peddle its wares in the "free market of ideas." To this, I would ask that they look inside themselves to discern what their reaction would be if a state courthouse put up advertising for a local company or put up a monument to Reason.

So, Instapundit has gotten fewer emails on this issue than he expected. I can give him a reason that he didn't get one from me: I've come to feel that it isn't an open discussion with Professor Reynolds on such issues, and therefore not worth my time. Perhaps I'll alert him to this post and see what happens.

I thought I'd also address an update that he's added. Instapundit reader Michael Gebert emailed, "I have to wonder which Founding Fathers Ben Gibbons thinks were so determined to see Christianity sewn into the very fabric of our government and society." Of course, the Ten Commandments aren't strictly a Christian thing, being in the Old Testament and all, and it was to the Judeo-Christian God that Gibbons was referring.

This blurring of religious references ties in with the rest of Gebert's email because he shifts a general argument into a very specific sub-argument. Gebert follows the above statement with a bunch of those quotations that it seems atheists are compelled to memorize. Search any one of them in Google, and you'll find that they very often appear with the most limited amount of context necessary to make the anti-Christian point. When they are put into context, their power as trump cards for the rationalist-state argument begins to diminish. Indeed, looking beyond even the immediate context will tend to undermine the intentions of those who raise the quotations in the first place.

John Adams: "It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses."

The first thing to note with this one, which I list first only because Gebert does, is that all of the founders were writing during a time when ideological attacks would have come from a theistic, rather than atheistic, position. In that context, this quote makes a very specific statement: the government cannot claim to be acting on behalf of God. It was formed based purely on "reason and the senses"; perhaps we could rephrase that as "purely based on self-evident Truths," such as that "all Men are created equal [and are] endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." The Adams quotation is only useful, in the modern day, to argue against those who wish to claim that the founders intended explicitly to follow Christian (or any specific religious) doctrine as such and were divinely inspired to do so. The underlying faith is still a constituent part of "reason."

Of course, it's also relevant that Adams was among the strongest proponents of separation of church and state, in fact:

As a member of the Massachusetts constitutional conventions of 1779 and 1820, John Adams strenuously fought to separate the church from the state. Although his efforts failed, the goal was achieved seven years after his death. In a statewide referendum in 1833, Massachusetts voters disestablished the state religion by a 10-1 margin.

Amazingly, this Founding Father failed to bring the state of Massachusetts to the Supreme Court to end the "unconstitutional" establishment of religion. Perhaps he thought states ought to have the right to establish religion (let alone place the Ten Commandments in a courthouse).

But the question of Massachusetts religion relates to another of Gebert's quotations:

Ben Franklin: "When a religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."

This statement was made with reference to "religious tests" in Massachusetts. Note the sentence preceding the above:

If Christian preachers had continued to teach as Christ and his Apostles did, without salaries, and as the Quakers now do, I imagine tests would never have existed; for I think they were invented, not so much to secure religion itself, as the emoluments of it.

To be sure, this is not a condemnation of Christianity, but of the misdirected Christianity of eighteenth century Massachusetts. As a Catholic, and guessing that the established Christianity in question was Protestant, I'm not inclined to disagree. (Note to Protestants: these are old disagreements, and for the modern time being, we'd do best to put them aside, wouldn't you say?) I'm also not inclined disagree with the following, from a different writing of Franklin's to be found immediately below the preceding on the page linked above:

Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the creator of the universe. That he governs by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.

I left it there to end on the "Franklin chuckle," but the next sentence suggests that belief in Christ's divinity might be of value to persuade more people to take the related moral code more seriously. I leave it to you to dig up the argument for Christ's divinity being necessary for belief in his moral brilliance (hint: C.S. Lewis), because the point is that Franklin obviously considered God as a constituent component of reality, nature, and reason. As for the question of a religion "supporting itself," I refer you to my first Addendum.

Thomas Jefferson: "Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law."

Note the brevity! Note also the words "common law." This quotation bears on a specific discussion (scroll down) about the derivation of Saxon "common law." I don't have time to dive into the necessary research, but I do wonder what Jefferson was responding to. The context given in the link is to the seventh Amendment and "Suits at common law," about which I know nothing, but which don't seem related to Christian doctrine. I will agree with Jefferson that anybody wishing to argue that the words "common law" prove a specifically Christian basis for our law has more homework to do. Nonetheless, returning to that broader perspective away from which the secularists continually attempt to pull the conversation, one still has to acknowledge that the specific "common law" in question derived from other systems of law, including Roman, through which Judeo-Christian principles likely seeped.

George Washington: "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."

This one is Reynolds's offering, and it comes from the Treaty with Tripoli (I don't believe that it's specifically Washington's language, but I could be wrong). Not only was this statement made purely as part of a treaty, but it was part of a treaty with a Muslim country. In that sense, not being founded on the Christian religion means having no inclination to use the structures of government to convert other nations. Nonetheless, even with these qualifications, this quotation would contradict those who insist on declaring the United States to be an explicitly Christian country. Yet, it only contradicts that argument.

Again, the Ten Commandments are not strictly Christian, Alabama is not the United States, and we deny the religiously based faith and morality that is — indeed — "sewn into the very fabric of our government and society" at our peril.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:22 PM EST


Blogging on This Day

Well, whataya know — the book that I recently finished typesetting came back into my hands with some final, last minute, absolutely-mean-it-this-time changes. A lot of them.

Plus, I still have to get to my column for this week. And Two Towers arrives in my DVD player this evening.

It might motivate me to keep up a rapid pace if a couple people took the downtime as an opening to go and buy a book or two. Just a thought.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:30 PM EST


Monday, August 25, 2003

A Note for Liberals and Libertarians

I daresay receiving a thoughtful answer to this passage from a John Derbyshire column would ensure a reasonably high level of respect on my part for a liberal or libertarian, regardless of agreement:

There is a war on: People who hate America are working day and night to destroy us. Just a few months ago they murdered 3,000 of us, and brought down two of our noblest buildings. Manufacturing jobs are long gone, and middle-class paper-shuffling jobs are following them fast. Public-sector unions are pillaging our state treasuries to fund their 50-90 programs (retire at 50 on 90 percent of your salary). Meanwhile, trial lawyers are chewing their way like termites through the private sector. We have 13 million illegal immigrants scoffing at our laws and helping themselves to the welfare provisions that citizens have spent their lifetimes funding through taxes. Two million of us are currently in jail, and the one-eighth of our population that is black supplies one-half of those inmates. Our education systems are collapsing under absurd demands that "no child be left behind" — everyone must be above average! — and hundreds of thousands of citizens have fled those systems in disgust to school their kids at home. Our universities are in the hands of nihilist ideologues who hate their own nation, culture and ancestors. The political system has seized up, impossible-to-cut spending programs crashing head on into impossible-to-raise tax rates. Drop a cigarette butt into some power generator in Cleveland and you can shut down the northeastern U.S.A. for a day. A North Korean nuke has been smuggled across the Mexican border and hidden in a filing cabinet on the 102nd floor of the Sears Tower. (I made that up, but if it hasn't actually happened yet, it won't be long.)

And action to deal with all these problems is massively hindered by the fact that we can't even talk about them in public for fear of being branded with one of the half-dozen modern equivalents of the scarlet letter — "racist," "nativist," "elitist," "profiler," and the rest of the idiot schoolmarmish cant we hear from the guardians of our public virtue.

In short, we are going to hell in a hand basket here, and all you liberals can think of is to jab your finger in the eyes of 46 percent of your fellow citizens over some footling dubious point of Constitutional law? Just ask yourselves — please, please, ask yourselves: Is Roy's Rock [the infamous Ten Commandments monument] really a proper target for my zeal, my energy, my passion, my money? Is my reaction to it in any kind of proportion to any harm it might conceivably do? [emphasis in original]

For so many folks with "L" politics, those three paragraphs must seem little but lunatic ravings.

They're not.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:45 PM EST


The Big Lies of Liberalism

I guess what pushed me most surely away from liberalism is the dishonesty of its spokespeople and the myopia that it requires in its adherents. Consider the conclusion of Beth Shulman's recent op-ed meant to rally the masses by supposedly dispelling some myths about the problems surrounding low-income workers:

The world's richest country should not tolerate such treatment of more than a fourth of its workers. The myths of upward mobility and inevitable market forces blind too many people to the grim reality of low-wage work. A presidential campaign is the right time to begin a conversation on how to change it.

The line of thought that gets Shulman to this statement could be unraveled point by point, which would make it a great exercise in a classroom. It would also be worth arguing with anybody who might choose to take up the opposite side. But a deep deconstruction isn't necessary for my purposes with this blog. For one thing, one need only peel back the flimsiest of layers to reveal disingenuousness. Here's the paragraph at the beginning that explains that "fourth of its workers" phrase:

Fully 30 million Americans -- one in four U.S. workers -- earn $8.70 an hour or less, a rate that works out to $18,100 a year, which is the current official poverty level in the United States for a family of four. These low-wage jobs usually lack health-care, child-care, pension and vacation benefits. Their working conditions are often grueling, dangerous, even humiliating.

And indeed, this handy table from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that a family must have at least four members before it is considered "poor" at $18,000 per year. Furthermore, Shulman is surely folding together statistics to get her desired result. First: a family of four consisting of two adults will have two potential wage earners, who, at $8.70 per hour, would have a household annual income of over $36,000. That means that within that "one in four U.S. workers" are couples that earn well above poverty level. Second: one might argue that those households of four with only one adult make a good social case for marriage (and, in some cases, abstinence). Nonetheless, it would be worthwhile for society to help these families out in some way; the point is that they number far less than 25% of the working population, and if two one-parent households of four were to combine forces, that $36,000 per year would still be well above the poverty level for a family of eight.

In addressing arguments such as Shulman's, one runs into the problem that every paragraph points to the dishonesty of another. For example, in the blockquote immediately above, Shulman speaks of the "grueling, dangerous, and even humiliating" working conditions of low-wage earners. Yet, here is how she defines the group:

They are nursing-home and home-health-care workers who care for our parents; they are poultry processors who bone and package our chicken; they are retail clerks in department stores, grocery stores and convenience stores; they are housekeepers and janitors who keep our hotel rooms and offices clean; they are billing and telephone call-center workers who take our complaints and answer our questions; and they are teaching assistants in our schools and child-care workers who free us so that we can work ourselves.

Many of these strike me as jobs held by second-income members of a household, whether spouses or young adult children. Apart from that, few of them are "dangerous," none are inherently "humiliating" any more than any other job in which one interacts with others, and the definition of "grueling" would have to be stretched some to apply to retail clerks, for example. To be sure, Shulman defines laborers and manufacturers out of her target group in order to dismiss the "myth" that globalization "stops us from doing anything about this problem."

I'm going to stop following the thread of deception here, because, as I suggested, the entire essay unravels at the most mild application of critical thought. For a quick example, consider that Shulman complains that "the purchasing power of the federal minimum wage fell 30 percent during the 1980s," yet counts "Federal Reserve policies focused on reducing inflation threats" among the contributors to "the problem." However, this paragraph, which supposedly indicates "the myth of upward mobility," I just cannot pass up:

In a recent study following U.S. adults through their working careers, economics professors Peter Gottschalk, of Boston College, and Sheldon Danziger, of the University of Michigan, found that about half of those whose earnings ranked in the bottom 20 percent in 1968 were still in the same group in 1991. Of those who had moved up, nearly two-thirds remained below the median income.

Got that? Let's rephrase: over the course of 23 years, half of those earning in the bottom 20% had managed to climb out of that group. Of those who managed to make that improvement, one-third had moved all the way above the median income. In pointing this out, I don't mean to detract from the difficulties of those for whom upward mobility has proven to be a myth, but I am pessimistic (to put it mildly) about the chances of socialistic solutions to improve upon this record, particularly considering the degree to which Shulman ignores problems created by them and is dishonest about the need for them.

Beware when lawyers write books about solving the problems of the poor. If you're inclined to ameliorate the unjust distribution of money, you can start by deciding not to buy Beth Shulman's The Betrayal of Work: How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans. If the Providence Journal paid her the same as it has me for an op-ed, Shulman took in roughly the equivalent of twenty hours of minimum-wage work, and I'll bet she didn't find it grueling, dangerous, or humiliating in the least, although perhaps the third of quality ought to have applied.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:25 AM EST


Sunday, August 24, 2003

Let the Conspiracy Theorizing Begin

What a plot!

A new Archbishop is appointed in Boston with the hopes that he'll "fix" the problems associated with the pedophilia scandal, and then (emphasis added):

John J. Geoghan, the former priest who used his clerical collar and cunning to wage a decades-long rampage against young children, was strangled and beaten to death yesterday by a fellow inmate at a maximum security prison in Shirley, authorities said. ...

Joseph L. Druce, a 37-year-old self-proclaimed neo-Nazi serving a life sentence for strangling and mutilating a Gloucester man, will be charged with murder, Worcester County District Attorney John Conte said last night.

Last year Druce, who changed his name in prison from Darrin Smiledge, pleaded guilty to sending hoax letters laced with white powder and swastikas to a New Hampshire federal prosecutor and 39 Massachusetts lawyers with apparently Jewish surnames.

As one of the victim lawyers put it:

"They also feel eerie about the death of John J. Geoghan,'' Garabedian said. "They feel as though there's been a dark cloud about the John J. Geoghan matter since its inception in 1994 and his death only darkens that cloud.''

"Darkens that cloud"? Why's that? What's the "cloud"? Sounds like one of those cryptic things that lawyers say to prod the emotions of the public.

But I'm sure that even many who won't go for the conspiracy angle will fault Cardinal O'Malley for his reaction:

"It's a tragic end to a tragic life,'' a somber Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley said yesterday after celebrating Mass in Medford. ...

"I prayed for him,'' O'Malley said. "I feel sorry for his family, too. It will also no doubt be upsetting to the victims - thrust into a situation of remembrance. It's very sad.''

Of course, few feel sorrowful at about this particular death — as O'Malley suggests, the life was tragic. Nonetheless, it will take an act of God to break through the evil that has gripped Geoghan, and for that we should pray.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:41 AM EST


Friday, August 22, 2003

Why Doesn't Instapundit Link to These Scrappleface Offerings?

Scott Ott has a great eye for the underlying irony of issues in the news. Consider:

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore today ordered the installation of another stone monument in the rotunda of the state judicial building.

The move comes as Justice Moore continues to defy a federal judge's order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the building.

The new monument is a simple stone block engraved on top with the words of the Alabama state oath of office which Justice Moore and other state officials have sworn to uphold.

Here is the text of the oath: "I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Alabama, so long as I continue a citizen thereof; and that I will faithfully and honestly discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter, to the best of my ability. So help me God."

There's more. I wonder what Glenn Reynolds, who often links to Scrappleface, thinks when he reads such offerings. It certainly isn't his trademark "Indeed."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:04 AM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Spitting Distance," by Janette van de Geest Van Gruisen.

This is one of my favorites in the review, this year. It's sad, but masterful.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:00 AM EST


Due Diligence

So... how would you feel about sending your son or daughter to the university whose student paper published this.

Oh, I think I'll be an off-campus subscriber to some college's internal news organs one day.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:19 AM EST


Thursday, August 21, 2003

It's Been an "Are You Kidding Me?" Day

So I made it all the way through the Amazing Race 4 trying not to make too much of the fact that the show referred to Reichen and Chip as "married." But their little speech when they won the race tonight was just too much (to paraphrase): "Just because we happen to be gay doesn't mean that we can't do anything that anybody else can do."

Are they joking? Are all people of all groups for which activities are more difficult insulted? Frankly, I'm appalled that two young, intelligent, fit, wealthy, white, and well-traveled men would attempt to lay claim to some sort of victim group status in the context of a race around the world. The elite culture is, as far as I'm concerned, pulling the plug out of the pool of accomplishments of those for whom life actually is more difficult. Want some perspective? Here are pictures of the four winning teams so far (starting with the first season):

See a pattern?

This season... I don't know. I'm not putting this forward as indicating anything that is very likely (although the show is on CBS), but it was all just a bit too perfect for R&C. Reichen is ex-military. They're "married." They had an anniversary while the race was in progress. They won, and they turned it into a gay-rights statement. It couldn't have been scripted better.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:49 PM EST


Deciding Which Step Should Be Our Last

Step 1: Private, consensual sex between a husband and wife is off limits to policies based on public interest.

Step 2: Private, consensual sex between any man and woman is off limits to policies based on public interest.

Step 3: Private, consensual sex between any two adults of any gender is off limits to policies based on public interest.

Step 4: Private, consensual sex between any combination of adults is off limits to policies based on public interest.

Step 5: Private, consensual sex between children is off limits to policies based on public interest.

Step 6: Guess.

As a matter of law — as distinct from cultural pressure and opprobrium — I could go all the way to Step 4 (socially, not personally), although I would insist on increasing the mechanisms for the public, as individuals and as groups, to exercise personal pressure (e.g., through employment and renting). However, the manner in which Step 3 was taken (so as to obviate the need for any public debate about Step 4) leaves me little hope that we will not slip quickly into Step 5 and beyond.

God help us to push back on this self-destructive wave.

(via Mark Shea)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:08 PM EST


Can You Believe This Headline?

You don't even have to read the article; here's the headline:

Hamas Abandons Truce After Israeli Strike

I'm speechless. Well, almost. It is inconceivable to me that a major, supposedly objective, news service could go with such a headline. Even "Hamas Officially Abandons Truce" would have be fine, but without "officially," it is just beyond acceptable; it's not even rational to anybody with any concept of the sequence of events. And assuming that the Associated Press doesn't employ drooling morons nor people with no sense of current events, the only explanation is bias of the sort that ought to — I repeat, ought to — cost the service credibility.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:44 PM EST


How Is This Possible in This Day and Age?

How is it possible for anywhere between 5,000 and 14,000 people to have died from the heat wave in France? Don't they have air conditioning?

I offer condolences to the families and prayers for the deceased — and my hope that the French will find whatever it is that is allowing so many to die from the weather and fix it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:11 PM EST


Insidiously Anti-American

Amazingly, the U.K. press managed to squeeze some anti-Americanism into a horrible story into which nationality need not have entered:

A BOY of seven narrowly escaped death after being mauled by two American pit bull terriers.

Were the dogs actually shipped from America? Are there different lines of pit bulls depending on nationality? The article never mentions whether the owners were American. However, it does mention this similar occurrence:

In a separate incident, John Smyth, 47, had plastic surgery yesterday after being attacked by two bull mastiffs in Dunkeld, Perthshire.

I offer this link in case the Mirror was unable to discover the nationality of bull mastiffs.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:07 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:33 AM EST


Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The Growth of the Artist

I'm a fan of personal songwriting, so it shouldn't be surprising that among my favorite things is to spot what I consider to be personal growth in a musician.

Among the soundtrack-albums of my late teens was Jeffrey Gaines's self-titled first album. One track that I never thought much about, but that came to be a tremendous detractor as I gave the issue that it addresses some thought is "Choices." Here are some select lyrics:

And if there weren't so many
Unwanted children in the world today
Then maybe I could understand your view
But as long as there's so many
Children without a happy home
Then leave my choices alone ...

Please respect that it's
My life, my mind and my body
And leave my choices alone
Forcing me by law to follow suit

Considering that this album came out in 1992, this is a prime example of protest in keeping with the victorious side and the safe view — made all the more egregious by the morally fatuous nature of the view and the protest. And to be sure, by Gaines's third album, Galore, his "social interest" songs hadn't moved beyond facile parroting of the popular view. There is the anti-war "A Simple Prayer," which has an admirable, if simplistic, message, and would stay on the admirable side of that line if it weren't for lines such as "the noblest of things is to die in their war," which begs the question, "Who are they?" We can guess the answer, and we can be reasonably sure that it won't prove thorough consideration of the way human society operates.

But the song on this album that has kept me from spending my ever-more-limited dollars on Gaines's two subsequent albums is "Praise or Blame":

All throughout history
You've made sure your conscience be clear
But there are two sides to every story
Here's what you don't want us to hear

That they once had harmony
And you could not understand
How they could live so free
You drove them off of their land ...

They once were royalty
But you could not measure their worth
Until you sold them like property
The salt of their sweat fed the earth

The "you" in this song is obvious: it's me, representative, as I am, of "whitey." It's hard to understate the degree to which this song accepts a popular rewritten history that is not dangerous in the least to sell as a song. The Indians were prancing around the forests of this continent like wildlife — only more spiritual and peaceful — until the Big Bad White Man came and crushed them; those who became slaves in the new world had been ripped from their thrones by invading white people, not sold to the Europeans by fellow Africans, rival tribes and "royalty." The suggestion that Gaines is revealing some deliberately hidden "second side" is laughable — albeit a nervous laughter, because part of what makes these travesties of history so horrifying is that they weren't as simplistic as we now pretend them to have been, and good and bad did not as clearly align with black and white. Frankly, this song is easy repetition of an offensive line that is not worthy of a mature man, much less a talented songwriter.

However, what intrigues me on this album, and what has kept me continually debating whether to give Gaines's later work a chance, is the song "Right My Wrongs":

Those things I thought
Well, I was a baby
Just what I was taught
So how can you blame me

I really want to right my wrongs

The words I said
A mockingbird was I
I was easily led
And never asked why

I really want to right my wrongs

It used to be I could justify anything
And never stop to worry about the pain I might bring
No one could have told me 'cause I knew everything
But I woke up this morning and I felt like changing

Now, I don't know whether Gaines had abortion in mind when he wrote this song, and it certainly seems that he doesn't realize the extent to which these words apply to other songs on the very same album. Nonetheless, it opens the way for hope that he'll come to see what he's been missing, and by extension, it opens the way for hope about all those millions of young adults who are guilty of the same intellectual (and physical) offenses.

Jeffrey Gaines is best known for his live cover of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes." I remember, when I first became familiar with Gabriel's version, that I was disappointed to learn that the lyrics were meant to be ambiguous as to whether they were about a lover or about God. At the time, I regarded anything more profound than interpersonal love to be so much superstition, and I'm still at a loss to explain the aversion that I had, then, to indications that anybody actually believed in God. Jealousy, maybe.

Does Gaines know the backstory to that song? I don't know, but the references to spirituality and God permeate Galore. Those times when I consider catching up on my Jeffrey Gaines collection, it is because I recognize the path that he appears to be on, and I'm curious to see whether he maintained course. Perhaps one reason that I reach for other CDs than his on those rare occasions that I splurge on my former obsession is that I'm afraid to find that he's turned back.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:32 AM EST


How Predictable Can You Get?

I'm only mentioning this to explain why I think it should be ignored:

A coming edition of GQ magazine turns President Bush in to Jesus Christ -- in a full-page photo illustration!

Oh, yes, there's all that stuff — absolutely true — about the double standard of which Christians get the short end. And that's part of the reason that such things should be ignored: I'd prefer my coreligionists to behave as if they are confident enough in what they believe not to express grievances indicative of doubt and insecurity.

But the other reason is given in the last line of the Drudge blurb:

The photo marks a dramatic entrance for new GQ editor Jim Nelson.

It's nothing more than a publicity stunt. Let the snickerers buy the issue and, well, snicker. One of the blessings of true religion is that it enables spiritual and intellectual growth. Let's act like grownups and not grant the obnoxious kids in the class the attention that they covet.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:36 AM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

This one comes very highly recommended; it is certainly worth a few minutes of your time.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:46 AM EST


Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Songs You Should Know 08/19/03

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

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:19 PM EST


A Note on Sending Me Money (And Getting Stuff in Return)

So anyway, a few weeks ago, before I knew that I'd have an entire book to typeset, I mentioned to my Web host that the program that sends me email via forms was being accessed without my receiving anything, although the forms appeared to work correctly. The host replied that I would have to change the generic name of the program to something else.

Well, since the book had landed in my lap, I tested the program using the form that subscribes to my column, and it still worked, so I figured I'd finish off the book and then deal with the online problems. Everything appeared to be working, and my schedule was packed enough that I figured I'd risk having some people who had never heard of Timshel Arts be spammed for a couple of weeks.

This morning, I got an email that somebody's server had rejected and returned to the sender, which was technically me, but was really a spammer disseminating a "Wicked Screensaver" that was more likely a virus. Upon seeing this, I decided to go ahead and change all the file names and links involving my form emailer program, only to discover that my host had blocked my order form — the HTML page — which had the same name as the CGI program, but not the program itself. Who knows how many thousands of dollars of orders I've lost! (That's a joke, by the way.)

This functionality of my Web page goes way back to when I was still crawling up the Web design learning curve, as apparently was the tech support guy from my old host who told me not to change any of the names. It's all fixed now, so if you've been itching to buy something from the store but were frustrated by the lack of an order form, here it is.

Hackers and virus-senders and spammers have proven one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt: as humans overcome natural barriers and increase the ease with which amazing things can be done, other humans will volunteer their services to replace those barriers — meaning, to take advantage of those who use the new technology. Who'd have thought, not long ago, that any schmo with a Web page could set up automatic order forms and the like? But scumbags are out there just waiting to ensure that those schmos have as difficult a time as possible.

That's why I support the death penalty for spamming, hacking, and virus sending. Alright, alright, that's a bit harsh. How about just life in prison for hacking and virus sending? And for spammers, we'll do to them the opposite of whatever their lying promotions claim to do. Get rich? We make them poor. Larger genitalia? ...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:00 AM EST


Monday, August 18, 2003

Just Thinking 08/18/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "Meetings on the Road, VII: Incremental Deliberation," my seventh parable sonnet, about... well that would be cheating.

The interesting thing is that I probably spent more time on these fourteen lines — and more-intensive time — than I do on even difficult columns. Yet, I enjoyed the writing more, and I found it more rewarding, without regard to how the final product is received by others. I guess I should take that as an indication...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:19 PM EST


Bono: The Way Activism Should Be

I forget where I saw it, but I read somebody opining recently that Bono of U2 is one of those lefties whom conservatives will tolerate. I think the central reason the writer suggested had to do with the era in which Bono came into the public light. I wonder if it isn't something more fundamental to his activism.

Bono is cause driven, not team driven. He'll work with anybody who's interested in order to get something done. And, perhaps more importantly, he gives one the sense that, in contrast to the activists about whom Kathy Shaidle wrote yesterday, he would be thrilled to give a victory speech.

That's just something I thought when "Where the Streets Have No Name" came on the radio this morning. For what it's worth.

Aha: as he notes in a comment (but, inexplicably, without a link) it was Steve from Absit Invidia who made the "came of age" statement. Rereading his post, I find what is to expected upon rereading anything: there's more to it than I mentioned above.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:46 PM EST


Americans Wanted in Europe

Some acquaintances of mine recently returned from Europe, and apparently, the people over there went out of their way to be nice and to present a friendly face. Instapundit cites some data that helps to explain why:

In Britain - the most popular destination for American tourists to Europe - figures for the first half of 2003 show an 11 percent decline in US visitors. In Italy, it's more than 20 percent, while in France, it's even worse: an estimated 26 percent drop this year.

"Until Sept. 11, about 45 percent of our clients were Americans," laments Mauricio Mistarz, head receptionist at a small three-star hotel on the Left Bank in Paris. "Now, on a good day, Americans fill 20 percent of our rooms."

It isn't only that bad; Americans apparently tend to stay longer and to spend more when they visit. I guess that's the upside of the "ugly American."

Look, as long as I've been alive, European condescension toward America and outward contempt for American culture has been tacitly understood. It's just that now Americans are waking up from the stupor of the elitist, lazy, and selfish temper that has predominated over the past few decades, and as a consequence, we do not dislike ourselves as much.

Hopefully the "European street" will take the opportunity for some reflection and, perhaps, find the wherewithal to pull back from the precipice of socialisme.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:39 PM EST


Does Religion or Race Make the Difference for Abe?

Relating an anecdote about President Lincoln's allowance of a Fourth of July fundraiser on the White House lawn for the first black Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., Lane Core asks:

The ACLU, People for the "American" Way, and (Protestants and Other) Americans United for Separation of Church and State would be apoplectic if George W. Bush did anything like that, wouldn't they?

Y'know, I can't say for sure. If those groups were consistent, one would believe so, but the treatment of Christianity according to the strictest interpretations of "separation of church and state" coexists with treatment of other religions more as protected ethnicities. I think a similar petition granted to black Christians might cause enough internal conflict among the People for the Civil Liberties Union's Way that George W. could coast right through with the proper spinning.

Maybe it's just the type of subtext for which it was pounded into me in college to look, but this seems, if I proved correct about the response, it would reveal a bit of the racism inherent in modern liberalism; it's as if the religion of "brown-skinned people" cannot be sincere or mature enough to be dangerous in the way that anti-religionists fear.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:08 AM EST


"Plan C" Has Its Own Organization!

Apparently, my Plan C idea wasn't but so unique:

The Free State Project is a plan in which 20,000 or more liberty-oriented people will move to a single state of the U.S., where they may work within the political system to reduce the size and scope of government. The success of the Free State Project would likely entail reductions in burdensome taxation and regulation, reforms in state and local law, an end to federal mandates, and a restoration of constitutional federalism, demonstrating the benefits of liberty to the rest of the nation and the world.

Unfortunately, according to Steve at Absit Invidia, the FSP looks likely to make me move in order to participate. FYI, folks, I'd prefer New Hampshire to Wyoming, although I still think free marketers would enjoy all the waterfront in our state. Hey... you have to kick these things off thinking small!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:47 AM EST


Marriage Isn't What They Really Want...

... broadly speaking, it is at best a substitute, a symbol of confirmation that, like miscreant high schoolers whose parents sue to ensure the complete absence of consequences, whatever they do cannot be wrong because it is just being "true to themselves." Speaking as a parent of an 18-month-old, I'd suggest that, sometimes, it is much better for individuals and everybody around them if they learn to be a bit more "untrue" to themselves.

Along these lines, I advise you to go read this post by Kathy Shaidle:

There is always a deeper issue. To deny this is to be hopelessly naive. Sadly, "hopelessly naive" describes the vast majority of people who've received a "It's a Small World After All" public school education in North America... Which is why they "don't get what the big deal is."

When gay activists get the right to marry, they will throw some surprisingly tasteless parties, scream Screw You, Pope Guy! into the tv cameras, then move onto something else. Something like lowering the age of consent laws, forcing women's shelters and rape counselling centres to hire pre-op "transexuals" as counsellors, and so forth.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:40 AM EST


Speaking of Rules and the Law

Of course, you've probably come across the tale of the club for recovering alcoholics that cannot allow its members to smoke because only organizations with liquor licenses can accommodate smokers, and an organization that seeks such a document only in the context of its being a "smoking license" cannot get a liquor license. But I just had to link to it.

This is a magnificent example of the danger of pursuing numerous discrete laws just because they "sound good" according to the preferences of the day. It's a bit like weaving a web around ourselves; eventually, we'll all get tangled up in it. That's why legislation is generally a weak tool except in a broad-view sense.

It's also a magnificent example of the service that Canada offers the United States by forging ahead with the logical (though insane) extensions of public policies with which some among us have begun to play.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:25 AM EST


Filter-Down Irresponsibility

Julia Steiny has been giving some thought to the broken chain of consequences-doling authorities that leads today's children — e.g., the teenager hazers who recently made headlines — with the impression that they can do no wrong... or at least that they can do no illegal:

Family and school rules govern a little universe that socializes the young to live comfortably with authority and structure by creating consequences for rule breaking. The structure of rules will naturally be unique to each family, and each school's rules will also reflect that school's character and circumstances, so the rules will naturally appear arbitrary to a disinterested observer. Still, certain lawyers and organizations are armed and ready to do pitched battle with any rule that can not be justified by The Law, which is to say, applied to everyone in the nation under identical circumstances.

As parents have been wrong-headedly protecting their little wretches, their legal victories have subverted efforts to teach kids that seriously negative consequences can result from ill-considered actions. Schools have been taken to court so often they can barely enforce discipline codes any more. Most are resentfully intimidated by their parents who, in this litigious society, often threaten to involve the Law.

The only thing with which I would quibble is that the better argument would be that school rules would be "applied to everyone in the nation under identical circumstances." Any American attending school A and committing act B will run into punishment C. Of course, even The Law provides room for application of such factors as prior behavior.

But Steiny's hit on an important point, here, and that is that schools are another realm of society in which the American legal system has overstepped its bounds. Mind-boggling, isn't it, how reform of that legal system would benefit so many areas of modern life — notably among those issues on which politicians expend quite a bit of rhetoric, such as education and healthcare.

Wonder why nothing's been done, then...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:10 AM EST


Saturday, August 16, 2003

The Hoax of Our Times

Imagine, if you will (if you can), a controlled environment in which participants in the largest-scale study ever conducted are provided only information that indicates a particular view of reality over the course of their lives and then asked to tell researches whether particular anecdotes "are possible." What would we call that? "False memory" doesn't seem to apply.

Over in the Corner, Andrew Stuttaford links to this article as indicative of "false memory":

In an experiment, up to a third of people who attended a fake seance later "remembered" seeing a table levitate - even though infra-red cameras recorded that it remained grounded to the floor.

Although the volunteers knew that the seance was set up by university scientists, a fifth reported a strange, ghostly presence during the session. Pyschologists who conducted the experiments said the results, which are reported in the British Journal of Psychology, showed how seance rituals - such as the holding of hands and the darkened room - can create false memories. ...

Two weeks later, when asked to recall the seance, 11 and 31 per cent of participants wrongly insisted that the table had moved.

If a similar scenario were presented to prove the existence of the supernatural, we'd surely hear that "F" word (no, not "foolish"): falsifiable. We'd also likely hear a litany of "perhapses." Personally, I'm not impressed by the results. First of all, it isn't clear whether the two percentages were for different rounds of the experiment or for skeptics versus believers. If not the latter, then the 20% difference would seem to make the results dubious. Either way, the vast majority of people never lost sight of the fact that it was a controlled environment in which anything odd was likely scripted.

But let's assume that I were determined to prove that the skeptical conclusion was premature (in other words, applying perhapses of the same degree that the materially minded apply in reverse). I might suggest that when people make a table "move" with their minds, it elongates rather than lifts. Or failing that, I might insist that there's some important difference between an infrared camera and human vision. Perhaps a telepathically moved table leaves an infrared shadow or something. Or perhaps the researchers failed by asking the participants to lift the table rather than asking the spirits who were obviously there.

This is stretching, I realize, but it's what occurred to me when I followed a link at the bottom of the page to an article called "Spiritualists' powers turn scientists into believers" (free registration required), to which — one familiar with his posting preferences would know — Mr. S. would not be inclined to link (granted, it's from April 2001):

A UNIQUE scientific experiment has produced startling evidence that some "spirit mediums" may indeed have paranormal talents.

Scientists involved in the study at the University of Arizona say that the findings are so extraordinary they raise fundamental questions about the survival of consciousness after death. ...

The transcripts of each session showed that the mediums typically produced more than 80 pieces of information about the deceased relatives, ranging from their names and personal idiosyncrasies to the precise circumstances of their death. When analysed for factual accuracy, the mediums achieved a success rate of 83 per cent, with one achieving an accuracy of 93 per cent. ...

Prof Schwartz said such evidence is consistent with claims of mediums to deal directly with the dead, rather than merely with the minds of the sitters. He said: "All the data gathered so far is consistently in accord with survival of consciousness after death. Based on our data to date, the most parsimonious explanation is that the mediums are in direct communication with the deceased."

Here's the opening for perhapses:

Sceptics said that while the results are intriguing, they leave many questions unanswered. Dr Chris French, a leading expert at Goldsmiths College, London, said: "Parapsychologists have become disillusioned with studies of mediums because the results are usually nothing more than you would expect by cold reading. This study has results that are so out of line that one would want to have a very close look at how it was done."

There appear to have been multiple experiments, including one with much more opportunity for skepticism. I'm pretty sure that this is the resulting paper for the study to which Stuttaford did not link. (How's that last phrase for turnabout leading to implied conclusions?)

Despite my interest and tempered credulity, something that Professor Scwartz said in an article related to one of the experiments will have to be proven much more concretely before I'll believe it:

"If survival of consciousness is true, system science may literally resurrect and revive the belief in God," he said during the discussion.

We'll see. There are always those "perhapses," including "perhaps our readers are too sophisticated to be interested in this certain fraud."

(N.B., with that closing phrase, I don't mean to implicate Mr. S., but the entire secularist media, in which a poorly written, deceptively substantiated column calling a Catholic Holy Day an indication of the ignorance of believers is considered fit material to be printed in the New York Times on that Holy Day.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:30 AM EST


Friday, August 15, 2003

A Note on Homosexuality

Given the tenor and direction of most of my writing having to do with homosexuality, I wanted to take a moment to give voice to an unstated constant.

There are people with same sex attraction who work to deny its reign over their lives. There are others who really do seek to live their lives according to heterosexual norms, only homosexually. I've heard from people of both mindsets over the course of my year of blogging. And I do wish that there were a smoother road for them from their physical impulses to the healthy and spiritual lives that we all ought to hope for them. This is among the important functions that marriage fulfills for heterosexuals, and I really do wish that the behavior that popular culture and homosexual caché encourage them toward weren't in such jarring contrast to that which society, inasmuch as it is informed by history and tradition, tries to foster for heterosexuals.

Regardless of what we might wish, that stark contrast is currently necessary so that the good end isn't dragged into a foggy pit of vague distinctions with unhealthy impulses. The thrust of gay culture and the broader culture's vision of gays perpetuates too strong an influence toward the latter, the impulses. As more homosexuals find ways to bridge this gap, the gap will become less necessary, but the problem arises in that society can only lean so far out in order to help gays who are leading the movement in that respect.

Nonetheless, we can reach out to them, and when they're close enough to grab, we ought to do so, rather than slap them away. In non-metaphorical terms, this means overcoming prejudice and gut-level aversion to the extent that they make efforts to overcome the lifestyles that popular culture encourages them to lead. This, to me, is what it means to "love the sinner but hate the sin."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:30 AM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from Stakers," by Mark Ellis.

I was very excited to get something by Mark in the review this year; he's a real-life serial science fiction writer. I don't know how close to the vest he keeps his pen name, but suffice to say that, if you are at all familiar with contemporary science fiction, you've probably at least heard of his series. Stakers is him picking up new characters and exploring a world other than the one that he's been writing about for better than a decade.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:28 AM EST


The Big Picture on Robinson

Perhaps because I've had my focus on the dangers that issues surrounding bishop Gene Robinson pose to Christianity and, specifically, Christianity in America, the larger picture didn't hit me until Seamole pointed out a Free Republic thread. I'll work from the inside out:

A Kenyan Anglican Bishop was attacked in a London street by two Church of England colleagues for opposing the appointment of a homosexual bishop by the US Episcopal Church.

I think I saw news of this around the Catholic blogosphere in the context of its relation to homosexual intolerance of people who refuse to pat them on the back and confirm them in their lifestyles. But that doesn't explore another difference between the clerics in question: their nationality. The paragraph before the one just quoted alludes to the suggestion of David Anderson, president of the conservative American Anglican Council, that Christians in heavily Muslim countries might face violence, now. I can't find a direct quote, however, so I'll look to Nigerian Bishop of Owerri, Cyril Okoracha, who told the BBC:

"We are praying for him and praying for the church in the US as we are battling with our problems at this end, which includes the severe persecution we are going to receive now from our Muslim neighbours because they keep accusing us of maintaining relationship with those who deny the scripture," said Bishop Okoracha.

At this point, it would be premature and unjustified for we who are relatively uninformed and half a world away to declare that Robinson's success will translate into (increased) Muslim violence against Christians. However, in the long view, such violence might not be the most significant detrimental effect. Here's Uwe Siemon-Netto, writing for UPI back on July 29:

What makes this whole conflict so infuriating is that North American and European church leaders don't give a damn about what their spiritual bankruptcy does to Africa, where orthodox Christianity is thriving in an often perilously hostile Muslim environment. Africa would "go Islam" if the Western Anglican Church accepted homosexuality, one senior Nigerian cleric recently wrote.

Remember when the Vatican raised concerns about the Iraq war's effects on Christians in the Middle East (all Christians, by the way)? Well, from what I've read and heard, representatives of Christianity and Islam are currently vying for dominance in Africa. Think of the effect that the latest perversion of Christianity will have in regions in which traditional views still prevail. I've already noted Robinson's statement that he "can't carry the whole future of the entire Anglican Communion." Here's more from the above-linked BBC article:

The new Bishop, Gene Robinson, said he would do everything he could to help to heal any rift but he did not think that his appointment would make a big difference to ordinary Christians around the world.

"This is a huge step for gay and lesbian folk in the church," Bishop Robinson said.

There it is, all neatly packaged (probably with the opposite intention to my usage): the effect of his elevation is of no consequence to Robinson. Nothing must stop the advance of "gay and lesbian folk." Not the effect on branches of his Church where the faith is making progress in a hostile land. Not the certain rifts among Anglicans and, indeed, all citizens of the West. And certainly not the Scripture and traditions that he purports to represent.

We come back to that same word: selfishness. And as with gay marriage, the point is that it isn't just the same-sex attraction that we are being demanded to "tolerate," but a whole way of life and a whole outlook on life that is contrary to the foundations of our civilization. Homosexuals, as a social group, have not come humbly to the door and asked to be accepted on the terms of the village. They have stormed the gates, insisting that the villagers accept them — whoever they want to be.

As for Africa, despite the frequent declarations that American productivity is indirectly culpable for the state of the continent (for reasons varying from slavery to pollution), it seems to me that the most damage is currently done by an excessively liberal social view, from the softening of Christianity, to over-reliance on drugs and condoms to combat a disease that is best fought by reliance on behavioral mandates that developed along with human society, to letting people starve out of environmentalist mania about "Frankenfoods."

I continue to hope that the reason for the quick leap toward extremism, and the reason that all of the bones of liberalism are being revealed in their connections, is that society as a whole is receding from its surge of indulgence. Unfortunately, this comes at a time... actually, no, I'll leave it there: with hope.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:35 AM EST


Thursday, August 14, 2003

Just Wanted to Let You Know

I simply can't make myself care about Arnold Schwarzenegger's political stance or career.

I don't need to unravel the mysteries of Catholic pundit infighting, nor do I think it worth my time to work toward comprehending proposals for a Catholic monarchy in the United States.

I think Fox News was foolish to sue Al Franken; a better strategy would be to ignore him (and that's what I intend to do) as yet another "why's he famous?" celebrity.

Oh, and Kobe who?

This must be what they mean by "slow news season."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:07 PM EST


Who Was the Monster, Dr. Frankenstein or His Creation?

I know I'm supposed to have utmost respect for "men of science." Why, they're merely seeking to understand the world in which we live and to improve our daily existence. Indeed, their "development of new medical treatments" could lead to the Fountain of Youth, the Holy Grail... or the flaming depths of Hell.

Scientists in China have, for the first time, used cloning techniques to create hybrid embryos that contain a mix of DNA from both humans and rabbits, according to a report in a scientific journal that has reignited the smoldering ethics debate over cloning research. ...

Researchers said yesterday they were hopeful that the rabbit work would lead to a new and plentiful source of embryonic stem cells for research and, eventually, for medical use. But theologians and others decried the work as unethical.

Some wondered aloud what, exactly, such a creature would be if it were transferred to a womb to develop to term.

These scientists aren't "respectable." Those who support what they do advocate monstrosity and evil, pure and simple. And we ought to have the contempt for them that we would have for he who proposed using Jews for medical experiments in Germany.

Oh, sure. Folks like Harvard's Douglas Melton think they're upstanding citizens of the world. Working for the good of all mankind. To them, the creation of human chimeras in China is "extremely interesting, and [they] hope they pursue it." If you come across these people on the street, they're likely polite and friendly, certainly intelligent, perhaps even apt to socialize.

Well, if you come across them on the street, spit on their shoes. Because if they don't get the message, then it won't be long until they've got some new miracle to promise... if only we let them bring the innocent creatures to term.

Who will be the monster?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:55 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Three Women on a French Canal," by Heide Atkins.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:24 AM EST


Wednesday, August 13, 2003

How Not to Express Concern and Defuse Bigotry

Consider the implications of what Rabbi Avi Shafran is saying here:

So while Mr. Gibson may himself have not a Jew-hating bone in his body, he cannot escape that the imagery he has so vividly and movingly portrayed has over the course of millennia yielded the maiming and murder of countless Jews. His Technicolor resurrection of that imagery will surely bring solace to Jew-haters everywhere -- if not things considerably worse. ...

If it one day swings back to the Christian sphere, religious pornography like Mr. Gibson's new offering will probably have played a role. Blood libels have thrived on even flimsier fodder than movies.

One cannot help but wonder why his faith didn't lead Mr. Gibson to portray instead one or another of the New Testament's stories of kindness or love. And even if he wanted the sort of blood-and-guts violence so popular with audiences these days, he could have recreated other religious events for the camera -- entirely historically verifiable ones, like the Crusades. Or the Inquisition. Or he could have presented audiences with a depiction not of Romans and Jews but of Christians in more recent times whose theologies inspired the Polish and Russian pogroms that preceded -- and some say helped inspire -- the Holocaust.

I realize that such thinking may be par for the course of modern inter-religious dialogue, but consider the sheer audacity and offensiveness of it. To a Christian, the hours of the Passion and Resurrection were the most significant in all of human history — and beyond. The imagery inherent in the event itself perfectly encapsulates humanity's relationship to God. We spit on Him, we torture Him, we kill Him and declare Him dead. But He rises and gives Himself to us again. Shafran is suggesting that dwelling on this event — this core of Christian belief — is too ugly, hateful, and prone toward ignorance to be presented to the public.

But this is not enough for Shafran. No, not content to insist on ignoring a dark time in Jewish history, he must go on to emphasize dark times in Christian history. Yeah, that's the way to defuse the hatred of those inclined toward anti-Semitism. One might be justified in wondering whether the good Rabbi considers Christians "today to be blameworthy" for the atrocities that he lists. One might also suggest that Shafran get his facts straight when writing that it "is not clear whether Mr. Gibson considers Jews today to be blameworthy for the crucifixion." This likely comes from Frank Rich's New York Times deliberate misrepresentation of Gibson on Bill O'Reilly's show (could one call that "blood libel"?).

Rabbi Shafran would do well to observe mainstream Christians' responses when such events as the Inquisition are raised. Some insist on keeping it in proper historical perspective, but none deny that it was a time of theological perversion. Rather than declaring the Biblical description of the Crucifixion as something akin to historically inaccurate hate speech, Jews who are concerned with the message that some might take away from works such as The Passion should ensure that it is not left up to Christians to explain that Jesus and all of his followers were Jews.

It is understandable that Shafran and others are concerned about the hatred of Jews that festers in the Middle East and seems once again to be fashionable around the well-decked tables of European high-society. But I'll tell him this: publishing such essays as his in American newspapers is not winning them any friends.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:53 PM EST


Shea's Statement of Purpose Vis-a-Vis Homosexuality

I thought Mark Shea put this well:

I will not seek to crush the right of free speech via sleazy "hate crimes" charges against those who disagree with me. Rather, I am interested in fighting a defensive war against the present homosexual assault on some basic structures of human society and revealed Christian faith which aims to destroy those structures in the pursuit of sexual appetite. I'm fighting a defensive war against a campaign of gay aggression. Too many Christians are still laboring under the illusion of "guilt" for failing to affirm aggressive homosexuals in their okayness. I feel no guilt for refusing to redefine the family and the sacraments of marriage and Holy Orders to suit enemies of the family and the Faith.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:38 PM EST


Taking on the 800-Pound Gay Man in the Room

Okay, that's a horrible subject line, but what I intended it to indicate was that Maggie Gallagher has broken the prohibition on attacking Andrew Sullivan from the right (attacking being presented in contrast to "politely addressing the concerns of"):

Andrew Sullivan has a new idea. If gay-marriage opponents really cared about marriage, we would propose a constitutional amendment to ban divorce. Logically, of course, this is a complete non sequitur: Don't do what is possible to protect marriage, try to do what is impossible. Gee, that is a real recipe for progress.

As Gallagher says, the "divorce thing is a lawyer's trick, a diversion from the question at hand." This problem appears to be rampant in this discussion. Every new angle that arises requires new rationalization and new diversions where rationalization is strained. The realities of the culture as well as the true implications of the change being requested are all too easy to lose in this tangle. "If gays and lesbians are facing practical problems in arranging their lives, caring and responsible people will look for solutions other than destabilizing the one critical social institution which protects children from fatherlessness, poverty, pain, and suffering." The issue just is not being approached as one of accommodating a new form of relationship.

It does, however, apparently have a familiar smell for those who were around when divorce was the marital topic of the day:

In fact the whole push for gay marriage looks very similar to the push by legal elites for unilateral divorce. The very same arguments are used: inadequate and preliminary social-science data used to "prove" that divorce has no ill effects on children. Critics who warned that redefining divorce as a unilateral right might increase divorce were pooh-poohed. Only bad, unhappy marriages would be affected, we were reassured. After all, how can the divorce of an unhappy couple affect happily married people? Most tellingly, radical transformation of divorce laws were presented as a conservative, modest reform that would actually strengthen marriage.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:48 PM EST


Whew! I've Reached Wednesday!

Finally, after a week of nonstop working from wake-up time to the wee hours of the following morning, I've managed to catch up with myself! Blogging should return to normal, now... I think.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:05 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:03 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 08/12/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Homunculus" by Victor Lams.

"Homunculus" Victor Lams, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Robot Love

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:55 AM EST


Just Thinking 08/11/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "A Consequence of Thinking," about the importance of thinking through issues and rooting that thinking in tradition rather than seeking to supersede it.

This column is very late, in part because the links that I saw between various related topics took more than quick consideration to make and then additional effort to express. I think I got the ideas together; whether I've expressed it comprehensibly is a matter for others to judge. However, considering the effort that I've made and the importance that I think the topic, which underlies many social issues, I welcome (beg) feedback as well as links and sharing of this piece if you think it merited.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:27 AM EST


Tuesday, August 12, 2003

It's MordAl, People, Not MordEl

Dave Mordal's got some work to do clarifying his brand, so to speak. So far this month, 49 people have come hither looking for "mordel," compared with 15 for (the correct) "mordal." For full names, "dave mordel" currently leads my search-term log with 46; that's about twice the sum of variations of "dat phan is not funny," but it's also almost six times the 8 people who've searched for the correct "dave mordal."

Just thought I'd let you know, Dave, in case you swing by... hopefully having searched Google for the correct spelling of your name.

For everybody else, go marval (sic) at what small dabs of Dave's sense of humor can do for just about the most baby-stepped Web design I've ever seen.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:57 AM EST


Monday, August 11, 2003

A Blogger Just Goes Too Far

I read all sorts of stuff that irks me to the point of screaming at the computer screen over the course of a week, but this is just too much to take:

Today's New York Times carries the story of how author Paul Auster rediscovered, edited, and published a forgotten and strikingly revealing story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Known for the puritanically stiff prose of The Scarlet Letter and other works, Hawthorne has been remembered as one of the grimmer, more tightly-buttoned figures in American literary history. To many, he is a bit like medicine: you read him because he is assigned in school and you know it's good for you, but you don't enjoy the experience much at all and you are quite glad when it's over. The story Auster has unearthed shows another side of Hawthorne. Entitled "Twenty Days With Julian & Little Bunny by Papa," it tells the story of the weeks Hawthorne and his young son once spent together when his wife and daughters were away. It was not written for publication, but for a much-loved private audience of family. It's a charming find, and an exciting one. Read the article, and then consider revisiting your Hawthorne.

I mean, can you believe what you just read? Apparently Professor O'Connor hasn't read Nathaniel Hawthorne's entire oeuvre from start to finish! Grim and tight-buttoned, indeed! The cleverness and whimsy of any number of Hawthorne's dozens of short stories is more than enough to offset the challenging profundity of his novels.

So, yes, by all means, go ahead and read "Twenty Days with Julian & Little Bunny by Papa." Then pick up Hawthorne Tales and Sketches, and see if you can get more than 100 pages into the thing without realizing that one of the truly remarkable things about academia is that, for all its "endless and exhaustive trawling" of history's literary heavies, it can still manage to come to fundamentally incorrect conclusions.

(Of course, you probably don't have to read 100 pages of Hawthorne to realize that...)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:46 PM EST


The Face of Manhood and the Face of the Episcopal Church

Man, I wish I'd thought to make this connection:

Because I'm an adopted New Hampshirite, people keep asking me what I think about the Gay Bishop. Once upon a time, the most famous symbol of Granite State manhood was the Old Man of the Mountain, the Great Stone Face, whose profile God and nature had etched onto the cliffs high above Franconia Notch in the White Mountains. But, after centuries of keeping a watchful eye on us, he came crashing down in an almighty rock slide a couple of months back. So now the most celebrated symbol of Granite State manhood is the Great Gay Face, the Reverend Gene Robinson. And, although I'm feeling a little gayed out these days, since folks insist on pressing me, let me say a couple of things about the Episcopal Church's and the worldwide Anglican Communion's first gay bishop.

I'm not going to follow the usual procedure of snagging the best parts of the column. Firstly, because there's too much to quote. Secondly, because I think you should go read the whole thing.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:26 PM EST


Sunday, August 10, 2003

Andrew Sullivan: The Blogosphere's Dowd

I won't hold my breath to see prominent members of the online opinion society demanding that Andrew Sullivan not behave exactly as he and they ridicule Maureen Dowd for behaving. From the Corner:

What about slavery? The document referred to by Mr. Sullivan is Instructio Number 1293: Found in Collectanea, Vol. 1, pp. 715-720. It is an "Instructio" of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office on some disputed questions, including questions of "servitude." Does "servitude" mean "slavery"? Here we get into a thicket of possible misunderstandings. We can, however, sort some things out without much difficulty. The Instructio itself, right at the point at which it declares "servitude itself [now let's add what Mr. Sullivan omits in the ellipsis], considered in itself and all alone (per se et absolute), is by no means repugnant to the natural and divine law," acknowledges that "the Roman Pontiffs have left nothing untried by which servitude be everywhere abolished among the nations" [Mr. Sullivan didn't tell you about that, did he?], and also boasts that "it is especially due to them [i.e., the popes], that already for many ages no slaves are held among very many Christian peoples." [Mr. Sullivan didn't mention that either. Of course, later he will concede that several popes condemned slavery and that the Church has much to be proud of in its record, but all this will come after his readers have been led to believe that the Vatican sided with the pro-slavery side of the American debate.]

It turns out, as Joel Panzer documents in his 1996 book The Popes and Slavery, that the popes had been condemning the slave trade and slavery of the sort that was at issue in the American debate for centuries. (That's right: centuries.) Racial slavery was singled out for special condemnation as being incompatible with Christian anthropology. Of course, where such slavery was practiced, the Vatican insisted on the humane treatment of slaves, and especially respect for their family integrity and moral and religious welfare, but it did not approve the practice. Here's where I think Mr. Sullivan really goes off the rails. He noticed the date of the Instructio (1866), and assumed that the subject of the statement he quotes (translating servitus as slavery) is American racial slavery. It wasn't. The reason that the Holy Office is wrestling with the question is that it is focused on the possible legitimacy of three types of servitude that are not at the heart of the American debate: (1) penal servitude; (2) indentured servitude; and (3) the servitude of prisoners captured in just wars. That's why we have this business (right there in the material Sullivan quotes, but evidently doesn't pay much attention to) about the need to examine whether the "slave" (servitus) "has been justly or unjustly deprived of his liberty."

As Glenn Reynolds is fond of saying of the New York Times: "I wonder if a correction will be forthcoming?" Again, I won't hold my breath, particularly with Sullivan conveniently taking a vacation (during which time, the offending post remains on his main page).

Are my fellow blogophiles disillusioned, yet?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:43 PM EST


Well, We'll Have to Squelch That Religious "Hate Speech" First

I really don't know what to say about this. It goes in so many directions. Maybe I'll just interject statements in spots where my cheeks pulled back in the facial-expression equivalent of "huh?":

AUSTRALIA'S leading relationship counselling body is urging lonely older single women to become lesbians.

Australia has a "relationship counselling body"? And is the argument now that people can just "become" gay?

Relationships Australia spokesman Jack Carney said men's shorter life spans, and their pursuit of much younger women, meant women in their twilight years were often forced to turn to other women for love and companionship.

Well, I guess if the shrinks are going to start describing those who turn to religion in their later years as "delusional," we've got to give them something to cover some of that spiritual hole.

Mr Carney said the government-funded support group encouraged older women to explore lesbian relationships, which were seen as more nurturing and emotionally supportive.

Did the Australian government ask the people that it represents before deciding to spend their money on such a study? And is Mr. Carney inching toward suggesting that lesbian relationships are to be recommended above heterosexual ones?

Older women were even pooling their resources to buy property and making pacts to form couples if they did not find a male partner by a certain age, he said.

Oh yeah, there's no need to worry about "marriages of convenience" if governments start recognizing gay marriage. No need at all.

Australian Pensioner and Superannuants League secretary Yvonne Zardini said she was aware of more women moving in together in old age.

"You notice it more where women are sharing houses, but I never ask exactly what the nature of their arrangements are, but it wouldn't surprise me (if they were in same-sex relationships). Loneliness can be a terrible thing when you are older," she said.

Myra Flynn, from support group Older Dykes, said some older women "defaulted" to lesbian relationships because of a lack of men.

Well, we're living in a sickly over-sexualized culture indeed if the Golden Girls are to be presumed lesbians. I hate to interject this, but... can we presume, then, that single adults with children of the opposite gender will "default" to incest? Or how about just adoptive or foster parents? Frankly, I'm beginning to wonder if these sociological fields aren't a bit too dominated by people with alternative leanings or sexually divergent pasts, because they certainly give the impression of projecting a sexual attitude onto everybody.

Mr Carney said that despite the encouragement for women to "explore other options", married and miserable was still better than alone and free, unless there was abuse.

"The best thing you can do is stay married if you want to live longer," Mr Carney said.

"When I talk to other counsellors, they are seeing many more older people coming in, but we try to tell them to stick with it. Divorce is like amputation."

Well, at least there's something to be said for staying married, although from this one little snapshot it seems to me that the message to older married couples is to commit adultery and/or live as swingers until they find new partners.

I don't know, folks. It seems to me that this genre of cultural message-giving is an in or out deal. Either people are to stay married, or we can legitimize every other form of relationship. Somehow, I don't think the wise response to "the pensioner stampede to the divorce courts" is to increase the number and acceptability of alternatives.

(via Andrea Harris and Tim Blair)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:19 PM EST


The Hundred-and-Fifty-First Candidate

I'm sure you'll agree that this is a must-link item.

(special thanks to Andrea Harris)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:54 PM EST


Throwing in the Theological Towel

I'm not Episcopalian, but I'm pretty confident that every Church leader whom the Episcopalians cite as part of their heritage, all the way back to the Apostles, would wince at such pronouncements as this:

The Right Rev. Geralyn Wolf, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Providence, said she doesn't know whether or not homosexual behavior is a sin, even though she voted last week to approve the first openly gay bishop ever elected by the Episcopal Church.

"We live in an age of such contradiction and ambiguity," Wolf said. ...

Asked point-blank whether she thought homosexuality was a sin, Wolf replied: "You know, I have to say that I don't really know. I can't enter into the skin of my brothers and sisters . . . We are so complex as people. . . . There's a lot of mystery."

In the few places where the Bible refers to homosexuality, Wolf said, it may be in language that we don't understand today. The Bible's condemnation of "debauchery" may not specifically refer to homosexuality, she said. "We recognize there are many gays and lesbians who are faithful," she said. ...

"It became apparent to me that our church, society, culture are in a state of change, question, confusion," she said. The church, she said, is "the place to ask the questions, not necessarily have all the answers."

There you go. From the mouth of one of that Church's own shepherds: If you need guidance, whether spiritual, theological, or practical, don't look to us. We're just as confused as the rest of you.

Scripture? Indecipherable, and bishops should apparently be willing to give the text a treatment worthy of an Ivy League professor of Queer Feminist Marxism. ("What are vile affections, after all? And do homosexuals truly burn in their lust one toward another if they enjoy each other's company in addition to sodomy? And can we really consider it to be sodomy, if there's heartfelt affection behind it?") Tradition? Malleable, susceptible to the "contradiction and ambiguity" of the times. Prudence? Reactionary, and when in doubt about something's sinfulness or wisdom, the best strategy is to discard all previous opinion and "open-mindedly" see what happens.

I hope my own Church can learn from the experience of the Anglicans. And I'm extremely grateful that Catholic tradition and hierarchical structure has managed to hold back the confused and ambiguous dictates of the postmodern world — by, for one thing, insisting on celibacy among the clergy.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:33 PM EST


Saturday, August 9, 2003

Hey, I Almost Said Exactly the Same Thing

Well, not really.

Katherine Kersten puts words to a thought that I didn't quite reach when I addressed the Robinson controversy late last night (early this morning):

The gospel of inclusion preaches a reconstructed, therapeutic Jesus, who accepts us exactly as we are. Traditional Christianity, however, holds that Jesus calls us to repentance of sins, and to transformation through a new life lived in accordance with God's will.

The gospel of inclusion has little place for repentance or transformation. Thus, it has little place for the central feature of Christianity: Christ's Cross, which brings redemption through suffering. This new gospel may be appealing, for it permits its adherents to "divinize" their own, largely secular agenda. But in a Christian church, it cannot easily coexist with the Gospel of Christ.

The mainstreaming of homosexuality into religion isn't just an inconsequential shifting of some outward mores; it strikes at the very core of religion and the Christian worldview. Robinson's daugher Ella believes that "God made us who we are supposed to be."

Excuse my language, but then what the hell's the point? It may be a short fall from admitting that we are all sinners to believing that there is no such thing as sin, but the return may prove to be an impossible climb.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:58 PM EST


Help: A Math Bleg

I've got a math problem that I know would be really simple if only I could remember enough about all those years of math lessons even to know where to look. I'm hoping that, by some miracle, one of my diminished number of weekend readers will know the answer pretty quickly. It's likely so simple that I'm almost embarrassed to ask it.

I'm typesetting a book that has already been indexed, and the page numbers have changed. The old version had 553 pages; the new version has 500. The difference between the two increased at a pretty consistent rate throughout (0 page difference at the beginning, about a 26 page difference in the middle, and a 53 page difference at the end). What is the formula that would give a rough idea of where an index reference would be in the new version?

John Derbyshire (what a guy!), whom I emailed my question, just emailed back the solution:

new page = old page x (500/553)

Y'know... maybe it's just that I'm so stressed out about now, but I had that answer (the decimal constant for 500/553 and everything). I dismissed it as too simple to be right, perhaps because I had just spent a half-hour trying to get Microsoft Excel to graph it for me (ah, the ease with which ease makes life difficult). I had gotten in the frame of mind of thinking of x and y as axes rather than the data and the answer.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:31 PM EST


Well That's How These Things Happen

I was all set to do a little more work and then head off to bed. Then I bumped into a post by Jeff Jarvis taking on Lileks for speaking out against the ascendancy of a gay Episcopalian Bishop — not because Gene Robinson is gay, but because he left a wife and two young daughters (8 and 4) to "be gay."

Jarvis links to Mike of Begging to Differ, who offers up a brief biography of Robinson's "real story." After showing that he is, somehow, surprised that a writer would be "hyperbolic" who spends hundreds of words a day discussing such things as shampoo bottles in such a way as to make the decision between them cosmic, Mike essentially admits that he merely disagrees with Lileks's basic assumptions and returns to the one question that has become the Morally Superior Cudgel of Refused Consideration in our day: "Who are you to judge?" (Only, of course, Mike bolds it to emphasize that Lileks best shut his trap.)

One could answer Mike's question pretty simply — for one thing, Lileks is a man who is still married to his wife — but I prefer to comment along the lines of Andrea Harris in Jarvis's comment box: "This event also illustrates that gay public officials are fast becoming the in-crowd's new cuddly toy." In a related post, Andrea expands on that aspect of the tale, suggesting that "there's a movie script in [Robinson's biography] just waiting for that rumored new gay cable channel."

When I read the bishop's backstory — of which Mike gives several variations that all obvious come from the same source(s) — my first thought was, "I wouldn't dare write this as fiction!" The story sets off my credulity alarm so dramatically that I almost feel as if I'm allowing myself to be duped believing that it's true. (Of course, it is almost certainly true in some or many ways, but that doesn't diminish the point.)

Robinson, the son of Kentucky tobacco sharecroppers, had nearly died at birth, with the doctor asking for a name to put on birth and death certificates. Thinking it inconsequential and having expected a girl, his father gave him a girl's name (Vicky Imogene). Gene learned early that "Suicide was something we thought the good homosexuals did." He then had the after-school-special moment of the smuggled Playboy not giving him quite the reaction that he knows is expected.

Then the story zips through the everyman parts of his youth, addressing sexuality only in the context of his struggles to suppress his true desires. In his early-twenties New York City seminary days, as Robinson puts it, "I was able to admit a little more to myself my attraction to men." Next big scene: Robinson "fell in love" with his future wife and confessed that "his significant past relationships had been with men."


We didn't get that episode! Could this indicate a little cuddlyization? I wouldn't presume to guess, but if I were attempting to give somebody the full gloss treatment, this is a detail that I would have handled with a similarly casual retrospective touch. The same thing is true of the "drifting apart" scene:

In 1985 Robinson began examining his life choices for reasons that he still cannot explain, even to himself. His best guess is that he was headed toward 40. As he had feared, his doubt about his sexuality "reared its ugly head."

"I think one of the questions that comes during middle age is am I living my life the way I want to live it for the rest of my life?" he said. "If not, perhaps I ought to think about changing it now because I don't have as much time left as I used to."

The prospect filled him with excitement and dread.

Robinson believed he and his wife could find deeper love with other people, but he had never imagined living away from his kids - and he hadn't resolved the matter with God.

I.e.: midlife crisis. What follows are mushy readings of such unambiguous passages as Romans 1:26-27:

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.

"To Robinson, the passages condemned rape and gay sex with prostitutes or children - not consensual gay sex." This, I can only imagine, he takes from the few of twenty-five English translations of St. Paul that leave so much as a toe-hold of ambiguity. But it turns out not to matter, ultimately, because the passages don't apply to him: "they'd been written before anyone had imagined the sort of committed, monogamous gay life he desired." The Bible's just a "text," after all, and it can mean whatever we want it to mean in the context of our modern perspective. Right?

Whatever the judgment on that question, it's that "deeper love with other people" suggestion that I keep coming back to. Are there people in the midst of midlife crises who don't wonder whether they could find "deeper" love with somebody other than the person to whom they've been married for better than a decade? This brings us back to Lileks and the core of his argument:

There's a word for people who leave their children because they don't want to have sex with Mommy anymore: selfish.

Perusing the reports of current events in the glistening life story of Gene Robinson, it is that concept that comes up again and again. The first whiff drifts by when we learn that both of his daughters' college entrance essays were about their father's leaving — life-affirming most likely, but still, about him and what he did. This blossoms into a truly frightening comment from young Ella, now a woman of 21 (emphasis added):

There were some people who looked at our family situation and really judged it. But I learned early on how important it is to be yourself, no matter the consequences.

This is, of course, a lesson that our culture teaches children as the Golden Rule of modern life. Indeed, Rev. Robinson suggests that he might have re-learned it from children, who "will not up with B.S. for long." (By "B.S.," does he mean his marriage?) And that inconsequential word — "consequences" — comes up again elsewhere in this latter day fairytale:

"I love you, Gene," Bishop Keith Ackerman of Quincy, Ill., said at a hearing Friday. "But this unprecedented action will separate us from the rest of the holy, catholic, apostolic church.... We cannot so significantly depart from church teachings and not expect serious consequences."

It may be that the Robinsons were extremely lucky and really did manage a divorce, for the reason of homosexuality, without harming their daughters. Robinson may indeed be one of that very small minority of homosexuals who desire to live according to the moral norms for heterosexuals, only homosexually. Indeed, he may be a living embodiment of the fashionable fictional device of the gay representative of morality for heterosexuals' benefit. Frankly, although I'll assume the best, I don't trust the glossy media representations of Robinson's life, past or present. As I said, they are too perfect even for fiction, and they conspicuously leave out the dirt on which the media could be trusted to concentrate under other circumstances. And this gives me the most pause of all:

"If people leave, it's because they choose to leave," he said. "I'm carrying a whole lot on my shoulders right now. I can't carry the whole future of the entire Anglican Communion."

But what if you do, Bishop Robinson? What if you do?

This didn't fit in the flow of this post, but I wanted to juxtapose two lines (the second from here):

"I want to be a good bishop," he said. "Not the gay bishop."

"The corporate symbol of the episcopate becomes a fuller symbol when someone gay or lesbian is in those ranks."

So he doesn't want to be considered "the gay bishop," but he does want to fill the gay bishop slot that he thinks should exist within the episcopate.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:57 AM EST


Friday, August 8, 2003

Are People Noticing, or Is It Just Me?

I'm starting to notice these stories increasingly:

In vain, Kempling [a teacher who wrote letters to the editor decrying the handling of homosexuality in sex-ed courses] looked around to see who would help him. His union, the British Columbia Teachers Federation, beyond providing some initial legal help, turned him down flat.

"His views are antithetical to our position about the inclusion of gays, lesbians, transgendered and two-spirited people in our society," says the president.

Neither would the B.C. Civil Liberties Association take up his cause. He should be fired as a school counsellor, says president John Dixon. That the college could find no specific impact on his students didn't matter. "If there are gay students in that school - and you can bet your bottom dollar there are - they're going to keep their heads down and they certainly aren't going to resort to Mr. Kempling for advice."

Kempling is a Christian, said Dixon, and as a counsellor he favours his religious conscience over his duties. How Dixon was in a position to know what Kempling might do in pursuing his duties, Dixon did not explain. Presumably, he believes no person with religious beliefs should be employed as a school counsellor because this danger would always exist. Atheists only need apply.

Such travesties are nothing new, and it could very well be that my reading habits are such that I'm likely to come across them. However, somehow, I can't shake the impression that people — the people, regular, workaday people — are beginning to notice that those to whom they have allotted the task of ensuring the equal and fair treatment of everybody are quite selective in their assessment of who deserves equal and fair treatment.

Maybe it has something to do with the "need [or need not] apply" theme that has been echoing around. People, I think, are starting to get it — to understand that oppression is sneaking in under the camouflage of "diversity" and "tolerance." Is everybody noticing too slowly and too late?

We'll see. In the meantime: pass it on.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:54 PM EST


Context for the Criticism

This I did not know (but should have been told, at some point, you would think, given the circumstances):

According to the Massachusetts Department of Social Services web site, there were a staggering 62,506 reports of child abuse and neglect in that state in 2000. Bland suggests that extending that out over 60 years would result in several million instances of abuse, a staggering number for a relatively small state like Massachusetts.

Of course, "child abuse and neglect" is a broad category — particularly in liberal New England, believe me, where children know that there are phone numbers they can call to prove their power to their parents. Also of course, even a number ten times that high would not excuse the institutional corruption of the Church in handling its small percentage of Massachusetts's child abuse.

Still, it is important to keep this context in mind. Our culture is not well, and if anything good comes out of the Catholic Church's scandals, it may be a forced clarity that will allow it to speak up when society as a whole increases its fervor for dealing with illness by defining the symptoms as healthy.

(via Mark Shea)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:44 PM EST


The Power of Icon

Because Lead and Gold's direct links aren't working, you'll have the pleasure of scrolling by (preferably reading) many other good posts to get there, but one titled "I'm Puzzled" caught my eye:

We've been told over and over again that Marilyn Manson and his music had NOTHING to do with Columbine. Nihilistic song lyrics do NOT encourage teen suicide. Violent video games do NOT promote school shootings. Natural Born Killers is just a movie and can NOT be harmful in any serious way. Gangster Rap is just good clean fun.

In short, popular entertainment is not to be blamed for any crimes. They are just songs, videos, games, comics.

Of course, this truism of modern, na-na-na-I-can't-hear-you society applies in all cases... except those whose message derives from the core of the evil foundational traditions of Western Civilization. Those, we can be sure, are so powerful as to remove all free will from folks who would, if not subjected to them, be as secular angels in the Grand Kumbaya of the West.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:35 PM EST


The End of a Long Week

I apologize for my lack of blogging today. It's been a long, busy, and emotionally draining week, and I face a short, busy, and intellectually stultifying weekend.

(Cue moody theme music — mp3)

If I were running my professional life as a business, and if I had the resources, I would probably be justified in hiring at least five people to do the tasks that I have undertaken of late. One would have to do my day-job editing to keep the steady, reliable stream of dollars (and healthcare) coming in. Another would now, having managed to edit, design, and find funding for the 2003 Redwood Review, be shipping off the signed copies to the sponsors, sending out sample copies and press releases, and wandering the area distributing the books. The third could pick up the typesetting of the tightly deadlined Ambushed: Why George Herbert Walker Bush Really Lost in 1992. The fourth employee would get the fun job of doing all of the random writing that I enjoy doing and that helps me to open doors pixel by pixel, reader by reader, but that I find time-consuming — blogging, column writing, emailing, blog reading and commenting, and so on. Meanwhile, my fifth worker would manage my finances, trying to find some way to get us out of the quicksand of debt and get us into a house that doesn't fill us with dread that it will prove a death trap, that doesn't require us to keep our daughter out of the backyard because it is a swamp (that may be partly attributable to the inadequate and probably illegal septic system), that isn't so old, cramped, and poorly designed that we risk waking up our daughter when we brush our teeth and can't have guests stay in the spare "room" in the attic because the stairs that they would climb down to the only bathroom might as well be an alarm clock against the wall of our daughter's room, and, preferably, that we own.

Maybe if all of that were taken care of for me, I could relax a little. Spend more time with my family. Use the cheap inflatable raft that I bought for exercise and to actually feel like I'm not wasting the reality that I live on an island. Use the hammock that is finally in my possession (a gift from mom & dad) after years of wanting one. Actually practice piano (even if on my now-ancient keyboard with too few keys and too many that stick). Write the sort of stuff that I find enjoyable and intellectually and artistically stimulating and that doesn't lose me friends.

Look, I don't want to complain. There's a whole lot in my life that is wonderful and for which I am extremely grateful. There's a whole lot in my life that could be much worse, and I am grateful that it is not. But... y'know? This week we discovered that the state's first-time homebuyer program would give us just enough of a mortgage to buy a moderately expensive car. I've also gotten the increasing feeling that I am utterly locked out of The Establishments — all of them — that have anything to do with my professional interests. All of the smaller publications and artsy organizations in this area are too liberal for me to build up my reputation there. The larger publications, including the national conservative ones, are filled with people who've either pursued journalism since college, amassed some expertise as part of a separate career in academics or military or somesuch, or have the type of connections that surprise me every time I learn (always incidentally) that so-and-so's brother, who was some kind of secretary for some President, was Ivy League roommates with a guy who works in movies and whose cousin married a close relative of Humphrey Bogart, who now plays tennis with so-and-so's other brother. As for the blogosphere, to the extent that the big bloggers aren't included in a wing of The Establishment (and that extent is quite a bit less than advertised, if you pay attention), I've managed to eschew good will by means of strong opinions on loose lips.

If you've read this far, I thank you for sticking with my venting. When I used to sit among the catacombs of corporate cubicles, back in my atheist days, I used to wish there were some way that I could send out an email just to bounce around cyberspace with the simple text of, "Help." And I guess that's sort of one thing that I considered this blog good for, that catharsis. 'Cause it's all too much right now, and I really needed just to write one of those posts of the sort that I spend a week nervously waiting until it falls into the abyss of my archives where it will remain unread until somebody searches Google for "Humphrey+Bogart+so-and-so."

Other than that, I guess I just wanted to send the bottled message out into the Great Nowhere that I could use some sort of a break — whether as in "vacation" or as in "success." Most everything that I've ever learned, particularly vocationally and philosophically, has been taught in the negative: "Well, I'll do this because that hurts too much." When do I get to the point at which I can start "doing this" because it works?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:17 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:45 AM EST


Thursday, August 7, 2003

Will Oprah Save the Literary Canon?

English Professor Erin O'Connor thinks she just might. Me, I'm just happy to have my curiosity sated. I've been wondering all summer why East of Eden was at the top of the charts and why, consequently, "timshel" has become the number 1 search term to my Web site (followed by Dave Mordel [sic]).

How ill is the academic elite when pop culture figures have to pick up the slack in promoting the artistic classics of our nation? (Maybe I should send Oprah a complimentary copy of A Whispering Through the Branches...)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:49 AM EST


What If Bishop Robinson Is the Representative?

Bishop Robinson was manifestly the wrong representative for gay advocates to put forward for this latest advance. The problem is that he isn't just objectionable because he is a homosexual, not even just because he is a "practicing" one. Even James Lileks, whom I've recently had cause to (umm) rebut on the issue of gay marriage, objects to Robinson. The whole thing is worth quoting, but here's the beginning (emphasis in the original):

This story has irritated me from the start, and it has nothing to do with Rev. Robinson's sexual orientation. The guy left his wife and kids to go do the hokey-pokey with someone else: that's what itís all about, at least for me. Marriages founder for a variety of reasons, and ofttimes they're valid reasons, sad and inescapable. But "I want to have sex with other people" is not a valid reason for depriving two little girls of a daddy who lives with them, gets up at night when they're sick, kisses them in the morning when they wake. There's a word for people who leave their children because they don't want to have sex with Mommy anymore: selfish. I'm not a praying man, but I cannot possibly imagine asking God if that would be okay. Send them another Dad, okay? Until you do I'll keep my cellphone on 24/7, I promise.

Who are you to judge? is the standard response, and I quote Captain James T. Kirk when asked the same question by Kodos the Executioner: who do I have to be? I'll tell you this: my nightmare is losing my daughter. The idea of leaving her on purpose is inconceivable, and I don't care if Adriana Lima drove up the driveway in a '57 BelAir convertible, tossed me the keys and asked me to drive her to Rio, it ain't gonna happen. I made a promise when I married my wife, and I made another when we had our daughter. It's made me rather cranky on the subject of men who don't stick around. They're letting down the side. They're reverting to type. They're talking from their trousers.

An interesting thing happens as a result of Lileks's (too) even-handed treatment of homosexuality and heterosexuality: he skirts something important when he suggests that the Reverend would not likely have been held up as the avatar of a better society to come had he left his family for another woman. Perhaps this is the intellectual and social escape hatch from this mess. Has Lileks considered — has America considered — the possibility that the elevation of a man who is not only objectionable because of his gender preference indicates that the other stuff is not an incidental component of the culture that he is helping to usher into the mainstream?

Yes, the gay guy on Melrose Place was presented as the celibate moral center of an apartment complex of lustful straights. Yes, the gay neighbors in American Beauty were healthy and professional — in stark contrast to the screwed up "nuclear" family and the psychotic military family next door. But has America considered that this is not the reality that its policies must address?

To be sure, it is inconceivable that all homosexuals are consciously subversive. Many just want to be happy with the lives that they have been given. They are, after all, living within the same culture as the rest of us. There is also certainly a minority of homosexuals who want to structure their lives and relationships in exact accordance with the healthy norms for heterosexuals, only with others of the same sex. (Although, if only 10% of committed homosexuals value monogamy, that minority is likely small indeed.) And even those who are on some level aware of the larger movement of which they are the tip ought to be addressed as fellow human beings in every other capacity of their humanity. However, we cannot afford to make taboo the discussion of the actual circumstances and implications of our push for "tolerance."

Lileks wants to be fair and respectful. Many others — from blogger Noah Millman, who opposes gay marriage, to local talk radio host Dan Yorke, who supports it — are grappling with the fact that they have gay friends and relatives whom they like and respect. I sympathize with that, and I certainly realize that sliding into bigotry is a potential danger of the perspective that I advocate. However, we simply cannot afford to cup our hands around our eyes so that we see only the smiling faces of our gay friends and coworkers. It may be more difficult, and it may cause irreparable rifts in our personal lives, but the danger is certain and drastic if we shirk our responsibility to take a broader view and, thereby, define and discuss the movement as a whole.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:32 AM EST


As Faith Would Have It

Stephen of Absit Invidia has responded to my latest post about The Scandal. While it is encouraging and refreshing to discuss the issue with a non-Catholic who is both intelligent and reasonable about the realities and differing perspectives involved in the issue, it is also frustrating to attempt to convey what has been an ongoing debate among Catholic writers to a someone who does not share the basic assumptions of that internal debate.

What made the current round of revelations (no pun intended) so disturbing - as opposed to earlier priest-pedophile scandals that have been exposed over the past twenty years - is that it became obvious that these weren't just simple "mistakes". They were indicative of a disgusting and morally bankrupt pattern of abuse, lies, cover-ups, hush money, and false denial. They put reputation and career paths ahead of the spiritual and physical wellbeing of children.

In my view, taking the advice that Stephen bases on the same judgment that he would have of "IBM in similar circumstances" would simply perpetuate this problem: putting "reputation and career paths" ahead of spiritual wellbeing. Only, it would involve the entire institution's putting its public brand ahead the spiritual wellbeing of its individual members and the Church as a whole. The problem has come from behaving in a worldly manner, and the response ought to bring a return to higher objectives.

Regarding specifics, I agree that Law had to go. I also would have suggested, if asked, that the Church find some way to remove culpable men from the perk-bedecked offices that they hold while still requiring them to clean up the mess and make penance. The Vatican has chosen another route, and it may indeed be one that increases the weight of its public burden. However, on this count, I agree with the new Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal O'Malley:

Many Catholics feel that it is unfair that national concern on sexual abuse has focused so narrowly on the Catholic Church, without a commensurate attempt to address the problem in our contemporary society at large. Yet we can only hope that the bitter medicine we have had to take to remedy our mismanagement of the problem of sexual abuse will prove beneficial to our whole country -- making all of us more aware of the dreadful consequences of this crime, and more vigilant and effective in eradicating this evil from our midst.

Some Catholic writers have suggested that the latest pushes from homosexuals for marriage and into the upper echelons of another Christian Church (the latter of which I'll address in a subsequent post) indicate that the Church may have been humbled for the purpose of addressing the coming cultural war. It may indeed be true, as Mark Shea has been saying for a while, that in the near future, far from being condemned for some priests' treatment of children, the Church will be the object of hatred for its antiquated views against "healthy, loving, sexual" relationships between adults and children beyond the age of reason. For this reason, I don't think one need be a believer in the Church to address this suggestion of Stephen's:

In my opinion, the entire problem rests with the hierarchy and the Catholic Church will be in no position to influence the corrupt culture that Justin speaks of until it cuts itself loose from men whose integrity and leadership have failed utterly and completely. The Church in Boston has been given a fresh start, the Church in Manchester deserves no less.

The corruption of our culture is such that it will not be an option to cut away transgressors. Like women who cannot allow themselves to believe that abortions already had were, indeed, murder of their children, we are all complicit. In this respect, those who would "influence" — lead — humanity through this tangle of its own making must find a way through it and act as an example for handling it in a way contrary to the pool of secular ideals that has caused the rot.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:44 AM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "SanGimignano (Siena) Italy," by Len DeAngelis.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:47 AM EST


Belated Blogoversary

Hey, what do you know... I've been too busy even to notice that I've now been a blogger for a whole year!

Well, it's been interesting, full of ups and downs. It'll be more interesting to see where it goes from here, as I increase return-visit traffic and lose some of the good will among the big famous folks who used to send me thousands of one-hit visitors. (Maybe to compensate, I can form the first Dave Mordal/Rich Vos fan club. We can call it "Dat Phan Ain't Funny.")

If you're of a mind to mark the occasion and to offer me hope for the future, you might consider picking something up from Confidence Place: The Timshel Arts Store — particularly helping to lighten my inventory of my first novel and my first Just Thinking book. But if you're not of that mind... well, that's okay. I'm happy just to have you popping in from time to time.

God bless.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:00 AM EST


But Scandals Go On and On

My fellow New England blogger Stephen from Absit Vidia wants to engage me in discussion about the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. I really would like to pick the whole thing up again, but I'm extremely busy. Furthermore, at this point, I'm not sure what else to say. My Just Thinking column on the issue will still be available online for a few more weeks for those who want more than this, but my bottom line at this point is that, yes, administrative stupidity and error are what turned a rash of horrors into an institutional crisis, but the Church, by its very nature, cannot address such scandals as would a corporation: acting entirely to put the best face forward to a hostile public.

This is something that I'm finding many people outside the Church, as well as many of its members, don't get — or at least forget to take into account. The Church is concerned with souls: all souls. The Church must be less concerned about institutional efficiency and more concerned about the effectiveness of its handling of specific issues toward imparting lessons to individuals and to humanity. For this reason, within the context of Catholic teaching, a quick purge of all members of the hierarchy who are directly and indirectly responsible for mistakes — even horrific mistakes — is not as obviously the right thing to do as some suggest. As the above-linked column shows, I think there are more practical and politic ways to reach the same ends, but the point is that it is a question.

Stephen lists some bishops "whom the Massachusetts Attorney General's office has found negligent, if not culpable, in the matter" and states that the Pope must fire them all or else "his credibility as a moral leader will be seriously compromised." Well, this has certainly proven true in some quarters. On top of the strong advocacy against removing Saddam Hussein, that credibility is even more tarnished. Some (foolishly) add the condemnation of gay marriage to the list. But even as one who disagreed prudentially and morally with the Vatican about Iraq, I must insist on recognizing that the Pope, the Vatican, and the entire Roman Catholic Church are not free to put their political credibility foremost.

The simple fact of the matter is that Stephen is wrong when he writes:

While there's no doubt that enemies of the Catholic Church - both secular and religious - may have used the scandal to further their anti-Catholic agenda, the responsibility for the crisis rests entirely with Catholic hierarchy. It is theirs and theirs alone.

Certainly, individual instances of abuse as well as some portion of the extent of the crisis rest with the hierarchy, but the responsibility also spreads to the culture in which those men were acting — all of those men, from the abusive priests to the negligent bishops. Our entire culture is corrupted, and we must begin forcing our society to heal rather than simply cutting loose those individual bits of our collective body that present the rot to us in shocking detail.

In his previous post, Stephen admits to being a lapsed Catholic, who left the Church because he "was never really a believer." That he has not become a venomous opponent of the Church suggests that he did indeed drift away rather than flinch from some spiritual reaction. In that context, it's understandable that he concentrates on the Church as an historical and cultural institution — pulling out for particular appreciation the work of Catholics, especially nuns, toward building the foundations of freedom, health, and education in the United States.

However, as a convert, as one who waded around amidst of the corrupted ideology of the secular West and strove with my entire intellect and soul to find the meaning behind the corruption (which I would have called Truth, then), I take a different view. The good deeds of the nuns are not diminished nor are the bad deeds of a relatively small number of priests excused by this, but those things of this world (meaning, in this case, visible society) are not definingly important.

At bottom, this is a gap in the worldviews of atheists and agnostics (though I've no idea in which camp Stephen falls) that I find to be a recurring frustration: They want the good deeds and charity, they want the schools and the hospitals, but without the motivation and without the deeper significance. They want "good" to be done for the sake of its trappings. They want the morality without the moral. But disconnected from the underlying message (make that "the underlying Message"), the outward manifestations of good deteriorate into the outward symptoms of evil, of greed and selfishness and lust and pride.

Oh yes, I'm well aware that the Church has lost credibility, and it would be a falsely comforting fiction to say that that is only so among those for whom it never had any. But when moral credibility becomes the conscious objective rather than a happy side effect of right behavior, it begins to crumble in on itself. We are a fallen race, and fallen people will give credibility to corroded morals. And you better believe that there is a dark meaning hidden behind the veneer of meaninglessness in the corruption.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:48 AM EST


Wednesday, August 6, 2003

P. Kennedy: Out of Church and Out of Office

Right on the heals of drunkenly declaring to a crowd of Democrats that he "has never worked a f**king day in [his] life," Congressman Patrick Kennedy (my — quote — representative — unquote) ups the ante in his bid to prove himself unfit for public office:

"I see the policy of opposing same-sex marriages or unions, whatever you call it, as bigotry or discrimination," Kennedy said yesterday in an interview.

"We are talking about the law here and whether the law is going to treat people equally here. I don't see where the church or anyone else dictates what the policy is going to be with respect to treating people equally," he said.

I'm not sure by what right Kennedy calls himself a Catholic. I'm also not sure under what influence of Satan people might actually take him seriously when he says stuff like this:

Kennedy said his Catholic identity is important to him.

"The life of Jesus Christ influences my whole notion of public service," Kennedy said. "It's all about following the example of Jesus, of service, humility and love."

Kennedy continued: "I am speaking to you as someone who when I hear the Scripture, I get a very different message of what Jesus was teaching me than what the church seems to be representing."

Apparently, Kennedy gets a different message from Scripture than what most faithful find there. This, for example:

Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:21-24)

And if he truly believes that the Church whose name Kennedy claims as his own is the representative of Christ in this world, then this ought to give him pause as he goes around declaring that he disagrees with "many" "doctrines":

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33)

Kennedy is an extreme example, but I continue to be astonished at the complete misunderstanding (or misrepresentation) of faith and religion among liberal politicians. Here's another Rhode Island Catholic Democrat, Congressman Jim Langevin:

"However, I believe in a strong separation in church and state. The greatest influence on an congressperson's decision must be the Constitution and the interests of his or her constituents."

But Jim, if you believe in the Catholic Church, then you believe that its teachings are manifestly in "the interests" of your constituents. Of course, there are prudential matters on which one can disagree with the Vatican, and there will be times when being faithful to one's office conflicts with both conscience and faith, but it is simply blasphemous spin to perpetuate this notion that religion oughtn't help to form the conscience and guide the behavior of our leaders.

The Catholic League has noticed Patty's remarks, and as usual, Bill Donohue addresses the issue concisely, cleverly, and correctly.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:46 PM EST


Studio Matters Notes & Commentary: Recent Orthodoxies

Maureen Mullarkey's latest Notes & Commentary piece is "Recent Orthodoxies."

Reading this "flashback" piece from 1988, it occurred to me how much more interesting my college classes could have been if the professors had introduced both sides of the battle of the day rather than both sides of the previous round, of which we all knew the winner. Apart from being boring for most and frustrating for those with different opinions (e.g., me), one effect of these lagging lesson plans has been that a generation of students sees nonsense as given truth. As Maureen emails me, "Within a decade, this stuff made its way out of academia and into the mainstream. Yikes."

Perhaps in part because the intelligensia have frozen the discussion in ideological suspended animation, Maureen's piece is every bit as relevant today as it was when The Nation (of all places) published it fifteen years ago. In 1988:

A similar approach [to using art to reconstruct the history of past assumptions which linger as our own] subordinated to ideological prescriptions is strenuously unimpressive. The difference is one of empathy. And, as the book indicates, of ambition. In Realism, Nochlin's engagement with her sources was paramount. Since then, her attention has shifted to a facile orthodoxy that decrees its own conclusions with scant help from her material. The dislocation yields a safe, middlebrow imitation of radicalism that comes close to what Milan Kundera termed "kitsch of the Grand March." Her brass wind piece on Florine Stettheimer is a case in point.

And now, in 2003? The observation still holds, only it has been regurgitated so frequently that the truisms can be rattled off by any black-clad feminist student even without reference to the laptop on her desk. These are the followers of followers of frauds.

Maureen uses art as an external medium to show that, as with any identity-based construction of history, digging for "assertive" women has required the brushing aside of talented women:

Reprinted here is the 1971 essay that spurred the feminist art movement: "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" The answer, it seems, is that the movement did not really want any. It preferred jeering at "the myth of the Great Artist" and pointing a finger at the nature of art. Nochlin follows her fine discussion of the fallacy of so-called masculine or feminine styles with the contradictory suggestion that "no appropriate language of form" exists for women. Traditional definitions of art are "intellectual distortions" reflecting the "unstated domination of white male subjectivity." In other words, women should not be judged by "male" standards of quality.

One smudge that we can spot on the broader canvas of society these fifteen years later is that this revisionist strategy has required the continual acceptance of obvious falsehoods. At some point, the rebellious child will shout out that the emperor's portrait has no paint. Art — of all forms — thrives during periods of cultural unrest and change, and I am confident that there are, even now, artists rejecting the received wisdom of their foregoing elites. Hopefully those artists are reading their Mullarkey.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:11 PM EST


What the Anglican Church Has Wrought

John Derbyshire is not happy about the newly ordained openly gay bishop in the New Hampshire branch of his Church:

Millions of ordinary Americans struggle through worse crises every day, and come down at last on the side of social responsibility and Christian duty. Robinson came down on the side of Woody Allen: "The heart wants what it wants." Feu!) That he could become a bishop in my church sickens and disgusts me. We can show tolerance and Christian obligation towards deviant minorities without handing them the keys to the house, can't we? Apparently not, not today, not in America. For shame! For shame!

As if to give Andrew Sullivan more material to work with, Derb added more later:

We have let something loose in our society, and it won't rest until it has occupied the commanding heights and forcibly shut the mouths of all who object--bigots! homophobes! haters! I have never liked homosexuality, nor tried to hide that fact; but all my life I have supported tolerance towards homosexuals as a harmless minority who are just as entitled to pursue their private inclinations as the rest of us. I have always thought that the criminalization of homosexual acts was both foolish, and inhumane, and un-Christian. I am no longer so sure. Perhaps our grandfathers were wiser than us. Perhaps there are some things that we, the normal majority, SHOULD, deliberately and consciously, disapprove and marginalize.

In the second post, Derb contemplates leaving the Anglican Church but discounts moving into the Roman Catholic Church because it "is headed the same way." I wonder. For one thing, the Catholic Church forbids marriage and sex among its priests, so it is even less constitutionally disposed to practicing homosexual parents' acting as priests. For another, the Vatican just reaffirmed the sinfulness of homosexuality in the context of advocating against public recognition of homosexual relationships. In fact, Andrew Sullivan recently had his own Leaving My Church moment in response. Wouldn't it pull the Catholic Church away from the brink if the Sullivans were to leave and the Derbyshires were to come?

Think about it, Derb. Lane Core has even been nice enough to put together a reading list for Anglicans in such a position.

(By the way, be sure to read a moving email that Derb posted in the Corner from a woman whose husband abandoned her and their three children for another man.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:31 PM EST


Unmushing Marital Infidelity Numbers

Okay, class. Today, we're going to interpret and compare statistics. Does anybody have any thoughts about the best way to handle social science statistics? No, Ms. Dowd, we don't take the ones we like at face value and ignore the rest. Anyone else?

No? First of all, it's important that we collect all of the information about a statistic that we can glean from our sources. When we're comparing statistics from different sources, it is crucial that we try to match up as many factors as we can. For practice, consider this passage from a Froma Harrop column in the Providence Journal about gay marriage:

As evidence, Kurtz points to a study showing that 20 percent of gay males who had participated in a "commitment ceremony" did not practice monogamy. It took a certain amount of guts to use that number to support his argument. A University of San Francisco study found that 24 percent of married heterosexual men have had sex with partners other than their wives.

Well, considering the haughtiness that Harrop derives from her statistical conclusion, perhaps we might do well to analyze whether it is really true that gay men are more likely to be faithful than straight men are. So, let's line up the facts as if we were doing a mathematical equation:

"commitment ceremony"
"did not practice monogamy"
20 percent

"had sex with partners other than their wives"
24 percent

Let's address the homosexual men equation first, beginning by trying to define the words in quotations a bit more concisely and noting any qualifications that might bear on the results. Turning to Stanley Kurtz's piece, we find that this study was performed in 1998 by an advocate for gay marriage who had to "go out of her research protocol just to find enough male couples to balance the committed lesbian couples." The findings presented are that 20% of this group of men who have gone out of their way to declare a commitment do not "practice monogamy," which suggests that it isn't even attempted, and only 10% "mentioned monogamy as an important aspect of commitment." So, 70% of the sample lie somewhere between explicitly open relationships and explicitly closed relationships; this could include couples that haven't discussed it or that haven't felt the need to "cheat," but won't rule it out. At any rate, I think we can clarify our equation a little, gleaning another bit of information from broad knowledge of social trends and the date of the study:

relatively recent "commitment ceremony"
openly engage in extra-commitment sex
20 percent

This data is scarce, so let's turn to the heterosexual equation. Ms. Harrop was kind enough to point me in the direction of her source for that information, and I believe it was this USA Today article. At that time, the study hadn't actually been released, so it's helpful to look to other sources within the article and outside of it for context. Heading to Google, I wasn't able to find the data from which the statement draws, but I did find a list of AIDS-related sexual behavior research on the University of San Francisco Web site. This synopsis was particularly interesting:

Choi, K. H., Catania, J. A. and Dolcini, M. M. (1994). Extramarital Sex and HIV Risk Behavior among Us Adults: Results from the National AIDS Behavioral Survey. American Journal of Public Health 84(12): 2003-7.

Data from the National AIDS Behavioral Survey were used to examine the social distribution of extramarital sex and risk for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection among married individuals in the United States. Of 1686 married respondents living across the United States, 2.2% reported extramarital sex; of 3827 married respondents living in 23 urban areas with large Hispanic or African-American populations, 2.5% reported having sexual partners outside marriage. The data indicate that the correlates of extramarital sex varied by race/ethnicity. Low levels of condom use were found among people reporting extramarital sex (8% to 19% consistent users).

That puts the percentage for extramarital sex closer to 2.4% than 24%. That's a huge difference, and sure enough, sources can be found, with various differences, between both of these numbers. A chart of 1992 data suggests that for all men, the percentage that has had extramarital sex is in the mid-teens. It also shows that the percentage increases dramatically for older people who have probably, in a higher percentage of cases, been married for longer (for men between 18 and 29, the number is 10%). Another analysis of the same data shows that this magic number of unfaithful spouses (both sexes, all ages) drops to 5% when both the relationship and the infidelity had occurred within the year prior to the survey. Incidentally, this further analysis also gives us a number to compare (loosely, because it includes both genders) with the 10% of committed gay men who "mentioned monogamy": 98–99% of married respondents "expected their partners to be sexually exclusive and believed that their partners expected the same of them."

At this point, I'd say we can better determine some of the factors in that 24% number. Before we do so, however, note this from the same USA Today article (though a different study) that Harrop didn't mention: "Only about 0.5% overall have had multiple affairs. And only about 3.3% have had extramarital sex in the past year."

married ever and for any duration
ever had any extramarital sex with any number of people
24 percent

That doesn't look comparable to the gay equation, now does it? The latter two lines are terribly broad and include many crucial variables. Some of the data that we've already seen might suggest directions in which to tweak the numbers. The "past 12 months" infidelity figures (for both sexes) are 3.3% and 5% in different studies. Looking at the younger end of the spectrum, we see that 13% of men under 40 have had affiars. We also have seen the percentage of "cheaters" drop to 0.5% when those who've only ever had one affair are left out. Furthermore, only 1–2% of married heterosexuals do not "practice monogamy" in that they don't expect it from themselves or their partners.

Taking all of this into account, we can be reasonably confident in suggesting that Harrop's 24% is heavily skewed toward older men with longer marriages who "slipped up" once and have no intentions of ever doing so again. This is what Harrop considers a fair comparison to gay men who openly declare that they don't even intend to attempt monogamy? Talk about an unforgiving standard for heterosexual fidelity! One might think that Harrop was attempting to make her numbers fit a conclusion that she held for other reasons. It doesn't help that Harrop could have gotten close to her 24% simply by reading the following paragraph in Kurtz's essay:

A recent survey of gay couples in civil unions by University of Vermont psychologists Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solomon confirms what Stiers's study suggests--that married gay male couples will be far less likely than married heterosexual couples to identify marriage with monogamy. Rothblum and Solomon contacted all 2,300 couples who entered civil unions in Vermont between June 1, 2000, and June 30, 2001. More than 300 civil union couples residing in and out of the state responded. Rothblum and Solomon then compared the gay couples in civil unions with heterosexual couples and gay couples outside of civil unions. Among married heterosexual men, 79 percent felt that marriage demanded monogamy, 50 percent of men in gay civil unions insisted on monogamy, while only 34 percent of gay men outside of civil unions affirmed monogamy.

That's a shockingly high number of married heterosexuals to take the necessity of monogamy out of marriage. So high, when compared with the upper-90s percentages in other studies, that one can't help but think that the fact that each of the men in this study was asked the question within the context of their being related to homosexuals in "civil unions" severely skewed the results. Of course, this question also differs in that it seems to remove the "monogamy in your marriage" angle, so some of the responses might have been made with the PC idea of not judging others in mind. But I suspect that, if there was a conscious decision, on Harrop's part, to avoid this statistic, it had more to do with the even-more-shockingly-high 50% among civil-unioned gay men than with a careful analysis of the hetero skew.

Well, class, we're out of time. For homework, analyze the ways in which Harrop misrepresents her statistics in the following paragraph:

Conservatives who argue that marriage is all about children should get a lot pickier about which heterosexual pairings qualify. More than half of all married couples, about 54 percent, do not have children under the age of 18. Yet no social conservative I know of suggests that these couples be denied the tax breaks and legal protections available to married people. What's so special about being in a childless third marriage?

Extra credit for anybody who incorporates Harrop's insistence, throughout her piece, that social conservatives have no right to make judgment calls and compromises while working toward a better society. (Circle that section of your report and label it "Purity or Nothing.")

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:41 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

The Redwood Review poem of the week is "Meetings on the Road, II: Immortal Conflict," by me.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:22 AM EST


He Who Must Not Be Fisked

Some writers are notable for the way in which they leverage common sense and humor to prove a point. The casual tone often taken to accomplish this somehow makes the reader feel as if the author so thoroughly understands the subject matter that he has found its underlying significance and can address it at that level. When we agree with the conclusion, there is no opinion writing more satisfying.

When we disagree with a particular conclusion of an author who is particularly brilliant in this way, however, we might be inclined to ponder three possibilities: "I am wrong on this issue," "I forgive — even to the point of not seeing — the author's intellectual shortcuts when I do agree," or "the author's just wrong on this one, and naked holes are an indication that he knows as much deep down." In the case of James Lileks's piece about gay marriage, my admiration for the author's usual touch is such that I think I'd best take it point by point. This may look like a fisking, but we all know that one simply does not fisk James Lileks (in public). When doing so takes a position contrary to that held by both Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan, the fisking would simply be a waste of time. Therefore, I must strenuously insist that I am merely taking apart Mr. Lileks's piece in order to discern where I have gone astray in my handling of the issue of gay marriage such that I disagree with the princes of the blogosphere.

So now we're after a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a guy-and-gal thing. To the founders, this would have been like an amendment requiring the sun to rise in the east; it would fall under the category of obvious truths that the Constitution need not address.

True enough, although then we might reasonably ask whether taking this as a "given" enabled the founders to take any other important foundations of that which they founded as given. In other words, the question becomes whether this particular aspect of American society is important enough to the operation of the country that it ought to be written into the Constitution now that it can no longer be taken for granted.

But times have changed. Times are always changing. Things like gay marriage would have made your average 18th century political theorist swoon with vapors, but so would female voting rights and the wide-eyed notion that people really ought not own other humans and make them harvest cotton in leg irons. Who knows what amendments will be on the table in 2103?

Why, I do believe you are correct, Mr. Lileks. The world changes. I imagine the founders, themselves, were aware of this truth. But not all changes are equivalent in implication, particularly in their implications for the structure of our society. Apparently we, as a society, discerned that the denial of voting rights to women was decidedly not something on which the structure of our society depended (particularly once women no longer suffered from the travesty of a lack of education and independence). Something similar is true of slavery, an issue that was, indeed, raised in those founding board meetings and whose resolution then might have avoided a Civil War.

So then, Mr. Lileks, what are the various implications of gay marriage?

The 34th Amendment: Grants citizenship to robots.

35th Amendment: Extends the Second Amendment to robots.

36th Amendment: Repeals the 34th and 35th Amendments AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE and bans robots entirely.

The 46th Amendment: Rescinds the previous 45 and replaces them with the Law of the Zorg Continuum, the new rulers of the Milky Way!

Apart from imagining future amendments that apparently will prove ill-advised, what does this have to do with gay marriage?

We'll see. For now, we'll grapple with the fallout from the decision in the Texas case. Perhaps this wasn't a constitutional issue, but matters of constitutional law interest only those who pay attention to such things, and most don't. Most people saw this as a case about two guys who got arrested for whooping it up in the privacy of their home, and most people aren't comfy with anti-whooping laws.

Okay, I'll go along with that. The public isn't necessarily interested in considering the constitutional ramifications of particular legal cases, and anti-whooping-in-private laws are seen as tipping the scale that balances group rights (as expressed through the government) and individual rights. I suppose it might fit, here, to argue over whether the inevitable lack of interest in the minutia of the Constitution among the general populace was one factor that led to our having a representative form of government, and one that separated the lawmakers from the law interpreters. But let's put that aside until we've covered the more-central question of how this lesson about bedroom behavior transfers to the public arrangement of marriage.

If the Texas policemen were knocking down the doors of heterosexual couples for doing anything besides the state-sanctioned positions for connubial friction, the law would have been off the books years ago. People's tolerance for this sort of Comstockery is greatly diminished when the state bans consensual jollies and enforces the law at gunpoint.

Okay, James, I got it: the public only wants handcuffs and badges in the bedroom if it is a consensual matter. Oh sure, there were other states that had equal-opportunity sodomy laws, but let's get to that gay marriage thing that your column's supposed to be about.

If you think that this will inevitably lead to bigamist incest with polygamist animals, fine, we can have that argument. But this was about a law some regard as the legal equivalent of a head on a pike -- a warning, a sign. A cautionary example.

Actually, it would seem that it would be pointless to "have that argument" now that the Supreme Court has locked the public out of the private affairs of consenting adults. Anyway, let's move on to the argument about gay marriage, shall we?

Some want statutory condemnation as a symbol of society's values -- fine. But if you want something to be against the law, then surely you want that law enforced. And if you want the law enforced, then allegations should be investigated.

Is the gay marriage verse coming around on the guitar any time soon? Because that was what your title promised, and that was what I read the previous 333 words to get to.

There's no shortage of brazen sodomites out there; ought not they be investigated and prosecuted? If you say yes, then everything the left says about JOHN ASHCROFT'S AMERICA is true. If you say no, then you want the law to be a hypocrite.

Okay, James. Not only are you beating a dead horse within your column, but you're beating a dead horse in the society of the United States: the Supreme Court has already ruled on this one. Let's move ahead, 'kay?

No. Many who like the anti-sodomy laws want them intact, defended, displayed -- and ignored. Most don't care what consenting adults do for fun in a Texas bedroom as long as they don't frighten the horses.

Yup, no noisy sodomy... and leave the horses alone (even the dead ones). Now what about...

But gay marriage -- that's another issue.


Does gay marriage threaten heterosexual marriage? Of course! Who knows how many women woke last week to find notes on the kitchen table: "Dearest Wife, now that homosexual sodomy is legal in Texas, I have to go try it. Took the cell phone. Farewell."

Huh? Are we talking about marriage or sodomy, now? Who argued that gay sodomy had to be banned because it was the last thread keeping heterosexual husbands from leaving their families?

No, if heterosexual marriage is threatened by anything, it's by heterosexuals. Famous heterosexuals in particular. We see them grinning from the covers of gossip mags, celebrating wedding No. 9 or dissolving marriage No. 14, or just having a hot fling with whatever good-gened, white-toothed cretin is the flavor of the season.

Yep, famous heterosexuals' public attitude toward marriage and fidelity is certainly one of the problems and one of the symptoms of the larger problem, these days. No doubt about it. Now why does that indicate that we ought to add famous homosexuals to the list? Famous people seem to crash their cars at a higher rate, too. Does that mean we should start giving driver's licenses to blind people?

People don't get divorced because Demi did. That's not the point. But because the culture attaches no particular stigma to divorce or catting around, our pop-culture heroes don't even have to pretend anymore. Say what you will about gay marriage, it's nice to see someone taking the institution seriously.

Is this column about divorce or about gay marriage? And who's taking the institution "seriously"? Gays can't marry, yet, in order to prove seriousness. And how does your argument that straights no longer uphold fidelity as intrinsic to marriage address a single objection to gay marriage? For one thing, I haven't seen homosexuals coming forward with gay-marriage-rights proposals in one hand and stronger-divorce-law proposals in the other.

Would a constitutional amendment on marriage pass? Probably. Would states allow "civil unions"? Probably. Would the republic endure? Sure. If you're opposed to gay marriage, don't have one. If you want to defend traditional marriage, stay married.

So are you for gay marriage? Or are you for the amendment and the state-by-state institution of "civil unions" so that the republic can "endure"? The evocation of the "don't have one" cliché suggests that you're for gay marriage. It also glosses over the fact that you never addressed the differences between private behaviors and public recognition of social arrangements. A good place to start in remedying that failing would be contemplating the difference between gay marriage's potential effects on "a marriage" and its effects on "marriage."

But keep your eyes on those robots.

They're up to something.

I hope that's a sly way of letting the reader know that this column was written by a prototype automated Lileks Column Confabulator. Otherwise, I might find it necessary to assume that James Lileks simply hasn't thought the issue of gay marriage through sufficiently to write about it at his usual level and to suggest that he not write about it until he has done so. Of course, that would require him to resist the lure of links from those who find the column clever simply because it comes to their conclusion... I think.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:45 AM EST


Tuesday, August 5, 2003

More on the Super Secret Vatican Document

Lane Core has found what looks to be the smoking memo about solicitation. Here's the passage that has everybody in a huff (see if you can understand it):

11. Because, however, what is treated in these cases has to have a greater degree of care and observance so that those same matters be pursued in a most secretive way, and, after they have been defined and given over to execution, they are to be restrained by a perpetual silence (Instruction of the Holy Office, February 20, 1867, n. 14), each and everyone pertaining to the tribunal in any way or admitted to knowledge of the matters because of their office, is to observe the strictest secret, which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office, in all matters and with all persons, under the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae, ipso facto and without any declaration [of such a penalty] having been incurred and reserved to the sole person of the Supreme Pontiff, even to the exclusion of the Sacred Penitentiary, are bound to observe [this secrecy] inviolably. Indeed by this law the Ordinaries are bound ipso jure or by the force of their own proper duty. The other helpers from the power of their oath which they they must always take before they undertake their duties. And these, then, are delegated, are interpolated, and are informed in their absence by means of the precept in the letters of delegation, interpellation, [or of] information, imposing upon them with express mention of the secret of the Holy Office and of the aforementioned censure.

I don't know. To me, this looks like a bunch of legalese meant to convey the uncontroversial message that those who handle information of a very grave nature in the course of looking into incidences of priestly solicitations to sin during the sacrament of confession must treat that information as if they had received it as part of a confession. Scary words such as "confidential" aside, there's no reason whatsoever to assume any codified clandestine activity within the Church to protect abusive priests. Indeed, the entire document seems geared toward judging such acts of solicitation, not covering them up. Indeed, from the point of view of a lay Catholic, I'd suggest that the secretiveness is meant at least in equal part to protect people who come forward with accusations, as they are required to do.

The placement and wording of paragraph 11 suggest to me that it is a procedural note. And the way in which it has been disseminated to the public suggests that the lawyers against the Church realize that it is most useful toward prejudicing a general populace, as opposed to convincing... say... legal or canonical experts. They also likely realize that most consumers of mainstream news won't think to consider how seriously the Church takes the confidentiality of confessions.

But this assumes that the document in question is legitimate. That "they they" in paragraph 11 is not a typo on my part. Skimming down to paragraph 12, we learn about the "promise of fulfiling faithfullly." Apparently this document, itself, was so super secret that the person who typed it was not permitted to read it over to ensure that no "Ls" had drifted a dozen letters out of place.

Anyway, I still feel justified in calling Daniel Shea a lying weasel.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:30 PM EST







Dat Phan


What am I missing? Are my fellow Americans really that shallow and unthinking that an oriental guy doing an impression of his mother (usually in an unintelligible fashion) deserves to be the King of Comedy? When Dat and Ralphie came out and did final routines, my wife and I both laughed hysterically... for Ralphie, and we both agreed that one of his greatest attributes was that he varied his material, whereas Dat covered the same ground over and over again. Oh, Ralphie's got his schtick, too, but he applies it to different topics in different ways.

The only explanation that I can come up with is that the people who would have voted for any of the other four are the types who wouldn't take the time to call in, while the type of people who would like Dat Phan might very well have walked up and down their blocks using all of their neighbors' phones to vote... three times on each. I also think that the other four (as well as Dave Mordal and Rob Cantrell) will build careers independently of this show, whereas Dat would have faded. (Voting on the phone is one thing; paying good money to see a comic is another.)



Making me less enthusiastic about the next season...

P.S. — Is it just me or did it seem like the producers pulled back and cut to commercial awfully quickly? Could that be an indication that the outcome was really unexpected — and probably undesired?

Wow! Not even the following morning, and I've already had my first search engine hit on the phrase "dat phan is not funny." Actually, my post about Dat's beating Dave Mordal has gotten quite a few hits in the past couple of hours. For anybody who's interested, here are my other posts on the topic:

Disbelief that Rob Cantrell lost 80% to 15% to Ralphie May
Disbelief that Dat Phan beat Dave Mordal
What's wrong with Dat Phan
The order (I think) the final five should have come in

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:21 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 08/05/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Now You Know" by Rosin Coven.

"Now You Know" Rosin Coven, Arthouse Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Penumbra

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:04 PM EST


Just Thinking 08/04/03

My Just Thinking column for this week is "The First Rule of Magic," a short story about finding miracles in magic in everyday life.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:50 PM EST


Evil on the Mind

With evil on my mind, I put on an imported boxed set of Black Sabbath CDs. Beyond finding the band's music compelling and interestingly constructed, Ozzy Osbourne's lyrics are intriguing. In fact, two recent debates — the nonsense about atheists' needing the friendly moniker of "Brights" in order to be able to "come out of the closet" and the arguments among Christians over whether message or medium ought to be the focus when considering the Harry Potter books — came to mind when the song "After Forever" blasted from my speakers. Here are the lyrics:

Have you ever thought about your soul - can it be saved?
Or perhaps you think that when you're dead you just stay in your grave
Is God just a thought within your head or is he a part of you?
Is Christ just a name that you read in a book when you were in school?

When you think about death do you lose your breath or do you keep your cool?
Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope - do you think he's a fool?
Well I have seen the truth, yes I've seen the light and I've changed my ways
And I'll be prepared when you're lonely and scared at the end of our days

Could it be you're afraid of what your friends might say
If they knew you believe in God above?
They should realize before they criticize
that God is the only way to love

Is your mind so small that you have to fall
In with the pack wherever they run
Will you still sneer when death is near
And say they may as well worship the sun?

I think it was true it was people like you that crucified Christ
I think it is sad the opinion you had was the only one voiced
Will you be so sure when your day is near, say you don't believe?
You had the chance but you turned it down, now you can't retrieve

Perhaps you'll think before you say that God is dead and gone
Open your eyes, just realize that he's the one
The only one who can save you now from all this sin and hate
Or will you still jeer at all you hear? Yes! I think it's too late.

Of course, the author of those words makes the picture much less than shining, but I think such songs indicate that the Holy Spirit often finds ways to get His message across even in the most unexpected of places.

("But, Justin, Black Sabbath sings about fairies with boots! It must be evil!")

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:22 PM EST


The Secret Documents in the News

Uh-oh. I've now seen something pop up in a half-dozen places, so I thought I should get a little analysis on the record. This is from an article that I found via Fark, whose readers — among extremely offensive pictures and statements — alerted me to the fact that an openly gay Catholic priest is about to become bishop of New Hampshire:

A Houston lawyer has discovered a 40-year-old document supposedly explaining how to deal with sex abuse in the Catholic Church. Some say the document is a cover-up for the church. Houston attorney Daniel Shea says this document could shake the foundation of the Catholic Church.

Not the foundation of the Catholic Church! My goodness, the iniquity! Oh, wait, what's this way at the bottom of the article:

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says the 1962 document is only type-specific to what happens during the sacrament of confession, in which what is told to a priest is kept confidential. However, Daniel Shea says this could be the beginning of a plethora of criminal suits against the Catholic Church.

Nothing like even-handed reportage. Luckily, I came across a slightly more-informative article last night via fellow Southern New England blogger Stephen of Absit Invidia:

The document, entitled "On the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitation," was obtained by Houston-based attorney Daniel Shea, who represents sex abuse victims in the Worcester Diocese.

The instructional document instructs anyone involved in "denouncing" a priest for abuse to take an oath of secrecy. It indicates that all testimony on those matters is confidential, anyone who breaks the "secret of the Holy Office," risks excommunication.

Reading the comments from the lawyer, which are complete spin and smoke, I feel no compunction about calling the guy a lying weasel. Luckily, before I came across Absit Invidia, Mark Shea had alerted readers to a post by Dom Bettinelli that led to an even older Vatican document that gave some context for "On the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitation," enabling me to leave the following comment on Absit Invidia:

Actually, the lawyers (with the help of the press, of course) have engaged in quite a bit of spinning in this case. "Solicitation" need not have resulted in abuse; it merely relates to a proposition... verbal, non-verbal, written.

The document in question actually has its roots in a much older document, which makes clear that the word "denouncing" is not meant to suggest doubt of the accuser:

Even though the wicked confessor [the priest] has since amended his life, or though the crime of solicitation took place many years ago, the obligation of denouncing him still remains, because the law is made, not merely to procure amendment, but also to inflict punishment.

In other words, "denouncing" the priest is an obligation of the person with knowledge of the solicitation, in part to punish the priest.

And although I haven't seen the document to which the lawyers and press are referring, I'm pretty sure that any mention of breaking the "secret of the Holy Office" is referring to the confession itself (e.g., if the priest attempts to discredit the accuser by going public with what he/she confessed to in his presence).

I know the general public has grown to have a distrust of Catholic priests, but I'm not sure that the circumstances are such that they ought to be considered even less trustworthy than lawyers and the media...

Those who aren't religious might need to take this as metaphorical — hey, even Christians sometimes seem to prefer living in a world in which evil is not seen to exist — but I'm finding it increasingly difficult not to see insidious evil in the way in which these stories "come to light" and spread throughout the public awareness.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:28 AM EST


Who's Ignoring the Humanitarian Issues?

A reader sends along a column/speech by Norman Geras that makes points that I've put forward here and elsewhere. There's so much worth quoting that it's easier just to tell you to read the whole thing. Here are a couple of particularly well put passages:

Just think for a moment about the argument that this recent war was illegal. That something is illegal does not itself carry moral weight unless legality as such carries moral weight, and legality carries moral weight only conditionally. It depends on the particular law in question, on the system of law of which it is a part, and on the kind of social and ethical order it upholds. An international law--and an international system--according to which a government is free to go on raping, murdering and torturing its own nationals to the tune of tens upon tens, upon more tens, of thousands of deaths without anything being done to stop it, so much the worse for this as law. It is law that needs to be criticized, opposed and changed. ...

[The war] didn't have to be opposed by all the forces that did in fact oppose it. It could, on the contrary, have been supported--by France and Germany and Russia and the U.N., and by a mass democratic movement of global civil society. Just think about that. Just think about the kind of precedent it would have set for other genocidal, or even just lavishly murderous, dictatorships--instead of all those processions of shame across the world's cities, and whose success would have meant the continued abandonment of the Iraqi people.

Geras goes on to address the post-war criticism, noting that, whatever the realities on the ground now, they should not — as they are — be held aloft for condemnation without reference to the fact that the rate of 200 people "disappearing" or dying every week throughout the entire Hussein regime is far from overbalanced by sporadic electrical service. This conveniently forgotten statistic brings attention to the underlying problem now, before the war, and, indeed, back when the battle was over sanctions: it was not the United States and its leadership that left out the humanitarian justification for the war. Those who opposed the United States were the ones who ignored the thousands of suffering Iraqis.

To compensate, they warned of the unknowable turmoil and destruction that war would bring. Now that those dark predictions have proven the opposite of reality, they are concentrating on the motivation of the Bush administration, declaring as a lie 16 careful words among a library of argumentation so as not to be forced to acknowledge the nearly infinite words and deeds that were blotted out and erased by Hussein and his thugs.

Of course, the United States is not perfect nor pure. What single person is — let alone a nation of people? Neither are the motivations for tending to oppose the United States necessarily malicious. One could, for example, rightfully fear the dangers of a world in which a single entity has such an imbalance of power as the United States currently holds. Even this, though, misunderstands that the power of our nation derives from its being constituted in such a way as to spread power within itself. It also brings the discussion back to international law, because those who reflexively oppose the United States would pull the world under the control of a single regime — one that, in its inchoate form, currently gives equal credibility to dictators and democracies.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:33 AM EST


Monday, August 4, 2003

BEEP! Wrong answer. Impeach?

"Our island or lone ranger mentality is beginning to change," [Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader] Ginsburg said during a speech to the American Constitution Society, a liberal lawyers group holding its first convention.

Justices "are becoming more open to comparative and international law perspectives," said Ginsburg, who has supported a more global view of judicial decision making. ...

"While you are the American Constitution Society, your perspective on constitutional law should encompass the world," she told the group of judges, lawyers and students. "We are the losers if we do not both share our experiences with and learn from others."

It may make me an "angered" conservative, but I think such thinking ought to be grounds for handing judges their hats. They have a specific and very important job to do within our federal government. Keeping abreast of international opinions isn't an appropriate part of that job.

Whatever Americans' views of the viability of pro-life judges, they ought to be very concerned about the potential for the formation of a global government run entirely by lawyers.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:09 PM EST


Fetishizing America, Even the Bears Get Some

Well, I'd avoided reading it — in part because of the content, in part because I didn't want to give Salon the satisfaction of having me cycle through an advertisement — but since it's accosted me at all turns, I broke down and read Andrew Sullivan's exploration of the latest gay-culture phenom: bears (and cubs).

The piece is written from start to finish with a light air, and that, of itself, is part of the problem. Here's a spot where the tone was particularly jarring:

We have what the locals call "Circuit Week" over July 4 when all the party boys and drug addicts show up to take drugs, dance and drink bottled water for days on end. I have no problem with that. But the perfect torsos, testosteroned rivalry, crystal-nerves and endless egg-whites all make for a somewhat overwrought time. When the bears arrive, all that unease evaporates. They're cheerful; they don't give a s**t what others think of them; they're more overtly social than sexual; they drink rather than do drugs; they seem, on the whole, older and far more grown-up than their party-boy cousins. They eat and drink and joke and cuddle and stroke and generally have a great time. And their mellowness is wonderfully infectious.

The sentence that I italicized is the one that gets the quick, "whoa, whoa, whoa." However, there's another phrase in there that raises the more subversive aspect of this latest craze: "they're more overtly social than sexual... they seem, on the whole, older and far more grown-up than their party-boy cousins." Oh? To be sure, even Sullivan admits that bears are "subversive" because they don't make a point of keeping to type, and I would hazard a guess that this is what makes them of particular interest to those who would sanitize homosexual culture.

Sullivan says of bears that, "men are not 'boys,' they're not feminized, hairless, fatless icons on a dance floor." Certainly, those flaming Peter Pans raise uncomfortable questions in the context of, say, a scandal of homosexual molestation of boys. This "more-mature" subculture, on the other hand, has the potential to act as a class to which the Andrew Sullivans can point and say, "See, being gay is completely separate from the inclination to molest hairless teens and pre-teens."

However, in confluence with the underlying problem that gay rights advocates seem fundamentally incapable of seeing as a problem, Sullivan glosses over an aspect of masculine maturity with his "more overtly social than sexual": mature grown men marry and settle down.

But what bears also do, of course, is take this frumpy, ordinary image of undemonstrative masculinity and eroticize it. Instead of sexualizing the perfect abs or the biggest bicep, bears look at a mature man's belly and see in it the essence of maleness and the motherlode of their sexual attraction. What women (and, now, the gay men on "Queer Eye") often do to their men -- clean them up, domesticate them, clothe them properly, groom them, tame them -- is exactly what bears resist.

To this new "subculture" of the homosexual subculture, being older, hairier, and softer is but so much role-playing — merely Peter Pan playing at being grown up. Like Robin Williams in Hook, but without the children whom he must protect. Perhaps the key word of Sullivan's glossing phrase, then, is "overtly." After all, by his own admission, the bears eroticize normalcy. His piece opens with a scene of a drunk bear in a bar around closing time approaching Sullivan, rubbing the stranger's belly, and saying, "You know what I think is so f***ing hot about you? Your pot-belly, man."

These grown men can do what they will, and I'm not inclined to immerse myself sufficiently in the topic to criticize them, personally, for what the ways in which they spend their weekends. However, in a world in which homosexuals are presenting themselves, and being presented, in a harmless costume-ball fashion, we must note the cultural implications of that behavior on a broad scale. As with gay marriage, this new phenom illustrates that homosexuality, as currently understood and practiced, is subversive, both intentionally and inherently:

REX WOCKNER: A few intellectual eastern bears may think it's about subverting the dominant paradigm. Here on the West Coast, it's about sex.

Sullivan brings this back to his unstated message that bears ought to have a palliative effect on nervous straights:

I take Rex's point. In some ways, bears represent gay men's long delayed embrace of their own masculinity in its simplest and sexiest form. In other ways, they represent gay men's desire for normalcy, for a world in which their natural state of being men is neither constrained nor tortured nor contrived. In a strange and undemonstrative way, it's therefore a sign of the extraordinary fluidity of a gay male culture that is changing out of all recognition before, perhaps, with accelerating integration, it disappears for good.

Again, as with gay marriage, the heart of the objection is what Sullivan does not spot amid the multiple statements and what "gay male culture" wishes to change about the broader culture in order that it can disappear within it. Also again, the hopeful message becomes possible to put forward only upon the author's having forgotten an intrinsic point of his entire piece: this is a subsubculture.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:38 PM EST


Unfit to Speak, Let Alone Lead

Presidential candidate John Kerry needs a lesson — among many lessons that he needs — in the reason for "separation of church and state":

Bluntly telling the Vatican to stay out of American politics, U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry yesterday said Pope John Paul II "crossed the line'' by instructing pols to block legalization of gay marriage.

A fuming Kerry, taking on his own Catholic Church in the midst of a campaign for president, said Rome should have more respect for America's long-held separation of church and state.

"It is important not to have the church instructing politicians. That is an inappropriate crossing of the line in this country,'' Kerry said. "President Kennedy drew that line very clearly in 1960 and I believe we need to stand up for that line today.''

No, you grandstanding boob, an inappropriate crossing of the line would be if religious leaders were not free to express the conclusions that they derive from their long consideration of religion and its suggested ethical structures and political leaders were not free to differ under pain of persecution from the state. For an example, Mr. Kerry, take a look at Ireland:

Clergy and bishops who distribute the Vatican's latest publication describing homosexual activity as "evil" could face prosecution under incitement to hatred legislation.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has warned that the language in the 12-page booklet is so strong it could be interpreted as being in breach of the Act.

But while it would be dangerous not to take seriously the threat posed by such liberalized un-thinking among potential leaders, it's difficult to do so, and it's a slippery matter to take seriously the threat without giving the thoughts behind it too much credit. Of the flap about the Pryor judicial nomination, Kerry says:

"He should not be appointed to the court, and many of us who are Catholic voted against him without regard to Catholicism.''

And that, Senator, is exactly the problem. Catholics strive to "love the sinner but hate the sin." Liberal ideologues and politicians embrace the Church but hate the religion.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:04 AM EST


The Matrix Cometh

Isn't a major theme of the Matrix that the computer that controls reality is using the humans as batteries? Well, dream up an horrific scenario, and scientists will labor tirelessly to make it possible:

A device that produces electricity from blood could be used to turn people into "human batteries".

Researchers in Japan are developing a method of drawing power from blood glucose, mimicking the way the body generates energy from food.

Hey, I know it tarnishes my credentials among the intellectual comme il faut to say so, but this stuff enters into a very iffy realm of ethics — heck, it enters an iffy realm of wisdom. Yes, I can foresee many miraculous advances that such technology could provide; to grab the first idea that pops into my head, internal hearing aides could be run on the electricity generated by the body. Yet, on the other hand, those who advocate for such scientific inquiry don't often seem inclined to place any limits, at least inasmuch as theirs is an ever shifting ethical field keeping pace just on the progressive side of society's comfort level.

Step back a bit and pull together a couple of trends. Is it difficult to envision a world in which people grow specialized clones? Say, some for the purpose of cutting down on the electric bill, others for the purpose of harvesting organs. Although they might publicly express hesitance to green-lighting such a world, my sense is that most among the Progress of Niftiness crowd would see it more as something for which society is not ready rather than something that society ought to avoid. And if some people are ready, well, the argument would be that they are their cells and, thus, their "choice."

Ultimately, emotional aversion to certain forms of change shouldn't be the sole argument for retarding "progress." Conversely, that aversion isn't an argument that questionable ends should be pursued in spite of it. Indeed, gut-level objections are rightly seen as an obstacle to be overcome with logical consideration, but incorrectly seen as an obstacle to be removed in the name of progress.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:45 AM EST


Saturday, August 2, 2003

Trading Stronger Divorce Laws for Gay Marriage?

Rev. Donald Sensing makes the interesting suggestion that a compromise be forwarded whereby homosexuals would be granted the capability of marriage, but marriage as a whole would be strengthened through tougher divorce laws. It's a possibility worth leaving open, I'd say, but until such time as it is suggested by the other side, I think my comment on Sensing's site is about as far as it is worth pondering it:

It's an interesting suggestion, this of making more-stringent divorce laws a condition for gay marriage. But who, exactly, would be doing the trading? I could see, perhaps, if the Andrew Sullivans of the country came forward and declared that they would throw their support behind a new marriage regime that granted gays marriage rights while making divorce a more difficult and painful procedure. Hey, throw in an adultery clause, and the equation becomes such that social conservatives (even Catholics, such as myself) might find the scales of evils tipping toward a different "lesser" (away from the current "lesser" of expanding the federal government to cover marriage).

Such an arrangement would (at first glance) make the best of the reality of homosexuality, strengthen marriage among heterosexuals, and completely undermine the certain danger of marriages of convenience. One wonders why Sullivan hasn't made such suggestions — rather than shifting into a snide, dismissive tone — in order to address the legitimate concerns of those who disagree with him.

I think the naked unlikelihood of enacting adultery laws in the current environment — much less with homosexual groups' support — points to the reason. Even the most conservative of gay marriage advocates (at least whom I've read) want gay marriage according to a liberalized definition of marriage. Many more want it merely as a new form of entitlement. Still others want it as a means to abolish traditional views of sexual relationships.

The bottom line is that the impetus for the push for gay marriage does not come from a conservative, traditional longing for "a normal family." It may, for a minority of homosexuals, but I suspect that such people would be the sort to give some consideration of the arguments against gay marriage, anyway. Much more of the movement's support comes from those who see it, in some degree, as a further step toward the liberalization of sexual mores.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:27 PM EST


I Really Hate to Do This to You

Don't click this link unless you've got some time to kill (huh, that's an unintentional pun). I couldn't stop playing until I'd succeeded in emptying the pond entirely (yes, it is possible).

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:20 PM EST


Friday, August 1, 2003

You Can Take the Professor Out of the University, but...

I've had to sit on this, from Instapundit Glenn Reynolds, for a day to figure out how to say anything about it at all:

THE POPE: WRONG AGAIN! First the war, now gay marriage.

It's offensive and dismissive on multiple levels: to Catholics, to those who oppose gay marriage in good faith, as well as to those who value reasoned debate.

There's simply no intellectual content to it. None. Even at first glance, it implies a thoughtless fallacy that one needn't know anything about the gay marriage debate nor Catholicism to comprehend: being incorrect about one matter does not rest the case about one's correctness on a completely different matter. Indeed, as a Catholic who believes that the Vatican got the Iraq war wrong, I can testify that there was argument about the application of Catholic tradition and beliefs in that matter; in the case of gay marriage, there can be none. One wonders whether law professor Reynolds agrees with the Democrats who, it is arguable, take the position that believing Catholics are unsuitable for judicial positions. After all, in the document about gay marriage, the Vatican merely restates the long-standing Catholic position.

I can't express how disappointed I am, not the least because the insult doesn't come within a context of discussion; Reynolds has never, that I've seen, articulated his reasons for supporting gay marriage more thoroughly than, "I have gay friends who are, for all practical purposes, married. I don't see why barring them from going to the courthouse benefits anyone." Quite to the contrary, the context in which the quip comes is as the third instance of unexplained slights at the Vatican and Catholicism in recent memory, following one involving an accusation of anti-Semitism and another that covered the core of Christian belief, and I have to admit that I can no longer see much room for the distinction he's tried to make between slurring the Pope and slurring Catholics.

More than the personal affront, I'm disappointed that the famous Instapundit would think such a thing worthy of presentation to his thousands upon thousands of readers. This is the stuff of faculty lounge jeers, not for public pronouncement. Would Reynolds want his Catholic — or just fair-minded — readers to conclude that his error in this case taints his entire body of work?

He might suggest that those who would react thus are free to take their "eyeballs" elsewhere. Such a retort would be correct, as far as it goes, but it would also be an assertion of personal leverage of the sort that many readers have sought alternative media in order to avoid.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:55 PM EST


Last Word for the Hero

I wanted to end this morning's spate of blog posts with a hat-tip and a prayer for a man of God who is surely now with God:

An Italian parish priest jumped into the sea and saved seven children before drowning.

Father Stefano Gorzegno, 44, dived into the waves in his priestly robes when the children got trapped by strong undercurrents, but collapsed with his lungs full of water, local police said.

As an aside: note that Reuters neglects to actually name the hero's religion. As Tim Blair showed recently, that doesn't appear to be the standard media practice when handling Catholics. Even in reporting Father Gorzegno's heroic final act, Reuters could not bring itself to look objectively, even, at the faith to which he devoted his life and would likely cite as the source of his heroism.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:59 PM EST


Your Money, Used to Make People Stupider

It's too predictable and yet too head-shakingly amazing for me to have much to say about it beyond the obvious, but I just had to point out that those Berkeley "researchers" apparently received $1.2 million in federal taxpayer money to publish their left-wing opinion column masquerading as a scientific study about conservative psychology.

Does anybody have any tar and feathers left over from the old days?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:49 PM EST


Driving Out the Productive People

Speaking of things that "certain segments" don't want to admit, the Providence Journal nails the problem that seems likely to make Providence a test-case for the dangers of liberal socioeconomic policies:

So, what have these city leaders -- union officials, the mayor, the City Council -- accomplished for Providence? They have speeded up a vicious circle: ever-higher taxes on those who own homes and businesses, driving away business and making Providence less competitive, which costs the city tax revenues and thus forces taxpayers to pay more. An 8-percent property-tax hike on homeowners -- and more on business owners -- at a time of 2-percent inflation is not a sustainable path for the capital city.

At what point do people start to wake up to the damage that their unconsidered politics, and the politicians who benefit from them, are doing? Or do those people who do wake up simply pack up and go? At least this glum news led to a memorable, and useful, one-liner:

As Councilman Joseph DeLuca put it: "Saying this [budget] is bare bones is like the guy who goes camping in a Winnebago in the Bahamas and thinks he's roughing it."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:44 PM EST


Ways to See the Economic News

The jobless rate has begun to go down, but that's a bad thing — at least that's what the Associated Press seems to think:

The nation's unemployment rate declined to 6.2 percent in July and nearly half a million discouraged Americans stopped looking for a job. Payrolls were cut for the sixth month in a row, suggesting businesses remain cautious and want to keep work forces lean despite budding signs of an economic revival.

The Labor Department's report Friday painted a picture of a job market that remains stubbornly sluggish and continues to frustrate people looking for work.

The economy lost 44,000 jobs in July. While that's an improvement from the 72,000 shed in June, economists were hoping that positions would actually be added. They were forecasting payrolls to go up by around 10,000.

The jobless rate dipped to a two-month low of 6.2 percent from a nine-year high of 6.4 percent in June. The civilian workforce dropped by 556,000 during the month. Some 470,000 discouraged people abandoned job searches because they believed no jobs were available.

I'm a bit confused about that "nearly half a million discouraged Americans." What does that mean, and where are we getting data about their reasons? Maybe some of those are retirees (the Boomers are getting up there); maybe some of those are parents who've decided to pursue one-income households; maybe some are folks who've decided to live off the government for a while; maybe the AP just couldn't find anything better to present as the gloomy datum that overrides all of the good news:

In a second report, consumer spending and Americans' incomes each rose by 0.3 percent in June, the Commerce Department said. The income gain matched economists' expectations, while the spending figure was slightly weaker.

Another report from the department showed that spending on construction projects around the country was flat in June at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $864.3 billion, a weaker showing than the 0.4 percent increase economists were predicting. Still, June's performance was better than May's, when construction spending fell by 0.5 percent from April's level.

Taking a look at the tail-end of a more-optimistic report from the WaPo, which headlines the 2.4% increase of the GDP, two thoughts come to mind. The first is that these economic numbers can be sliced in a mind-boggling number of different ways. The second is that two factors shine through the mud that certain segments of society would like to streak across the economic picture: productivity is increasing, and benefit increases pretty much triple "income" increases:

Businesses continued to cut tens of thousands of jobs from their payrolls even as they increased their output in the second quarter because of large gains in productivity -- the amount of goods and services produced for each hour worked. For instance, according to the Labor Department, workers on private payrolls worked fewer total hours during the second quarter than they did in the first.

In a separate report, the Labor Department said its employment cost index rose 0.9 percent in the three months ended in June, for a gain from June 2002 of 3.7 percent. The index, regarded by most economists as the best measure of changes in employers' cost for wages, salaries and benefits, showed that wages and salaries increased only 0.6 percent during the quarter while the cost of benefits rose 1.4 percent. In the first quarter, wages and salaries were up 1 percent and benefit costs jumped 2.2 percent, with rising costs for health insurance a major factor.

Of course, another reason that those, ahem, aforementioned "certain segments" might not like this news is that, looking from the cost-to-businesses perspective helps to explain the job-number decrease's coinciding with an income increase. And it does so in a way that "certain segments" do not like to admit, like this idiot:

Cheap-labor conservatives don't like the minimum wage, or other improvements in wages and working conditions. Why. These reforms undo all of their efforts to keep you "over a barrel".

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:32 PM EST


And the People Are Coming Around, Too

Oh, and while I'm noting indications of premature ravings, I thought I'd direct attention to some recent activities of those supposed constitutionally hostile "Bronze Age Thugs":

U.S. troops in Iraq have grown grimly accustomed to guerrilla-style assaults by nameless, faceless attackers who toss grenades or fire mortars at them on an almost daily basis.

But Iraqis who live along Baghdad's busy Haifa Street refused to let such an attack go unsolved this morning. When someone shot an antitank weapon at a U.S. military armored vehicle, wounding one soldier, local residents identified a teenager from the neighborhood as the assailant, and the boy's father handed him over to U.S. troops, witnesses said.

This is so perfectly indicative of changing attitudes that I don't know that one couldn't make up a more direct example:

Haifa Street was the scene of another attack on U.S. forces in early July, when a bomb planted in a median strip wounded three soldiers patrolling in a Humvee. The bomb also killed two Iraqis and injured 12, but witnesses blamed the Iraqi casualties on American troops who fired randomly after the bombing. An angry mob set the disabled Humvee on fire and cheered "God is greatest" as it burned.

Today, however, witnesses said they were disgusted at the attack on U.S. troops and were eager to catch the culprit.

Amazing what a little "bring 'em on" attitude and resolve to find and snuff out dug-in worms can bring about.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:01 PM EST


Weapons in Iraq... Still... Again

Every now and then a quotation or bit of news comes out that shows just how shaky a limb those who began braying about the absence of weapons of mass destruction almost before the major thrust of the war had ended are on:

A former chief weapons inspector at the UN, Mr Kay was sent to Iraq by the CIA to lead the search for weapons of mass destruction.

He stressed that the search had switched from sites identified by the coalition before the war as potential arms plants to areas picked out by Iraqis themselves.

"Almost every one of them is one that we did not know about until we were led to it by Iraqis or the documentation we have seized," he said.

Both the US and Britain accused Saddam Hussein of misleading UN inspectors before the war and Mr Kay said he was gathering evidence of deception.

"The active deception programme is truly amazing once you get inside it," he said.

"We have people who participated in deceiving UN inspectors now telling us how they did it," the US inspector added.

And for some perspective about how unreasonable that heightened rhetoric about WMDs has been, consider that we're just now finding buried airplanes:

Search teams, some hunting for Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, found dozens of fighter jets from Iraq's air force buried beneath the sands, U.S. officials say.

At least one Cold War-era MiG-25 interceptor was found when searchers saw the tops of its twin tail fins poking up from the sands, said one Pentagon official familiar with the hunt. He said search teams have found several MiG-25s and Su-25 ground attack jets buried at al-Taqqadum air field west of Baghdad.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:51 AM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "My First and Absolutely Last Summer on Cape Cod," by Stephen S. Hale.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:33 AM EST


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