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Tuesday, December 31, 2002

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:10 PM EST


What's in a Name?

I don't know which way the law falls on this case:

In a suit filed in November in Montana and posted this week on a legal Web site, Jack Ass, who said he changed his name to raise awareness about the dangers of drunk driving, claimed Viacom was "liable for injury to my reputation that I have built and defamation of my character which I have worked so hard to create."

Mr. Ass knew the implications and common, frequent usage of the term when he changed his name. He did it to raise awareness about drunk driving after his brother's death in a one-car accident, so it was for a good cause. But I don't know how much credibility he has a right to claim when suggesting that a movie has tarnished his... umm... good name.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:10 PM EST


A Full Year of Just Thinking

** Preorder for January release **
Just Thinking: Volume I, 10/29/01–10/21/02 is a collection of my Just Thinking columns for the past year, including essays, fiction, and poetry. If you think you might be interested in the book, please consider preordering it to help a poor writer cover printing costs.

Special Offer:

Buy Just Thinking: Volume I and get A Whispering Through the Branches for half price!

$19.00 (includes shipping)
$25.50 (includes shipping)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:35 PM EST


Alternatives to Controversial Procedures

I don't have much to say about this, but I wanted to preserve the link so that I can refer to it in future embryonic stem cell debates:

Human umbilical cord blood frozen for 15 years was revived and able to grow and expand in laboratory mice, suggesting that specimens preserved for that long could restore bone marrow in cancer patients, experts say.

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine said yesterday that human cord blood frozen in 1985 and 1986 was able to grow in laboratory cultures with the same vigor as fresh cord blood.

(via the Corner)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:13 AM EST


Derb's Mixed Messages

John Derbyshire presents a lecture in the Corner about the realities of online magazines. Essentially, "we don't put much effort into it." And here's why:

If I write something for a print magazine, it will be hanging around in orthodontists' waiting rooms for months, years, afterwards. It has a permanence that justifies all the resources print magazines put into their product. If I do something for the web, on the other hand, it's gone and forgotten the next day. Our web columns are only glancingly edited, and never fact-checked. A webzine simply can't justify those kinds of resources.

That's interesting. Why, just the other day, on that bit of ephemera known as NRO, Mr. Derbyshire wrote the following:

I often get e-mails about articles I wrote ages ago. People google some name or phrase, and a link to one of my pieces pops up.

Let's see, frightened patients and nervous parents at the orthodontist's office versus considered reading from people all over the world, generating several emails per week years after publication. And the Web is at a much earlier stage of development than magazine tables at the doctor's. The Web is only going to become less ephemeral, and readers who come across pieces there will have more often been looking for the information provided.

I'd say the online media people ought to reconsider their emphasis. The content made available now will be floating around cyberspace long after the Derb's dentist retires.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:53 AM EST


Can't Make This Stuff Up

The South Korean government has raided the offices of the company operated by the South Korean branch of the Raelian cult:

After raiding the offices of BioFusion Tech Inc. in the southern city of Daegu, officials questioned members of staff to see whether they had taken part in the cloning project.

I'm beginning to think that the whole thing is one big War of the Worlds scam invented by a performance art group and perpetuated by the media. BioFusion's spokesman? Mr. Kwak.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:35 AM EST


Songs You Should Know 12/31/02

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Life with You" by Mr. Chu. The mood and message of this song just hit me as appropriate for New Years (particularly for those who still celebrate by going out). Note that this song is not on Chu's Next, which is available in Confidence Place, but on a CD that is only offered through the band's Web site.

"Life with You" Mr. Chu, Hard rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:24 AM EST


The Law of Unintended Arguments

Instapundit links to a column by Henry Miller that leaves me unable to respond more eruditely than, "Say what!?!?"

OK, I can say a bit more than that. Miller first:

Not only is the U.S. position [on cloning] - complete prohibition - extreme, but even the more conservative, limited ban is insupportable.

I suppose "extreme" applies in the sense of "as far as it is possible to go," but it still strikes me as odd in this context. It suggests a "moderate" and an opposite extreme. For simplicity's sake, take the moderate position as banning reproductive cloning, but not "therapeutic" cloning (which is really the same thing, only the scientist destroys the incipient life) and the opposite extreme as anything-goes cloning. Guess where Miller's position lies? If you guessed "extreme," you're right.

The reproductive cloning of humans raises vexatious technical, ethical and practical issues, to be sure. A technical failure could lead to grotesque deformities or the premature "death" of the clone, and subtle anomalies in gene expression - which are known from animal experiments to occur in clones - could show up as unacceptable traits in human offspring.

Ever see that movie, SSSSSSS? I don't intend to suggest that the B-flick ought to be taken as a warning. However, the crux of the movie was that, in evil Dr. Stoner's quest to create a snake with a human mind, there were missteps, some dangerous. What do we do with the results of incremental failures? Execute them? As I recall, the man-snakes were put on display in a circus.

Even if the procedure were wholly successful, questions could arise as to who is responsible for the clone's development (to say nothing of its upbringing and college education).

Or, what if nobody is responsible for the clone's development? It is merely a product of science, after all. Perhaps they could be slave labor. Perhaps they could be put to military purpose. Or maybe they could be used for medical testing. Grow them with sufficiently hobbled brains, and maybe they'd be useful for testing mascara — to give the chimps a break. Science fiction? Not really. It seems to me that it is incumbent upon proponents of cloning to describe the mechanism that will prevent such realities.

Finally, there is no clear medical necessity for the procedure, no patient whose life or limb is at risk without it.

Then what are we talking about it for? Why not ban it, in that case?

But legal prohibition - national or international - is a poor answer. Even if a new law or treaty were able to eliminate reproductive cloning from most of the world, practitioners would likely spring up in places with minimal regulation, next door to the quack cancer and fountain of youth clinics. The actions of rogue cloners in these wholly unregulated milieus could be disastrous.

So a ban would drive "rogue cloners" into the unregulated corners of the world, and legalizing it would... what? Inspire those rogues to give up their mad visions? It hardly seems likely that nations and people willing to defy a ban wouldn't be but so concerned about shrugging off regulations. Furthermore, expediting discoveries that would facilitate their work could only encourage a more rapid pushing of the envelope, perhaps convincing the "quack cancer and fountain of youth clinics" that what they seek can be found in the cloning department.

The potential problems of cloning are, arguably, best left to the forces of the marketplace and the existing protections of national legal systems. If, as experts expect, reproductive cloning is largely unsuccessful, its practitioners will find themselves without clients. If they fail to deliver on their contractual obligations or cause death or injury to an infant, they may be subject to various civil and criminal legal strictures, including fraud, breach of contract, criminal negligence, and manslaughter. They might even be subject, ultimately, to "wrongful life" suits brought by the clone or its agents.

This reads to me as if Mr. Miller is suggesting that, essentially, a ban exists. Only those scientists willing to risk the litany of "market protections" will accept the challenge, so wouldn't those likely be the "rogue cloners," as well? Once the reality of this situation permeates society, the pro-cloning movement will have no option but to seek to mitigate the risk to cloners, morphing a non-ban into a policy of certain allowances for researchers. On the other hand, an explicit ban would only further strengthen the barriers to atrocity of which Miller seems approving.

If bureaucrats pursue a legal prohibition , it is likely that they, the research community and society at large will be confounded by the law of unintended consequences.

Here's the "Say what!?!?" moment. A ban on cloning would surely bring about unintended consequences, but the alternative — legitimizing a wholly new experimental research into an area in which our knowledge is entirely inadequate and that promises to shift human reality in ways that are unimaginable at present — is exponentially more likely to do so. This brings us around to Mr. Reynold's assessment on Instapundit:

I keep waiting for some clear explanation of why cloning is so awful that it must be banned, but nothing I've heard really gets much past the "it gives me the willies" argument. Which isn't an argument at all.

Preserving corpses into poses and calling it art "gives me the willies," but I'm not going to insist that an international summit be called to ban the procedure. Personally, I'm on the lookout for an explanation from proponents of cloning about what makes them so confident that its effects will be benign, if morally intricate. Manipulating the nature of the clone is inherent in the process of perfecting the technique. Deriving applications from the process will be an inevitable impetus of researchers and a market necessity.

This isn't going to the moon to see what's there and to prove that we can do it. This isn't modeling DNA on a computer. It isn't even experimenting on species that most people value primarily as dinner. This is hands-on experimentation with the nature of humanity in action. This is "let's irrevocably plunge society into unknown results for no good reason." Well, whether my motivation is dismissed as an irrational feeling of "willies" or is credited with being more circumspect, this is my world — my reality — too. Let some evil Dr. Stoner prove himself monstrous enough to give that no consideration. Legitimate, ethical scientists, where they prove unable to impart their own boundaries, must be told where the "unenlightened" stand in no uncertain terms.

Dr. Stoner won't get nearly as far as fast without the motivation of an IPO.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:05 AM EST


Monday, December 30, 2002

Books, Columns, Blogs, and Vlogs

Well, the files for Just Thinking: Volume I, the first annual collection of my weekly column, are on their way to the printer. This project has been hovering before me for so many months that I feel as if my schedule is much more open than it really is now that it's pretty much done. Given that I've had to keep up my for-pay editing, I'm pretty wiped out for the day.

Which leads me to a plea that is about as close to "blegging" as I intend to ever get: if you have any interest in my writing, please consider preordering a copy of the book, or even take advantage of the two-book special offer that includes my novel, A Whispering Through the Branches. I write out of the ideas' necessity and publish for the love of the work and don't expect to make a profit, but every purchase helps to even out the balance sheet.

Speaking of doing things for the love of it, I've got the transcript and mental storyboard pretty much worked out for my next vlog, so it'll probably debut before the week is out. I figure I ought to get in as many as I can before Lileks enters the market, as he's promised to do (see the comments to the link), and drives out the competition. Actually, I generally take the approach that ideas ought to be prerequisites to products, so I'll only vlog when an idea fits the format. Frankly, I periodically pause in surprise that ideas for columns and blogging keep coming, and vlogging, while it adds a dimension of possibility, is even more demanding concept-wise.

There's so much to think about. So much to discuss. So much to write and to do. Right now, however, I need to relax for an hour or so.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:21 PM EST


The Secret Protection

So that's why proponents of cloning research feel free to ignore the possibility of it being misappropriated. I knew there had to be some reason...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:13 PM EST


THIS Was Only a Matter of Time

Technology allows just about anybody to accomplish what only professionals were once able to do:

The woman told the Kenosha Police Department her ex-boyfriend would just show up no matter where she was. He often found her in random places like at bars or on the highway.

Police say the man was always able to find her because of what they believe is a Global Positioning System tracking device. They found it attached between the radiator and grill of the woman's car.

If OnStar catches on in a major way, it may become advisable to be careful when dating an employee of the company...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:16 PM EST


When "Unilateralism" Entered the Lexicon

As I posted recently, I think those who argue that President Bush has set a precedent whereby the U.N. must sign off on any U.S. military action approach the issue without historical context. In the December 23 print edition of National Review, I just came across this from an Andrew Stuttaford review of Peacekeeping Fiascoes of the 1990s: Causes, Solutions, and U.S. Interests by Frederick H. Fleitz:

The rot began in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War. As Fleitz explains, supporters of a more activist U.N. "seized on the fact that Operation Desert Storm was authorized by the U.N. Security Council" as proof that a new era had arrived. The U.N.'s role in approving the Gulf War was said by many liberals to herald "an end to the unilateral use of military force, at least by the United States." But as Fleitz correctly observes, "these claims... ignored the reality that the first Bush administration used the U.N. endorsement... largely as a fig leaf to protect the sensitivities of America's Middle East allies."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:06 AM EST


Just Thinking 12/30/02

My Just Thinking column for this week is "The Ballad of Lott," which I personally liked enough that I wanted to ensure it a longer life than that secured by a blog post.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:32 AM EST


Sunday, December 29, 2002

Well, I Hope This Whole Ugly Thing Is on the Exit Path

The Providence Journal features a long article making heroes of three lawyers who sued the Catholic Church in the state (taking home an average income of $1.5 million).

Look, I know this entire scandal has brought out dreadful secrets from the Church — spread out over the past three decades, but concentrated toward the beginning of that span. I also feel that a reckoning had to be forced. But I just cannot bring myself to see the lawyers as heroes in a situation that doesn't seem to have any. Carl DeLuca tells a story from his private-prep-school days, when he already knew he wanted to be a lawyer, that pretty much sums it up for me:

Once, he intervened when a teacher accused one of his classmates of having pot. The teacher had found marijuana cigarettes in the bushes at school and said he knew they belonged to this student because he saw the boy toss the joints in the air -- sending them into the bushes.

The classmate confided in DeLuca: He had stashed the pot in the bushes, in a phony Coke can with a removable bottom, but no one had been around; he hadn't thrown anything.

DeLuca suspected the teacher was lying, that the "only way he could connect the pot to the kid was to say he saw him throw it in the air."

So with the teacher and a school administrator present, DeLuca tested the landing pattern of marijuana, by tossing fake joints into the air. "No matter how we threw them," he says, "they didn't fall like the teacher said." The teacher backed off; DeLuca considered a career in criminal law.

So that the guilty might have no fear.

Timothy Conlon, another of the lawyers, offers up an anecdote that bears remembering in these hard times for Catholics:

Later, in private practice, Conlon settled out of court a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit -- in 1988 -- against the Providence school department. Three former students said a teacher molested them. Depositions showed the teacher was shifted from school to school, Conlon said, "in what teachers call the dance of the lemons. It's not like the Catholic church has a corner on this, you follow me?"

But the last lawyer offers a pervasive sentiment that I find perplexing and not a little hypocritical:

Richard Cappalli saw the church waging an "aggressive attack" on his innocent clients. It wasn't how a church, any church, should behave, he says.

Beyond noting that "aggressive attack" is apparently Cappalli's characterization, I'm not sure what such people expect. Would he have called off his lawsuit had the Church acted as he would have liked it to do? I suspect he means that it should have apologized and sent the checks without delay. In the end, it appears that the legal attack was the only way to get through to certain members of the hierarchy, but it must be expected that legal attacks will be met with legal defense.

As long as we remember what's important in life:

DeLUCA PAID off his debts, hired a secretary, and bought a new, black Volvo -- with tiny DVD screens in the headrests facing the backseat, where his two children ride.

Please, God, let this prove to have been a wrap-up story.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:49 PM EST


But those aren't religious stories...

... they're stories of oppression. U.S. oppression, that is. Tim Cavanaugh notes a conspicuous absence from a list of top religion-based stories of the year.

(Via Instapundit)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:30 PM EST


Teaching the Body to Combat a Chameleon

A new HIV vaccine is about to enter into a data analysis phase. It is wonderful that progress is being made in this area, primarily for regions of the world in which HIV has infected large portions of the population, such as the 30% in some African countries. However, I find pitches such as the following worrisome:

If Vaxgen can show that the infection rates among the vaccinated groups are anything between 45 per cent and 65 per cent lower than in the unvaccinated group, the company should be able to persuade the world that the trial has been a resounding success.

Don Francis, the president of Vaxgen, said that even a 30 per cent reduction in infection rates would be deemed an important step forward because some epidemiologists believe that such a partially effective vaccine could eventually curb the epidemic if it were used for mass vaccination.

The idea of mass vaccination to slow the spread of HIV by 30% strikes me as dangerous, not only because of any inherent dangers of the vaccine, but also because people may see it as more of a protection than it is. Add to this the mutable nature of HIV and the variety of different strains, and I think it would be a mistake to call anything that is currently feasible a "resounding success."

Also consider this statement: "Without an effective vaccine, there is little hope of containing the spread of HIV, which has already reached levels of 30 per cent among the general population of some African countries." In the entire Independent article, there is not a single mention of abstinence or changing behavior, even though the subject of HIV is inextricable from the subject of its behavioral transmission.

In Uganda, the percentage of pregnant women with HIV dropped from 21.6% to 6.2% in a little over a decade. The country achieved this by searching its culture for strategies via which to make a strong push for abstinence. Even a moderately effective vaccine would be wonderful, but there is no indication that any strategy to end the HIV epidemic can succeed without a behavioral component.

There is also no indication that this message is getting through to "the world" that is soon to be presented a campaign to "persuade" it that a vaccine is its only hope.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:09 PM EST


Slow News Days and Trade-Offs

Apologies for not blogging yesterday. I kept an eye on the news and my regular sources, but I didn't find anything that inspired comment. (It didn't help that many of my regular sources are "closed for the holiday.") So, instead, I actually managed to check a fair number of things off of my To Do list.

Hopefully, something will inspire blogs today. If not, please feel free to avail yourself of the content that can be found via the links to the left of the blog.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:32 AM EST


Friday, December 27, 2002

One Way to Get a Free CD

If you've bought any "prerecorded Music Products" in the past half-dozen years, you may be eligible for a legal settlement of up to $20! Woohoo! That's just enough to buy a free CD. Unfortunately, there's a limit of one per customer... err... I mean, litigant. That's too bad: I could have taken a year off!

(I haven't researched this Web site, but I got the link from Sheila Lennon, an official blogger for the Providence Journal, and she didn't raise any concerns.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:47 PM EST


Fasting Makes Food Taste Better

Well, it's about time! Jay Nordlinger's got a new Impromptus up. It may be just the length of time since the last one, but I found it to be a particularly good'un.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:05 PM EST


When Big Media Attacks Itself

Although I think very many bloggers could put David Shaw's list of the ten worst moments in news media for 2002 to shame, it does cover some of the requisite ground. I do, however, find it telling (and a bit bothersome) that Mr. Shaw listed the fact that the Washington Post opened a story about the lack of qualifications of the U.N. weapons inspectors with a reference to the one who is a big figure (literally and figuratively) in the S&M scene. I shiver to live in a world in which a journalist can ask, "Why was that relevant?" (Maybe we should send over Tiger Man, too.)

But here's an outrage about which I hadn't even heard (although my having not heard about it is the only surprising aspect):

More than 40,000 people showed up in April for an Israel Independence Day Festival in Los Angeles that doubled as a rally to support Israel during Mideast hostilities. The mayor was there. So was the governor of California -- and many other dignitaries. The story got big play in the local media. But the Los Angeles Times didn't publish a word on the rally in the next day's paper.

The explanation: "We didn't cover it because we didn't know about it," one Times editor said. Huh? Traffic near the event was so heavy that radio stations broadcast advisories, and the event was listed on the City News Service "budget" that serves as a tip sheet for all local media. I don't agree with angry Jewish leaders who saw this as a deliberate slight by the paper, but it was an oversight of monumental proportions.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:52 AM EST


Pied Piper: a Prescient Parable

"There's a lack of energy," Deputy Mayor Tiziano Tagliani said in a recent interview here. "The society is colder without children."

Europe is addressing the left-wing fantasy of overpopulation by depopulating. Ironically (conservatives might prefer "logically"), one result is that socialist pension plans must be cut back. In Russia, entire towns may be in danger of disappearing, so they are instituting plans whereby couples get a house in exchange for producing three children in five years.

Unfortunately, the trend seems limited to nations that could afford to support large families. Poorer nations, in the Middle East, South America, and Africa, are still going strong, as far as I can tell. In fact, the United States is only replenishing its population through immigration, which is occurring at levels that many (including yours truly) believe are dangerous.

Somehow, this isn't what I thought of when I read that the poor would inherit the earth.

(Via Rod Dreher and Drudge)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:06 AM EST


Who's Against Cloning? It's "For the Children," After All.

Well, those wacko Raelians are claiming that they've cloned a human being. I don't know how much I'm ready to believe a group whose leader claims to be a prophet for the space aliens who created mankind. Still, it seems as if it's only a matter of time, and this ought to be taken as a shot across the bow of societal sanity. Here's the response from a bioethicist:

"Regardless of the accuracy of the claim, the fact that renegade scientists are apparently continuing to work to clone human beings despite the proven dangers of mammalian cloning shows that the United States and the rest of the world need to pass a complete ban on this dangerous and unethical procedure as soon as possible," said C. Ben Mitchell, a senior fellow at the center.

I wonder how many non-renegade scientists there are who are itching to try their hands at the process... hey, "it'll be safer." Given our treatment of other controversial, dubiously ethical, scientific issues (e.g., abortion and embryonic stem cell research), we don't set a very high bar for the rest of the world. The bottom line is that bioethicists will have no influence in a world that still has slavery and in which people are still covered in acid as punishment for suspected sexual improprieties. That there's an unethical "fifth column" in the West won't help.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:41 AM EST


Thursday, December 26, 2002

Is Vlogging the Future of Do-It-Yourself Media?

Well, it took up all of my blogging time for today (and then some), but I finished my first video blog (vlog). Perhaps ironically, it is not optimistic about the immediate future of vlogging. Click the picture for the broadband version; click here for a (pretty bad) lofi version; and see the transcript below for all relevant links.


Is video blogging, or vlogging, the next wave in do-it-yourself media? Regular ol' blogs are in the process of revolutionizing the way in which news and information spread and expanding the field of opinion and analysis to include anybody with an Internet connection and the desire to offer up their two cents.

Glenn Reynolds, perhaps better known as Instapundit, thinks that blogs will begin moving away from text-only; he says: "I think that falling prices for storage, bandwidth, and digital cameras will result in weblogs going multimedia over the next year."

If Mr. Reynolds means that bloggers will increasingly include photos and other graphics as well as links to audio and video files when they are relevant and available, I'd agree. Jeff Jarvis, the first known video blogger, goes a step further in his expectations for video blogs:

In his review of the year in blogging, Glenn Reynolds sees a future in what you're watching right now — call it multimedia blogging; call it vlogging — and also in mobile mob blogging.

I agree that the possibilities of adding video with commentary and sound effects are intriguing, and I'd be glad to get some use out of my old demo tapes and my MIDI set-up for background music, as I did for the intro to this clip. However, the two most important attributes of blogs are absent in video. First of all, video can't link to other Web sites, yet. Mr. Jarvis works around this problem by including his links in text outside of the video.

The second problem is that video isn't easy to quote. Because he embedded his video in a Web page, I had to go into Mr. Jarvis's HTML to access the file. I then had to process it through two different programs to get around software limitations. And even now, I don't know how copyrights might differ for video from text. I'm sure Mr. Jarvis will let me slide, but I'd be wary of "borrowing" online video from the major media sources from which bloggers get most of their content. So would-be vloggers might be limited to video that they own or have taken themselves. Here I am in a high school play. Yikes! And what about people who want to quote a vlog? I had to type out Mr. Jarvis's clip for a transcript that I felt obliged to provide both for links and for quoting. It's much easier to cut and paste text.

Add to these problems questions of equipment costs, added work (done for free), and even bloggers' desire to appear in videos. For vlogging to truly become the next stage of blogging, prices will have to be lower and bandwidth will have to be higher. Some of the technology is still in its infancy. For example, perhaps a TiVo-type device might broaden the field of content that bloggers can utilize, but — beyond expense — the television is still discrete from the computer. And you can bet the big TV companies will seek to limit such usage of their product.

For the foreseeable future, I think content-rich blogs will be about as far as do-it-yourself pundits will go. Let some corporate Web site cover the hosting bill for video; I can provide a link for free, and much more quickly. As for vlogging, I think it'll be limited to the cyber-elite... or to bloggers who convince their long-distance mothers to help cover the costs of a Grandchild Cam.

Jeff Jarvis has replied, kindly linking to this entry. I do believe that the basic technology is only a few years away; however, the necessary cultural changes will likely be part of a looming battle with Big Media, as it attempts to keep ahold of such liberating technology. In his entry, Mr. Jarvis refers to the tax-and-spend government types facilitating vlogging by devoting public funds to technology buildout. We'll see if they don't, simultaneously, decrease the usefulness of that technology by continuing to favor the content oligarchists.

Glenn Reynolds, meanwhile, makes a great point about vlogging's rate of growth. For the record, I left a comment to this post on Mr. Jarvis's site on Monday decrying the fact that he had beaten me to video blogging only because I had to wait until Christmas for all of the equipment and software. A cynic might suggest that I am skeptical about vlogging only because, if it catches on, I'll be like all of those forgotten souls who came up with a history-making invention or discovery just a day too late to beat the now-famous contemporary to the patent office.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:45 PM EST


Judging Others by Thier Measuring Stick

Here's the dreaded headline with which the Washington Post (and Reuters) obliged its readers:

Retailers Face Worst Holiday in 30 Years

Oh no! Sales on the level of 1972? Hardly:

In a weekly report on Tuesday, the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishiand UBS Warburg forecast holiday sales in November and December would be up an anemic 1.5 percent over last year, the smallest gain since the banks began tracking weekly sales in 1970.

In other words, in terms of the money actually exchanging hands, this was the best holiday season ever... despite the wobbling economy and turbulent times. Hey, I know that growth is the major spur of the economy, not stasis, but it's also true that doom-and-gloom reporting can have an adverse effect on it.

It says a lot — though nothing new — that the U.S. media is so glass-half-empty.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:03 AM EST


Wednesday, December 25, 2002

It's a Small Religion After All

Well, Disney World is ending its weekly Protestant and Catholic mass tradition, limiting services to Christmas and Easter. I have to admit to being ambivalent about going to mass at Disney World — talk about mixed priorities!

I am, however, a little bit bothered by the lack of chapels on cruise ships and more than a little bothered that there aren't "any generic church facades on Main Street, USA." I don't know that I've ever been down a Main Street, USA, that didn't have a church of some kind. What's that, architectural revisionism?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:59 PM EST


Remember in your dinner prayers and well-wishes...

... to include our soldiers and all those who could not be with their families in order that our country may thrive and operate smoothly. Merry Christmas to them, as well as many thanks.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:37 PM EST


For the Lonely on Christmas

When I was a teenager, I wrote my first "Christmas song," with the following beginning:

I don't believe in Christmas
Too many people I know are gone
I don't believe in Christmas
Don't think I'll have it from now on

A number of years later, I would get so lonely in my grey cubicle that I longed for a way to send out a message in a bottle through my computer (too bad blogs were in their infancy). I'm sharing these anecdotes and the following poem for anybody who is in that frame of mind this Christmas. You aren't alone, and feeling as if you are is, to my experience, only a perennial condition if you desire it to be.

Upon Waking
by Justin Katz
March 2001
(click here for author's reading)

When heat had swept its sultry fingers swift across my cheek
And crackles' crisp cacophony my torpor's temper tore,
I woke to find my world's walls contagious in their flame.

But seeing that the passageways forbade a quick escape
And knowing well the distance from my chamber to the door,
I thought, for comfort's sake, to face my death where I had lived.

Just then it seemed I heard a voice or spoke the thought myself,
Though at the time I'm sure I felt the latter to be true,
Which told me, very vaguely, "This is not where you should pass."

"Friend, right you are," was my reply, if only to the fire
For through the smoke I caught a glimpse of my solarium
Where all the plants could offer nat'ral comp'ny for my end.

So braced against the burning smoke that beat against my lungs
And scarcely scarred by flapping flames that lapped against my skin,
I moved into the outer world that I had kept within.

There, sunlight twirling in the heat convinced my intellect:
Than where I stood amidst the flames but underneath the sky,
No mortal plan could orchestrate a better place to die.

"If true or not," the voice that was perhaps my own returned,
"Your quick conviction concerns how you'll cast your final thought
But ignores all the time you'll spend awaiting overwrought."

As if a finger 'neath my chin directed my eyes there,
I spied nearby a corridor to which the way was clear.
"So while you wait," the voice went on, "engage remembrance here."

To keep my nostrils well below the house's toxic pall,
I crept along the ashen floor across my sunlit pyre
To my ephemera-filled hall and entered in a crawl.

Believing that the second time the voice was less my own,
I looked around me to assess the place that it had led
And saw in frames along the walls the people I had known.

As if to wish a last farewell I viewed them each in turn
And crossed into a library of my collected works:
The useless cant for naught but the pretensions they might earn.

Thus pained by toil's transience I skittered from the waste,
In shock to find myself before the door to my release.
"My life's within these walls!" I hesitated with caprice.
But, "go," I heard a whisper say, "with trust and prudent haste."

Though readers of the modern age have doubts of Him above,
And I, for all my searching, have no concrete proof Thereof,
Still, nonetheless, suffice to say what drew me out was Love.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:22 PM EST


Merry Christmas!

May God help you to find the sources of joy in your own life as Jesus brought joy to Mary and Joseph — and to the world — through his birth.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:25 AM EST


I had intended to blog today...

... but, I wanted to install a new FireWire card in my PC for digital video capturing, a task that I took on first thing in case I had trouble (opening my computer scares me). The camera worked fine, but then I noticed that my Internet connection had disappeared. However, I figured that I'd see if installing a network (to get Internet on an old computer) would fix the problem.

But first, we had to go out and pick up a couple household items and last-minute gifts. We saw Santa going into BJs. He must have been on his way back to the North Pole from some gala because he had on his hat and spectacles but was wearing a business suit. He seemed quite jolly beneath his beard. Last stop, for us: Puddingstones, a collectors' shop with dolls and candles and such, to pick up a little something for my mother-in-law. As it turns out, today was their final day before the owners retire. The store was bare, and even the shelves were for sale. Among the used furniture was a gorgeous old wooden piece with a cabinet at the bottom (perfect for a computer), removable shelves (to accommodate a monitor), and a pull-out tray (for a keyboard and mouse). And super cheap! Voila: an errand unexpectedly completed!

Amazingly, the thing was so tall that we had to bungy it in because, even with the back seats entirely removed and the passenger seat as far up as it would go, the tail of the Aztec would not close. We got home without problem... then it was the house's turn to take revenge on us for all of our stomping. I measured the ceiling in the office upstairs and found that my new computer desk would not fit in the computer room. My wife suggested that I hook up the other computer in the living room, which would be great if I were at all inclined to wire a house in which I don't intend to live for years into the future. Resigned to putting off the marriage of the computer with the furniture meant for it, we decided to put the shelves in the living room until we moved.

But you can't get there from here, which is to say that the old chunk of wood was about a millimeter too big in every direction to fit through the narrow hall and low doorway. So, outside we went, and back in through a different door.

Back to the computers. The network still wouldn't work, and I wondered if the FireWire card wasn't conflicting with the ethernet card. The computer tech support guy didn't know and couldn't help; the FireWire company was closed. Finally, the cable Internet tech support guy suggested that I uninstall my firewall. That worked.

The fun didn't end there, but I won't go into details (you're welcome). Suffice to say that I am now reinstalling the old computer's software from scratch. Good thing I learned a hard lesson long ago, which I pass on to you now: as you install software and resolve all of the little problems that pop up to eat your days, keep a log and save all of the patches, drivers, and programs that you download while doing it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:18 AM EST


Monday, December 23, 2002

Who Are This Guy's Speech Writers?

"... the DPRK will destroy the earth..."

Personally, I'm getting tired of this poor replica of a comic-book villain. I have two questions:

1) What is wrong with assassination, anyway?
2) Will Clinton and Carter accept responsibility if the fact that they merely postponed dealing with this psycho proves to have enabled him to cause some catastrophe or other?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:16 PM EST


Well, That's Why He's at the Top

Shoot! I'd been carrying this story in the back of my mind all day looking for some angle that would enable me to blog about it. Instapundit found a way. Too perfectly put.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:38 PM EST


Truth in Iconography

Inspired by the creepy Total Information Awareness logo, Jeff Miller suggests that all government agencies develop logos that truly reflect what they do. He's got some good suggestions, but I'd say that the INS's logo should be a door propped open by a box full of greencards. The motto would be "In Unum Quam Plurimi" (which means "Into One as Many as Possible").

Thanks to Dr. Weevil for correcting my (previously incorrect) Latin.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:58 PM EST


Statistics on Abuse

USA Today has an interactive Flash presentation that presents some information about the priests accused of abuse and their dioceses. Particularly striking is the 91% of victims who were male, which only increases my feeling that the emphasis on female victims in the last bout of revelations from the Boston Archdiocese was strange in context.

Speaking of context, one statistic that is notably absent is how many priests there are in total in each diocese and in the country. That might provide a more complete picture of the significance of there being only 234 accused priests. Of those accused priests who are still living, I'd say that it is significant that nearly 90% of them are currently over 50 years old.

(via Todd Reitmeyer)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:21 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 12/24/02

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "God rest ye" by Joe Parillo and David Key. Something about David's soprano saxophone is reminiscent of the desert, which, when added to Joe's "Western" piano and the combination of hymn and jazz, makes this piece almost a musical metaphor for the many, varied influences that contribute to the way in which we experience Christmas. The Angels Gather is certainly a CD worth adding to your collection.

"God rest ye" Joe Parillo, Jazz
Stream (HiFi) Download
from The Angels Gather

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:18 AM EST


"O Come All Ye Holiday Celebrators"

Such stories have been floating around, so I thought I'd link to a column by David Montgomery that sums up the problem and offers several links. At issue is the bizarre dynamic by which Christmas, the most widely celebrated of the religious holidays, is unmentionable in the place in which children spend most of their waking hours: school. Montgomery raises a great point:

What must a young child think when her teacher tells her that it is wrong to sing about Christmas? How must students feel when their classroom is decorated with the symbols of Hanukah, Ramadan, and Kwanzaa, but there is not even a Christmas tree in sight? The lessons that our children are learning from this are disturbing. They are being taught that Christmas is not a time to honor and cherish, not a holiday to celebrate with joy. Rather it is something that must not be spoken of, something wrong or even worse.

I've put this on the list of things for which I intend to be watchful if, by choice or necessity, our children go to public school. If we don't start speaking out, it may eventually become the situation that the only place we're allowed to specifically celebrate Christmas will be away in a manger.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:43 AM EST


Just Thinking 12/23/02

My Just Thinking column for this week, "From Raking the Leaves to Caroling," is about finding time in busy schedules for building familial holiday traditions.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:40 AM EST


Quick and Spoons Have It Wrong... I Think

The Spoons Experience recently seconded a premature (certainly prematurely vociferous) screed by Bill Quick. On Spoons' post, I left the following comment:

I entirely disagree with even the direction from which you're analyzing the situation.

My impression is that the precedent had already been established that the U.S. needed U.N. "permission" for actions (otherwise, why would all of the "unilateral" rhetoric have sounded so plausible to so many?). Watching all of the baldfaced attempts by the "international community" to scuttle the U.S.'s intentions over the past few months, I've come to think that when (OK, if) we attack and topple Saddam's regime, what we'll have actually proven is that even the best attempts of lawyers and diplomats will not deter our action.

In other words, we won't have proven that we need the U.N. to hold our hand as we cross the road, but that we can cross the road even with the U.N. pulling at our shirt tails. And when the hard work comes to an end, perhaps we'll be able to offload some of the cleanup.

I just spotted this on Drudge, and it seems to support at least the last part of my conclusion:

At an unpublicised meeting in Geneva on December 13, the UN appealed to more than ten donor nations, including Britain, to provide $37 million (£23 million) to fund preparations for a crisis.

The Rome-based World Food Programme said that it had started to put in place sufficient food for 900,000 people for a month. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has a stockpile of supplies for 250,000 people ready to move at 72 hours' notice, but has only enough tents and blankets for 100,000 people. It could take 12 weeks and $60 million to deliver enough supplies.

The UN Children's Fund, which has a warehouse in Denmark, has started moving supplies to Iraq and four neighbouring countries for 550,000 people inside Iraq and another 160,000 expected to spill into neighbouring states.

The entire situation may play out that the U.N. will not be proven obsolete but will come to be little more than the cleanup wing of the American military.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:45 AM EST


Sunday, December 22, 2002

Hmmm.... What to Protest?

The idea that parents would protest a pregnant (and explicitly married) doll is mind-boggling. Perhaps when teenage kids start having sex with the intention of building families we should worry about such toy innovations as this:

The truly dangerous aspect of the issue, in my opinion, is that, with sexual content becoming increasingly accepted in youth culture, both in entertainment and the clothing that children are allowed to wear, the quality of the pregnant Midge doll that parents find most disturbing may not be the sex, but the growing up. For example, I wonder how the same people might react to this Barbie gal:

When are people going to wake up from their prolonged adolescences and realize that these things do have an effect on their children? One 10-year-old featured in a Washington Post column, who received a Lingerie Barbie from his 5-year-old cousin, who was bored with it, put it well:

"She gives me lots of toys she doesn't want," he said. "Most of them I give to charity. But not this one, no way. I threw it in the river. No child should play with something like that. They'll get all the wrong ideas."

Please, God, let the pendulum be swinging back the other way...

(Midge story via Reflections in D Minor, Slutty Barbie story via Drudge)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:22 PM EST


What's the Purpose of Ideas if Others Can't Share Them?

This morning, on the way to church, I heard an astoundingly silly advertisement on the radio to the effect that even just one "click" by one person could bring an end to the existence of music. It was quite remarkable in its gall and condescension, in its plea for people to "respect the music." Similarly spoke the pimp to the hooker's boyfriend.

Of course, part of what makes this hypothetically musicless future such nonsense is that plenty of musicians are willing to share their music for free or as a means to build careers and income through other outlets. Another part is the foolishness of copyright laws, as described in the Providence Journal:

Consider this: Of the hundreds of thousands of books published between 1920 and 1950, fewer than 6,000 are still in print. Many out-of-print books could be preserved on the Internet. Instead, copyright protections may doom them to oblivion. Will the greedy interests of mostly large corporations intent on squeezing every last royalty out of decades-old creations prevail, squelching the ability of billions of people to access and build upon important chunks of our shared literary heritage? Let's hope the court sees the compelling public purpose in restoring a more limited copyright term.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:10 PM EST


Oppression of Conservatives on Campus

The Providence Journal today offers readers reassurance that there are conservative groups on college campuses. There's no question which version of American conservatism we're being offered, here:

On a mission to crush liberalism, the student political club is one of the most aggressive groups on the Roger Williams University campus.

I'll admit that these young right-wing conspiracy hopefuls are a bit... well... flamboyant in their language, but I can't say I blame them for their frustration or for feeling as if they are in the midst of a struggle. Because the university apparently hasn't any Republicans on staff, the group's faculty adviser, June Speakman, is "the adviser to both the College Republicans and Democrats, and also the lone Democrat on the Barrington Town Council" — not exactly a sympathetic ear. Here's her opinion of her charges:

Speakman said she worries about the tone of the campus debate. The College Republicans often use brash language, criticizing anyone they deem liberal.

Before the Coulter debate, in which Speakman participated, someone had torched a poster announcing the event. She said some members, including several women, have left the group

"What's tricky is when students get so angry they push each other around and yell and set posters on fire," said Speakman, the first professor on any college campus to agree to debate Coulter.

"I have spoken to the Republicans on how not to be incendiary and about the rules of civil discourse. I would prefer that they be less in-your-face, but that is not what they want to do."

The College Republicans use "brash language" and criticism. Meanwhile, somebody else lights one promotional sign on fire, and, as I noted last month, the Republicans are made to take them all down (a "fire hazard," you see). I wondered then what made the college's administration believe that conservative signage is particularly flammable. Now, it seems, the belief is that the group's "incendiary discourse" caused their own poster to spontaneously combust.

If only liberals could wring the secret to that trick out of Rush Limbaugh, perhaps they could win back the White House in 2004.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:48 PM EST


Saturday, December 21, 2002

In Lieu of Contributing Money to Instapundit

Instapundit links to Acidman's caustic response to bloggers who have taken Andrew Sullivan's recent $80,000 "pledge week" windfall as an excuse to expect cash for blogging. Frankly, I'd love for this blog to be such a big deal that I'd feel justified in asking for money as a "tip," as opposed to simply taking the opportunity of the blog to point out books and such for sale.

To those bloggers who think that the however-many people who read their blogs on a regular basis ought to pay for the privilege, I suggest that, when your blog is more a source of notoriety than regular columns in major periodicals, when your blog becomes a resource for media professionals, then you'd be justified in thinking that it ought to pay. Don't get me wrong: if your readers aren't turned off by your pleas and actually hand over some money, that's wonderful. I'm merely suggesting that there's a gray area before which it is premature to put much emphasis on such exchanges, and very few bloggers have reached it thus far.

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds is one blogger who is certainly ready to make that leap. His site is also one to which I would gladly contribute if I weren't 100% confident that what little money I could afford to give means a whole lot more to my family than it would to his. Therefore, it is fortunate that he has remained firm in his resolve that "this is a labor of love. It's free. And it'll stay that way."

Still, I owe much to Mr. Reynolds for the growth of Dust in the Light, an endeavor from which I've gained the intangible profit of some degree of affirmation and a whole lot of motivation to push on with my other projects. For his openness to linking to unknowns and the role that he plays for the blogosphere in general, I can do little more than thank him. Were he to ever decide to follow the trail that Mr. Sullivan is blazing to the next level, I, for one, would react by saying that it's about time.

In the meantime, if you're inclined to thank Instapundit in a way that I cannot, you may do so by clicking the "Make a Donation" button on the left side of his Web site.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:51 PM EST


Happy Christmas (War Is Coming)

We just went out to do a little shopping and run a few errands, and it seems as if all of the pop/rock radio stations have John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" on a 15 minute rotation. After a while, rather than change the station, I just rewrote the lyrics:

So this is Christmas
We've got a gift for Saddam
And he'll be a red stain
Before he gets the bomb
And so this is Christmas
There's nothing else to do
But topple the Ba'athists
(And maybe the U.N., too)

A very merry Christmas
Especially if you're a Kurd
The U.S. is about to
Topple that dictator turd

War is coming
'Cause we want it
War will bring us
Safer new years

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:26 PM EST


Rod Dreher's Low Opinion of Yankees

In a series of posts over in the Corner, Rod Dreher has made comments about how Northerners "can't wrap their minds around" the paradox that is the South. Here's the latest:

I can hear Yankee rationalists saying, "But I don't get it: how can a man fight for segregation, yet have an affair with a woman he believes is his inferior?"

Whether Rod believes the South and Southerners to be inexplicably unique or Yankees to be of limited imagination (Lord knows how I got through so many books by Faulkner!) is difficult to tell. But I'd suggest that he consider that it isn't that Northerners don't comprehend the hypocrisy of such men, but that they're pointing it out. (This is not to say that it is a blind hypocrisy. If one has a mistress who presents an opportunity for a loophole from adultery, it is a matter of self-interest to maintain a segregated community.)

Then again, I was born in Virginia, so maybe I'm genetically predisposed to understand such odd qualities of humanity.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:45 AM EST


The Politicization of Science Goes Both Ways

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds links to an AP report that bears the misleading title, "CDC fact sheet not promoting condom use any more." Mr. Reynolds offers the following opinion:

I'm disturbed at this report that the CDC is no longer promoting condom use as a response to STDs, even though condoms are highly effective against AIDS. Sure, they're not perfect protection against everything. But then, seatbelts aren't perfect protection either, and they promote those.

The problem, of course, is that once the science is politicized and the public health community forfeits much of its public trust, well, the door's open. I'd like to see the public health establishment focus more on science and less on politics. But then, I wanted that five years ago, too.

The first objection that I would raise is that Reynolds presumes that the language of the fact sheet was not politicized before. Here's how the AP describes the change:

On the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, the condom fact sheet had said that refraining from sex was the best way to prevent transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases. The old version went on to say: "But for those who have sexual intercourse, latex condoms are highly effective when used consistently and correctly."

The recently posted version focuses on HIV along with other sexually transmitted diseases. In its introduction, the fact sheet now says that condoms "can reduce the risk of STD transmission. However, no protective method is 100 percent effective, and condom use cannot guarantee absolute protection against any STD."

That doesn't quite give the entire comparison. The character of the intercourse is left vague in the old version, and the AP cuts out the corresponding sentiment in the new version. Here's the relevant chunk of text that is currently available:

The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is uninfected.

For persons whose sexual behaviors place them at risk for STDs, correct and consistent use of the male latex condom can reduce the risk of STD transmission.

The old version may very well have included the monogamous relationship comment, and there is no doubt that the emphasis of the passage has changed. But can it be said that one is neutral while the other is politicized? Personally, I find the sunny terms of "those who have sexual intercourse" to be less clinically accurate than the admittedly starker "whose sexual behaviors place them at risk." After all, the purpose of condoms is to reduce a risk at which one has placed himself or herself. However, I'll concede that the differentiation is right on the eye-of-the-beholder line.

My second objection is that this text comes from the introductory "bottom line" section, in which it does not seem unduly political to let the language lean toward a larger conclusion. Condoms, of course, are merely a piece in society's treatment of sex, and there is certainly an argument to be made that, in the broader picture, not actively encouraging sex through claims of a virtual panacea is the wiser course. Those against the change in presentation will object that abstinence has, all along, been mentioned as the only sure method to avoid STD. But if they're honest, they'll admit that its treatment has been more akin to a small-font disclaimer than a bold-faced declaration. When Planned Parenthood handed me a condom in high school, I certainly felt like (more of) a loser for having no use for it.

Anyway, here's the text from a summary box directly following the introduction:

Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In addition, correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including discharge and genital ulcer diseases. While the effect of condoms in preventing human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is unknown, condom use has been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer, an HPV-associated disease.

That seems pretty balanced to me. The only way it is accurate to say that the CDC is not "promoting" condom use is if one means that it is no longer promoting the activity that makes condom use advisable. Frankly, I don't find it encouraging that even such minor changes — to an online fact sheet — toward a more cautious, more circumspect treatment of sexual behavior is apt to be seen as opening the door for the soldiers for morality to come in and break up Mr. Science and Ms. Freedom's liaison.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:06 AM EST


Those Wacky Vicars

Andrew Stuttaford points out more anti-Christmas foolishness. Personally, the extent of the bias (would anybody ever forbid Ramadan decorations... if they exist?) is beginning to make me mad. Fortunately, a Plymouth vicar has afforded me a tension-breaking chuckle:

Reaction has been, I'm glad to say, enjoyably vituperative. A vicar in Plymouth has wondered if the Red Cross may need to change its (offensive?) logo to a 'red splodge' , while Lord Ahmed, one of the UK's more prominent Muslim politicians tells the Mail that "it is stupid to think Muslims would be offended."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:06 AM EST


Friday, December 20, 2002

The Ballad of Trent Lott

To commemorate a battle of less-than-epic proportions, and in the spirit of The Lord of the Rings, I give you, for barroom and campfire occupation:

The Ballad of Lott
by Justin Katz

The Grand Ol' Party's victory
had hardly lost its echo,
and liberals' scattered corps fled left
too proud were they to let go.
The libertarians cried out
that theirs should be the guiding will;
be minor margins what they may,
conservatives held the power still.

Hi-de-yi-dee, yo-me-bro.
Domestic issues come and go.

Into this roiling sea of yawns,
to which there was an angry tone,
with those who urged a blindward leap
and others for leaving fine alone,
the leader splashed, a coiffed buffoon,
who, in among a joking lot,
spoke words that, though he thought them light,
would spell the end of Chester Lott.

Pax-a-dixie, trix-a-deed.
Such a man just cannot lead.

"If we'd been joined in raising Strom,
this once-heroic Dixiecrat,
we wouldn't have these problems now."
The words were spoken; that was that.
The murmurs on the Internet,
soon spread to those with louder calls
and to the Hill and White House, too.
Thus from fonts come crashing falls.

Hi-de-yi-dee, yo-me-bro.
Trent insists that he won't go.

Trent, he sent, with cowering bent,
apologies when from him rent.
Still, the swill, with coffers to fill,
would stain him at the top of the Hill.
Rake! Foresake, for your own sake,
the progress your party might make?
Frist, insist the caucus is pissed
and wants its spokesman to desist.

Some say in the empty halls
of Congress, when the wind is tame,
one can hear the sighed lament
of Trent for cheers that never came.
And soon, with wars of more than words,
history will forget his song,
but leftward bards will carry refrains,
and hope more than Daschle sing along.

Pax-a-dixie, trix-a-deed.
The leader proved he could not lead.
Hi-de-yi-dee, yo-me-bro.
That's why Trent Lott had to go.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:06 PM EST


On Rainy Days

Rainy days are particularly depleting during this time of year. When one wakes up tired and with a cold, it is still dark, and the entire day seems hardly to lighten. By the time the child has been handed off to the spouse and work begun, the unseen sun is already headed toward the horizon, which is merely a blur, and the darkness fills in to night. It is difficult to maintain motivation on these days — difficult, even, to keep one's eyes open.

I think I'll go walk the dogs while the weather is still interestingly inclement, without the annoying spittle that marbles my glasses. Things were easier when I could see.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:20 PM EST


A Full Year of Just Thinking

** Preorder for January release **
Just Thinking: Volume I, 10/29/01–10/21/02 is a collection of my Just Thinking columns for the past year, including essays, fiction, and poetry. If you think you might be interested in the book, please consider preordering it to help a poor writer cover printing costs.

Special Offer:

Buy Just Thinking: Volume I and get A Whispering Through the Branches for half price!

$19.00 (includes shipping)
$25.50 (includes shipping)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:33 PM EST


Rewriting History, the Liberal Way

Anybody who wants to do so could research the dates that certain people and organizations came out to criticize Senator Lott. But I feel secure in asserting that this, from an AP report about Trent Lott's (finally) ceding his leadership chair, is purely history rewritten:

The remarks drew immediate criticism from black leaders and Democrats. They were quickly joined by conservatives worried that the comments would create a distracting firestorm that would harm the White House's and GOP's efforts to advance their legislative agenda.

Guess it's useless to let this sort of thing get to you.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:59 PM EST


Reason to Heavily Regulate Genetic Research #1,202,999

Imagine what this guy would do with access to advanced genetic "therapy."

Welcome to comic-book land. Are we done letting the world go mad, yet?

(Via Right Wing News)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:34 PM EST


Anti-Arab Backlash at Arizona State University

That's a striking headline, no? Well, try this:

Anti-Conservative-Arab Backlash at Arizona State University

That implies quite a different story, and one that has become much more common, I'd say. Here's more proof that the left-wing has no concern for culture, ethnicity, freedom of speech, or the free flow of ideas — merely goosesteps to the movement's tune. Was 9/11 enough to break the spell of the illusion? The process seems to have begun; let's hope it continues.

(Via Right Wing News)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:31 PM EST


Feeling Helpless in the Face of Inanity

Instapundit points out the madness apparent in the people whom the public has charged with protecting us. From blocking investigations that might be diplomatically sticky to considering a refusal to do one's job to be a matter for cultural tolerance, it is simply insane that people aren't being fired — perhaps facing criminal prosecution — for stuff like this.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:32 AM EST


Thursday, December 19, 2002

Elementary School Principals Should Know Better

Out in Pleasantville, PA, elementary school Principal Deb Forker brought in two "performance artists" (first mistake...) to assist with a theatrical performance that brought a month of studying ancient cultures to a close for third through fifth graders. The entire school would have gathered — right down to the first graders — to watch their classmates perform a mock Aztec human sacrifice. Happy holidays, kiddies!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:56 PM EST


Being Paul

What would your conception of yourself be if you'd spent your entire adult life as Paul McCartney? And then, as one of two remaining Beatles alive to still be given "second billing" on songs that you alone wrote because of a decision made when you were a grubby teen? Would you seek ways to switch "Lennon-McCartney" around?

I don't think I would, but the real Paul McCartney seems interested in doing just that. Personally, I think in accordance with history and as a tribute to a tragically lost partner, I'd leave well enough alone. The attribution rolls of the tongue and is familiar, and nobody reads it as "Lennon and whatshisname."

But then again, I'm not Paul McCartney.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:11 PM EST


Is Phil Donahue Going to Heaven?

Somebody whom I know in the real world asked to hear my thoughts on a transcript from a Phil Donahue show dealing with Christians who believe that Jesus is the one door to Heaven. My first thought is, "Stop watching that stuff, it'll turn your brain into mush." If you were writing a paper about the incoherent mess that is modern liberal ideology, Phil Donahue could be your thesis. Looking for theological insight from him or the people whom he invites to his show is like looking to a clown and his troop of poodles for lessons in trigonometry. I didn't make it through the whole transcript.

When I read Donahue's introduction of his first two guests, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, national talk radio host and author of Judaism is for Everybody, I expected the show to be cast as a dogma-preaching fundamentalist versus the reasonable and tolerant Jew. That would have been an improvement. Here are the first words out of Boteach's mouth:

Well, Phil, sadly, Reverend Mohler is a spiritual racist. And it's not enough for him for Jews to be at the back of the heavenly bus, and not only can they not drink from the good old water fountain, he wants nothing less than a spiritual lynching. The Jewish soul is going to burn in hell forever and ever.


I don't think it goes too far to suggest that anybody who watched that episode of Donahue with even an ounce of credulity likely took a few steps back from understanding religion, itself, and God, Himself. It shows a profound misunderstanding of religious belief to even have to ask Christians Donahue's question. To a Christian, Jesus was the messiah, the Son of God, and, indeed, as one perspective of the Trinity, God Himself. Suggesting that one could get into Heaven without acknowledging that would be as much spiritual nonsense as suggesting that one could get into Heaven while denying God.

That said, this belief as it relates to people of other faiths involves two theological questions: the natures of Heaven and Hell and the definition of what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ. This is still relatively new territory for me, theologically, but, as I commented on Mark Shea's site, "I can't formulate a consistent theology without believing that we must face what we've done wrong, hell being the refusal to do so and purgatory being the process of doing so." This relates to the issue of people of other faiths in that their coming to accept the Christian God would be facing something that they got wrong. Those who were truly open to God's voice in life, as evidenced in their behavior in society and quests within their own faiths, would be open to whatever revelations come after death.

To a Christian, God's voice might as well be synonymous with Jesus. It seems to me that fundamentalists such as Rev. Mohler go too far in separating the persons of the Trinity. Christ is not merely a litmus test, but an aspect of God — a constituent part of the whole of God's nature. In other words, God will not explicitly ask us whether we believe in His son; rather, He will judge whether we are able to see Him as He is. People whose faith was not a matter of belonging to a religious club will likely be able to do so — in essence, making a post-mortem conversion.

That's my thinking on the issue, anyway.

(Note: the views expressed in this entry are purely the opinions of Justin Katz, who bears no responsibility, based thereon, for the ability of those following his advice to gain access to Heaven.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:37 PM EST


What Is a Hawk to Do?

I didn't know what to make of an AP report yesterday, entitled "Bush Decides No Immediate War with Iraq," except to say that Ari Fleischer's reassurances, such as the following, are beginning to wear thin:

"As I said, the president has made clear that this is the last chance and the evaluation of the declaration continues" and will be "deliberate, thoughtful and wise." ... "I assure you this president does not bluff," Fleischer said. "When he said Saddam Hussein must disarm ... it is not a bluff."

Watching the AP video of Fleischer's "does not bluff" comment, I see that the AP's ellipsis after "disarm" softens the statement, but I still feel like I've heard "this is his last chance" one too many times for it to feel direct. Then, today, I read a WorldNetDaily article that leaves one with quite a different impression of the likelihood of a U.S. attack, including the revelation that our government has intelligence involving Iraqi communications to hide WMDs.

The conflicting impressions could certainly be a function of the biases of different media outlets. It could also be a deliberate initiative from the administration to obscure U.S. intentions. Well, I certainly hope that Saddam feels as clueless as I do.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:44 AM EST


PBS's Islamic Promotional Film

Robert Spencer offers a reasonably comprehensive overview of the problems with the new PBS documentary, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet. As might have been predicted, the film does nothing to educate viewers as to where, exactly, the radicals go wrong... just that they do. I'm getting to the point at which the only explanation that I can bring to mind for the failure of the more liberal forces in the media to counteract conservatives' version of the relationship between peaceful Islam and belligerent Islam with a fairer portrayal is that one doesn't exist.

I also don't know quite what to make of PBS's decision to release this film a week before Christmas. Wouldn't Ramadan have been a better religious season to adorn with the puff piece? Of course, it could be no more than a result of the various restrictions and delays that go into determining a release date, but I can't shake the feeling that there's more to it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:26 AM EST


A Hoax or a Con?

Michelle Malkin has summarized an extreme example of the hypocrisy of the ways in which different races are treated. As it turns out, some "hate crimes" at the University of Mississippi, including a phony lynching, were perpetrated by black students. They'll likely get a slap on the wrist, although had they been white, prison may very well have been in their future.

One reason that no leniency should be shown is that the fear was still inculcated and the cause of racial harmony on the campus set back to the same degree. If that would have been the crime of whites, it ought to be seen as a crime when perpetrated by blacks. Another, more legally minded, reason relates to a thought that I had yesterday about the racial grievance industry.

When I was in college, the student paper ran a cartoon that was pretty obviously critical, in my opinion, of a Texas university for ending affirmative action. The cartoon was misinterpreted, and black students protested, urged on by a campus full of professors. After the dust settled from marches and the litter was swept from the auditorium after a much-publicized "forum," there were new groups for blacks (with budgets), new black-only professorial positions, and various statements of fealty from the administration. I thought of this upon hearing of Trent Lott's comments on BET — about how lucrative being offended can be, from a state university to the United States Senate.

Therefore, I'm beginning to wonder if hate-crime hoaxes mightn't have an element of conartistry. Oh, I'm sure that most — at least many — are merely ploys for attention from adolescents, but I think it may be an area worth investigating when such controversies come to light.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:36 AM EST


Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Squaring Circles and Other Nifty Tricks

Arthur Silber links to an online "philosophy" game that is meant to assess one's ability to navigate the debate about God's existence consistently. One "trap" that the game lays for believers is to ask whether God can do anything and later to ask if God could make circles into squares and one plus one equal seventy-two. This seems indicative to me of the changes in emphasis and lack of imagination typical of much of this sort of thinking. Specifically, both of these examples of things that God "must be capable of" if omnipotent have too much to do with perception, definition, and semantics to be "gotchas" against believers. For example, I've sometimes wondered if our entire numeric system might be off in some (thus far) unimaginable way because constants seem so strangely unrelated.

But I've a single solution, from a broader point of view, for both of the conundrums.

The moving gif is a bit slow to be effective, but here are the flattened frames.

What you're looking at is (a quick and crude) picture of four dots in a square rotated nine times at 10 degrees each time (i.e., 36 dots). If it were moving quickly enough to appear as a circle, all you'd have to do is stop it (or rotate yourself at the same speed) for the circle to be a square. Additionally, if you had two of them, you'd have a total of 72 dots.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:36 PM EST


No Aesthetics Left in Art

Some "artists" seem inclined to remove any degree of skill or aesthetics from their craft. It's all about statement. Well, here's my question: if a "work" involves no skill in the creation, and the artist isn't aware of what its statement actually is, what's the point? Seems like high-minded "Jackass" to me.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:48 AM EST


What Is and Isn't Inciteful

I was busy enough that I didn't comment on reports that the Supreme Court has sought Bush Administration input on lawsuits against pro-life advocates who undoubtedly stepped right up to the line of reasonable activism. Charging them as if they are mafia is ludicrous, but crossing names off a hit list goes a bit far. (Mock wanted posters of abortion providers seems within bounds to me, although I suppose it depends what was on them. I presume the news would be widespread if they'd said "Dead or Alive.") Then again, so does the $110 million in punitive damages.

But then I noticed Drudge's report about Sheikh Abu Hamza "talking of a 'war' against [the West's] governments, financial institutions and armies". I know Hamza is across the pond, in England, but given activities on U.S. campus and elsewhere, I get the sense that folks in America would be unduly tolerant of similar "free speech" within our borders.

Oh, and here's one for your comparative religion file:

"And if somebody is similar to [a hypothetical Algerian with a grievance against France] in England then he has the right to [engage in terrorism]. Islam doesn't say you turn the other cheek ... you defend yourself in the appropriate way."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:44 AM EST


Tuesday, December 17, 2002


You've heard the expression "not in my backyard" (NIMBY)? Well, I wonder how closely it tracks, around the country, with NIMBI, or "not in my best interests." Edward Achorn thinks it's a pretty close correlation in Rhode Island.

When I was seeking funding for the Redwood Review, the Newport County Convention & Visitor's Bureau invited me to present at a business luncheon. At the meeting were various owners and managers of businesses on our island. Another speaker was a local Republican politician. At first glance, this would seem to be a pro-business, pro-growth crowd.

But then I realized that many of them were also of the wealthy "Newport culture" set and most work, in some way, within the state's tourism industry. In other words, they are already wealthy enough to handle a heavy tax burden, and their businesses are such that any threat — real, exaggerated, or perceived — to "scenic beauty" are to be met with resistance. Add to them another major Rhode Island industry, higher education, and it may be that the state has a surplus of people made wealthy enough by temporary residents that they aren't but so concerned about driving out families and young adults who aren't attracted by the state's welfare rolls.

The state's size may constitute another front in the perfect storm that's eroding Rhode Island's economy. There isn't enough space for other ideological regions to form, other states are close enough that industrial goods are readily available, and the necessary workforce can always commute.

None of this means, however, that the scheme is sustainable, let alone desirable. As I've said before, there's always Plan C.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:57 PM EST


The Pants Make a Man

I don't have much by way of insightful commentary about this article in The Independent, but I had to share it because it is too perfect a representation of the world's current culture war to not be read.

This is the photo (via

(Via Right Wing News)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:44 PM EST


Korea Getting Hotter to Handle, Not Just the North

Anti-American hostilities have gone up a notch in South Korea. Now our soldiers, presumably there to defend against North Korean attacks, are having to defend themselves on the streets of Seoul. Lt. Col. Steven Boylan reportedly barely escaped a knife in the stomach.

I noted a while ago that these particular flames were stoked as part of a political campaign. A dead soldier or two might prove that calculated demagoging to have been a catastrophic mistake:

Korea's five largest business organizations issued a joint statement Monday warning that anti-U.S. resentment could prompt U.S. consumers to retaliate in a way that would damage the Korean economy and cost jobs.

"The outbreak of an anti-Korean boycott and other retaliatory moves in the United States could batter Korea's trade surplus with the United States, which totaled $8.9 billion in 2001," said the statement from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Korea International Trade Association and three other groups.

But there's the beauty from the politicians' standpoint: Suppose the absolute worst happens (although it's unlikely), and the South Korean economy tanks based on American "retaliation." Will the Korean voters point to their leaders and say, "You pushed this envelope!"?

I don't think so.

(Via Right Wing News)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:01 PM EST


Lott on BET and Muhammad on PBS

Catching up on my Corner reading this evening (scroll down from the link), an interesting parallel came to mind. Cast in among the many lamentations at Trent Lott's continued quest to prove that he hasn't an ounce of the integrity required of a leader, Rod Dreher linked to an article by Daniel Pipes about a PBS special essentially proselytizing for Islam.

The PBS special reminded me of a controversy that I took up in a column last January. In that case, the issue was Californian public schools, and their textbooks, handing their students the recruiter's version of Islam. Two details that are common to that controversy and this one are that reference to Muhammad's interaction with the divine is treated in the same manner as historical fact and that the contrast with treatment of Christianity — to wit: the deprogrammer's version — is stark.

The connection to Lott comes in a column that Mr. Dreher wrote last February:

If the Islamic chapters seem like they could have been written by a Muslim activist group, that's no accident. The California-based Council on Islamic Education, founded in 1988 to fight what the group believes is anti-Muslim bias in the classroom, works closely with textbook publishers to review and develop teaching material. The CIE, which didn't return a message left on its answering machine, participated in the writing and editing of Across the Centuries.

Thanks to Lott's pliability when faced with the cudgel of "making amends for egregious wrongs," it seems a pattern may be emerging: to combat a perceived negative bias, a special-interest group takes up the task of offering "suggestions," which — followed through an urge either to flaunt multicultural sensibilities or to evade the label of bigotry — serve to advance its intentions far beyond parity.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:10 PM EST


Suggestions for the Hollywood Charter Trip to Iraq

Instapundit already linked to it, so it's likely crossed your path, but I just had to link to some suggested to-do-list items for Hollywooders heading over to Iraq to "form informed opinions."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:16 PM EST


Another Dead Jackass

Strangely enough, on my way home from work, my thoughts turned to the kids getting hurt imitating MTV's "Jackass" show and the defenders of the show saying that kids have always done and will always do stupid things and it's just that people have the show to blame now. When I got home and checked Drudge, I found a story about a young man who died explicitly imitating a particular stunt from the show.

The first thing to remember is that it is the rare adolescent who understands what goes into any professional production. From the hours of practice to be a professional anything to the hours of footage that never make it to the television screen, kids want the final product — or the resulting ability — without the work to get there. They also don't see the wires or the switch to a stunt double or the medical teams loitering just off camera.

The problem with adults' excuse that such-and-such is "always" the case is that it is either false or confirms the concerns of the naysayers. As long as it has been around, kids have imitated professional wrestling; when Back to the Future first came out, kids imitated Michael J. Fox's stunt of hanging on to cars while skateboarding. Well, there's a whole range of wrestling moves that don't involve death-defying feats, and kids can get their first (and, hopefully, last) scrapes grabbing the bumpers of cars in parking lots. Furthermore, neither of these examples carries the added seal of authenticity: "reality TV." That means anybody can do it, right?

The larger point is that, when the "cool" thing on TV that the teens imitate is only notable because it involves substantial risk of harm, we've moved beyond the acceptable realm of youth entertainment.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:33 PM EST


Monday, December 16, 2002

A Full Year of Just Thinking

** Preorder for January release **
Just Thinking: Volume I, 10/29/01–10/21/02 is a collection of my Just Thinking columns for the past year, including essays, fiction, and poetry. If you think you might be interested in the book, please consider preordering it to help a poor writer cover printing costs.

Special Offer:

Buy Just Thinking: Volume I and get A Whispering Through the Branches for half price!

$19.00 (includes shipping)
$25.50 (includes shipping)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:51 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 12/17/02

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Captain Bigshot, Pt. 1" by Victor Lams. Somehow, Victor's feels like good shopping music, and the theme of this song tied nicely with some of the hubris going on in current events these days — plus, I just love the line, "Hey there Captain Bigshot/Mr. Master of the sea/You think you're so great with your always goes down with his ship/and your unfailing decorum."

"Captain Bigshot, Pt. 1" Victor Lams, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Robot Love

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:38 PM EST


Just Thinking 12/16/02

My Just Thinking column for this week, "Handling with Resignation," is about leadership, the resignation of Cardinal Law, and the refusal to step aside of Senator Lott.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:26 PM EST


For the Who'd 'a' Thunk It File

In a strange twist of the norm, an anti-American column profits a Canadian columnist. Next thing you know, foreign politicians will begin badmouthing the United States in order to win elections.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:57 AM EST


This Has Got to Change

Some articles that I've read about the extent of smug stupidity among those who make important decisions for our country simply cross the line into disbelief. Radio broadcasts meant to undermine the Iranian government were succeeding until Jennifer Lopez made her entrance:

The "people back in Washington" Fairbanks referred to are led by Norman Pattiz, a Los Angeles-based commercial radio mogul and generous Democratic contributor who was rewarded by President Clinton with an appointment to the broadcasting board. As the chairman of the board's Middle East committee, Pattiz initially focused on the Voice of America's Arabic service, which he deemed out of touch in a region where there is growing popular hostility to the United States. His solution was to replace what he called the "old-style propaganda" of VOA with Radio Sawa, a pop-music station that debuted last March. Sawa broadcasts five minutes of news twice each hour, along with Whitney, Britney and a few Arabic balladeers.

Of course, this is conjecture, but I can't help but suspect that there's some deliberate market expansion on the public dime going on here. Glenn Reynolds is right, President Bush should make a point of taking on the music industry. It ain't just a monopoly issue now; it's a national security problem.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:33 AM EST


It's Always Something

As I rounded the corner toward home when walking the dogs last night, I thought to myself, "This'll be the first weekend in a while that I get everything done that needs to get done." All I had to do was finish my column and send out some Christmas cards.

Then came the sickness. I hovered near the bathroom for a few hours and then spent the night barely sleeping. I'm still nauseous, and now I'm exhausted. I hope to get some posts up today, but there's a whole lot of other stuff on the list, as well.

Just lettin' you know.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:58 AM EST


Sunday, December 15, 2002

Christmas Music: It May Not Be Too Late

If you're looking for Christmas music rethought in a compelling way, check out The Angels Gather, a CD by soprano saxophonist David Key and pianist Joe Parillo. If you act quickly, you may still be able to acquire a copy before Christmas day arrives.

(As always, please note that I make no money from sales of other artists' work; I merely wish to help them to find the audiences that they so deserve.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:15 PM EST


Depriving Public School Children of Religious Studies

Over on the Web site that usually becomes, on the weekend, Stuttaford's Corner, Andrew Stuttaford makes a great point about the dangers of extricating Judeo-Christian teachings from public education:

Children can, in the end, draw their own conclusions as to what to believe, but if they are not taught at least the essentials of the Bible's narrative, large chunks of western culture will remain inaccessible to them.

Like it or not, Christianity is a central component to Western society and, therefore, constitutes a necessary academic foundation for studies and comprehension of that society. I haven't been able to discover the information definitively, but I've gotten the impression — from the topics that he's covered and the way in which he handles them — that Mr. Stuttaford is an atheist. Perhaps for this reason, he doesn't take his conclusion as far as I believe it should go (the fact that it was a short post on a blog could be another reason).

Christianity also supplies a moral foundation for the way in which we should live our lives, something that secularists have not proven able to replicate by their own means.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:44 PM EST


The Group Consciousness and the Eye of the Internet

Sometimes it seems as if various ideas arise to a sort of group consciousness, with people in different places coming to them at once. Last week, I wrote about the general public gaining access to spy-level information, saying, "If you think the blogosphere is effective now, wait until we have access to Internet-controllable, live streaming satellite cameras!" A little over a week earlier, Matt Smith of had published a column giving out some personal — but publicly available — information about John Poindexter, Total Information Awareness head. As he'd suggested, investigation of Mr. Poindexter caught on.

Frankly, I think Mr. Smith's is an innovative form of protest, and a very American statement that the leaders are no better than the people. Smith's column puts forth another proposition that I could get behind. Unfortunately, you have to wade through some left-wing propaganda and paranoia to get there, but here's an initiative that all right-thinking people should find attractive:

Just as Republicans learned from Bill Clinton's centrist posings and posited George Bush Jr. as a kind and gentle man, might we also learn from our ideological opposites? I began hearing a voice: California should secede, it said.

I've thought much the same for Rhode Island, but I tend to prefer to work within the system.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:30 PM EST


Arafat to bin Laden: "Stay off My Turf," or "Don't Get Me Killed," or ...

Somebody, somewhere, will make too much of Arafat's statements that Osama and the al Qaedas ought to keep their fingers out of his Palestinian profit center. Just tell that person that he's nuts. Between not wanting the Big Lies of the Palestinian intifada to be diluted by becoming too broadly used and not wanting the Westerners to associate his terrorists with terrorists who are out of political favor, Arafat's "accusation" is a maneuvre through and through.

In other words, he's playing the media. Of course, the media is easily played. Here are the last few paragraphs from the Reuters piece:

Bin Laden's al Qaeda network is Washington's prime suspect in last year's September 11 attacks on U.S. cities and has been blamed for a string of attacks on Western targets around the world.

As well as the Kenya bombing, the group has been blamed for an attack in April on a synagogue in Tunis that killed 15 westerners and five Tunisians.

But no attacks have so far been blamed on al Qaeda in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Palestinians have been waging an uprising against Israeli occupation for more than two years.

Are we "blaming" them if they've taken credit? And that last bit about the uprising really just lays Reuters's political bias out for all to see. No word yet on whether Arafat intends to issue a statement asking the news agency "to stop exploiting the Palestinian cause to further" its own causes.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:57 AM EST


Saturday, December 14, 2002

From Then to Now on the Gaming Scene

When I come across ye olde videogames, I can't believe how many quarters I once blew on them. Somehow, I remember there being more to Space Invaders and Donkey Kong, and there are other games that I had entirely forgotten about. Being able to switch between them online and the humdrum work for which I use my computer, it occurs to me that some of those old games aren't much more entertaining than moving words around in Word.

I wonder what a kid back then would have thought coming across the videogames of today. They would have seemed one step away from reality — enough to sparkle the lad into a near coma. The implications are, I think, a little frightening when considering that kids today are coming across the new games without the context of the old. Consider that, by the time my generation got to Mortal Combat and Doom, we'd already been through Pac Man and Joust. I do think we tend to forget that our children don't have the broad experience of technology's evolution. This is of a piece with realizing that children are not merely miniature adults.

But then, this dilemma plagues every generation, although I don't think that there's any question that the distances between them now are much accelerated. To a degree, we just have to trust that our perennial ideals and universals will poke through the noise of modern life, but I also wonder if we shouldn't be devoting a bit more of society's time to seeking ways to ease children into speed-of-light life.

Unbeknownst to me (because I hadn't gotten around to reading it, yet) Mark Shea's column this week makes a similar point:

When I was five, The Wizard of Oz was the outermost limit of terror. The flying monkeys, in their fakey makeup and phoney suits, gliding in on barely concealed wires to snatch Dorothy out of the haunted wood were the stuff of nightmares for me. I had no ability to distinguish between reality and the primitive movie magic up on the TV screen. And I was an ordinary kid. ... How much less, then, can a small child today discern the difference between the absolutely lifelike Velociraptors dismembering their victims and reality?

(Thanks to Victor for reminding me that I hadn't read Mark's piece.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:16 AM EST


Friday, December 13, 2002

I Wonder If Every Father Hopes to Have a Daughter...

... like this. I bet her parents sleep with relative ease at night... not only because she can handle herself, but because that's not all she can handle!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:50 PM EST


What's a Government For?

As much as I hate to find difference with a new cyber-acquaintance who has linked to me and emailed with too-kind words, I find a column that John Venlet cites as a summation of his own opinion on abortion to put forth an incoherent view.

Venlet points to the column, by Billy Beck, as part of a blog post about a proposed law in Georgia that would require women seeking abortions to go through the process of obtaining death warrants. Here's the construction of Beck's argument:

1. A "a determined woman will have an abortion, and no man has anything to say about it."
2. "The more general question of moral probity in the matter can only be dealt with in terms of culture, which is notoriously unavailable to legislation." "The thing to do with 'pro choice' individuals is to let them have their 'choice', and everything that goes with it, fully, to include the opprobrium and ostracism."
3. "In the same way that civilized people do not refrain from robbery or murder on account of the state's laws against these behaviors, it is a matter of culture to understand the responsibility of aborting a pregnancy -- or becoming pregnant to begin with. The conservative mind, however, simply cannot grasp the fact that government is perfectly incompetent to prevent these behaviors, perpetrated by barbarians, with its presumptuous and paternal dictates against them. Nothing could be more clear than the criminal codes prohibiting murder, and thousands are killed by their fellows every year. The charade goes on: the government's job is to prevent murders. This delusion is impenetrable with fact."
4. "That's what [abortion] is about: dizzy screaming brats who want to have their cake and eat it, too."
5. "It's an entire conceptual edifice with which conservatives are simply not equipped to seriously deal. They are hopelessly lame at coming to terms with culture, which is why they are conservatives, and it's why all they can think to do is go cry to government."

I guess the first necessary step when somebody negates even the ability to think of folks with a label that one proudly accepts for himself is to find some degree of common ground. For the sake of argument, I'll assume that Beck is not an anarchist who believes that suspected murderers ought to be dealt with by citizens in the same fashion as informants for Israel in the Gaza Strip. Quite clearly, the central "job" of government is to protect its citizens and maintain some degree of order. Parsing words carefully, I agree that it is not the government's job to prevent murder, and it would be unreasonable of anybody to ever expect that it could (by confiscating potential weapons, for example).

But if public agents are to protect against certain behavior and deal with those who perpetrate it, it must define what that behavior is. Hence, laws. This is where an inevitable field of gray comes into view: In a society, all individual behavior affects others to some degree — from direct murder of another to the gradual cultural erosion of promiscuity. Most of the vast breadth of this spectrum is certainly best addressed by a social structure in which competing interests and ideas can push against each other. On the other end, a society does not have time to wait for a murderer to be shamed out of doing it again.

The most obvious line in this gray field is physically and directly harming another. Of course, it is culturally objectionable for extreme sexual conduct to carry no consequences, and it is a cultural obligation to develop consequences for it ("shame," for example). It is also culturally objectionable for human life to be devalued by abortion-on-demand, but in this instance the conflict is not only between society and the deviant: there is the resulting human life, as well. Frankly, taking the position that abortion deserves the long, slow treatment of cultural measures devalues that human life to such a degree that one has no justification for feeling any differently toward a woman for having an abortion than for having risky sex.

Whether Beck wants to admit it or not, the idea of directing culture through community pressure — "opprobrium and ostracism" — is very "conservative." A woman is free to sleep around, and people are free to tell her that she's a slut. However, in the cultural battle that he is obviously aware is ongoing, the other side (call them "liberals" for balance) is seeking to prevent any stigma from being applied, both through law — by silencing pro-life protests and waiving parental privileges, for example — and culture — by stigmatizing opprobrium itself and normalizing objectionable behavior.

In the final analysis, not only does abortion directly harm another human being, but legal and social trends in support of it are pushing the issue further from the reach of cultural influence and increasing the general damage, and whether or not Billy Beck will admit it, illegality is a powerful form of stigma. Perhaps that's all that it is, when it comes right down to it. Requiring that women admit what their "choice" entails is a good first step.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:02 PM EST


Some Facts 'n' Figures on Global Warming

You should bookmark this for easy reference if you know any environmentalists ("environmentalist" in the "movement" sense, not in the broad sense that probably includes most people in the world).

(via Right Wing News)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:00 AM EST


Malkin a Lott of Sense

(Sorry about that title... it was just too cute to pass up.)

Michelle Malkin suggests that Trent Lott isn't principled enough to be a bigot:

My fellow conservatives, if you weren't already convinced that the Mississippi senator was a gutless, ineffective, self-preservationist sap before his remarks at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party last week, this pandering to the race Mafiosi in the aftermath of his comments seals the deal.

What did Lott in wasn't so much the statement he made as his inability to take a strong stance thereafter. Faced with a pack of wolves, pausing to assess their demeanor is only a signal that you're easy prey. Either get to running or wave your hands in the air and yell, "Boogedy Boogedy Boogedy!" (please note that I have no idea whether this is a wise strategy when faced with an actual pack of wolves). Even his apologies have given listeners the non-choice of suspecting that he's covering up racism or a lack of conviction.

As for the Republican party, Malkin thinks they might try to pay off the race hucksters for absolution. Beyond thinking such an arrangement deplorable on every level — social, ethical, logical... — I don't think it'll work this time. Conservatives and libertarians are the ones who kept Lott in the forest long enough for the wolves to sniff him out, and they aren't motivated by a quest for raw pork.

(Sheesh! Silly name play and extended metaphor... I must need to sleep more at night!)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:36 AM EST


Last Words on Lott (Unless Something Really Interesting Happens)

As the anecdotes, tidbits, and factoids start to pile up, a pattern is beginning to emerge. As I said in my first post on the topic, I'm hesitant to attempt to divine the secret thoughts of politicians about whom I know little — and derived from few sources. Still, it's getting pretty difficult to deny that, at least, Lott is willing to play to a certain... constituency.

But I still wonder at the video. The words themselves are extremely ambiguous, inasmuch as, without any context, one could see the intent ranging from good natured exaggeration ("we wouldn't have all these problems, like global warming, entropy, and so on") to a barely concealed racist nod at an audience that he took to be sympathetic. I've begun to wonder whether America hasn't been such throughout my entire lifetime that it simply seems the stuff of fiction that a top politician would make such a comment with the latter meaning even in private... let alone on television!

Don't get me wrong; believe me that I'm aware that such comments and worse are made every day, and one doesn't have to ride out into the backwoods to hear them. But their requisite secrecy means that they need rarely interact with real arguments or ernest persuasion. The possibility strikes me as astounding, nearly to the point of disbelief, however, that a man who has dealt publicly with all variety of issues and controversies for so long would not have moved past such prejudice, even if only by necessity. As Charles Krauthammer put it, "What is so appalling about Lott's remarks is not the bigotry but the blindness."

Krauthammer also says that Lott's was "a perfectly clear choice of words articulating a perfectly clear idea." I'll admit that, to me, it still isn't so clear, but perhaps that fact can be taken as a positive indication of real — down at the core — change in our society.

(Note: I still have no interest in hearing further declarations of indignation. I think the President's statements on the issue probably did much to forestall any forthcoming additions unless more are needed to push Lott out of the leadership chair.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:18 AM EST


Thursday, December 12, 2002

Both Sides of the Faith-Based Initiatives

President Bush took steps toward enacting his faith-based initiative by means of executive orders, saying, "The days of discriminating against religious groups just because they are religious are coming to an end."

This is one of those issues on which opinions depend hugely on personal biases, even to the point of basic assumptions. One's assumptions also determine at what level one disallows discrimination. Should we be concerned about government disallowing religious groups from competing for contracts or even grants, or about those groups insisting that they be able to maintain autonomy, according to their beliefs, in how they organize? The linked AP article offers two objecting quotations. First:

"All Americans should find abhorrent a government policy that allows for a religious or racial litmus test when hiring with taxpayer money a person to serve soup," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. "Cooking soup and giving it to the poor can be done equally well by persons of all religious beliefs."

The first thing to note is the gratuitous inclusion of "racial" in the description of the likely "litmus tests." One also must wonder what level of income Rep. Conyers believes soup ladlers to earn. More to the point, if cooking and serving soup to the hungry "can be done equally well" by those who share the faith of the organization and those who do not, then the decision between them is, from an employment standpoint, arbitrary. Why should government social engineering override the organization's ability to choose employees who match its goals and objectives.

A second objecting quotation also draws from the lexicon of race-based activism:

Added Ira N. Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council: "It is simply wrong for federal contractors to discard the resumes of people with names that sound 'too Jewish' or 'too Muslim' when hiring substance abuse counselors and other professionals with government money."

The names have nothing to do with it. It's a religious and ideological distinction (for example, my last name is Jewish, and I'm Catholic). I don't know the statistics, but I'd be willing to bet that religious organizations are at least in line with other private institutions in their disregard of racial distinctions. For that reason, it seems questionable whether the government ought to impose ideological regulations on charitable organizations. After all, the First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." That suggests to me that the level of decision making at which religion may not play a role is in the activities of the government, in choosing from among possible contractors or grantees. If a religious organization can do the people's work more efficiently, why shouldn't it be allowed to do so?

Of course, this is all said in the hopes that this initiative is really the first step toward getting the government out of the charity business — without losing the amount of help that is provided to those who truly need it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:10 PM EST


Allowing Our Beliefs to Be Shaken

Mark at Minute Particulars touches on something that has been hovering just beyond my threshold of awareness and consideration for blogging my observations.

Essentially, much thought and discussion hones a person's understanding of an issue (evolution v. creation, in Mark's case) to the point at which others will refuse to address his argument as it is actually constituted, choosing to argue from a point a few steps previous. Perhaps they only fail to see the difference, or perhaps the conclusion drawn by the speaker at the point at which the opposition is stuck is insufficiently enunciated.

My own opinion is that the impulse not to allow an adversary's argument outside of a box that one has prepared arguments to address derives from a fear of allowing our beliefs to be shaken as a test of their strength. This is something that I'm constantly advising myself against, but it's awfully frustrating in others.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:16 PM EST


Opportunity for a Media-Watcher Contest

Well, Cardinal Law has offered his resignation. (The Pope must accept it, still — probably [hopefully] on Friday.)

But it seems to me that there's an opportunity for a contest here: to be the first to find an anti-Catholic writer who faults Law for running from responsibility, with bonus points for any quotations from the writer's past that called for Law's resignation.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:53 PM EST


Wherefor Moby-Dick

It just occurred to me that readers might not know from whence came the impetus for Sean Roberts and my conversation about Melville in the comments section of a post on an unrelated topic.

Well, he's been doing some quoting over on his blog, and it's prompted me to dig up some of my well-worn copies of the master's books. (You'll have to scroll down to a post called "He tasks me!" because the direct link isn't working.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:29 PM EST


It'll Just Keep Coming and Coming

Instapundit points out David Rose's suggestion that embarrassment at having missed intelligence links — as well as an instinct toward self-preservation — has prompted intelligence professionals to downplay the Iraq–al Qaeda connection. As I've been noting for a while (here, for one), there's just been too much information for it not to seep into the pool of publicly available information.

But this new admission raises another question that Rose hints at in his conclusion:

This week, attention remains focused on the UN weapons inspectors, and the deadline for Iraq's declaration of any weapons of mass destruction. But the recent Security Council resolution also noted Iraq's failure to abandon support for international terror, as it had promised at the end of the 1991 Gulf War. If there were the political will - rather a big if, admittedly - this could constitute a casus belli every bit as legitimate as Iraqi possession of a nuclear weapon.

Ignoring Iraq's support for terror is a seductive proposition, which fits pleasingly with democracies' natural reluctance to wage war. But if we are serious about winning the war on terror, self-delusion is not an option.

An attempt to achieve regime change in Iraq would not be a distraction, but an integral part of the struggle.

An important component of that "political will" reaches all the way to individual citizens of Western nations. How vested are they in their denial of the link? It has seemed to me that some have already reached a point of no return with their declarations. I'll be looking for the admissions of error, but hopefully President Bush won't hold off doing the right thing waiting for them.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:06 AM EST


Not a Lott to Say

To be perfectly honest, I'm getting pretty sick of the endless stream of forced melodrama and hyperbolic indignation at Senator Lott's comment, all of which is risk-free now that the Senator has made it clear what tack he intends to take. The "motivation" or "real meaning" of the comment is arguable. This doesn't excuse the stupidity of having made it, but it does make foolish such statements as, "How can I ever vote for a Republican, look my black friends in the eye, or read Mark Twain again?"

Give. Me. A. Break. How many Republicans are there in government? How many issues contribute to what they stand for? The standards for the Republicans among those with political philosophies beginning with "L" are impossibly high, and that seems to me to be the real contradiction. Nevermind the fact that one party gets away with explicit and implicit racism and the other must avoid any language that can even be twisted to sortakinda imply racism. The larger issue is that nobody would dream, least of all the L-ers, of tarring the entire Democratic party for the acts or words of a few of its members, even its leaders.

I think this double standard is indicative of the crack in personal ideological foundations that is the product and goal of the left wing's having a virtual monopoly on the culture from Disney, through public school and movie stars, to college professors and the media. It is the bias that determines the gut feelings that individuals have of any given group of people.

I was in the midst of the process of reconciling this inculcated bias with my agreement with conservative principles during the Monica Lewinsky days. Perhaps the moment that I began to realize that my view of the culture's dichotomy was a fabrication was when Bob Livingston resigned. In a short space of time, two Republicans resigned their positions based on hints of charges that were much more mild than what everybody knew to be truth about Bill Clinton. The media pressure and the fact that the Republicans were on the more moral side of the larger controversy surely assisted the outcome, but the nakedness of the left wing hypocrisy and the men's decisions not to hang on to political power with finger-scraping determination persuaded me that, for all of the feigned principles on the left, the right's positions were informed by more than hatred and selfishness to a greater degree.

Ultimately, that is why I think Trent Lott should go. Of course, dyed-in-the-wool liberals, career race-baiters, and others who have wanted him gone for other reasons will bubble over into a noxious, self-affirming glee that will stain other Republicans for a time. But people will notice where the principles lie. Integrity's the thing.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:50 AM EST


Still Having Intermittent Problems

I'm still having intermittent problems. If my Web host hadn't been so reliable these past couple years, I'd be gone. As it is, I guess I'm resolved to stick it out (this time).

But I am so absolutely frustrated by it all because toward the end of last week and through the weekend I had been building such fantastic momentum, and I have no way of knowing how much, if any, that momentum has been stymied by visitors being unable to access the pages for days on end. At any rate, I sincerely thank you for continuing to check in.

As for lost ground, as always in such situations, it's helpful to tell one's self, "I did it before, and now I'll just have to do it again."

I was just (around 1pm) able to access Web site statistics for the week so far. Monday and Tuesday might as well have not happened (for my Web site, they essentially didn't), but yesterday's turnout was actually pretty good. How much of that was me neurotically checking to make sure that it was still operative, I cannot say. But it looks like optimism is more appropriate than pessimism.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:10 AM EST


Who's Got the Power?

The New York Times seems almost surprised to find that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is black:

It was a gripping made-for-television moment — except, of course, for the fact that television cameras are not permitted inside the courtroom. Justice Thomas speaks in a rich baritone that is all the more striking for being heard only rarely during the court's argument sessions. His intervention, consequently, was as unexpected as the passion with which he expressed his view.

Thomas was in the process of changing the tide on a session concerning Virginia's right to ban cross-burning on private property. As a Christian, I find the act particularly offensive, but I simply disagree with the Supreme Court's decision, especially given the arguments made for it. One example is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's distinction between burning a cross and burning a flag: "'The flag is a symbol of the government,' Justice Ginsburg said, and it is inherent in the constitutional system that 'anyone can attack the government.' But burning a cross means 'attacking people, threatening life and limb.'" Since when am I not included in what is symbolized by the American flag? The folks on the "Arab street" seem to think I am.

This seems to me to be the unfortunate extension of "hate crime" mentality to begin to include "speech." Sure, burning a cross is an act, but is there really such a distance from the act of burning a cross and the act of drawing a Swastika? How about the act of falsely calling a white person a "racist"; that could involve a threat to life and limb (ask Al Sharpton).

But the argument that really burns me, that offends me on behalf of black people and has done so ever since I first came across it in college is this, from Justice David H. Souter:

Justice Souter called a burning cross "a kind of Pavlovian symbol, so that the person who sees it responds not to its message but out of fear." He added that "other symbols don't make you scared," suggesting that a burning cross might be "a separate category."

Am I alone in being bothered by the suggestion that any white person burning a couple sticks of wood has power over black people such that it reduces them to cowering like dogs drooling at the sound of a bell? Certainly, other images are frightening, mostly depending on context and location, but humans have the ability to remain rational in situations that are only vaguely threatening.

I'm also not sure why it is undesirable to have racists burning crosses in their own yards so as to mark themselves as the potentially dangerous idiots that they are.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:52 AM EST


Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Sullivan Marches On

Stanley Kurtz and Andrew Sullivan have continued their debate about gay marriage, apparently without concern that my Web site has been down for a couple of days. However, those intervening days were hardly sufficient for the two to close the topic and move on.

For the record, my position is perhaps a half-notch milder than Kurtz's, although it is a pragmatically inconsequential notch off in the far realms of an "ideal world." My ideal would be a society in which the institution of marriage, as known heretofore in our society, were so strong that an exception could be made for faithful homosexuals whose happiness would be enhanced by inclusion. In an even more perfect world, marriage could safely be removed from the government's range of influence, other areas of people's lives picking up the slack. As the Walgreens commercials say, "we don't live anywhere near Perfect," and frankly, I don't know that you can get there from here. But still, I like to keep the notion paper clipped to the outside of my mental file on the topic because it reminds me that certain circumstances are conceivable that might change my opinion.

One circumstance enabling steps, at least, would be if "conservative" homosexuals improved their arguments and increased their influence to a degree that they could enunciate the differences between their position and that of proponents of other forms of "union" (e.g., polygamists) and resolutely fend off the advances of the less "family oriented" elements within their own demographic. Stanley Kurtz is much more courteous than I would have been in his latest attempt to explain why Andrew Sullivan has not proven that such circumstances exist.

Kurtz addresses Sullivan's most recent round of comments more thoroughly than I have time to do, but some points deserve a little more attention. (I'm not including Sullivan's tendency to miss Kurtz's frequent statements regarding "equal protection" because Kurtz mentions it and Sullivan addresses it — reluctantly.) Here's a snippet from Sullivan:

Yet the default position of the far right is the notion that marriage in one state automatically means marriage in every state. That argument is the one with resonance around the country, and it's an argument designed to foment a sense of urgency about stopping any state from amending its laws now. It was the sole reason for the appalling Defense of Marriage Act. And it's phony.

The first position that stands out is that fear that "marriage in one state automatically means marriage in every state" has created a false "sense of urgency." To the contrary, I don't know of anybody who goes to the lengths of arguing the point who believes that homosexuals who go to a city hall in Mississippi, for example, the day after a court ruling in Massachusetts will be granted marriage on the spot. Surely, the "frenzied" members of the far right understand that the transition will involve a series of court battles across the nation — the "automatically" is gradual. Which, in effect, is something that Sullivan proposes and encourages.

The mention of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) points to another issue. In Sullivan's construction of the method by which Kurtz has "fanned the flames of hysteria," Kurtz has proposed the DOMA as the sole, flimsy barrier to an inevitable and immediate imposition of gay marriage on the country. Looking back to Kurtz's August 2001 article on the topic, one finds (in addition to the revelation that the arguments have merely been churning on themselves over the past year, including the very same language on Sullivan's part) the following:

Yet according to Jonathan Rauch, conservatives have no reason to fear a national imposition of gay marriage. After all, Rauch claims, in 1996, Congress and President Clinton "foreclosed [the] possibility" of an imposed national solution by passing DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), which holds that no state need recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state.

It hardly seems contrived demagoguery to refute a claim professed by another. It's especially peculiar for Sullivan to make such a big deal out of this aspect of the discussion because he also finds the DOMA argument weak, indeed inconsequential. Here's another point from Kurtz's 2001 article:

While Professor Kramer does indeed maintain that, under existing law, states may make use of the "public policy exception" to invalidate marriages performed in other states, Kramer also agues that the "public policy exception" is both nonsensical and unconstitutional. So whereas Sullivan points to Kramer's law-review piece as evidence that the Full Faith and Credit clause poses no threat to either DOMA, or to "states rights," the truth is exactly the opposite. Professor Kramer himself is actually an energetic advocate of the view that the very protections Sullivan is pointing to are unconstitutional, and therefore can and should be abolished.

In his recent essay, Sullivan responds:

Yes, Kramer wrote that he would endorse such a move against public policy exceptions. But he was also honest enough to admit that it would almost certainly never happen. If even a scholar who disagrees strongly with these provisions in principle nevertheless acknowledges that as a matter of law he doesn't have a leg to stand on, then it seems to me my case is stronger. Public policy exceptions to other states' marriages are legally, constitutionally and politically very, very strong.

The point of Kurtz's that Sullivan does not address is that, if the "public policy exception" is unconstitutional, it isn't that Kramer lacks a legal leg, but a political one. Furthermore, as Kurtz writes later in the same article, "While Professor Kramer is emphatic that the 'public policy exception' is existing law, he also makes it clear that such exceptions are virtually never used — even when they are clearly embodied in statutes." That hardly sounds "very, very strong."

Another point that Kurtz does not address is something that I've heard from gay marriage proponents several times, so it is worth taking on. Here's Sullivan:

I'd like this debate to continue. If I'm proved wrong and Massachusetts, for example, sees a sudden jump in divorce rates, teen pregnancy, illegitimacy and so on after it legalizes gay marriage, then I'm perfectly happy to state here and now I will reconsider. No one knows for sure.

These specific statistics likely won't be visible until long enough in the future for previous changes elsewhere to make their utility weak. In fact, there would be no "sudden jump," and long-term effects are particularly susceptible to being explained away, and the expansion of definitions around marriage would serve to hide some of the effects. The most immediate and most direct of the three listed statistics is divorce, which would not only be disguised by increased numbers of marriages, but would also be complicated by the introduced dynamic of differences in laws from state to state (as I suggested here).

A last point that I've also heard elsewhere is made at the end of Sullivan's essay: "In Britain last week, the Tories endorsed a legislative transformation, putting gay couples on an equal footing with straight couples. Yet in America, some conservatives don't want to allow even one single state to give it a try." Here's the quotation that Sullivan himself cited from the Tories:

"If what the government is coming forward with is indeed a set of practical steps to address a set of practical problems that affect people, then we will welcome them." He denied that it would undermine the "special" status of marriage, insisting there was nobody in his party who saw a contradiction between believing in marriage and accepting that gay people have concrete grievances about their current legal status.

That sounds to me like a lot of hedging (from a party far from the national leverage of its American counterpart), primarily limiting the promise to legal innovations that are separate from "gay marriage" as proposed by Sullivan, who commented on the statement thus:

Contrast this with the hysterical response from some on the American far right, and you see the difference between conservatism and reaction. Rather than even go slow on this sensible reform, some American rightists want to meddle with the Constitution itself to stop this even being discussed.

Barbara Roche, British "minister for social exclusion and equality," explained "We are not talking about marriage here. What we are talking about is the signing of a register." Contrast that with the push for marriage as a civil right, and you see the difference between going slowly forward with sinsible reform and meddling with the very understanding of what marriage means.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:57 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 12/10/02

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Mr. Moon" by Rosin Coven. This song, though perhaps not one of the band's most viable "hits," is a great condensation of its compelling blend of humor, darkness, and musical facility.

"Mr. Moon" Rosin Coven, Arthouse
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Penumbra

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:26 PM EST


Just Thinking 12/09/02 (a few days late)

My Just Thinking column for this week, "A Cold Consolation," is about the benefits and distractions of modern technology.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:19 PM EST


Where's the Responsibility?

Well, a column by Howie Carr has made it outside Catholic circles to Instapundit via Amy Welborn. To be honest, I agree with most of the column where it addresses the lavish lifestyle of Cardinal Law as well as the inappropriate nature of the Church's demanding funds from the government. The former, in my opinion, more than offsets the argument that the Pope ought to "allow him the opportunity" to remain in his position and fix his mistakes. As for the latter, I really have no problem with people suggesting that I have a duty to contribute to a cause, but it goes beyond charity, and the bounds of Christianity, to demand that somebody else take my money by force for the same cause.

But these aren't the arguments from which the quotations are being drawn. Here's the most-quoted section:

When it comes to doing the right thing by the poor and the downtrodden, Bernard Cardinal Law has a message for all us taxpayers.

Give, give, give 'til it hurts. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and then some.

Yet when Law himself is asked to meet his obligations to those raped and violated by his priests, His Eminence has a very different response, which is:

I'll see you in bankruptcy court.

I believe that the Archdiocese should have admitted whatever fault was appropriate and made whatever recompensed proved needed, even if that was beyond what was justified by some legal measure. Of course, such an admission of guilt would increase the ammunition of riches-promising lawyers, but on the other hand, an administration apt to do what I've suggested would have likely responded much more appropriately to the initial affronts.

But at this unfortunate point, I fail to see why the Archdiocese has any moral obligation to finance second summer homes for class-action lawyers. Furthermore, I fail to see the hypocrisy of simultaneously suggesting that people "give to Caesar what is Caesars" and making use of exceptions that Caesar provides. As much as I dislike my Church demanding "charity" from the people by means of the government, such activity is not the same as demanding that exceptions and tax write offs be eliminated to enable increased funding.

Another issue that comes into play is that of responsibility. Cardinal Law is not one and the same as the Archdiocese of Boston. While he must take responsibility for his actions and those of the organization for which he is directly accountable, he also has a responsibility to that organization to take whatever measures are in its best interests, let alone necessary for survival.

Again, I disagree with Cardinal Law (whose name seems evidence of God's sense of irony) on just about everything, but I don't believe that people are being as careful with distinctions between the import and applicability of morality and law to individual aspects of the entire scandal as they ought to be.

The comment box to Amy Welborn's post on the matter has involved discussion of the real implications of taking Chapter 11, a dimension of the issue into which I didn't delve, being unversed in it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:41 AM EST


Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Remembering Things Said Aside

Do you recall those comments, thrown in among arguments on both sides of the debate, that North Korea was sort of a "show" — non-Arab — member of the Axis of Evil?

Well, I think we've just found one of the bolts. Is this news perhaps a reminder that our government leaders have more information than we do? I don't mean this just in the sense of the specific intelligence to stop that ship, but, more broadly, in that President Bush knew specifically what he was talking about with the "axis" metaphor.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:55 PM EST


It Isn't Worth Arguing with Dogmatists

The title of this post is not a belief that I hold. However, it is a position apparently often held by those possessors of the One Truth: Atheists.

I've entered into debate once again.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:45 PM EST


Sick of the Games, Yet?

This whole thing with Iraq is starting to get to me. It is an archetypal representation of how confused humans can make themselves and each other. I'd venture to say that everybody with the mental capacity to tie a shoe knows what's going on, but — in what might be called an "academic spirit" — people with twisted ideologies are fully capable of twisting their own "knowledge."

Iraq is darn close to having nukes. I have an idea, let's ask them for another 12,000-page document that everybody knows is a lie. This time, however, we'll make them put it in code using a Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Ring.

I say we drop his farce of a report at Saddam's feet... just before we put a Daisy Cutter right next to it.

(via Right Wing News)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:42 PM EST


Back in Business?

I offer sincere apologies to anybody who has been trying to access my site in vain over the past few days. My host switched servers on Friday night and has had unexpected complications since then. I'm about to call to make sure that all is finally well (and that I will receive some sort of refund), but it looks like we may be in business. Consequently, I'll have more posts later this evening, as well as other Timshel Arts features such as my Just Thinking column and the Song You Should Know for the week.

First, however, I'll have to get over the frustration that has been building for the past couple days. If it weren't for this problem, yesterday would likely have proven the single biggest day in my Web site's history, with links from both Instapundit (which isn't but so rare) and the Corner (which I've only achieved once before). There's a good chance that those two links would have provided fully half of my traffic objectives for this month. Oh well. I guess that's how it goes...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:22 PM EST


Monday, December 9, 2002

Making It to the Bigtime

Sand Box, the latest CD from pianist and composer Joe Parillo, is a blend of classical and jazz arranged for piano and cello, featuring cellist Christine Harrington.

On the road to a Grammy:

"One Day in January " has been accepted to the voting list for Best Instrumental Composition of the Academy of Arts and Sciences Grammy Awards. (Click the title to hear the complete streaming audio.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:50 AM EST


Pulling One Over on the Object of the Cause

I know university-type people fancy themselves as being professional buckers of the system, but it goes too far when it takes the form of developing barely disguised attempts at defying such an overwhelming majority as that which supports the elimination of discriminatory affirmative action. It becomes elitist and dishonest, even to the people whom the deception is purported to support. After an entire New York Times article about how college admissions boards can keep from changing their policies by means of a secret language and unspoken conclusions, we get this quotation:

Vanessa Costilla, 18, a freshman from Anton, Tex., who is Mexican-American, said her admission to Rice probably meant more than her admission to two Northeastern colleges, Smith and Wellesley, which still give a lift to minority applicants.

"I don't think that just because I was Hispanic-American I got into Rice," said Ms. Costilla, the valedictorian of her 25-member high school class and president of "everything except the Future Farmers of America."

"I got in," she added, "because I earned it."

But Kristin Dukes, 19, a sophomore from Greenville, Tex., who is black, said that many of her classmates were unaware of the university's admissions policies.

"At Rice, probably in the back of their minds, kids are still thinking I was privileged to get in because of the color of my skin," said Ms. Dukes, a psychology major. "Just because they have new standards at the university doesn't mean the students at the university feel the same way."

In short, the university has snookered its own students, giving them a false sense of the criteria for their acceptance. What happens when they find out, perhaps by reading the New York Times?

I also find it disturbing that a high school teacher wrote in an Hispanic student's recommendation letter that he had a "desire to represent his Hispanic heritage." And if he doesn't intend to bank on that all-important quality, does that make him less desirable?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:59 AM EST


Being Fair About the Scandal

To be fair after my last few screeds against the paper, The Providence Journal has a wonderfully concise piece describing how everybody but lawyers has been made to suffer by the acts of a handful of clergy. I pray that the priests and their facilitators will come to realize how dramatically they have hurt their Church and its followers and, thereby, to repent and receive forgiveness.

At the same time, we must assess what information we receive as fairly as possible as we work our way through the crisis (or watch others do so). Minute Particulars makes the point well. If I weren't so tired, I would add something about the thoroughly bizarre way in which our frighteningly permissive society is condemning the Church for this scandal. The following caught my eye in the Projo:

In [covering up scandal, Cardinal Law] was disastrously wrong. The church's critics -- and it has many, in part because its strong moral teachings do not play well in today's society -- are almost obscenely enjoying the church's reputation being dragged through the mud and its moral authority ravaged. The shame must also be endured by priests, the vast majority of whom are dedicated, rigorously moral and compassionate men.

What is one to do but to accept the burden and use the act to renew our own faith?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:05 AM EST


Priests: Just for the Record

I don't have anything in particular to say about this, but I wanted to have it linked for those people whom I've read around the Web declaring that "nobody" in the Catholic Church is speaking out. And, by the way, the action described in the article isn't as unique as such people might think.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:04 AM EST


Sunday, December 8, 2002

Two Delayed Reactions

Some days — or some hours each day — the thought of discontinuing Dust in the Light makes its appearance in my head. Today, because of complications following scheduled maintenance on my Web host's part, I was without the blog and, obviously, access to it. No matter how small my regular audience, I found it frustrating to be thus silenced, even for a few hours.

The lack of a blog was not my only reason for not commenting on the recent controversy over Senator Trent Lott's comments at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party (you can stream video of the "party" here; Sen. Lott comes on around minute 32):

"I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

I try to stay away from discussions of individual politicians beyond their current activities because my experience with and knowledge of them individually is limited. Many writers whose political opinions I trust have suggested that Lott, based on his last go at Republican leader in the Senate, ought not become the majority leader now. Many of the same people are suggesting that the above quotation ought to be cause to force Lott to hand over the reins of the Senate to somebody else.

Not knowing much about Senator Lott, I'm not as willing as some to see his statement as one step removed from "if it warn't fer dem damn Negroes." However, even giving him the benefit of the doubt — that he had in mind something other than civil rights, like federalism, or was merely being hyperbolic for the birthday boy — that a politician wouldn't know the obvious implications that some would draw from such a statement suggests that he isn't the best person to be the pointman of the party outside of the Presidency. Additionally, if the benefit of the doubt is merited, then Lott should strongly declare how he has been misinterpreted. Hopes to let such things fade do not speak well of leadership qualities.

As for Senator Thurmond, it seems to me that this controversy might illustrate how inadvisable it is for a politician to stick around for so long. The world changes, the nation changes, and although individual people change as well, we do carry our words and deeds with us long after their context has been forgotten by our fellow citizens.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:57 PM EST


Saturday, December 7, 2002

Reason to Be Afraid #578

Every now and then a Web surfer comes across something frightening, yet intriguing, that offers a peek into the world of that shadowy subculture with "information" — those people who can find out anything. Today, I discovered GlobeXplorer, one of at least two online services that offer the ability to explore the world from outerspace via cyberspace. Ever wonder what that factory down the road is doing behind all the barbed wire and impenetrable fences? Wonder no longer. Want to get a feel for the property of somebody whom you don't know well enough to knock on the door and say, "hello"? Not a problem.

To the left is my previous home (lower center). Note how the landlord liked to keep trucks and garbage all over (upper center) and dig up large swaths of his once-beautiful property? And to the right is the home of an employer who ended a freelance assignment of mine with little notice a few years ago.

(Paying customers can access pictures without the logos all over them. Note that I've looked around at houses that I know have had work done in the recent past, and some of the pictures appear to be as much as a year and a half old. There is a range, however, because the Trade Center looks relatively recent, with the ramp going down into the ditch. Also note that, while you can't, apparently, type in foreign addresses, you can scroll around the world and zoom in to varying degrees.)

And then there are shots that are more for spies than for stalkers. Here's an area of a Navy base in Newport, RI (zoomed out a few steps). Note the two aircraft carriers (neat, huh?).

As I said, this picture could be over a year old, but someday, this technology will combine with Reason to Be Afraid #235: live streaming video from cameras that users can control through their Web browsers. Here's one for Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay, just around the corner, by water, from those aircraft carriers (click on "Enter Queue" to get in line to control the camera). And here's one at Logan Airport.

If you think the blogosphere is effective now, wait until we have access to Internet-controllable, live streaming satellite cameras! If only we could keep them to ourselves...

(GlobeXplorer link via Ray Garraud in a comment to Darmon Thornton.)

The only reason I used my ex-boss's house is that he is the one person whom I could extract from my memory that a stalker-type character would find deserving of attention. To be honest, I'm not absolutely sure that the above isn't his neighbor's house.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:27 PM EST


Free Will and Fighting Faith with Faith

John Venlet applied belief in free will to a question about handling people of conflicting faiths to our own in a post to which I commented. He emailed me about my comment, and I thought I'd share a bit of my reply:

As for personal revelation, I absolutely believe it to be possible, but we have to be careful with what we mean by "instructed." Remember that "revelation" involves something being revealed. I've read theologians who suggested that it is, in fact, we who reveal ourselves to truth, not God who reveals truth to us. From this perspective, those moments of "aha!" are not when God zaps us with knowledge, but when we make a connection and realize a truth. In a broad sense, then, somebody could believe that the reality of God requires a certain activity; I may take that to be "love thine enemies," another might take it to be "kill the infidels." Application of reason and appeals to faith and emotion may be applied to help the latter reform his conclusion (of course, I am not at all implying success).

In a more specific sense, one might have a revelation of his individual purpose in life. This doesn't necessarily involve an official declaration from God; it could just be an instinctive understanding or a logical conclusion based on an observed need and an assessment of personal ability. However, I do not rule out direct declarations from God because I have no way to prove what others have or have not experienced. In this case, my task is to determine whether what the person is telling me God said aligns with what I already believe to be true about God.

It does seem to me that direct declarations from God do have implications for free will. To the extent that God's will for us is something to which we've chosen to be open, we have been the actors. Even an explicit "voice from the sky," however, leaves us able to choose whether to believe our own perception and, if we do, whether to answer the call. That's about as far as I've gotten in my consideration of free will, but I'm beginning to think that it is a natural state in which we exist, making it difficult to conceptualize life without it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:40 AM EST


Friday, December 6, 2002

Another Source of Cyclical Frustration

Andrew Sullivan's Web site is another source of information and opinion that seems to find ways to turn me away each time I begin to find myself gravitating toward it again. For the most part, I find Mr. Sullivan very much worth reading, but on occasion, he takes positions and makes arguments that deeply disappoint me given the high esteem in which I hold him — in which much of the conservative opinion world holds him.

This time around, the problem comes up — as it frequently does — with gay marriage and Sullivan's periodic bouts with Stanley Kurtz. Here's the offending passage from Sullivan's latest post, entitled "Kurtz's Bait and Switch," on the topic:

In his first piece, Kurtz propagated the idea that the Full Faith and Credit Clause will mandate such a nationalization. Presented with legal evidence that shows that that clause has never succeeded in nationalizing one state's marriages and that it is extremely unlikely to be successful in doing so in the future, he has now wisely reverted to another argument. This time, he argues that same-sex marriage may one day be nationalized the way inter-racial marriage eventually was - not by full faith and credit but by an equal protection argument. In fact, he now believes that equal protection arguments are far more likely to nationalize same-sex marriage than Full Faith and Credit. Well, I'm glad he's acknowledged that the scare tactics by the far right on Full Faith and Credit are just that. That was the point of my post earlier this week; and he has essentially conceded the point.

For some reason, the words "first piece" link to Kurtz's third piece from this round of debate. In the second installment, which Kurtz notes in the third, Kurtz refutes the point that Sullivan informs his readers has been "essentially conceded." Sullivan further misleads readers by suggesting that Kurtz has "reverted" to a different argument, having been defeated on one. Here's the relevant paragraph from Kurtz's first piece:

Yet each of these mechanisms is vulnerable to challenge on constitutional, legal, or political grounds. The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution compels each state to recognize the public acts of all the others. While the clause does grant Congress the right to manage such recognition (thus apparently validating the Defense of Marriage Act — DOMA), there is no doubt that DOMA will be challenged on Full Faith and Credit grounds as soon as we have gay marriage in a single state. Powerful constitutional challenges to DOMA on Equal Protection Clause grounds will also be filed just as soon as gay marriage is legalized in a single state. Attempts to prevent recognition of gay marriage on grounds that a state has a right to declare a "public policy exception" are also highly vulnerable to legal and political pressure.

Not only does Kurtz include a reference to the "Equal Protection Clause," but he later highlights aspects of the Massachusetts case in question that are specifically designed to facilitate this route.

So, having corralled the discussion into the area most favorable to his opinion, Sullivan thereafter moves into what, given his intelligence, can only be disingenuousness with his subsequent post, "Equal Protection." The logical construction of this piece of the argument is, essentially, as follows. After saying "I certainly hope so." to the possibility that the Supreme Court will eventually rule gay marriage a civil right, Sullivan declares that the court will not take up ruling on gay marriage for a long time. After all, "it took well over a century for the Court to rule on inter-racial marriages." In the intervening years, the nation will undergo the "slow federal process" by which, state by state, the people will see the "profound strengthen[ing]" of marriage in the trend-setting states. Then the coup de grace:

I want that slow federal process to take place. Kurtz wants to pre-empt it now by writing an anti-gay plank into the Constitution of the United States. He wants to prevent the process even starting. I think that's unconservative, anti-federal, extremist and deeply divisive. Which is as good a description of some elements of the far right (and the far left) in this country as you can find.

Consider the radically changed temper that exploded into the national subconscious around the same time that the Supreme Court struck down miscegenation in the 15 states that still had it (1967); such movements move much more quickly now. Furthermore, it seems reasonably inferable that Sullivan — and many, many others — intend to push for the Supreme Court's involvement (remember that "hope so") as early as possible.

Ultimately, Sullivan gives every indication of objecting to Kurtz's position because it switches the incline of the playing field. Without a marriage amendment defining the relationship as between one man and one woman, the gay marriage proponents can push for it in each state — largely by means of the courtroom rather than the debating floor, as looks likely in Massachusetts's case (and as Sullivan suggests it ought to be). They'll win some and lose some, all the while pushing those they lose toward the Supreme Court.

Sullivan's position, in my opinion, is truly unconservative because it is undemocratic and deceitful. And it is far more divisive to force a controversial issue through the courts than to allow a willing public, through its representatives, to decide whether to provide a varyingly parallel arrangement to marriage for homosexuals until such time as the public is united enough to re-amend.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:02 PM EST


America: Not Just Lying Presidents, but Ignorant Citizens, Too

If the article described in the previous post soured my impression of the Providence Journal, one by Rhode Island native Paul Hoffman was enough to motivate me to swear off tasting of the news source for a while. It's one of those essays that one could take apart sentence by sentence, but that is so naively utopian and dense with regurgitated propaganda that the effort is pointless because anybody who believes it desires to do so. Here's a sample:

On a more pernicious level, as William Grieder has documented in his book, The Betrayal of American Democracy, money, in the form of lobbying, has reached and influenced the inner workings of our political system. But do we care?

Some of us do volunteer work or make charitable contributions. But as Janet Poppendieck noted in her seminal work, Sweet Charity, this type of activity, while humane and generous, ultimately distracts people from engagement in the pursuit of real political change that could ultimately obviate the need for charity in the first place.

The obstacle to Americans' achieving this dream, apparently, is that we are greedy, apathetic, and, above all, ignorant. It is ambiguous whether Mr. Hoffman believes Europe to have achieved this heaven on earth, but he certainly believes it to be much further along than the United States:

Other Western nations, though they have a basically similar economic system, have a superior quality of life (measured by universal health care, less poverty, and less violence). They accomplish this because they start with a different values scheme.

Yes, they want to be economically competitive in the global marketplace. But as a higher value, they prioritize quality of life for all more than we do. They don't assume the trickle-down effect. Rather, they prioritize "quality of life" as a value of their society and legislate it. They create a more comprehensive safety-net system just in case there isn't a trickle-down. They do this through more progressive taxation policies, universal health care, larger unemployment benefits, more care for the elderly, and larger disability benefits for the sick and injured.

One wonders whether, in Hoffman's view, that "quality of life" has anything to do with the economic activity and transnational security provided by the United States — and this isn't to mention la télévision, le téléphone, and both le Microsoft and les Macintoshes. One also wonders why Mr. Hoffman doesn't partake of the fruits of those societies himself. Then he could return in 50 years and offer his judgment as to whether the socialist experiment was sustainable or we greedy, apathetic, and ignorant Americans were right to turn against its creeping influence in the last two elections.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:18 PM EST


Ideological Bait and Switch with the News

It seems like every time I start to feel positively about the Providence Journal's editorial page, they offer up a few days of horrible columns to drive me away again. Add to the two I... umm... critiqued yesterday two more that cross the line from simply arguing ideas that I find wrongheaded (which I don't mind because debate cannot occur, obviously, without multiple opinions) into the realm of scorn for America and its people.

One such column today is presented for our reading pleasure by Robert Higgs of Oakland, California. Mr. Higgs's thesis is that American Presidents are to be expected to lie in order to push their country into war, citing the Philippine-American War (President William McKinley), World War I (President Woodrow Wilson), World War II (President Franklin D. Roosevelt), and, of course, Vietnam (President Lyndon Johnson). Higgs provides a convenient condensation of the events leading to the U.S.'s entry into WWII:

Unsuccessful in his naval provocations of the Germans in the Atlantic, [FDR] eventually pushed the Japanese to the wall by a series of hostile economic-warfare measures, issued clearly unacceptable ultimatums, and induced them to mount a desperate military attack, most devastatingly on the U.S. forces he concentrated at Pearl Harbor.

Those peaceful Germans and Japanese, you see, were simply going about their business in the world, being so prudent as to not allow America's belligerent leader to goad them into a fight. The Japanese, however, were pushed to the point at which they had no choice but to attack a big ol' target of American troops that FDR had supplied them. He was even so good as to cut down on their trip across the Pacific.

So now, obviously, President Bush is lying about Iraq. Perhaps this is why such people, even our own government representatives, find Hussein to be more credible. Whatever others' reason for reading such essays, it certainly isn't something that I have any interest in wasting my precious time on, and, frankly, the taste of it sours my impression of the newspaper in which I found it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:42 PM EST


Clinton's Unbiased Affront

David Frum compares President Bush's speech at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony yesterday with Bill Clinton's in 1999. Frum suggests that both men are "tolerant" in their ways, but that Clinton's brand devolves into "weakness of mind and will."

I believe Clinton's speech is significantly different for another reason, as well. He shares the holiday season with all religions and then proceeds to prove his disrespect for them all — for the selfless meaning of the season — by using the opportunity for self-promotion. He can keep that kind of tolerance, as far as I'm concerned.

I also wonder how Muslims felt that their holy day(s) of the season was knocked out of the top 3 by Kwanzaa. I think certain African Muslims might have taken umbrage to Clinton's "Pageant of Peace" idea.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:13 AM EST


Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous: Saddam's Palaces

Lileks writes about the film Uncle Saddam, of which he received a review copy from HBO. He offers the obvious (to anybody who pays attention) application of the film to American debate:

A caller to the radio show insisted that the Islamic world was justified in hating America, just as Blacks were justified in hating the Klan. The "US embargo" was killing Iraqi children every day. His stats were wrong - as we know from Matt Welch's work - but his general premise, like those of the pedantic pastor, had no connection to reality. None. No one can look at the mosaics in one hallway of one wing of one of Saddam's palaces and tell me that Iraq lacks for money. Even if Saddam had decided to screw the UN's weapons-inspection program and ensure the perpetuation of the embargo, he has the scratch to buy whatever his nation needs. Medicine? Vaccines? Food? There's always a Frenchman in a dim Marseilles office who'll pass it along for a price.

I haven't actually seen an "anti-sanction" advocate take on this point directly. (I use quotation marks because I've yet to meet anybody who is "pro-sanction," although some might confuse "pro-non-war-change-in-Iraq" with it.) However, I can imagine the (simplified) conversation going something like this:

Anti-American: The U.S. sanctions are killing trillions of Iraqi toddlers!
Rational person: First of all, they're U.N. sanctions. Second of all, the country's leader builds palaces like a child builds Lego houses.
AA: Well, if he changed his lifestyle to accommodate the sanctions, then the world wouldn't see how evil they are.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:01 AM EST


Thursday, December 5, 2002

Today's Excuse for Light Posting

Some days you just can't find a wedge into things. You read a few columns like the two described hereafter, and all hope of connection with such people dissipates... especially when, truth be told, their opinions matter very little.

Here's a whiny column, from Froma Harrop about Bush and the environment. Blahblahblah. It's meant to sound some sort of wake up call, but it comes off merely as half-hearted foot-stomping from a powerless ink-tosser. The strategy is simply to insist that the American people really, under it all, agree with Froma. We're just confused by the sly environmental maneuverings of the wicked Bushies. But Froma's not interested in sorting it out for us, we just have to take her word for it: she lists the issues and offers the appropriate opinions (many of which are blatantly wrong if you are familiar with them). Let's just look at snowmobiles, as an example. Froma declares, "A week after the votes were counted, the administration called for opening Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks to increased snowmobile traffic." Really? Here are the numbers (from an AP report on the issue):

The Interior Department would not limit snowmobiles this winter under the proposal released last month. Starting next winter, however, it would allow no more than 1,100 snowmobiles a day in the parks and a portion of the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway connecting them.

The parks have had an average of 840 snowmobiles daily during the winter but up to 1,650 a day during holiday and other busy weekends for the past decade, meaning the new rules would allow more snowmobiles in the parks on average while cutting numbers on the busiest days.

The current proposal is set to be completed next spring. That leaves open the chance the final rules will be less restrictive than what's currently on the table, said Howard Crystal, a lawyer for the environmental groups.

This is like one of those fun trick word problems in grade school. The second paragraph seems to indicate that the parks average 840 snowmobiles per day without any limit being applied. Therefore, imposing a limit of 1,100 snowmobiles per day would... what?... motivate people who had no intention of snowmobiling to change their plans in order to help the parks meet their limits? I must have missed that lesson in which the class learned that imposing a limit well above the average would bring the average up. Of course, anything is up from the dictatorial Clinton ban that would have eliminated the machines by next year...

Then there's another faulty attempt by a left-winger to explain the Democrats' defeat. Lee Drutman thinks the Democrats should have been stronger voices for liberal positions and concentrated too much on an obsession with blaming Bush for things, deciding the loss was a result of either "willful timidity or just mere incompetence." I'll agree with the obsession with blaming Bush thing, but (as every conservative is saying) the idea that the Democrats should have been more liberal is just loopy.

Drutman characterizes the timidy thus: "You see, corporate lobbyists are everywhere with persuasive arguments and crawfish etouffee. And the majority is (was) oh-so-fragile." As with Froma, Drutman can't bring himself to wonder whether the American people actually disagree with him. It wasn't that the people didn't want what the Democrats wanted to peddle; it was that the vast right-wing conspiracy prevented the people from knowing what that was.

Take his analysis of how Bush won the public debate on Iraq (please): "Bush, meanwhile, was taking a stand, hammering away on Saddam, throwing out case after case for war until something stuck. Did the citizenry want a war? They did if they were told they did, over and over and over again." This might be an intriguing possibility, if the President's angle had ever changed significantly and/or the support for the war had begun very low and risen over the months. Neither is the case.

But, as it is, I suppose we can sit back and laugh. Not only can we laugh that these people are in for a long, dark, conservative winter (with plenty of snowmobiles), but they are in that predicament largely because they continue to delude themselves as to why that is so.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:50 PM EST


How the Loose Ends Are Allowed to Drop Rather than Be Tied

About a half-hour after blogging about the New York Times's "crusade" against Augusta, an endeavor that, yesterday, he showed involved the internal silencing of contrary voices, Instapundit Glenn Reynolds uses the Times's coverage as a springboard to discuss an aspect of the resurfaced 1989 Central Park jogger rape. I've got no ax to grind against the convicted "wilders," and I was too young (in the age range of the attackers, actually) back then to have really been interested in following the news closely enough to form a strong opinion, nor am I interested in taking on a fellow blogger with much more legal expertise than I can claim. However, I have to question Mr. Reynolds's quick move from the Times's story to apparent advocacy that the five prisoners involved receive a million dollars per year of imprisonment if they are let go.

From various news articles, it seems that the much-vaunted new evidence that the current DA, Robert Morgenthau, cites as reasons for his recommendation to vacate the convictions is threefold: 1) A confession by Matias Reyes, a life-sentenced fellow prisoner of one of the convicted men, 2) DNA evidence "linking" him to the crime, and 3) DNA tests disproving that hairs found on some of the convicted men were not from the victim.

For an opposing view from somebody who also has more legal knowledge than I do, take a look at a recent column on the topic by Ann Coulter (regardless of personal feelings toward Ms. Coulter, it seems clear to me that her points are, at least, worthy of consideration). One particularly strong point in her case is the comparison of the validity of the various confessions: those of the men convicted, and that of Reyes. Reyes has nothing to lose by confessing, and much to gain within his environment. In fact, The New York Daily News reports that law enforcement officials interviewed another inmate who "said Reyes had been threatened with violence if he didn't take sole responsibility for the jogger attack." This angle isn't even raised by the Times.

Furthermore, Coulter describes the many points at which the original confessions could have been thrown out of the case but weren't. In contrast, The Daily News quotes the prosecutor who led the original probe, Linda Fairstein, as suggesting that there has been no cross-examination of Reyes allowed, and Nancy Ryan, the new-investigation leader, is alleged to have blocked interviews with other inmates. According to Bert Arroyo, the case's lead detective, the DA's office has not contacted him or other "lead investigators" for their current investigation, which the Times calls a "sweeping reinvestigation."

As for the DNA evidence linking Reyes to the rape, according to the Daily News, yet another inmate has said that Reyes told him that he had come upon the scene after the convicted attackers had already beaten the jogger and raped her then. Why is his tale any less believable than Reyes's? All the new DNA evidence proves is that Reyes was there. If his story to the other inmate is true — that he was "riding high on angel dust and crack" when he came upon the beaten woman — it doesn't seem a stretch to suggest that his is the only biological evidence because he was too out of it to think to avoid leaving it.

Coulter also makes a good point regarding the hair-DNA evidence, which the Times says, "in particular made a compelling argument":

According to AP reports at the time, the most powerful testimony about the hairs found on Richardson's clothes came from a detective who boldly proclaimed: The hairs "could have" come from the jogger. On cross-examination, he admitted that "he could not determine that a hair definitely came from a specific individual." He also said "that hair could end up on someone's clothing by casual contact or from being airborne."

I have a hard time believing that this evidence was decisive for anybody on that jury, especially given other points cited by Coulter:

On the other hand, evidence tending to implicate Richardson included this:
* He led prosecutors to the scene of the crime.
* There were dirt and grass stains in the crotch of his undershorts.
* He confessed on videotape to being at the scene of the attack.
* He gave a detailed description of the attack.
* He admitted that the deep scratch wound on his cheek was inflicted by the jogger.

It may be that the five prisoners received false convictions. It may also be that they are guilty, but a blend of legal-office politics, prison politics, and media politics will combine to give them a get-out-of-jail-free card. But would giving multimillion-dollar "restitution" to five guys whom nobody, as far as I've been able to discern, seriously argues were not at all involved in the various attacks around the park that night be justice?

Mr. Reynolds has responded to this post as an update to his original. He offers some of that perspective that I admitted that he has over me: I have no knowledge of individual DAs or, generally, how difficult it is to get them to admit error. Trusting Morgenthau is certainly a valid consideration when addressing this case, but I still see some areas of question.

First, judging from the media coverage, it doesn't look as if Morgenthau risks derision by taking the position that he does — in fact, quite the opposite. Second, the new push is based on "new" evidence, so it can't really be said that he was in error; there was no "sixth rapist" before, nor the technology to match hair DNA. Which ties to the third point: if anybody is taking heat for this, it is the police; the usage of collected evidence (including the confessions) is not being questioned, but its procurement is.

Again, I have no experience to claim knowledge about the internal and external political pressure on Mr. Morgenthau. His is an elected position, but he's been in office for 27 years and just began a term this year. The issue of politics may not even be relevant where he is concerned with this case. However, if he does have more information that makes his current position more explicable, then I can't think of any reason that he hasn't released it. There is a fair bit of the "proof" available, and he has had to know that people would take note of the move.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:16 PM EST


Well THIS makes no sense!

Apparently, men and mice are 99% similar genetically. Why, then, is the percentage only between 95% and 98% between men and chimps? Odd.

Furthermore, if such minor variations make such big differences, wouldn't it be even less advisable to go a-tinkering?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:06 AM EST


Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Dust in the Light on the Road

Well, sort of. My posts have tapered today because I've been embroiled, elsewhere, in discussions of perennial favorites: same sex marriage and the existence of God.

Both discussions are worth checking out (especially if you agree with me and don't mind speaking out...).

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:49 PM EST


Coulter in Disguise?

I don't know what's more unbelievable: that this was written by Maureen Dowd or that Bill Clinton has the audacity to make some of his comments regarding Bush's handling of pre-9/11 terrorism information.

For most of the column, Dowd turns a pointed cynicism toward Democrats (e.g., "Mr. Clinton, who was always adept at purloining anything he fancied from Republicans," and "Democratic Ken doll John Edwards"). But then she gives away the game by finding optimism in a series of lies:

In the Q and A afterward, Mr. Kerry finally came out and said what the timid Democrats have been whispering for months: that the administration cooked up the Iraq crisis to distract everybody from a bad economy and an unpopular domestic agenda.

"They sat down in August and made a conscious decision to bring that up and to dominate the discussion with Iraq," Mr. Kerry said.

As Democratic swagger goes, it was a good start.

When did those "timid Democrats" begin whispering that? Before or after they insisted that there must be a national debate on the issue of Iraq? And isn't the economy steadily improving? And by what measurement does Kerry dub Dubbya's domestic agenda unpopular?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:08 PM EST


The Innocent Have Nothing to Hide...

Over on the Volokh Conspiracy, Philippe DeCroy takes up "the shadowy space between the law as written and the law as enforced." If asked, I would make similar suggestions to DeCroy's that the "shadowy space" in which citizens will not, in many cases, follow laws that enforcement officers are unable and or unwilling to pursue with zest is an important mechanism against unjust laws and that the mechanism is primarily a guard against the unpredictable future of the government.

Consider the case to which I linked yesterday of the Ohio midwife jailed for supplying a relatively harmless, and absolutely critical, prescription drug to a post-birthing mother. A law rectifying this inadvisable illegality is in the works, but would it be if it had been so efficiently enforced as to truly discourage midwives? Furthermore, consider the judge's threat to lengthen the midwife's sentence if her supporters continued to show up to pray. This is a pretty clear example of the rapidity with which a rigid system can be misappropriated and used to maintain the misappropriation. As I also wrote yesterday, in the context of SUVs, sometimes we just have to trust in a mushy system to result in an equitable balance.

However, another point made by DeCroy brings to mind another Ohio story: that strict enforcement of unpopular laws might lead to fewer of them passing in the first place... or lasting, if they do so. A former coworker from that state told me of an initiative to create special license plates for chronic drunk drivers. A few too many expensive cars sporting those plates led to the law's being short-lived.

I guess that story might go a bit far in the other direction.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:09 PM EST


Never Going Back to My Old School

Sometimes it's enough to make me shake my head at that which fills the heads of those young men and women at my old school.

"Of course" and "we all know," indeed!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:37 AM EST


Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Timing, Phrasing, and Ethics

Some of the activities of priests in the Boston Archdiocese are deplorable from anybody, let alone a priest. Others, such as affairs, are merely inappropriate in a way in which neither the law nor the media need be concerned — in fact, of which they sometimes seem supportive. But I have questions about new reports of priestly wrongdoing.

The tilt is apparent with the first sentence: "Priests sexually abused teenage girls, used cocaine and other drugs, and one had an affair with a female parishioner, according to allegations contained in personnel files maintained by the Boston Archdiocese." Why keep the information that it was only eight priests until the second paragraph? The initial sentence begs, grammatically and content-wise, for an article or adjective of some kind.

I also find this more than a little questionable:

Last week, the lawyers said they would begin releasing the personnel records of 65 priests, which they have access to via a court order. The priests are not targeted in the abuse lawsuit from which the court order stems.

What's the purpose of publicizing accusations against priests who aren't involved in the suit? I suppose it could be argued that the lawyers are establishing a pattern of behavior on the hierarchy's part, but it seems to push the bounds of decency to forget that the priests are people, not merely pieces of evidence. Those who abused minors or broke laws ought to be prosecuted, but I question giving lawyers the license to release mere dirt culled from private records that only tangentially pertain to their cases. They risk their highfalutin claims to being integral components of the American justice system, deserving of access to sensitive information, if they become little more than tabloid reporters.

And, of course, I'm sure the release of this information has absolutely nothing to do with reports that the archdiocese might declare bankruptcy.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:54 PM EST


"Would You Like Music? It's Extra."

I have no doubt that such policies as the one in Finland that requires taxi drivers to pay royalties for music played while customers are in the car would be welcome by the American music industry as well. What utter baloney. It seems to me that the taxi drivers are actually giving free advertising to the record companies.

Well, taxi rides are about to become more cheerless, or more expensive. Do you think America's celebrity Europhiles will speak out?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:26 PM EST


Is There Just a Worldwide Tone of Anti-Americanism?

Despite foreign governments' policies involving everything from the kidnapping of children with American parents to the funding of anti-U.S. propaganda and even terrorism, I sincerely doubt that anybody would ever find a similar sign in the U.S. to this one in South Korea:

In Korea, apparently, a controversy involving a couple of people can turn into a condemnation of an entire nation and all of its citizens. It's beginning to seem as if, in liberal-speak, an "environment of hatred" is being created toward the United States. The international elite, of course, find it very fun — and very easy and safe — to criticize the most free and philanthropic nation in the world. The international media is happy to follow this line, too. But the politicians of other countries exemplify the self-interested nature of anti-U.S. propaganda:

The case became a campaign issue ahead of Dec. 19 presidential elections, with leading candidates urging an accord revision giving South Korea more jurisdictional power [over U.S. troops].

It's beginning to look like the Middle Eastern strategy of scapegoating Israel and the U.S. is spreading, only with the U.S. as the sole goat. Personally, I'm inclined to say "fine, see ya," even if only bluffing, to people like this:

Actually, wait a sec... this woman isn't anti-U.S.; she's promoting economic activity. She's encouraging the U.S. troops to defy the signage and give their money to Korean businesses.


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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:07 PM EST


A Mitigating Factor for Bush on the Saudis

I absolutely hate the U.S. government's kid-glove treatment of the Saudi royals, and I sincerely hope that steps are being taken to minimize their influence and our "friendship" with them. Of course, one such step would be the encouragement of an even more friendly oil-rich Arab nation in Iraq.

But as the justified outrage at the Saudis and at the appeasing elements in our own government rise to a fevered pitch, we do well to remember that the Saudis seem to have an entirely different motivation than Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-il (for example). The Saudis seem much more purely self-interested, and while that is still despicable, it does mean that they will be susceptible to other methods of influence. It also suggests that we must consider what would replace them were they toppled.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:21 PM EST


Monthly Web Stat Analysis

Well, amazingly, my hit counts continue to climb. Each month I expect to find that the traffic has fallen off a bit, but it hasn't happened since the Redwood Review and, much more, Dust in the Light initiated an upswing.

I thank you all for continuing to give me reason to hope that what I'm driven to do might actually prove to be something that I can do for a living one day.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:19 PM EST


My Slack Pulled Taut

I apologize for the lack of posts; it's a teaching day, and I'm also tired and busy. But Victor's been picking up the slack. Most of his recent posts are worth reading, and many are worth comment.

There's the story of a midwife jailed in Ohio for administering a prescription drug that probably saved a woman's life even though inadequate (and soon to change) regulations made such an act illegal. Furthermore, the judge threatened her with a longer sentence if people continued to show up to pray for her! Seems to me that I read, a while ago, that the Salem Witch Trials can be attributed to a very similar circumstance.

Then there's the important work of point out that many of those who are supposedly concerned about minorities are, by definition, racists:

"The color of your skin determines so many important things about your life experience — where you live, where you go to work and with whom you work. Race still matters in our society. The ideal of colorblindness does not mean we can or should be blind to that reality," [Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman] said.

Victor, not surprisingly, has experience with being the wrong color, as do I. I wonder how many white males have similar stories; I bet very many. That might make an interesting study (albeit one that would be difficult to get published, right-wing media conspiracy notwithstanding).

There's also the disturbing tale of the Catholic Medical Association losing the ability to offer Continuing Medical Education credit for presentations that "gay rights" activists don't like. The militant homosexual movement is like a university campus dispersed throughout the world. Don't like what one group has to say? Do everything in your power to stifle it. I suppose an alternate route might be to listen to what the professionals have to say and then address it professionally, but that might run the risk of finding faults in a point of view to which one is predisposed. Even beyond that, to my experience, much that passes for education and professional research has been made subordinate to ideological considerations.

(A note on that last sentence: I would differentiate, here, between faith informing and being reconciled with findings and ideology dictating what those findings must be.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:14 PM EST


In the mood to pick up the SUV debate?

(Get it? "Pick up"? Harhar... sorry, I'm tired.)

John Hawkins notices a column that picks up the tired ol' saw, and there are some interesting points in the comment box.

In my mind, the whole debate, where it touches on "conservation," involves a lack of trust in the market process that has proven more effective than any deliberate policy on socio-economic matters. For the anti-SUVers, it seems to come down to a cynical distrust of the possibility of self-interest leading to good. At this point in time, I find that my SUV improves my life in many ways. Even in the last week, it came in handy for carting Christmas trees and presents and to cut down on the raked-leaf trips to the dump from last year's schedule-breaking number. However, if declining oil reserves were to push the price up sufficiently, I might find that the improvement does not justify the cost.

On the other hand, merely taking the direct route and forcibly making SUVs impractical (or illegal) might yield unexpected results. After all, I've read that the family-sized station wagon disappeared for similar reasons, thus expanding the market for small trucks — i.e., SUVs.

Still, I can't shake the nagging suspicion that the conservation argument is merely dissembling to disguise a more self-interested anger at having to deal with SUVs in the possession of others. I'd write such people off with a "just join the club," but I'd prefer to wish them luck in winning converts to the economy-car movement. You see, the decreased demand for fossil fuels would put a downward pressure on the price for me.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:38 PM EST


Monday, December 2, 2002

Songs You Should Know 12/03/02

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is my own "On the Outside Looking In." It's a very rough old recording, but somehow it's always seemed to me to capture something in the song for that.

"On the Outside Looking In" Justin Katz, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Singing my song to painted walls

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:57 PM EST


Just Thinking 12/02/02

My Just Thinking column for this week, "The Beauty of Thanksgiving" is about, well, Thanksgiving, including its religious and political significance.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:39 PM EST


Closing in on the Gold Reward

Sand Box, the latest CD from pianist and composer Joe Parillo, is a blend of classical and jazz arranged for piano and cello, featuring cellist Christine Harrington.

On the road to a Grammy:

"One Day in January " has been accepted to the voting list for Best Instrumental Composition of the Academy of Arts and Sciences Grammy Awards. (Click the title to hear the complete streaming audio.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:37 PM EST


The Swamp Thing's Brave New World

Articles about the vanguard of biological research are beginning to pop up with frightening rapidity. The latest that I've seen is in the New York Times. This round of ethical "dilemmas" highlights, in my opinion, the problems with trying to tiptoe into this area of research and experiment: interested parties, let alone the general public, cannot know all of the dangers and implications.

Suppose you, unlike me, were among those who supported embryonic stem-cell research based on principle. Well, now the scientists are going to hit you with the best way "to test different lines of human embryonic stem cells for their quality and potential usefulness in treating specific diseases": blending them with animal cells. The new smoke being spit out of the propaganda machine is that it's really a question of the stage of development to which the created organism is allowed to live and/or a count of the number of human cells per organ, or something.

Folks, this doesn't end. It is wrong from the beginning, and it is wrong all the way through. Society ought to let the scientists know that they just have to get used to the idea that there is another area of knowledge — to be filed away with measuring the pulse of a live human as his skin is flayed — into which they are not allowed to tread through experiment.

There's no need for deliberation. The unethical nature of such activity is written into human society. The resulting "hybrids" are called "chimeras." Remember that Greek myth?

(via Mark Shea)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:55 PM EST


The Tone of Human Rights Organizations

There really isn't anything new about the British dossier regarding Saddam Hussein's regime's atrocities, except now we have more disturbing pictures to sear into our memories. What strikes me is one group's reaction to the release of the information:

The 23-page document is drawn from intelligence sources, accounts from survivors who have fled to the West, and from aid organisations. But it sparked controversy as the human rights organisation Amnesty International accused Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of a cynical attempt to whip up public emotion. Today's publication came just six days before the deadline set by the UN by which Iraq must submit a full declaration of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons or face "serious consequences".

Controversy? Shouldn't the statement from human rights organizations be something like "it's about time you acted on this"? Instead, we get cynical condemnations for using human rights violations as justifications for attacking the dictator, with a "we told you so," to boot:

However Amnesty's secretary general, Irene Kahn, said: "This selective attention to human rights is nothing but a cold and calculated manipulation of the work of activists. Let us not forget that these same governments turned a blind eye to Amnesty International's reports of widespread human rights violations in Iraq before the Gulf War."

This reeks of the pacifists' mentality that failure to have acted in the past negates the right to act in the present. Let us not forget that the U.S. and U.K. governments were not the same, inasmuch as their leaders were different (in contrast with the dictator in question). Let us also not forget that those leaders in the past had other threats to international security that posed a broader and more drastic menace (and talk about human rights violations...).

I was quite young back then, and I haven't done the research to do more than speculate, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that some of the noise about Iraq back then was made in context of U.S. support of the dictator and its implications for the Cold War (and the lefty fantasy of communism).

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:44 AM EST


Christmas Tree Stand Advice

It just occurred to me that it might not be too late for me to offer the service of advice on a Christmas tree stand. A few years ago, we bought a Hammacher Schlemmer swiveling tree stand, and every time we put up the tree I still feel like there must be more to the project. You know, more worrying that the metal legs aren't secure, more lying under the tree getting needles in my face as my wife dangles a pendulum to line up the tree (I'm joking about the pendulum).

The $80 price tag seems steep for a once-a-year item, but I'm sure you can find it more cheaply if you look (we got ours at BJs for much less, as I recall). Even so, every year, I'm thrilled that I made the investment back when.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:27 AM EST


Sunday, December 1, 2002

Where the Brain Is

I suppose it counts as a sort of balance that I blog too much on some days and not enough on others. My level of blogging seems mainly to result from the jumbling of several factors, including the number of other tasks that are of immediate concern and the number (or lack) of stories that strike me as blogworthy (at least on my behalf).

Here's a question, though, that just came to mind while I listened to Mark Davis's radio show while walking the dogs: how is it that the liberal mindset can simultaneously be built upon a naive trust in people and a general cynicism about humanity? The caller who sparked this question apparently just did not believe that the Palestinians, given the choice of freedom and a modicum of hope, would not choose to pursue it. About a year ago, I wrote about a Letter to the Editor author who began with the assumption that "No leader of any country, no matter how cruel, inhumane or stupid he might be, would purposely deny his own people the necessities of life."

The simple answer to my question is, I think, that the positions of these people are not thoroughly thought out. But it must go deeper than that because there are certainly very many folks who give such issues too much thought for their mistaken conclusions to be for lack of consideration. Rather, given the basic assumption that people will always make the right decision, it must follow that their failure to do so is to be blamed on somebody else (the "oppressor"). In the case of the Palestinians, it must be that the Israelis oppress them. In the case of AIDS in Africa, it must be that the United States does not expend — or spend — enough resources.

As the intransigence becomes more inexplicable, the blame must broaden — until the entire world is to blame for the behavior of a relative minority. Thus does a position of belief in humanity metamorphose into a distrust of same.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:08 PM EST


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