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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Witnessing by Example

There isn't an explicitly Christian angle to this heartwarming story, at least that the Providence Journal reports, but Robert Sevigny offered a great example of what it means to witness through example when, after the horrible nightclub fire at the beginning of this year, he went to Rhode Island Hospital and asked to visit with a burn victim who had no family or friends in the area. The recipient of his goodwill was (former) Las Vegas music promoter William Long:

He said the Sevignys, and their unconditional friendship, have given him a new perspective.

"It's changed my values, one hundred percent," Long said. "I've always been known as a nice guy, but I was very selfish and self-centered. I was always nice to other people, but I came first, I was always chasing a career, or trying to shake hands with the right people. Now, my whole life has done a 180."

Bob Sevigny said simply that he had treated Long how he would want to be treated. He said of his new friend, Bill Long, "He's a brother."


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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:38 PM EST


Free Archiving

One of the difficulties of the Internet is sifting through the over-supply of information, and it seems that, when money finds its way into the system, businesses could be built to aggregate and approve various sources. For the time being, we are fortunate that there are some who collect resources out of love of the material, and who provide those resources to the rest of us with only the vague hope that they will benefit in the form of satisfaction that others appreciate their efforts.

One such is my fellow Rhode Islander Marc Comtois, whose passion is history. If it's an interest you share, he's provided a great place to begin a journey... or even actual research.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:31 PM EST


If You're Winning, You're Not Trying Hard Enough

This paragraph, from an essay by Richard Mouw, rattled me with its truth:

God is not calling us to win the cultural wars. What is required is that we remain faithful to our deepest convictions while also showing, as the Apostle puts it, "gentleness and respect" toward those who challenge us to make a case for what we believe (I Peter 3: 15). Obviously, when it comes to matters of public policy we must also ask others to respect our convictions as well—especially our right to raise our children in the fear of the Lord without having the deck stacked against us by educators and the shapers of popular culture.

It is for others to change their own hearts. It is for God to succeed on the level of humanity. For us is only to try. Yet, on a personal level, it seems that proper effort ought to bring success at... something. What, I haven't figured out yet.

This world is for this world. But oughtn't there be some indication that we are behaving, in this world, as God requires?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:24 PM EST


... Doesn't Mean They're Not After You

Ramesh Ponnuru — who, upon my asking, recently told me that he is an in-process convert to Catholicism — writes on the strategizing of the forces for abortion to use "international law" to bring abortion to the entire world, without reference to the will of the people... any people, anywhere:

The movement for legal and subsidized abortion in America has never had a particularly democratic character. Its signal victories have come through the courts. The Supreme Court in 1973 tossed out the laws of all fifty states to impose a more liberal regime in which abortion was permissible at any stage of pregnancy for any reason, and no state was allowed to legislate otherwise. In 2000, the Supreme Court held that states could not ban even partial-birth abortion, a type of abortion that a large majority of the public, and the governments of 30 states, rejected. The organizations that favor these legal outcomes were able to achieve them without having to win a social and political consensus for them—and without having to engage in the compromises that the formation of a consensus might have required.

A move to international law to achieve the same results was thus not much of a stretch. United Nations conferences during the 1990s saw several attempts to move toward the international recognition of abortion as a basic human right. What makes the memos politically embarrassing is their frankness in discussing the center's hope of bypassing legislatures here and abroad to impose its favored abortion policies: "Our goal is to see governments worldwide guarantee women's reproductive rights out of recognition that they are bound to do so."

Politically, practically, theologically... global government is a bad idea. As a realm of political power moves further from individual communities, it ought to have less specificity of power. At the international level, it ought to be nothing but a forum for nations of some degree of cultural agreement to exert what influence their common ties provide. To grant such a body rights to govern is the height of folly. As I wrote in an essay that is now only available in my Just Thinking book:

The wisdom of consolidation in any area of life depends hugely on the extent to which we trust the person or organization in which we vest responsibility. As a theoretical matter, it is best to spread power and influence as broadly as possible so those with ill intentions — the Devil, say, or even a run-of-the-mill con man or politician — cannot position themselves at the hub of too much of it.

Incidentally, it is a matter of faith that we Catholics have trust in the organization in which we vest theological responsibility. And even then, we give varying degrees of weight to different types of pronouncements.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:15 PM EST


The Description of the Model

I've enjoyed participating in a (relatively) brief comment discussion in response to Disputations Tom's comparison of Aristotle's and Newton's views of spacetime:

As long as the sun rises in the morning and things still fall when they're dropped, most people probably aren't too concerned over who was right about what, but I think it's very unfortunate for our culture that Aristotle the philosopher was tossed out along with Aristotle the scientist several hundred years ago.

Yes, we have a way of tossing whole boxes of ideas, when we remodel, even if the items within them are discrete.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:54 PM EST


Child Killed, Father Conned, Mother Deceived... Middle-Aged Woman Completely Affirmed in Her Choice

Look, I prefer to err on the side of not standing in judgment of others, but John Chamless posted an email on the Dallas Morning News blog (which still has no direct links) that so illustrates the fundamental wrongness of a way of thinking that statements of judgment are the only reasonable response.

Mr. Chamless had suggested that they had "too much talk on this board about abortion with too little input from women." This statement is common enough, particularly among women who support abortion and think the only opposition comes from some distant patriarchy, and it is seldom challenged — merely passed by. But it isn't significantly valid. Sure, gather up every perspective possible for every issue, but privileging opinions about abortion on the basis of gender dismisses the concerns of men who wish to take as large a role in childbirth as possible and removes the demands on men who don't consider it their responsibility in any but the most superficial ways.

Among both genders, there are degrees of experience. What about young girls? What about women who were "lucky" enough to reach marriage, or even menopause, without ever having found themselves in situations in which abortion laws mattered? On the other side, what about fathers of daughters? What about boyfriends and husbands? Look, my daughter is only two, and I intend to foster a relationship that will encourage her to come to me with concerns or even (gasp!) for advice throughout her life. But until she is legally an adult, I assert that I have a right to know the important details of her experience, inasmuch as possible. It's called parenting, which involves guiding a child through the beginning stages of life in such a way as to enable her to live her adult life well.

But what's really — really — got me steamed is the blithe example of perennial adolescence that Mr. Chamless subsequently posted in the form of an email from a woman who is still viewing her relationships through a lens developed at the age of seventeen:

I was a high school senior when I found myself pregnant by my boyfriend of one year. Our birth control failed. My boyfriend offered to marry me but I knew that was not a good way to start a marriage.

Note the language, as if pregnancy is like coming across a babe in the woods. Actually, it was that the birth control actively "failed" — an inanimate object or substance causing the conception. And since her sexual behavior was not indicative of an emotional connection, the young mother decided that neither a potentially unhappy (for her) marriage nor illegitimacy was a better option than death for the human life thereby resulting.

I did not tell my mother, even though we were very close. My reasoning was that although I'm pretty sure she is pro-choice she would never again see me through the same eyes as she always had before. There was never any question that I wouldn't tell my father. He'd have cut off all my college funds and told me that if I could make a decision to sleep with a boy then I could make my own decisions how to pay for college.

Despite her complete innocence, the young woman feared that her mother might "find herself" (to borrow the woman's language from above) unable to maintain her motherly delusions about the purity of her daughter. Meanwhile, not-so-dear old Dad, like the birth control, would have behaved in an active, rather than passive, way. The girl knew that he must be allowed to maintain the same delusions about his daughter in order that she might defraud him of thousands of dollars that were apparently contingent upon her good behavior during her teenage years.

I had my abortion at age 17, and I have never regretted not telling my parents. My father died 4 years after my abortion, but my mother now lives with me and she'll go to her grave believing that her "little girl", now 43 and married 18 years with 3 beautiful children is just as sweet and wonderful as I was the day I was born.

It takes a moment to recover for words in response to the language of the second sentence. She measures her father's death, with some degree of precision, with reference to the abortion. Not "when I was 21," or even "a few years later," or even "four years later," but "4 years after my abortion," the procedure being something of which she is apparently willing to take ownership. (It wasn't "my pregnancy.") Then, rather than simply stating that she sees no reason, at this point, to taint her mother's view of her daughter's adult life, the woman measures the duration of her secret with reference to her mother's death, at which point the daughter will finally be free of the burden of keeping up the deception — a lie that she has carried for 26 years, and that covers an act that she admits makes her somewhat less "sweet and wonderful" than the day that she, through the blessing of her mother's kind permission, was born.

Finally, if my teenage daughter were to find herself pregnant, of course I would hope she'd feel comfortable coming to me for advice. But if she weren't, I'd want her to have access to abortion as a safe medical procedure before I'd want her to try to self-abort, or live with fear, or run away so she wouldn't be forced by law to tell me.

There's something almost sickly humorous about the first sentence. It isn't the suggestion that her daughter might be going about her life one day and "find herself pregnant," although that's telling and makes me wonder how the woman has addressed the topic of sex with her daughter. What I wonder more than that is what sort of "advice" the woman would give to her daughter should the girl admit to being pregnant. Presumably, she wouldn't forbid the abortion of any birth control–induced grandchildren. Therefore, if her daughter wanted to keep the child, there would be no need for a clinic's notification; if her daughter wanted to abort, the mother would offer affirmation, with even a story to unite the two women in experience. Because it ultimately doesn't matter whether a clinic is required to tell this particular parent that her daughter is with child, it seems to me that the woman's perspective, in her current role as a mother, is completely irrelevant to the public debate about parental notification.

Most of all, considering that the woman's fear is that her daughter might pursue dangerous routes, risking her life to avoid having her mother's sunny view of her tainted, it is surely a question why the woman doesn't endeavor to educate her daughter about those dangers of ad hoc abortions and to console the teenager as to the reaction that she would receive should she become pregnant. Would the woman want her daughter to live her whole life deceiving her mother, even as that very same mother would offer nothing but comfort and empathy regarding the difficult decision?

Anyone who thinks a teenage girl's life and emotional well-being are better served by forcing her to tell a parent with foreseeable serious negative consequences over taking steps to stop what she views as something she's seriously not prepared for doesn't know teenage girls. I do. I was one.

The emailer is right that I do not understand her thinking. Were parental notification the law, she would have incentive to communicate her opinion — and advice — to her daughter so that the girl would have a broader, more accurate understanding of her own circumstances in order to make her own informed decisions about abortion, birth control, and sex. In taking her public policy position, the woman isn't affecting her case. She isn't even affecting her daughter's case, because one would hope that she would ensure that her daughter knows that there are no "foreseeable serious negative consequences." She is extrapolating her specific childhood circumstances to all girls everywhere. She is seeking to affect the environments of other people's daughters — mine, for instance. Why should she believe that her opinion, in that light, "might just command a little more weight" than mine?

I, for one, find that her view of sex lightens the "weight" supposedly granted by her experience. That she apparently believes that teenagers cannot be expected to be responsible enough to make their own informed decisions about sex makes truly disturbing her subsequent conclusion that they must be assumed responsible enough to address the repercussions. I intend to make clear to my own daughter what I hope for and expect from her, including the assistance that her mother and I will provide — and the consequences that there will indeed be. It isn't the place of the government, let alone abortionists and activists, let alone some anonymous woman, to undermine the relationship and the environment for which I strive as a parent.

One last thing. All of this, it shouldn't have to be said, leaves as tangential the rights of those who are not given the opportunity ever to be teenage girls (or boys). While those rights may be compartmentalized for the purpose of discussion, they cannot be for the purpose of judgment. We should do all that we can to make ours a society in which the circumstances are not such that a girl can kill her child, deceive her mother, scam her father, and feel that these acts give her the moral weight to dismiss the rights of other parents. To those who believe that elective abortion is evil, this woman is complicit, bringing to the table an obvious incentive to maintain her own delusions about herself.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:53 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:04 AM EST


We've Both Got Our Views, but I'm Right

Lileks notes a perennial frustration of mine, even if it has given me ideas about the basic construction of reality:

... we live in an era of non-contiguous information streams. I believe one thing; someone else believes another – and the bedrock assumptions are utterly contradictory. This is what drives me nuts about discussing current events with some people. It’s like discussing the Apollo program with people who think it was all faked, or discussing archeology with those who believe the world is six thousand years old. I think the Iraq Campaign was part of a broad war against Islamicist fascism and the states that enable it; others think it’s all about oil and Halliburton jerking the strings of a Jeebus puppet. No. Middle. Ground.

Of course, Lileks suggests what we all know to be true (don't we?):

Viewed a century out, the murky present will seem stark and obvious, white bones on a black slab. Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, the terrorist organizations in the Levant and Indonesia, the Islamist elements of Pakistan, the behind-the-scenes support of North Korea – history, in its blunt custom, will color these factions alike. The people who insist that secular Saddam would never hook up with a radical Islamist group will seem like doddering backbenchers in Britain who muttered that Hitler hated Bolsheviks too much to strike a pact. I suspect that a century hence, those who sniffed at the threat of Saddam and his sons will be regarded as equally irrelevant.

"Suspect" nothing; I'm positively certain.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:33 AM EST


The Depth of Derbyshire

Today's (rather, yesterday's) column from John Derbyshire was probably his best diary (or blog) type piece yet. It ranges across various topics and depths of brow. I'm in particular agreement that the "19th century was the greatest of all centuries for the human race, and the 20th simply didn't compare":

This is one of those things that is obvious once you have been told it, even if it never occurred to you before. Just look at The Nutcracker, first staged 1892. What can our generation offer to compare with it? And look at the bourgeois values that radiate from the stage in the opening scenes: the stern Papas and stately Mamas, the kids on joyful vacation from their Latin verbs and piano lessons, the servants in their livery and pinafores, the hierarchy and order and confidence. Sure, there was another side to that world — my own ancestors were digging coal for a dollar a day while Tchaikovsky was writing out his score. In the matter of great accomplishment, though, Murray has got it right: We just don't measure up. Going down into the Chancellery bunker near the end of WWII, Joseph Goebbels took a look around at the burning wreckage of Berlin and exulted to his diary: "These flames are consuming the last of 19th-century bourgeois civilization!" He got that right; and look at what was left when the flames had done their work.

It must be acknowledged that some magnificent technologies (whether gadgets or procedures) were forged in those flames, but it has seemed to me, since I made the beginnings of an intellectual inquiry into it, that various huge trends in Western culture came together during the 1800s — from music to literature to intellectualism to science. Unfortunately, to borrow from the Grail Knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we chose poorly. Society walked a line throughout most of the 1800s between intellect and emotion, between individualism and morality, and thereafter began to stagger about.

Anyway, most of the other topics covered by Derb in his December Diary are similarly interesting and enlightening.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:24 AM EST


Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Panning the Blog

To be honest, I'm not as surprised as some that pan blogging attracted so much interest. It's a topic that's interesting almost in spite of itself — if the right angle is taken.

Fritz Schranck likens the discussion to manly discourse about tools. He goes on to offer such a discourse on the relevant attributes of various pans. For my part, although I use pans pretty much daily, I'm not a picky cooker — much as I'm not a picky tool user. Whatever comes my way and works, essentially.

What I found fascinating about the pan question wasn't the cookware itself, but the processes behind the facts that are observable to the customer. Companies tend to prefer to avoid guesswork, which means that there is research and debate behind every decision. If there's a $70 price gap between two items that aren't clearly differentiated, you can be pretty certain that a group of executives sat around a table, at some point, and batted around various considerations. Furthermore, to inform their discussion and, subsequently, to enact their decisions, employees further down the ladder spent their workdays on various matters ultimately resulting in this marketing mystery.

In our specific case, not only does the fact of purpose present us with a brainteaser of sorts, but the nature of our more-usual discussions on politics, religion, and other weighty matters can be exercised and displayed in the application of our thinking to an entirely separate, relatively mundane matter. Me, I just like to think. In my reactions to others, I often find it enlightening when they discuss matters with which I am familiar in my daily life. What input would Peter Jennings be able to offer in the pan debate? Who knows. But whatever he had to say (if he would discard his image long enough to comment) would surely tell his viewers something that isn't as immediately discernible amidst his usual content.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:55 PM EST


What a Totalitarian State Really Looks Like

If ever you need to reaffirm your suspicion that the United States is nowhere near resembling a totalitarian state or, God forbid, if you should begin to be persuaded by the rhetoric of the Left, just try to picture President Bush sending out agents to collect every copy of a newspaper that has a manipulated picture of him looking like Hitler, as Castro has done:

Although details of what happened remain unclear, what is known is that someone or some group at the newspaper appears to have risked all in the name of political satire.

Yesterday a spokesman for the newspaper confirmed that an investigation was under way, but that the photographer who took the picture was not responsible.

Now the talk of Havana is not just of what the image was supposed to mean, but of what has happened to those under suspicion. Rumours have spread, not least because the local offices of the Communist party went to work as soon as the change was noticed, ensuring that fewer copies than normal made it on to the streets.

Many people did not receive their daily delivery, while those sent to offices were subsequently recalled.

Don't get me wrong; I'm thankful that there are Americans willing to fight at the fringes of our freedom. What bothers me is the sense that, for many of them, the protection of freedom is subordinate to the protection of their political inclinations. This has been seen on multiple campuses, where liberal students have rounded up all copies of student papers that they've deemed to be offensive. It is also subtly apparent in the hilarious twist of emphasis with which the Guardian ends its story:

Young Cubans, particularly in Havana, have failed to immerse themselves in the revolutionary ideals to the same extent as those born before 1959 and President Castro's triumph over the former rightwing dictator Fulgencio Batista.

With the collapse in 1989 of the Soviet Union - Cuba's main international source of financial and political support - the island has been forced to turn to tourism.

Although this has brought in much needed dollars, and helped to fund education and healthcare, it has also been the source of discontent.

Wealthy foreigners parade along the streets of the capital, carrying digital cameras, mobile phones and wearing the kind of expensive sportswear of which the average Habanero can only dream. It is no surprise then that young Cubans look on enviously, while turning their backs on the Communist ideology that preaches against western consumerism. But, with the regime as vigorous as ever in clamping down on opposition, they may yet have to wait for change.

In this view, the activities of the Communists are partly to be excused because the rebellious youth of the nation have "failed" to get with the program, mostly out of envy of those tourists (so necessary to keep up the world class educational and healthcare establishments) who inspire them to "turn their backs" on Communism. Surely you see the difficult position in which Castro finds himself! For the good of his people, he is forced to invite representatives of the very ideology that defeated the Soviet Union (on which he previously leaned) to spend those ill-gotten dollars on his island, yet they bring with them a bad influence that threatens his utopia.

If only the Patriot Act were meant to ensure full payment of taxes to maintain a socialist healthcare system, then it might not seem so bad to those who proclaim Bush's similarities to a certain 20th century maniac.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:59 PM EST


Those Coastal Puritans

I realize that there are those who tune out anything that Ann Coulter writes, but when she's right, she's right:

Uttering the standard liberal cliche a few years ago, Richard Reeves described "representatives of the new South" as "Republicans of old puritan definition, righteous folk afraid that someone, somewhere, is having fun." ...

Like all beliefs universally held by liberals, Reeves' aphorism is the precise opposite of the truth.

It's the blue states that are constantly sending lawyers to the red states to bother everyone. Americans in the red states look at a place like New York City — where, this year, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade featured a gay transvestite as Mrs. Claus — and say, Well, I guess some people like it, but it's not for me.

Meanwhile, liberals in New York and Washington are consumed with what people are doing in Alabama and Nebraska. Nadine Strossen and Barry Lynn cannot sleep at night knowing that someone, somewhere, is gazing upon something that could be construed as a religious symbol.

I've said it many times, mostly with reference to atheists: this sort of secular liberalism is fundamentalist in nature, purely and simply. The coastal elites have The One Truth, and it is therefore incumbent upon them to force it upon the rest of humanity. I'll acknowledge that I hold contrary beliefs that I would characterize as Truth, and that it is morally incumbent upon me to spread, but there's a pivotal difference in approach.

My Truths have to do with what people must feel to be true and what they must think to be true. For both thinking and (especially) feeling, force is not an effective method of persuasion. Therefore, it is counterproductive to seek to impose beliefs on others. In effect, I would seek to persuade somebody that the religious symbol that he's hung in the public square relates to incorrect presumptions (if I believed that to be the case) and to give full consideration to what is and is not applicable about it.

Secularists and liberals go in the other direction. Their Truths have to do with what people must say is true. They seek to tear down the manifestations of belief and to stigmatize it as something bad, or at least too dangerous to be given public airing. There is no differentiation between applicable and inapplicable qualities. As Ms. Coulter points out, there's not even any differentiation between monuments and laws, public parks and Congress, or honoring the Ten Commandments and establishing a religion.

That, in my view, is the essence of "fundamentalism" — restricting the word to its unfavorable connotation in modern discourse. If people in the sticks are forced to adhere to The Right Rules, surely they will come around to agreeing that the blue-staters are much further along in their ideological formation. Wherever inappropriate activities are pursued, they must be hunted down and stopped. No persuasion. No argument. No autonomy. Just lawsuits.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:58 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 12/30/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Saz Jam" by Mozaik. It's tough to describe this sound (which is why the band has coined its own genre). This song is a bit like Led Zeppelin meets the Grateful Dead at the synagogue.

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:41 PM EST


Monday, December 29, 2003

Not Everything Is Relative

Amy Welborn links to a New York Times piece about the exchange of followers between the 65 million–strong American Catholic Church and the 2.3 million–strong Episcopal Church USA. The article's tone is clearly "some come, some go," but it's also clear that writer Laurie Goodstein prefers this to be the stronger impression:

"They're not coming in as they used to even three years ago announcing, `I'm just church shopping, I'm just looking around,' " said the Rev. Elizabeth M. Kaeton, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Chatham, N.J. "The people I've seen recently have come to me and said, `Sign me up, I'm ready.' "

Ms. Kaeton, who is openly gay, supported the ordination of Bishop Robinson but said she had not dwelled on the issue in her church. She said her parish of about 300 families had recently gained 15 new members, many of them from Catholic churches, and lost one to a Catholic church.

Of course, the more significant aspect of Ms. Kaeton's comments is the impression that the "conversions" aren't really conversions at all — involving the quest for Truth and all that — but are statements of a faith already held. However, in its way, the statistical statement is just as important. 300 families; 5% increase (15 families); "many" from Catholic churches. The increase is the important part.

Of course, readers who make it to paragraph 30 (of 32) will find this by way of comparison:

About 25 percent of the congregation at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Dallas recently left after the votes on homosexuality, said the rector, the Rev. David M. Allen. Those who left included some of the church's bedrock, like its secretary and the two men who used to volunteer to mow the lawn every Tuesday, Father Allen said. All but one left for Catholic churches, he said.

This church also had about 300 families; 25% decrease (75 families); "all but one" gone Catholic. There are relevant factors, beyond geography, such as the lesbian-run church in the first case and the apparent theological conservatism of the "Anglo-Catholic parish" in the second case. However, these factors only further point to the heart of the trend: the Episcopalian Church, once socially conservative, has been driving away those followers with its policies of ordaining women, accepting divorce, and now accepting the practice of homosexuality. Unfortunately, the "target market" for which these parishioners have been discarded, tend to be of the more secularist Left, and they are transforming the Church into a venue to express their views rather than to seek God's will.

Father Allen understands what's going on, and I have to suspect that he understands where it is going:

"I think many people in this parish came to the conclusion that there was the apparent absence of any kind of authority that operates to restrain the Episcopal Church in any way," Father Allen said. "They wanted to be part of a church which they saw as being bigger than American culture, which had an authority which went beyond our cultural conventions."

At some point, forcing their petulant modern will on a symbol of moral authority will lose its caché for liberal Episcopalians, mostly because the roles of authority will have switched. Somehow, though, I don't think the Ultimate Authority against whom these people are really rebelling is going to change His rules.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:36 AM EST


When Stories Come Together

Cox & Forkum unite two stories in a way that is not to be missed.

(I'm continually tempted to purchase their t-shirt of cowboy Bush branding a donkey "W," but I'm afraid I be beaten up for wearing it.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:13 AM EST


What's in the Price of a Name

Glenn Reynolds ponders the odd currents of marketing, branding, and signature lines. I'm not an expert on any of these matters, but since the price comparison in question has to do with Fall River's Emeril, whose "bams" have long echoed across the bay to my hometown (metaphorically speaking), I thought I'd offer a consideration.

The crux of the matter is that an All-Clad stainless 12-Inch fry pan goes for about $130, while essentially the same item, from the same company, goes for $60 in the Emerilware line. So, does having a famous chef endorse its products lose All-Clad money? Surely not.

I suspect that including a product within a signature line changes the entire marketing dynamic. Prof. Reynolds may be inclined to avoid signature lines, but they obviously attract customers if companies pay for them. The question is whom Emeril attracts... probably not people willing to pay $130 for a pan. They are people who wouldn't otherwise depart from the baseline pan product (say a $10 to $20 iron job), but for whom Emeril's name might inspire them to pay three or four times as much to upgrade.

In a somewhat paradoxical way, if my guess is right, Emeril can be seen as a sort of collective negotiator for his fans — on the payroll of the company. He brings a bunch of new customers, who mightn't otherwise be in the market for the product, to the store, and to entice the greatest number of them to actually lay down their credit cards, All-Clad lowers the price.

The "generic" All-Clad stainless steel pan, on the other hand, brings a customer in search of a high-end pan. Hey, it may even be that under-pricing the Emeril pan makes such customers value the high-brow pan even more. At any rate, even if the company loses $70 from those among this group willing to live with a pan from that bam guy, or willing to do the research to discover that the pans are effectively the same, the numbers are small relative to customer pick-ups from the low-end.

Of course, having the pricing brought into the light by somebody like the famous Instapundit might shift the calculation.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:08 AM EST


Sunday, December 28, 2003

I Can't Wait to Vote for a Democrat!

Even when Senator Lincoln Chafee (RINO, Rhode Island) is apparently inclined to vote in accordance with my wishes as his constituent, he does so for reasons that are worse than disagreement would have been:

The news was a respite from Chafee's worrying over the biggest domestic issue of the year, the Medicare bill. Chafee had supported the Senate version of the bill in June, as a flawed but worthy downpayment on his promise to seek drug benefits for the elderly.

He feared that a compromise would emerge from Senate-House negotiations with too strong a dose of the House version's competition between traditional Medicare and the untested private insurance plans. But he concluded that the conservative public-private experiment was "pretty well neutralized" and "watered down" in the compromise unveiled the week before Thanksgiving.

As it happened, he voted for the bill anyway.

You know, I'm pretty partisan when it comes to the strategic matter of voting for the makeup of the national government. But if my Senator is consistently going to vote in contrast to my preferences, I'd prefer he or she at least make a platform out of that disagreement. In other words, assuming no Republican challengers and no viable independents, I'll be voting for the Democrat in that particular race... even if it turned out to be Patrick Kennedy. (Which would, from where I stand, be ideal.)

For one thing, social conservatives have got to start making some noise where it can make a difference, and undermining Republicans who actively advance the other side's causes minimizes practical risk. For another thing, it's harder to replace a bad Republican with a better Republican unless a Democrat intervenes.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:36 PM EST


In Search of the Moral Cure

As it happens, just the other day, I wrote a fairly lengthy post on the death penalty, only to decide that I hadn't gotten it sufficiently straight in my head to publish my thoughts. One of the complicating components that I was trying to fit together is that I believe that, paradoxically, those who oppose the death penalty ought to simultaneously advocate for harder terms in prison.

I also believe that inserting religious instruction would be an important part of any rehabilitation program. If one of religious folks' objections to the death penalty is that God can work miracles even in the souls of the most hardened sinners, then it would seem incumbent upon us to facilitate that connection. Unfortunately, I'm more than a little concerned about the potential for prisons to become recruitment centers for — oh, I don't know — radical Islam. I'm also less than optimistic about the reaction to public mandates for religious training.

That's why I filed it in the When Life Gets Back to Normal file when I came across Victor's discovery of faith-based prisons in Florida. Of course, the ACLU sees it as a breech of that separation thing, even though it doesn't look as if a particular denomination or even religion will be promoted, and even though inmates have the option of transferring out.

As Correction Secretary James Crosby Jr. puts it, all they've done is "developed a cocoon, a place where they can practice their faith and not have the severe negative pressures and interactions that naturally take place in some of our institutions." In other words, it is an opportunity for the state to exploit some stated intention of inmates to further submerse themselves in an area of thinking that has been widely held, throughout history, to affect behavior for the better.

I, personally, would be thrilled to see the program expand throughout the prison system, with increasing incentive for inmates, of varying degrees of preexisting religious devotion, to seek to enter into faith-based institutions. However, I could see that there might be a legitimate argument if it became the case that religious prisons received a notable degree of perks, unrelated to their central mission, for the purpose of attracting convicts toward conversion. I would tend to think that a positive development, but I would understand the argument that it wouldn't be appropriate.

In contrast, I'm not sure what to make of Tyler Cowen's comment on the Volokh Conspiracy:

Isn't this just yet another way to put the better-behaving inmates together in one place? I would expect that to improve human well-being, at least for the people I care about. But I would expect to get most of the practical benefits without the explicit introduction of religion. You do need some signal of good behavior, the question is whether religion is the only or the best option for such a signal.

To be honest, I'm still not sure what to say about this, because it seems to so dramatically miss what I take to be the point. Implicit in Cowen's view is that religion is, of itself, a benign and inactive endeavor — as if religion is just a demographic marker, not a pursuit that will affect prisoners and help them to change their approach to life. The goal of the program, after all, is not to change behavior within the prisons, although that's certainly a benefit, but outside of the prisons, which Governor Jeb Bush made clear in his speech at the inauguration of the new approach.

If one gives credence to spirituality, it may very well be that making prison less harsh of an experience for those willing to behave themselves within its confines will, in the long run, hurt their "human well-being." The larger concern, when it comes to handling criminals, is to help them change who they are, not to teach them to compartmentalize their behavior depending on which side of the bars they find themselves.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:46 PM EST


Friday, December 26, 2003

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:53 PM EST


Thursday, December 25, 2003

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:00 PM EST


Merry Christmas!

The significance of Christmas apart from the gift-opening, Santa Claus, Christmas movies, malls, day off aspect that had been its entirety throughout most of my life is finally beginning to settle in, several years after I scrambled my way to Catholicism.

I still remember the Christmas when it no ceased to feel like Christmas when I was a child. Up until that year, my mother's side of the family had gathered at my grandparents' house in Bennington, Vermont. A half-dozen adults, five children, a visit from Santa Claus after dinner, snow (often). But then Pops and his second wife began going down to Florida for the winter, and my parents and I had began having Christmas in New Jersey, sometimes (but not always) with my father's parents or uncles, aunts, and cousins from his side of the family.

The Christmas spirit disappeared a year or two later. I had just turned my bike onto Valley Rd., headed toward my friend Cliff's house, and it was a crisp, gray day. The roads were quiet. And I thought to myself, "Well, this feels just like any other day."

Until now.

Perhaps part of the increase in feeling has to do with my being a father, myself, now, with a daughter finally old enough to get excited about presents. However, more of it has to do with the sense that I'm beginning — at last — to understand the larger significance of the day.

Today, we recall that moment, over 2,000 years ago, when hope was squeezed from the womb. A hope so huge that it applies to every human being ever born. If God could bless us with such a hope — birthed so humbly, with so little pomp; quietly, as it were, among a half-dozen people (or so) and some animals — then how can we not have hope for the coming year, and the one after that, and after that, stretching out for eternity, even as we pass our own Christmas days quietly?

I had the good fortune to read these words, from Zephaniah 3, at Mass a couple of weeks ago:

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you

he has turned away your enemies;
the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.

Rejoice, because God rejoices over you. No matter how you pass the day, you pass it in the Christmas light of His gift to you.

And I pass my day in the light of your gift to me. Thank you for reading.

Merry Christmas!

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:43 AM EST


The Sweet Yellow Cake of Vindication

I received a little bit of heat (in email or in a comments section elsewhere) for finding it interesting that the Bush administration was coming under fire for its Africa uranium statement at the same time that the IAEA was investigating whether looted uranium in Iraq was contaminating villages.

Well, lookee here:

The CIA and the State Department had doubts about the purported Niger information because they knew that Hussein already had a stockpile of the same type of uranium that he was supposed to be seeking.

The funny thing is, as Cliff May notes, that the Washington Post still finds this fact worth only passing mention.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:02 AM EST


Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

The Redwood Review poem of the week is "Life Grows Richer Still," by Ingrid Mathews.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:26 PM EST


Ensuring Mobility of the Downtrodden

Last week, Froma Harrop took up the topic of population growth. The world's too crowded, she thinks, housing prices are too high, and the loss of a countryside through which to drive on the weekend is "heartbreaking." If it weren't the case that, over the years, I've built up higher barriers than my usual to responding to Ms. Harrop, I would only have been inclined to comment on this:

David Simcox, senior adviser for Negative Population Growth, regards the desire for multiplying masses as a vestige of an earlier age when humankind's future remained in doubt. "The naked ape is now the dominant animal on the earth," he says, "and its survival is not in question."

Somehow it seems such arguments are rarely made without recourse to, or at least hints of, an atheistic, materialistic view of the world. Reading a week's worth of discussion of Harrop's column on the Dallas Morning News blog it occurs to me that atheism isn't the only ism to frequently accompany fears of overpopulation.

Of course, one reason for continued population growth is that unilateral cessation gives tremendous advantage to a culture that doesn't go along with the global plan, as Europe is finding with its increasingly Muslim demographic. However, there's another factor that I haven't seen addressed: social mobility. Labor is necessary for the functioning of our society, and more laborers than managers are required. As a relative matter, it would seem to me that freezing the population at the lower end (which is where population growth would have to be frozen) would make it more difficult for families to rise out of the mire. Economically speaking, if there aren't more dollars to go around, then those who already have them will more fervently guard their ground.

The only response to this tendency would be enforced socialism, which seems to be a lingering hint among those who fear population growth, as well. Different positions on so many of these matters boil pretty quickly down to basic worldviews, don't they? Even if most people who hold them can't articulate the intricacies.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:52 AM EST


Tis the Season to Bash Christians

Fa la la la la la la la la.

Glenn Reynolds drummed up this knee slapper for your reading pleasure on Christmas Eve:

Our leading bishops demand hard evidence of Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction. If we were to demand the same level of proof from their profession, they would all be out of a job.

As much of a hawk as I am, I don't think even Reynolds wants our government to conduct the war on terror based on faith. On the other hand, atheists who supported the war might do well, in this context, to remember that they have, in fact, argued that a lack of "hard evidence" does not mean that the weapons did (and do) not exist.

All in all, it's a mild jab, but one questions its timing.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:45 AM EST


Anti-Israeli Sentiment for the Holidays


All you can do is shake your head.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:31 AM EST


Oh, Just Say It: "Our Side Good; Your Side Bad!"

We social conservatives are particularly sensitive to revamped history, so I was quick to click when Instapundit noted "a doozy of an example" of historical airbrushing, spotted by Michael Demmons. The affront to honesty? Some changes being made to a touristy educational video at the Lincoln Memorial. Here's the story as told on the homosexual side, and here's the story from another perspective.

Apparently, part of the video, as it currently stands, has bothered some of my fellow pro-family, Christian types:

The video presented in the Lincoln Legacy Room at the Lincoln Memorial appears to suggest that the nation's 16th president would have supported modern-day, left-of-center political causes such as homosexual "rights," abortion "rights" and the modern feminist agenda.

The video features an actor impersonating Lincoln's voice over visuals of protest marches. Some of the visuals include signs and banners reading "The Lord is my Shepherd and Knows I am Gay," "Gay & Lesbian Sexual Rights," "Council of Churches Lesbian Rights," "National Organization for Women," "Reagan's Wrongs Equal Women's Rights," "ERA Yes," "Ratify the ERA," "I Had An Illegal Abortion In 1967 - Never Again," "Keep Abortion Legal," "I Am Pro-Choice America."

Let's get the honest truth on the table, right from the get-go: we all know that this very easily could be, and probably is, an instance of liberal propaganda, albeit on a minor scale. I've looked for the video online, but couldn't find it. However, I'm sure nobody in today's video-drenched atmosphere will have trouble picturing the scene. I imagine something from the Gettysburg Address as the above messages flash on the screen:

It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

Honesty of motive, however, is not permitted to enter into this discussion. So, although nobody's been able to tell me, in the comments on Demmon's blog, how it is possible for the "religious right" to demand the removal of footage from a year 2000 protest from a video made in 1995, the basic thrust is that gay protestors are a matter of the historical record, and therefore their inclusion is a sacred matter. I imagine the reaction would be different were this government-funded video to include the image of a Christian procession while any of the following sentences were read aloud:

Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty. (First Inaugural, 1861)

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God. (Emancipation Proclamation, 1863)

...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom... (Gettysburg Address, 1863)

(And don't even look at Lincoln's second inaugural address in 1865!)

Hey, I know that the battle lines are drawn. I know that many will act as if all is fair in the culture war. But it's still disappointing to witness intelligent, often reasonable people striking poses of indignation and blithely ignoring anything beyond a thimble's depth of consideration.

In remedy, I propose that we hold a major rally at the Lincoln Memorial in support of the Federal Marriage Amendment and insist that footage from that be used in the film. You know — to remain historically accurate.

My closing line in this post was meant as a joke (although the rally mightn't be a bad idea). I am sincerely bothered when what I consider to be my side fails to take the high road; in this case, I mean the "me too" solution for footage in the film. Considering what it is, there's no reason that latter 20th/early 21st century causes need enter into the film. It could be just as effective if generic footage were shown, by which I mean footage of the protests rather than the objects of the protests. In this particular instance, I think taking out the bight of specificity need not soften the video.

But, nobody's suggested that, as far as I can see.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:35 AM EST


Not Being Obnoxious to Those on the Attack

I highly recommend this interview with Barbara Nicolosi, particularly if you're a Christian with artistic or cultural interests. It really struck me, as one who feels very (very) strongly called to pursue artistic work that isn't explicitly religious for the purpose of bringing others to Christ. This paragraph was like a verbal slap to a man in a self-indulgent stupor (although, being only a relatively recent convert, I would substitute "conservative" for "Christian"):

Then you have the other extreme, the ones who end up getting thrown out of the business because they're too much in people's faces. And they're bitter—"I got fired because I was a Christian." No, you got fired because you were obnoxious. I know a few people like that.

Of course, it's difficult for the average Christian not to be bitter, let alone one who feels he is being thwarted in his passionate endeavors at every turn for ideological reasons. Consider two anecdotes that Nicolosi relates on her blog. The first has to do with active covering up of the effects of abortion on the mother. The second has to do with sitcom writers' false conception of Christian sexuality and the inability of even creative people to come up with a plausible reason to become Christian (which, I guess, makes sense, considering).

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:02 AM EST


Pass It On

Freedom is a good thing. And those are good who bring freedom to others.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:50 AM EST


Rolling Back Corruption in Reverse Order

At Dec 23, 8:12 AM, on the Dallas Morning News blog, Bob Moos asks an oft-heard question, lately, that sounds valid, but that really isn't:

The weekend story showing popular support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage got me thinking. How exactly would that shore up the many broken homes and families across America? If we really wanted to tackle the problem with the simple-mindedness some people apparently desire, let's just press for a constitutional amendment banning divorce. After all, wouldn't that attack the issue head-on?

The reasons that this turnabout is specious are manifold. For one thing, such an amendment would change existing law by means of the Constitution, while there are other — more procedurally feasible and less dramatic — methods of change, rather than merely affirming what has always been the de facto case, that marriage is man and woman. For another, I'd say that there are very few people who believe that there are never circumstances under which divorce is the best of a bad bunch of options. For yet another, divorce doesn't relate as directly to what marriage, as an institution, is.

No, while a policy of easy divorce is certainly the largest detriment that modern marriage faces, and laws should make the process more difficult, and with higher barriers, the most forceful front in the battle against divorce will be social. It isn't inconsequential that the movement for easy divorce came before the movement for gay marriage; first, marriage itself was cheapened, then its reason for being came into question. Thus, socially, its reason for being will be reaffirmed before it can be rehabilitated. As I've written before, articulating the reasoning behind opposition to gay marriage will lead to stronger, more intelligent opposition to divorce.

All of this has been noted before in this debate. The comment of Moos's that made it, in particular, a worthwhile spark for this post was the lesson drawn from what was apparently only a rhetorical question:

Of course, it also would hit too close to home for most folks. And as we all know, it's far easier to complain about your neighbor's yard than it is to clean up your own.

I wonder if Moos has any statistics about the makeup of that large majority of Americans who oppose gay marriage. I'm just guessing, but something tells me that divorce is likely to be somewhat less common among those who oppose gay marriage than among the general population. At any rate, I haven't been divorced and do not intend to be, so I'll consider myself at liberty to oppose gay marriage.

From that position of rhetorical freedom, I'd suggest a change in metaphor. It isn't a matter of two yards requiring independent cleaning. It's a matter of inviting in a notoriously messy family to a yard that one's relatives have already left a mess. Unless the newcomers pledge devoted effort to assist in the picking up, the prudent move is to declare that the party is over; one's yard is a living space, not a carnival.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:49 AM EST


Tuesday, December 23, 2003

What You Have to Do Versus What You Are

Over on the Dallas Morning News blog (which still doesn't have direct links), Bill McKenzie asks Rod Dreher a valid question bearing on the gay marriage debate:

Rod, why shouldn't states set their own rules for granting or not granting gay couples marriage licenses? I'm following your debate with Ruben from afar, and am not sure I understand the imperative for the feds on setting the rules.

Rod had previously mentioned the complexity of handling "married" homosexuals moving from one state to another, as well as the rules for such marriage-based federal policies as taxation. Because those ideas had been put on the table, I gather Mr. McKenzie is looking for something a bit more basic: why the genders of the spouses aren't akin to any other rules and restrictions that states place on couples that seek marriage licenses.

My sense is that there is less difference between states' policies than there may have once been, but nonetheless, I think the underlying distinction is that the variations have to do with what a couple must do to be married, as opposed to what the couple must be. Once a couple is married in one state, other states recognize them as such. I suppose, theoretically, if a state considered something sufficiently important — say, a marital course of some kind — it could conceivably require new citizens to accomplish undergo steps (as with drivers' licenses) to receive the full benefits of its marriage policy. But I don't think that any such thing exists. Once you're married, you're married.

As so often happens with questions such as Mr. McKenzie's we come right to the realization of what a major, radical suggestion gay marriage is. As it stands, any state differences have only to do with how a couple enters into marriage and what benefits they reap. If a couple moves, they might lose some benefits that married couples had where they were, but they will enjoy the benefits granted to every other married couple in the new state. Similarly, when a couple runs off to Las Vegas to elope, their home state just accepts that marriage as valid.

In essence, there has always been a federal understanding of what relationships qualify as marriage — one man and one woman. To change that even in one state would require a panoply of new laws and new policies across the nation, even at the federal level, including discrimination (in a neutral sense) between the validity of the same piece of paper in two different hands, and the likelihood is that the judiciary would reject such discrimination, federalizing the change, anyway.

Here's an interesting question: could a state just decline to accept all marriage licenses from another state? The Full Faith and Credit Clause would seem to forbid it, although there's been some debate about whether it would apply to marriage in this way, if tested.

Again, however, the likely behavior of the judiciary makes the question moot. If gay marriage were going through the appropriate channel (legislatures), New Hampshire could threaten not to accept any marriage licenses from Massachusetts, for example, which might influence the people of Massachusetts in their policymaking. But if even the people of Massachusetts don't have a say, the leverage is post facto, and not very effective.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:04 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 12/23/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "The First Noel" by Joe Parillo and David Key. It's too late to get it for this Christmas, but this CD comes highly recommended if you like jazz.

"The First Noel" Joe Parillo, Jazz
Stream (HiFi)
from The Angels Gather

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:09 PM EST


Monday, December 22, 2003

Preparing a Win-Win Strategy

Lane Core notes a great column from Janet Daley:

I am stunned with admiration at the mental agility of the anti-war lobby. Having spent months taunting George W Bush and Tony Blair for their failure to capture Saddam Hussein, and thus accomplish one of the most fundamental aims of the "illegal war" in Iraq, it was able to recover its composure almost instantaneously when the worst happened.

Within minutes of Paul Bremer pronouncing the words "We got him" to ecstatic cheers from Iraqi journalists, there were solemn-faced experts crowding on to my television screen to proclaim that the capture was largely irrelevant, or positively counter-productive, to the present difficulties in Iraq.

The very same interviewers who had once invited their interviewees to prophesy endless anarchy as a consequence of America's inability to locate this man were now asking more or less the same people if his arrest was not pretty useless after all. Or (better yet) if it might not "inflame" the situation even further.

She goes on to offer some talking points for the Left should such horrid events occur as the successful formation of a democratic Iraq.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:19 PM EST


Our Faith Is Not for Sale

This letter comes with deep regret and pain over the great loss that your actions have caused.

You know that the world is at a pivotal moment when a letter gives you that stand-up-and-cheer feeling, as when the hero of a great movie does The Right Thing. I thank Rev. Canon Stanley Ntagali of Uganda for providing such a refreshing statement:

Recent comments by your staff suggesting that your proposed visit demonstrates that normal relations with the Church of Uganda continue, have made your message clear: If we fall silent about what you have done promoting unbiblical sexual immorality and we overturn or ignore the decision to declare a severing of relationship with ECUSA, poor displaced persons will receive Aid. Here is our response: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not for sale [Hooray!], even among the poorest of us who have no money. Eternal life, obedience to Jesus Christ, and conforming to His Word are more important.

Chris Johnson summarizes my reaction well ("Frank" is U.S. Episcopal Bishop Frank Griswold):

Sucks when your pet Third Worlders anathematize you, doesn't it, Frank? But that's what it's come down to. As far as Uganda is concerned, the ECUSA is no longer a Christian church. But if Frank and the liberals convert to Christianity, then they can come. Not before.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:12 PM EST


Married to a Something

Although I'm behind on this, I wanted to make sure to link to the second part of Jennifer Roback Morse's essay over on NRO. She's very much a woman who moved in the right direction when faced with a conflict of the modern promise:

I couldn't articulate it at the time, but in the years that have passed, I came to realize that a sperm-donor baby would have changed our marriage relationship in a fundamental way. The baby would have been my baby, with my husband as a bystander. He would have been supportive, like a good Sensitive New Age Guy. But he would have been a wallet and an assistant mom.

What about the baby? She is person; she has the right to be loved as for her own sake. I was reducing a Someone, the baby, to a Something, a project that satisfies and gratifies me. In the process, I was using my husband, a Someone, to get Something I wanted.

The piece is moving, and very much worth a few minutes of your time.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:00 PM EST


Keeping the Consensus of History

John Omicinski writes optimistically about the implication of the Anglican turmoil for the Roman Catholic Church:

The craziness in the American Catholic Church might well guarantee that no pope in this century will come from the United States. This branch has proven itself unstable and untrustworthy.

And, hope as they may, secular liberals are doomed to disappointment if they expect the next pope -- who will be chosen by John Paul's hand-picked men -- to loosen Vatican rules on celibacy, birth control or, for heaven's sake, abortion.

No. Unlike the Anglican/Episcopalians, the Roman Catholic leadership is likely to ride out the storm of sexual secularism even as its churches in Europe go silent.

Its leaders are well aware that those most loudly beating the drums are not well-wishers within the church but -- irony of ironies -- nonbelievers.

There seems to be quite a bit of that "you must change in a way that will result in your destruction" kind of thinking going around in this era. Omicinski remembers W.B. Yeats's great line, "The best lack all convictions, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

For strength and encouragement (albeit of an admonishing sort), it is useful to look to an essay by Steve Kellmeyer (enthusiastically recommended by Victor Lams):

You could look at Athanasius alone against the world and get the mistaken impression that he was alone in the college of bishops. He wasn’t. He had in company with him all the bishops who had ever or would ever keep Faith. Remember, the Catholic Church and Chicago have one thing in common: the dead always get a vote. Athanasius had a voting majority according to the rules of the Church. With the democracy of the dead on his side, he swept the election.

Remember Athanasius. Compare his condition to ours. Ours is not the first or the worst the Church has seen. It is not even the first set of heresies that the United States bishops have indulged in.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:38 PM EST


The Pendulum Begins to Swing Back

Well, what d'ya know... a refreshing editorial from the Providence Journal:

The First Amendment, which supposedly guarantees freedom of speech and religion, has been twisted into guaranteeing the right of any small number of citizens to avoid feeling offended. It's time for the public, and judges, to fight back and reassert freedom -- and common sense.

In Cranston, for example, citizens have put holiday displays on public land around City Hall. They've turned up with an inflatable Santa, an inflatable snowman, and a menorah, to mark Hanukkah. It was when that modern horror of horrors, a Nativity scene, made its appearance -- imagine, the birth of Jesus being linked to Christmas! -- that the American Civil Liberties Union reportedly received three complaints. Three, out of a city of more than 80,000 people.

Is America waking up? I think so. At some point, simple common sense cannot but reassert itself as the majority increasingly finds itself beholden to an irrational and bigoted minority. As the Projo says:

In protecting the freedom of all to worship as they please, we do not need to bring the might of government crashing down on anyone who remembers the message of Hanukkah or recalls that Christmas relates to Jesus. Using government power to obliterate any evidence of religion around a federal holiday -- one that was created out of respect for a religion adhered to by a majority of the population -- violates common sense, and maybe the First Amendment.


(Can we start filing lawsuits against the ACLU? Imagine that...)

I'd have never guessed it, but I just heard on the radio that Grace C. Osediacz, who is the central plaintiff, is a middle-school teacher. In other words, one of the 0.00375% of Cranston citizens who object to the display is not only on the public payroll, but is responsible for the education of other people's children. The world shouldn't be such that this fact would be so utterly predictable.

And how's this for ignoring the ironic slug on your nose:

The ACLU also claims that Laffey's policy, which allows him "unbridled discretion to determine what 'appropriate' holiday symbols may be displayed," also violates First Amendment protection of free speech.

Rhode Island ACLU director Steven Brown said, "Something is wrong when a mayor takes it upon himself to decide what are or are not appropriate displays for the celebration of religious holidays. As we have seen time and again, whenever government gets involved in religion, it ends up trivializing it."

In other words, not only is the mayor barred from allowing religious "speech" on public property, but he is barred from disallowing speech that some might consider inappropriate. Gotcha, Mr. Brown.

Reread that last quoted sentence. It's maddening, isn't it? Any argument in an addled brain, I suppose.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:57 PM EST


Are Congresspeople that Ignorant/Dishonest?

No answer necessary.

Steve from Absit Invidia is right that this is a clever gotcha:

U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) criticized what he saw as double standards in the Bush administration's policy of downplaying the importance of inspections in Iraq before the war but welcoming them in Libya's case.

"I welcome the president's decision to rely on International Atomic Energy Agency inspections to ensure that Moammar Gadhafi lives up to this new agreement. However, this is difficult to reconcile with the administration's previous ridicule of IAEA inspectors in Iraq," Markey said.

"President Bush started a war in Iraq on the grounds that, according to his administration, the anytime-anywhere IAEA inspection process was a joke. ... American soldiers are now dying daily in Iraq because the United States deemed the IAEA's search for weapons of mass destruction to be totally unworthy of support," he added.

Clever, that is, if one expects no more from a U.S. Congressman than one would of a bitter MTV-crowd stand-up comic. Even the most cursory of consideration reveals Markey's statement to be dumb partisan nonsense. The IAEA isn't, and isn't designed to be, an aggressive weapons-searching body. That's why the United Nations deployed UNSCOM and UNMOVIC in Iraq.

As the IAEA Web site puts it: "Three main pillars - or areas of work - underpin the IAEA's mission: Safety and Security; Science and Technology; and Safeguards and Verification." The word "verification" points to the actual statements that were made pre-war about inspections in Iraq. They are only effective if the nation is being cooperative, which is what Libya has promised to be.

So, it would appear that Markey's statements are the only "joke" in this matter. The question is whether he is embarrassingly uninformed himself or is cynically counting on his constituents' ignorance. Either way, I suspect we'll be hearing this riff again.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:37 PM EST


Spoiling for Spoilers

Since I already know the story, I've been seeking out reviews with "spoilers" of The Return of the King. I'd rather go into the theater knowing of the thematic and plot changes from the book that would otherwise have surprised me with disappointment. Gina Dalfonzo presents another: "Jackson never errs in the direction of making any character nobler." You can read the article to find out what Ms. Dalfonzo means for yourself, if you'd like.

Suffice to say that it seems to me that, in multiple ways, the creators of this cinematic trilogy, for all that they've gotten right and for all that they should be congratulated for accomplishing, were unable to resist some of those changes that ought explicitly to be avoided. It is one thing if producers decide to save a few minutes by cutting out a passing scene or even if they shift things somewhat to render the same message more effectively in the different medium. But when they stop trusting the author's understanding of his audience, they've stepped over a line. In the case at hand, Dalfonzo is on to something when she writes:

In the end, Jackson left [a different] scene out for fear of confusing the audience, but it hints at another reason for the liberties he took with the story: It may be that he finds evil more fascinating than good.

If this is the case, he's hardly alone. Our culture is sadly unused to fully realized portrayals of good characters. So was Tolkien's, in fact; when he created his hobbit hero, literary anti-heroes were very much in vogue (which may help explain why his own books were so popular). As he put it, "Goodness is . . . bereft of its proper beauty." Now we’ve gone so far down that road that, for the most part, we seem to have run out of the resources we need to portray a really heroic hero. We find our heroes much more palatable — or so the entertainment industry assumes, anyway — with a few major flaws thrown in, perhaps to make us more comfortable with our own.

Yes, in some ways evil is more fun. It's certainly easier, and it certainly makes us feel better about ourselves. And if Evil is so powerful as to sway even our heros, then surely we can be excused for slipping up from time to time... or even as a way of life.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:10 PM EST


Sunday, December 21, 2003

Whatever It Is, It Isn't Objective

What am I missing? (Don't answer that.)

Kevin Miller is head and shoulders above some of the company that he keeps, in my opinion, so this perplexes me all the more:

Such a video [as of Saddam Hussein's inspection] is indeed objectively (unnecessarily) humiliating, which is already problematic - furthermore, Krauthammer confirms that at least some American supporters approved of it for precisely that reason, which is even more problematic.

How is the video objectively humiliating? Is it humiliating to be shown as a human being, rather than a demigod? My nightmares about humiliation generally entail a bit more... something (nudity, forgetting some crucial bit of information [e.g., my wife's name] while speaking in public, being made to run as a Democrat in the next Presidential election, and so on). Then again, I've never claimed to be a superior iteration of my entire race.

Still less, to whatever extent it actually is humiliating, how could it be said to be unnecessarily so? Indeed, the Krauthammer piece that Miller cites is all about how historically necessary it was to "demystify" Hussein. To my subjective eye, the message was clearly that Saddam is no more than human, not that he was less than human. (And even so, if unnecessary humiliation is such a sin, where are Miller's sanctions of those among his writer friends for whom mockery is the sincerest form of rhetoric?)

Granted, Krauthammer calls the exam a "universal indignity," but not only would I argue that "indignity" wasn't the right word, but he puts it in contrast to these other strategies for dealing with captured enemy leaders:

In the old days, the conquered tyrant was dragged through the streets behind the Roman general's chariot. Or paraded shackled before a jeering crowd. Or, when more finality was required, had his head placed on a spike on the tower wall.

Iraq has its own ways. In the revolution of 1958, Prime Minister Nuri as-Said was caught by a crowd and murdered, and his body was dragged behind a car through the streets of Baghdad until there was nothing left but half a leg.

Moreover, Krauthammer goes to great lengths to ensure that Hussein's trumped-up image is the point of reference (note, too, that the word "calculated" would seem to argue against its being unnecessary):

We Americans don't do it that way. Instead, we show Saddam -- King of Kings, Lion of the Tigris, Saladin of the Arabs -- compliantly opening his mouth like a child to the universal indignity of an oral (and head lice!) exam. Docility wrapped in banality. Brilliant. Nothing could have been better calculated to demystify the all-powerful tyrant.

As for whether or not Cardinal Martino's comments display anti-Americanism, well, I guess the evidence will speak for itself differently among different people. Imagine yourself thrust in the international spotlight to make a brief, extemporaneous statement about the capture of Saddam Hussein. How you make use of that opportunity will be telling. That Martino used that moment to chide the United States for the indiscretion of illustrating Hussein's simple humanity seems to me to show that he is objectively (unnecessarily) inclined to treat the U.S.A. as a club of uncouth adolescents.

So, to sum it up, there are two objectionable components to Martino's statement: 1) that he seems to judge Hussein's dignity by the measure that Saddam had previously wrongly claimed for himself, and 2) that he seems to imagine the people of the United States, its leaders, and its military as a giggly lot of jeering peasants who require reprimand before they've come anywhere near doing what the average, reasonably humble person would consider humiliating.

I don't know about Mr. Miller, but I didn't react to that video of Hussein as one imagines the masses reacting when a fallen king was paraded through the streets dressed as a chicken. That Martino apparently saw it in those terms and then stated that the king deserved better treatment (which he didn't, by any objective measure of just deserts) instead of suggesting that the crowd ought to hold itself to a higher standard than the tyrant — emphasizing the minimally unjust damage done to him, rather than the spiritual damage that people do to themselves by indulging in revenge — hints at where his sympathies lie. Again, it's telling.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:27 PM EST


Miracles Barred by Church/State Separation

The ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court, this morning, just days after revelations that President Bush prayed specifically for Saddam Hussein's capture.

On December 16, the President told ABC's Diane Sawyer that he had only prayed to God generally for "wisdom and strength and guidance." New information leaked to the media has proven that the prayer for "guidance" involved a request that God provide coordinates for the Iraqi President's hideout.

"It is clearly a violation of the Establishment Clause that the President, as commander in chief of the armed forces, has appealed to his God for specific assistance in this civil matter," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "We have asked the court to order Mr. Hussein's release until he can be captured without recourse to religious procedures."

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters that the President is reviewing his prayer policy to ascertain whether it would be legal for him to ask God to assist in ending hostilities in the Middle East and global terrorism. "We are looking at a number of options, including whether it would answer all legal objections if the President were to pray according to the beliefs of multiple religions."

To represent those who don't believe in God, Mr. McClellan said that President Bush would throw a quarter into the Reflecting Pool in the Constitution Gardens.

This satire was inspired by the ending of a recent column by William F. Buckley:

What can the Christian hope for? Well, as once ventured in another cloudy situation, God might clear his throat. That is a fine metaphor, God stilling the storm, raising someone from the grave, eliminating AIDS for Christmas. But the believer knows that it doesn't work that way. You must believe in miracles, but it is wrong to expect them. Besides, miracles would certainly be rejected as unconstitutional by People for the American Way. Merry Christmas.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:00 AM EST


Saturday, December 20, 2003

The Scouring of the Moral

I haven't seen it yet, so it may be that I won't care once I've been wowed by the movie, but Jonah Goldberg said something in his review of The Return of the King that I feel compelled to address:

Okay. As everyone knows, the book ends with the "Scouring of the Shire." In the film, the Shire remains intact. It's been reported that this was Jackson's least favorite part of the book. I can certainly understand that, because the Scouring was what gave the book its bittersweet ending. The movie still ends on a bittersweet note, but it's much more Frodo-centric. I've gone back and forth about this for a while now, and I've decided to forgive Jackson. My understanding of Tolkien's intent in that final chapter was twofold: The first is to make a (Catholic) point about sacrifice. The second was to communicate Tolkien's own sorrow about the changing nature of traditionally rural England — which the Shire was always intended to symbolize.

Now, I may be weird in this respect (among so many others), but the "Scouring of the Shire" might actually have been my favorite part of the book. It's where we see the juxtaposition of the Fellowship hobbits with their previous setting, and it's where the "point" of the book was cemented (at least for me) in a more interesting way than one expects of fantasy fiction. (This is leaving aside the Saruman/Wormtongue reprise.)

On the former count, it is glorious to see these Middle Earth–saving warriors be treated according to their stature by those who don't realize what they've done and then prove that it was something in them, not just the company that they kept, that made them great. On the latter count, it illustrates that there is no earthly heaven to go back to. Taken together, these points suggest that the world will be able to find us no matter where in the world we go, but that the strength lies within us regardless. I have a hard time seeing that as "bittersweet." The people of the Shire fended for themselves; they didn't send a messenger for the help of "real" warriors.

There's also a message, here, that deleting the scene tears from the movie. When Sam looked in the magic water in Lothlorien, he saw the Shire burning — in both the book and the movie. It seems to me that leaving that vision in while cutting out the fact that it was an actual occurrence does cross the line into unjust manipulation. It makes the vision a selfish reason to continue on the quest (to prevent the Shire's fall) rather than a sacrifice for the greater good (albeit an inevitable one). In other words, it's sort of like a Christmas future, which the hobbits manage to prevent, rather than an unpleasant reality that they must accept and rectify as much as possible later.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:34 PM EST


Friday, December 19, 2003

The Cheney Christmas Card Litmus Test

You know certain Catholics (whom I won't mention here) are in a state of confusion when they react as would be expected from any modern Leftist to Vice President Cheney's Christmas card. I don't want to use words that are too strong, but it seems to me that, in losing their perspective of Christian fellowship, in aligning with political liberals and global anti-Americans, such Catholics are missing a delicious irony that I imagine put a brief smile on the VP's face.

Here's the quotation from Ben Franklin that appears on the card:

And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?

Focusing on the word "empire," the sentiment is being taken to imply that Cheney believes the United States — specifically the administration of which he is a part — is on a mission from God to expand the U.S. empire throughout the world. With all due respect, that's a foolish way to take this quotation. It comes from Ben Franklin's appeal to the Constitutional Convention that they ought to open each session with prayer (emphasis in original):

Mr. President, the small progress we have made after four or five weeks' close attendance and continual reasonings with each other — our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ayes — is, methinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those republics which, having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution, now no longer exist. And we have viewed modern states all round Europe, but find none of their constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this assembly, groping, as it were, in the dark, to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a super-intending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time, and, the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that "except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it." I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed, in this political building, no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded; and we ourselves shall become a reproach and by-word down to future ages. And, what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing governments by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.

Now, if you are a Christian, in the midst of the myriad laments that Christmas is on its way to becoming an unspeakable, who sees this card not as a very clever prod at those who would drive all hints of religion — from the Decalogue to the Creche — from the public square, but as "infelicitous at best, worrisomely revealing at worst," you really need to examine the tint of your glasses — the spiritual lens as well as the political.

Although, I guess in this day and age, Vice President Cheney oughtn't rely on Americans' knowledge of our own history. Nor, apparently, on fellow Christians' intellectual sympathy and charitable good will.

The interior Biblical quotation, by the way, is from Psalms 127:1:

Unless the LORD build the house,
they labor in vain who build.
Unless the LORD guard the city,
in vain does the guard keep watch.

Layer upon layer of significance.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:23 PM EST


Equivalence in the Hands of Men

Joseph D'Hippolito writes forcefully about the West's reaction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

The Palestinian Authority's education ministry pollutes innocent minds through its textbooks, as a 2001 report by the Committee for Monitoring the Impact of Peace noted. One fifth-grade language text builds a lesson around this sentence: "The jihad against the Jew is the religious duty of every man and woman."

Suicide bombing, therefore, is not just genocide against Israelis. It's genocide against an entire generation of Palestinians who unquestioningly accept a cynical government's manipulation of Islam. However, the West chooses to ignore these facts.

In April, the World Council of Churches published a letter sent by an ecumenical group to the United Nations' Security Council. That letter about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not only downplayed suicide bombing but also blamed Israel for it: "Such violence directed against Israeli citizens, while abhorrent, does not justify the occupation which gives rise to such acts, nor the misguided incursions and assaults now under way in response to them."

Well, Israel does have checkpoints. And now there's the dreaded Fence of Inconvenience! Surely, such measures justify this response:

Though the Palestinians take a low-tech approach, their sadism surpasses even the Nazi assembly line of death. Suicide bombers routinely stuff such anti-coagulants as rat poison into their explosive vests - so that those who aren't killed immediately bleed to death slowly - and nails, bolts, screws and ball bearings as shrapnel to maximize their victims' injuries.

I wrote, a couple of years ago, that one coming upon the conflict with no understanding of the disputed versions of history would be easily able to assess the situation as it now stands. Israel sets up physical obstacles and attempts to limit the extent of its response, with continual overtures toward peace, while the Palestinians teach their children to hate Jews and to sacramentize the murder of them. Are there ranges on either side? Of course there are, but those among the Palestinians who lead their people and prepare them for the future are plainly not preparing them for a limited resistance.

I honestly can't think of a more clear example of people looking at a straightforward conflict and pretending that it's too complicated to resolve. What that means is that it's too complicated to resolve it in such a way as to maintain the illusions that the entire world has appallingly insisted on promoting as truth. Sometimes I think that people of goodwill who stand somewhere in the middle on this battle take that position out of an inability to believe that so many would react to something so clear with such obfuscation.

And so it goes on, with Ariel Sharon promising, "We will not wait for them forever."

No, Mr. Sharon, you will not be able to do so. Perhaps the only hope is that the U.S. war on terrorism will truly transform the Middle East from the center out. That scenario conflicts with the popular delusion that this flash-point conflict is the actual cause of every problem in that area of the world. But we all know that's inverted nonsense, don't we? Deep down.

My goodness, Mark Shea! Get a grip. If the fact that you have gone out of your way to hunt down mentions of an article and, through ad hominem, to attack its author and those who mention him doesn't illustrate to you (and to your readers) that you really, really need to take a step back from yourself, I don't know what would. It is duly noted, I'm sure, how much you follow your own preaching about revenge and forgiveness.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:19 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:18 AM EST


Thursday, December 18, 2003

"Too Conservative for Rhode Island"

That was Pat Kennedy's central argument against the opponent that he faced for the Congressional seat from my district last time around: Dave Rogers. The quip has since come to mind every time I've thought about what plagues this country, particularly my region. It wasn't: "He believes in X, Y, and Z, and Rhode Islanders don't." Not even: "He believes X, Y, and Z, which are all more conservative positions than Rhode Islanders hold." Nope; just a label, applied as an insult not to Rogers, but to Rhode Islanders — as if we are too dim to require explanation of each candidate's platform or to choose our own state's political characterization.

"Oh, well, I am a Rhode Islander, and he is conservative. Guess I'll go with Patrick again."

All of this raises questions about the latest Republican contender for the position that Teddy bequeathed to his son: Margaret Crosby. Unfortunately, the Providence Journal's introduction of the 36-year-old newcomer doesn't provide a single policy position, and I rather suspect that Ms. Crosby's campaign will rely heavily on a biography-based platform. She's black. She's a woman.

Don't get me wrong: I would be honored if my district sent the first-ever black female Republican to Congress. I'm a little disappointed that she brings with her the status of single mother (even if it is largely the record-executive father's shame), in contrast with businessman Dave Rogers's nuclear family, but at least she didn't abort. (The daughter currently lives with her dad in California.) But predominantly, I'd say the odds are good that Crosby is a liberal Republican; she's a "scholar," after all — with a Ph.D. in history from Brown.

So it seems likely to come down to that most horribly calculating of political questions that we blue-state Republicans face. When it's time to cast that primary ballot, do we go with the minority RINO (if that's what she proves to be) who "might actually have a chance," or do we go with the fella who's "too conservative for Rhode Island"? Well, I'm more of an idealist and an ideologue than a political pragmatist, so unless I've missed my guess about Crosby's likely positions, I'll be checking off the box next to Mr. Rogers's name.

However, I'm not so sure that I can't be an idealist and a pragmatist all at the same time on this one. Mr. Rogers generated so much enthusiasm last time, knocking out the state GOP's preferred candidate, largely because he is very conservative. He gave a stark choice, and as one who lives here, I'm inclined to think that one campaign just wasn't enough to break the manacles of apathy that the Democrats have worked so hard to lull onto the wrists of Rhode Islanders. This time, he wouldn't be an upstart, but the guy who actually took his party by storm and then made Patrick Kennedy look like a high school sophomore when the debates came around. Moreover, the nation continues to move toward socially conservative views, and in Rhode Island especially, a stark choice might attract more than the sidelong glances of partisan prisoners.

Two states to our north, the Episcopal Church elected a gay bishop, leading a Newport church to change its sign to "Anglican." Right above us, a state supreme court redefined marriage to include homosexuals. Across the country, die-hards' support for partial birth abortion has appalled anybody who's paid attention. The slight shift rightward during the last election produced enough of a rift in our state that some of the deep corruption in our political system has begun to come into the light. We've enough voters who either work for the military or for companies that supply the military that Pat had to buck his daddy's anti-war stance.

I don't know whether this and more will be enough to win the state, but I'll go ahead and predict that Rhode Island conservatives, at least, are sufficiently incensed to back a truly conservative candidate. Additionally, an ex–Navy Seal would have some of the glow that is finally taking its rightful place around a U.S. military that is manifestly working to make the world a better place, whereas an academic will have hurdles of Bellesiles and Professor Million-Mogadishus. Crosby doesn't give indication that she understands their relative images:

But before facing Kennedy, Crosby must take on Rogers. Crosby criticized the former Navy SEAL for promoting his candidacy by vowing to swim the length of the 1st Congressional District, from Pawtucket to Newport.

"I will not swim the Bay. I think it degrades the whole process," Crosby said. "These types of political antics are a sign of the corruption of American political ideals." She said she uses the word "corruption" in its broader sense and not to mean bribery.

Crosby noted Rogers has not been a SEAL since 1994, saying, "When you hand in your résumé, people ask, 'What have you been doing during the last five years?' "

It may be that voters see good-humored "political antics" as a welcome antidote to the dour adherence to hollow political posturing. This is even more the case considering that Rogers has chosen to ride the wave of his ideals. In that sense, if Crosby appears to be appealing to "the ideals of being political," she might as well leave her bathing suite in the drawer, anyway. She's also not likely to get much benefit out of efforts to dim some of Rogers's military glow. Ten years ago, he was serving his country. Since then, he's been running a business. Throughout that entire period, she's been walking Ivy League halls.

Dave Rogers can take these factors as a reason for hope. Margaret Crosby can take them as advice. And we'll just have to wait and see who gets the coveted Dust in the Light endorsement.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:05 PM EST


The Dignity of a Demigod

I tend to find myself standing on a perilous borderline when it comes to the intersection of current events and the Catholic Church, and I try to make the most of it. For example, I hope I did some modest good by directing my political agreement with many among Instapundit readers toward an opportunity for reflection about the strange overlaps of worldviews emerging from Cardinal Martino's comment.

The rapidity with which people seem inclined to hang any number of issues onto a limited statement indicates that they sense that the issues are all connected in some way that requires the guarding of ideological turf that is not under direct threat. Here's a quick example: Martino's anti-Americanism is shared with the liberal elite; the liberal elite's view of abortion is shared with American libertarians; thus, some libertarians will offer a defense of abortion when faced with Martino's anti-Americanism, as if an assault on the worldview that leads to the liberal elite's preferred international policies threatens to expand toward its preferred procreational policies. It does, although these various threads are complexly interwoven and will unravel differently for each individual.

Of course, standing in the midst of so many currents leaves one with unsteady footing. I bring this up because George Lee made a clear-headed suggestion in the comment section of a previous post that I hadn't thought to make:

Saddam spent 3 decades bombarding the people of Iraq (and others) with images--on billboards, murals, gigantic statues and artworks, movies, and 24/7 television programming--suggesting he was a demi-god. He had created an illusory status for himself, much as Hitler did.

His tyrannized subjects were terrified of him, half-believing that his dignity was actually of an order higher than theirs.

The brief images of him with a popsickle stick over his tongue subverted that false, pretentious status. He looked merely human, which is all he is. Thus, his true dignity was preserved in its presentation.

Although I can't think of any specific examples at this moment, I know it's true that I've seen news items, both local and global, in which a background scene for a report was of a person receiving a comparable medical examination to that shown of Hussein. It wasn't as if he was having — ahem — different body cavities searched. The only thing that makes the examination, its filming, and its subsequent display — all done professionally and without mockery — seem degrading is the contrast with the false front of super-dignity that Saddam had previously claimed for himself.

I read another comment, by Craig, on Amy Welborn's blog making the point that the nature of the footage released wasn't for our benefit, but for the Arab world's: "We Americans have a more prosaic and 'regular guy' view of our leaders than most of the rest of the world, including Europeans." How many people would be outraged by the indignity of footage shown of a quick lice-and-gums exam of our own President?

Again, it is completely appropriate to lament what Saddam Hussein did with his God-given life, and where his actions and choices led him. We ought to reflect, however, on what it means should we find ourselves inclined, out of empathy with the dictator, to use his own yardstick to measure his dignity and its loss.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:49 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Review: The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression," by Len DeAngelis.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:05 PM EST


Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Mystery of the Vatican

Many of you have probably come across it already, but I just wanted to note that Michael Novak gives me reason to believe that I may have been too quick to conflate Martino and the Vatican:

When I was in Rome last February, Cardinal Martino was already under heavy fire for his intemperate and irrepressible anti-Americanism. Even those who before the war leaned more to the French/German position than to the American were dismayed by his uncalled-for comments. ...

The immense relief experienced by the Catholic community in Iraq since the fall of Saddam has not gone unappreciated at the Vatican. In general, now that the American-led Coalition has acted firmly and with far better results than predicted last February by various spokesmen in the Vatican (they did not all speak with one voice), the Vatican has tried to help with the transition to a more just, peaceful, tolerant, and democratic Iraq.

I regret, and offer general apologies, that I'm not up-to-date with much that goes on at the Vatican and that I am decidedly lacking in familiarity with the internal wranglings there. However, perhaps two factors mitigate my ignorance. The first is that Martino's statement was taken by many non-Catholics as representative, and in some cases, it must be rebuffed as such. The second is that there are some, who are (or present themselves as) much more in-the-know on matters Catholic than I, who defended Martino's comments as no more than an example of a diplomat fulfilling his duty (perhaps imprudently) "to be the Vatican's ambassador of human dignity to the world."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:39 PM EST


Memo: Hard Thought Leads to Clear Thinking

I've been wondering, more and more over the past couple of years, whether those pushing the progressive envelope are pushing it not only beyond what society will accept, but past what rational thought will allow. Maybe I would do better to say, "I've been hoping," although my experience has certainly been that, as I've honestly considered such issues as gay marriage and sexual liberty, my opinion has grown increasingly conservative — increasingly traditional.

It seems to me that, as the cultural questions that we face push closer toward basic lines of assumptions, we will be forced to reevaluate and reassert the underlying justifications for beliefs that had just been common sense. Having done so, some people will accept the implications of progressive thinking, and others will reject previously accepted notions on the basis of newly clarified reasoning. My prediction is that the former group will decrease as the implications of their positions become more stark and more inherently objectionable.

In a must-read essay, Jennifer Roback Morse refocuses the gay marriage debate on the more basic question of sex:

Many people celebrate the uncoupling of sexual activity from both of its natural functions, procreation and spousal unity. But by doing so, we have capsized the whole natural order of sexuality. Instead of being an engine of sociability and community building, sex has become a consumer good. Instead of being something that draws us out of ourselves and into relationship with others, our sexual activity focuses us inward, on ourselves and our own desires. A sexual partner is not a person to whom I am irrevocably connected by bonds of love. Rather, the sexual partner has become an object that satisfies me more or less well.

Just as challenged opposition to gay marriage will have a strong tendency to expand toward opposition to easy divorce, challenged belief in the importance of marriage will likely tend to expand toward belief in the necessity of sexual propriety and society's right to contribute to its construction. My longer-term hope is that the tide won't turn too far, as people think only deeply enough to begin calling on government to "fix" such problems as infidelity and premarital sex. The next stage of expansion ought to be toward remembering that government is only one institution in society and one influence on individual behavior.

It's a huge project that we face, at this time in history. Perhaps too huge; too big for us to address on our own, that's for sure.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:18 PM EST


Another Solution in the FDA Pipeline

Well, I'm glad to see that folks are hard at work on an alternative to the extermination of unwanted progeny:

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel has approved over-the-counter sales of the so-called 'morning-before' pill. Although experts disagree over how the pill works, it seems to prevent unwanted pregnancy by attacking the problem at its source in the human brain.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:57 PM EST


On the Road to the Future

There was something familiar about a New York Times article to which John Cole links:

The once-torturous but now silkily reconstructed road between Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar was formally completed today, just as President Bush had promised President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan more than a year ago that it would be.

"We are standing — literally — on the road to Afghanistan's future," Mr. Khalilzad said, speaking to a group of dignitaries gathered for an inauguration ceremony at kilometer 43 of the seductively smooth strip of gray. "It is a future of national unity. It is a future of prosperity. It is a future of peace."

The resurfacing of the road, which has reduced the travel time on its 300-mile distance from as much as 30 hours to 6 hours or less, has become the most visible sign of Afghanistan's postwar reconstruction, which many Afghans say has otherwise been frustratingly slow. It has given the Afghans who live nearby easier access to health care and markets and linked the Pashtun-dominated south with the north.

"Where have I heard something like this before?" I wondered. Then I remembered — "Aha!" — this classic 1993 Robert Fisk fawning piece about Osama bin Laden:

With his high cheekbones, narrow eyes and long brown robe, Mr Bin Laden looks every inch the mountain warrior of mujahedin legend. Chadored children danced in front of him, preachers acknowledged his wisdom. ''We have been waiting for this road through all the revolutions in Sudan,'' a sheikh said.

''We waited until we had given up on everybody - and then Osama Bin Laden came along.''

Outside Sudan, Mr Bin Ladin is not regarded with quite such high esteem. The Egyptian press claims he brought hundreds of former Arab fighters back to Sudan from Afghanistan, while the Western embassy circuit in Khartoum has suggested that some of the ''Afghans'' whom this Saudi entrepreneur flew to Sudan are now busy training for further jihad wars in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. Mr Bin Laden is well aware of this. ''The rubbish of the media and the embassies,'' he calls it. ''I am a construction engineer and an agriculturalist. If I had training camps here in Sudan, I couldn't possibly do this job.''

And ''this job'' is certainly an ambitious one: a brand-new highway stretching all the way from Khartoum to Port Sudan, a distance of 1,200km (745miles) on the old road, now shortened to 800km by the new Bin Laden route that will turn the coastal run from the capital into a mere day's journey. Into a country that is despised by Saudi Arabia for its support of Saddam Hussein in the Gulf war almost as much as it is condemned by the United States, Mr Bin Laden has brought the very construction equipment that he used only five years ago to build the guerrilla trails of Afghanistan.

The Times piece inadvertently notes the central difference:

"President Bush personally committed himself to the success of this project and he is a man who keeps his promises," Mr. Khalilzad said, referring to Mr. Bush's determination that the highway be finished before the end of the year.

Of course, Times writer Amy Waldman thereafter makes a point of contradicting the spirit of Mr. Khalilzad's compliment with a technical matter. Wonder why she didn't note the President's proud walk and kind eyes... "every inch the tough-but-fair cowboy of Texan legend."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:56 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:22 AM EST


Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Spinning Out of Control

With Democrat Congressmen stating that the capture of Saddam Hussein looks conveniently timed to help the Bush administration, it hits an odd note, to my ear, to hear Sheila Lennon trying to spin it a different way:

Why is the capture of Saddam Hussein by the U.S. Army considered good news for Republicans?

The Iraqi people deserve to cheer the end of fear: Saddam was a butcher, and deserves to face his fate, but anyone who thinks his capture is a political bonus for any American party has been inside the beltway too long.

Actually, I'd say "anyone who thinks" as Lennon suggests has just been paying attention to what's going on "inside the beltway." Ms. Lennon criticizes Tim Russert (whose show is entirely about American politics) for trying to "hijack, abstract and trivialize the end of a despot" and to claim that the "news gods of yesteryear" would have left such questions for later, asking instead:

Who was Saddam Hussein? Why did we want him? Are we going to prosecute him for 9/11, since so many -- thanks to Fox News -- think he was involved?

The odd note that this sounds for me relates to the fact that it is only because Democrats and liberals have politicized the war and the war on terror generally that events are of political interest. Indeed, Lennon herself hijacks, trivializes, and politicizes what's going on through her inability to resist the Fox News quip. (By the way, did the Providence Journal's New Media gal miss this story?) Moreover, she goes on, within the same blog entry, to link to two theories that she calls "strange," but that keep with the U.S.-politics theme, only in the direction that a liberal blogger would prefer.

The second strange theory makes a suggestion that illustrates the degree to which domestic politics are inextricable from how we handle the topic:

What can Saddam do? He just needs to open his big mouth. After a shave, a good brush and gurgles of Listerine, he will recount all those scummy collusions with the US, which, went right through the Kuwaiti occupation. Why were those Shi'ites betrayed? Who talked to whom? What was the deal? What about the other deals? Clips of exhumed bodies from that bloody crackdown more than a decade back were shown alongside Saddam's ignominious capture on BBC. Another pictorial blunder for the coalition! Was the BBC acting sneaky again? Those bodies incriminate Saddam and the Anglo-American alliance. In fact, the incriminating evidence will be immeasurable. Civilian deaths, supply of arms, the semi-proxy war on Iran, will all come out of the horse's mouth. For every allegation, Saddam can retort Tu quoque – You too!...

...How are they going to answer their former ally, when every meeting with Donald Rumsfeld alone is going to be recounted in detail? Bribe and intimidate all those who can corroborate those shady minutiae? One possibility but a lot of it is already out in the public domain. If the dictator was ever that good in understanding power, he would have prepared for this day long back, with stashes of documents secreted away for his eventual defense.

See, from the perspective of Mathew Maavak, who penned those words, this information is all there to be found; there is no debate, and if Saddam fails to highlight the culpability of the evil Americans, it is because he wasn't "that good in understanding power." As with Lennon, for all of the complaints about politicization, the rhetorical questions presume a different reality self-spun by personal politics — one in which the U.S. was the main supporter of the Ba'athist regime, rather than a slight and periodic ally-of-necessity, and questions about a link to al Qaeda and September 11 are laughable.

And so, I can't help but hear the chords of frustration and a developing melody of delusion as, once again, liberals argue to each other that the Bush administration, in its stupidity, has walked right into a lighted room that will reveal its, and its predecessors', evil, thus fulfilling the mystery of liberal faith that Republicans are at once too stupid to lead and ingenious in their diabolism.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:19 PM EST


It's Never 60 Days Before a Supreme Court Judge's Election

Edward Achorn writes well on the Supreme Court's stamp of approval on obvious violations of the First Amendment within the campaign finance coup:

But this could happen only, I suspect, in a culture that has systematically undermined the Founders and the country they created, and that has bred journalists who reflexively conclude that if liberal-leaning politicians back a law that expands government power, it must be a good thing.

Thus, The New York Times applauded the new speech restrictions as a much-needed "corrective." The Washington Post called them "a cause for celebration," and urged Congress to go further.

Achorn goes on to suggest that, by the language of the law and of the Supreme Court's ruling, the opinions of those in the press may be next in line to be labeled as "unfair" in their influence.

Not a week goes by that I don't feel even more strongly that the single most important cause that we can take up in these days is to rebuke the judiciary and snap it back into its proper role. Of course, the legislature and executive branches are complicit in this specific assault on our freedoms, but the court's role is to stop them. It is up to us to elect candidates who will respect the Constitution, but in that context, the court is there to keep the citizenry in our place. Achorn writes:

It is scary that so many in our country are willing to watch with indifference -- or to applaud -- while that most essential of rights is whittled down by politicians bent on preserving their positions and power.

That is scary, but it is also predictable in a human society, with people being emotional creatures who are easily swayed. The Constitution and its upholding by the judiciary are meant to check that inevitability. Luckily, I think the judiciary is going far enough in so many abhorent directions that an emotionally charged movement can be raised to insist that it stick to its own guidelines.

Such a movement will be possible, however, only if the people and the press rally sufficiently before the government closes this "loophole," as well.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:25 PM EST


Putting Your Entire Life on the Line for Principle

Jay Nordlinger, in today's Impromptus, points out a New York Times mention of some musing that Mr. Nordlinger did earlier in the year about the possibility of a civil disobedience movement involving the giving of false races on applications, as for college. Writes Mark Edmundson, of the Times:

But does lying about your race on a college application really qualify as an act of civil disobedience? The followers of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi put their lives on the line to protest injustice; because of them, we associate the words ''civil disobedience'' with extreme courage against ruthless state power. Lying about your race on a college application, on the other hand, looks a little more like self-interested scheming.

Does Mr. Edmundson really believe that a young white man's checking off "African American" on his college applications would not risk a threat to his future — his life — in a very real way? Academically and professionally, that might represent a greater black mark than faking one's high school grades. Socially, it would make falsified SAT scores look like a minor indiscretion.

Then again, I suppose if Timesians admitted the world as it truly is, they'd be on our side. At any rate, I'll look forward to the Times's measured reaction when some youngster gets caught in the act.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:27 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 12/16/03

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

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:58 AM EST


Sympathy for the Dictator

Oh for cryin' out loud:

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's Justice and Peace department and a former papal envoy to the United Nations, told a news conference on Tuesday it would be "illusory" to think the arrest of the former Iraqi president would heal all the damage caused by a war which the Holy See opposed.

"I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures," he said.

"Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him," he said in answer to questions about Saddam's arrest.

Yes, let's "spare" the world those pictures, and maybe we can dress him up in purple robes for his trial. That way, Saddam Hussein can remain a mythic figure in the eyes of the dictators, murderers, and psychos of the world rather than the image of a man whose Earth-shattering sin has finally brought him low.

Look, I do believe that it is the place of Christians, particularly Christian clerics, to feel sympathy even for the Devil. But Martino seems clearly to place the blame for "this man's" destruction on the United States. Have compassion for him, by all means, but at least realize, oh leader of the Church, that it is his own doing. The world is not all dignity and affronts to dignity. There are sin and repercussions, too.

Unbelievable. Disheartening. Speechless.

To offer context for anybody who's come here via Instapundit, I wanted to note that I am a Catholic convert. Having said that, I'd like to inject a thought alongside the mockery of the Church with which my take on this specific incident has been aligned.

I believe that Lauryn Hill was way out of line in both the phrasing of and setting for her rebuke to the Vatican. Before folks take Martino's position as vindication of hers, and as those of other faiths or of no faith get their giggles at the expense of an authority whom they don't accept, we should have the intellectual integrity to consider the true direction of the grain in this splintering plank.

The abuse itself and the administrative scandal that joined it, the fact that such as Lauryn Hill were performing at a Vatican Christmas concert in the first place, the Church's reflexive internationalism in response to the Iraq war, and Martino's concern for the dictator's public image all stem from the same problem: secularism. I don't know what Hill's opinion was of the Iraq war, and I don't know what she considers herself to be politically. But I can guess. I don't need to guess, however, whether many who will be quick to scorn Cardinal Martino are also quick to scorn the Church's statements on the corrosion of social morality.

I'll join you in condemning the Cardinal's statement as one made more in line with the opinion of the international elite than according to a Christian worldview. However, before you extrapolate it to bear on other issues, ask yourself what view that same elite holds when it comes to sexual behavior and, together and separately, children. What is your view?

Hypocrisy and lost perspective are certainly starkly exposed in the light of Christ's message and His Church, but surely, even when it is a bad one, we ought to take the example thereby revealed as reason to seek its less-naked reflection in ourselves.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:09 AM EST


Monday, December 15, 2003

A Universal Slap from Hill

Well, I thought I was going to be able to ignore Lauryn Hill's stealth assault on the Catholic Church. I had even gone to the extent, last night, of researching Hill's religious history, but I decided to leave it alone for personal as well as strategic reasons. But if a row among Catholic conservatives is going to break out, I'd rather jump in sooner than later.

Here's as much as I can find of the statement that Hill chose to substitute for the music that she'd been invited to perform:

"I'm not here to celebrate, like you, the birth of Christ, but to ask you why you are not in mourning for his death in this place," Hill said, reading from a prepared statement as she came on stage for her performance as part of a all-star gala concert.

"Holy God has witnessed the corruption of your leadership, of the exploitation and abuses which are the minimum that can be said for the clergy," she added, calling on the hierarchy to "repent".

Several Italian newspapers on Sunday ran translations of the statement, which was delivered in English. They quoted her as saying there was "no acceptable explanation for defending the church."

"I realize some of you may be offended by what I'm saying, but what do you say to the families who were betrayed by the people in whom they believed?" La Repubblica newspaper quoted her as saying.

"God has been a witness to the corruption of his leadership, to the exploitation and abuses. It is the least one can say about the clergy," added the Grammy-winning singer. "Men sin, and it is they who are responsible for corruption. Therefore you must repent, repent."

Hill told the crowd to seek blessings "from God not men" and said she did "not believe in representatives of God on earth."

My first impulse upon reading of the incident was to wonder who investigates and invites people to these events. The very first link on a Google search for "lauryn hill religion" yields this quotation from the singer: "Real religion is no religion at all." The second extends that quotation, and bears the title "Sources Say Lauryn Hill May Be Brainwashed." I don't say this to undermine her point, whatever it was, but to suggest that maybe she represented a bit of a wildcard to invite to such an event.

To Hill's ambush of the hierarchy, Rod Dreher — with whom I very often agree, but who seems a bit too quick to side with anybody who attacks the Catholic establishment — says:

Good for her. It's a shame it takes a non-Catholic to show that kind of courageous witness to the hierarchy, which has so grievously failed Catholic children and their families in the sex-abuse scandal. I think the reaction of Bishop Rino Fisichella was very telling. He called Hill's speech, "a rash outburst. An uneducated act showing a lack of respect for the place she was a guest and for those who invited her." Well, la-dee-da, how unrefined of Hill! The thing for the bishop to have said was, "It's sad that Miss Hill chose a Christmas concert to express her opinion on this matter, which is out of place at this kind of event. But this is part of the penance we in the Catholic hierarchy must perform, and we must accept her call to repentance -- not because an American pop singer tells us to, but because God calls us to."

Kathryn Jean Lopez's response to Rod hits on the essence of my first objection to Hill's act:

As you say, it was rude, but I don't really see the courageous prophetic angle in her rant. I suspect she was invited to the Christmas concert to sing Christmas songs in the celebration of the birth of Christ, where presumably families were--it was not the venue. She could have, for instance, said "no" to the invitation and issued a press release about how evil she thinks the Vatican is (where Christ is dead, evidently; I am as repulsed and angered and saddened by crimes against children and young people as anyone, but I do not think that Christ is dead in the Vatican City or in the Catholic Church) or written a song that would have gotten just as much, if not more, attention.

This criticism expands, in my opinion, in light of the last chunk of the rant, provided by Reuters, that I quote above: Hill does "not believe in representatives of God on earth." In other words, she accepted the invitation when her problem isn't only with specific abuse — an obvious, topical, safe, and (depending on context) justified travesty on which to hang invective — but with the entire idea of clergy.

Yeah, she may have spoken "truth to power," but it wasn't a power that she accepts, and it wasn't a truth, ultimately, that Catholics should accept. I've participated in the discussions and shared in the agony among Catholics when it comes to the abuse scandals, but I think we do ourselves — and our Church — a grievous disservice if we look for prophets, as Rod calls Hill on the DMN blog, among those who reject outright the beliefs that make our situation so complex and painful. This is particularly true when it is simply impossible to argue that those heroes actually put anything at risk in order to strike their poses.

Of course, while the large and varied audience made Hill's outburst completely inappropriate, it's difficult to feel for the specific members of the hierarchy who were there to be embarassed. As Diogenes of the Catholic World News blog notes:

That said, there's a sense in which Hill's Vatican hosts got what was coming to them. I'm not referring to her reprimand on sexual abuse but to the ill-focused worldliness of senior clergy who wish to nuzzle up to the rich and famous of whatever stripe, including those who exult in contempt for Christianity. The Italian daily La Repubblica says a rapper named Shaggy was not allowed to perform a number called "Hey Sexy Lady" before the assembled bishops, but clearly the stuff that makes the cut is pretty gamy.

Funny how addressing either of the two valid criticisms of the hierarchy highlighted by this incident would likely address the other, as well.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:20 PM EST


The Art of Baloney

I've held on to this one so long that I had to spend a whole two minutes on Google looking for a way around the New York Times's pay-up barrier. In part, the delay is attributable to my packed schedule, but I also had a feeling that I wasn't yet able to articulate the real substantive issue that the article raised. Well, it came to me as I walked the dog on Saturday night.

The article in question is "Keep the Sex R-Rated, N.Y.U. Tells Film Students," and as you may have heard, it tells the story of NYU film student Paula Carmicino:

Her professor approved. The student, Paula Carmicino, found two actor friends willing to have sex on camera in front of the class. The other students expressed their support. But then the professor thought he should double-check with the administration, which immediately pulled the plug on the project.

The discussion orbiting the proposed project casts out instances of corrupt thinking at every level. On the surface, having to do with language and how we characterize different activities, Ms. Carmicino's "art" is more to be found in her efforts to excuse the inexcusable than in the craft itself. In other words, it's a con more than art. Says the 21-year-old's mother:

Nor was the controversy a surprise. "Paula's always pushed buttons," her mother said, but she has always backed up her contrarian positions with sound reasoning.

Her professor puts it more academically:

Professor de Jesus said he supported the film from the start. "It did have redeeming values, and it was fine with me, especially having seen her previous work. She's a young woman with lots of integrity."

Putting the label "art" on pornography, then, is a strategy for getting away with something. It's an adolescent's view of art — immature and facile. Giggly. (It also "pushes buttons" in such a way as to get one's name in the New York Times.) As a matter of critical analysis, Carmicino's project doesn't match her premise:

In Ms. Carmicino's view, the university was censoring a work about how people censor their own behavior. She said her video, titled "Animal," was supposed to depict the contrast between public and private behavior: "The whole concept of it was to compare the normal behavior of people in their everyday lives versus the animalistic behavior that comes out when they are having sex."

She planned to intersperse 30-second clips of passionate sex with scenes of the couple engaged in more mundane activities, like watching television and reading a newspaper.

Simulating the sex would have defeated her purpose, she said. "That's censoring the sex part. My thing is how we censor ourselves during the day when we're not having sex."

Yet, in order to capture her "thing" on film, she went to great lengths to ensure that the sexual act itself would be as self-aware and self-censored as possible. A little more imagination, and this objection could have been mooted, but the intricacy of the idea isn't important; the excuse need only be as applicable as the authorities require. Ironically, a message of actual intellectual and artistic merit may have been possible if Carmicino's "thing" had been to illustrate how much more true to our natures we are in casual, "mundane activities" than while having casual sex, during which the masks are much more heavily layered. The "animals" in this variation could be the audience, the professor, and the filmmaker herself. But then, an anti-casual-sex message wouldn't do for universities to present to the impressionable minds under their care.

The next problem is on the layer of rhetorical construction. Very much as with gay marriage, all of the proponents of Carmicino's film ignore the most basic underlying factor. With gay marriage, what is ignored is the fact that marriage is the arrangement settled upon over the course of human history through which to unite the two most fundamentally distinct groups in our species — men and women — like the buttons and loops that keep the social fabric together and ensure its perpetuation. Rather than admit this, advocates for gay marriage break the world according to sexuality and complain that marriage accords with one group's sexuality and not the other's.

In the case of the classroom pornography, the basic factor being ignored is the difference between showing sex on film and showing sex being filmed. The Times and all of Carmicino's supporters simply pretend that there is no line here. To illustrate that "explicit content in classroom work was not unusual," the Times lists as examples clips from porn, the content of scripts, and the simulated sex of puppets, as if filming live sex in the classroom were categorically similar. If they weren't so blinded by this oversight, the libertines would realize that Carmicino's prank really provoked a policy that reaches far beyond the walls that she sought to erode. Not only did she not get away with her own affront, but she ruined the party for everybody else.

Nonetheless, the intellectual elision relates directly to the problem having to do with substance. Over time, pornographic material has worked its way toward acceptability in stages, each of which pushed the envelope with at least a flavor of the "how-different-is-it?" argument. Roughly, some stages of the progression were implied sexuality in writing, explicit sex in writing, implied sex on film, and explicit sex on film. And at each stage, further steps are said to be circumscribed by some obvious line — like that "obvious difference" between two-dimensional television sex and the real thing live. And yet, when the push comes for increasingly loose reins, the argument reverses to "what is the difference, really?."

Well, what is the difference between allowing students to have sex in the classroom for credit and encouraging them to do so? This bridge is already being built, and the comparison is what made the substantive objection click for me: consider "cybersex," or those new virtual reality games online in which people actually take on the roles of simulated characters, who seem inclined to progress toward naughtiness. Arguments have been had over whether such activity represents cheating on a real-life spouse, mostly splitting physical behavior from emotional behavior — a rift that is erroneous and dangerous to make.

One who makes infidelity a purely physical thing will miss the reality that psychological and spiritual behavior matters, both emotionally and practically. On the other hand, one who makes infidelity a purely emotional thing may argue himself into believing that casual sex isn't cheating. The incoherent folding together of these possibilities, separating body and spirit only to apply them selectively rather than as representative a unified person under all circumstances, is the corruptive, perhaps inevitable, result of the initial split. Consider the students in a potential future being encouraged to have sex on film in the classroom. They would already have been emotionally complicit in the sexual acts of others in the classroom (by viewing it and being arroused by it), yet their own inclusion in the act, once sanctioned, could be excused as academic — lacking any real emotional investment.

Surely the Carmicinos and Professor de Jesuses of the world realize, on some level, what they are really about. The only question is how deeply down the realization exists that they're merely trying to get away with something that they really oughtn't do. What I don't believe they realize is how much damage they're doing to the very thing that they're putting on their celluloid pedestal: sex. They cheapen it no less than they are cheapening the ideal of art. They are making it as mundane as watching television.

I wouldn't presume to psychoanalyze specific people with whom my experience is this limited, but one could easily imagine that, deep down, these people are really the prudes who are afraid of sex. But it is not the "animal" that they fear sex will awaken in them, but rather the human being, naked and vulnerable. For once, without pretense.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:01 PM EST


Sunday, December 14, 2003

My Mood Caught

I'm listening to Nick Cave's CD No More Shall We Part, in preparation to put it up on eBay sometime in the coming week, and this verse from the last track, a song called "Darker with the Day," really caught my mood just now:

Back on the street I saw a great big smiling sun
It was a Good day and an Evil day and all was bright and new
And it seemed to me that the most destruction was being done
By those who could not choose between the two

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 04:49 PM EST


What a Headline to Wake Up To

Well how about that:

Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. troops during a raid on a farmhouse near Tikrit, U.S. officials said in a news conference in Baghdad today.

"We got him . . . ," L. Paul Bremer, Iraq's U.S. civilian administrator, said when making the announcement. "The tyrant is now a prisoner . . ."

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, described the operation and said that "not a single shot was fired."

Sanchez said Hussein, who was hiding in a "spider hole" dug near the house, was talking to his captors and "being cooperative." Video of Hussein, with a long gray beard, getting a medical checkup after his capture was shown by Sanchez. Then, he showed video of the man after he had been shaved and compared that to earlier photos of Hussein.

This makes me wonder two things: 1) what other pieces will fall into place as a result of this event, and 2) who will be the first Dem presidential candidate to point out that, well, we still don't have Osama?

Here's another headline, and it's one that I expected immediately upon hearing the good news: "Wall Street to Rally on Saddam's Capture."

Oh yeah.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:10 AM EST


Saturday, December 13, 2003

Too Good to Be True... ? ...

Are you kidding me?

Iraq's coalition government claims that it has uncovered documentary proof that Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks against the US, was trained in Baghdad by Abu Nidal, the notorious Palestinian terrorist. ...

In the memo, Habbush reports that Atta "displayed extraordinary effort" and demonstrated his ability to lead the team that would be "responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy".

But wait, there's more:

The second part of the memo, which is headed "Niger Shipment", contains a report about an unspecified shipment - believed to be uranium - that it says has been transported to Iraq via Libya and Syria.

I wouldn't rule out the possibility that this memo could be genuine. Furthermore, there is no doubt in my mind that Iraq's clandestine activities were such that these facts would fit right into the pattern. But do you think for a moment that anybody who hung his moral self-image on the war's being unjust will give this document more than a glance before declaring it a fraud and adopting an unshakable faith in that declaration?

If only it had also mentioned the name "Valerie Plame."

(And if it had mentioned the name "Halliburton," it would probably actually get some mainstream-press play.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:24 PM EST


If You're Going to Be a Demented Partisan...

... at least get your clichés right.

Right after having read a post on Lane Core's blog concerning the campaign finance coup, I read his next post quoting from a Democrat Underground writer who laments that a booming economy and a thriving, happy citizenry will likely ensure another four years for President Bush (and another four years of writhing agony for subscribers to Democrat Underground).

Much is being said about the front of the campaign finance coup that is assaulting free speech. However, fallen to the wayside — never really raised as an issue except to be maligned — is whether the government ought to have the right to dictate the free expression of citizens when it takes the form of monetary support. Now, one can agree or disagree with the proposition that high dollar amounts in politics are so harmful as to merit laws that force special interests to figure out new, ingenious ways of using their money to influence policy — myself, I go back and forth — but having that in mind was why I chuckled when I read this in the Democrat Underground post:

Please folks, don't start that "We should be happy for people... They are seeing nice gains in their 401k's..yadda yadda" Bottom line, this will HELP BUSH!

I took a look at my IRA today and see it sitting at a three year high. I admit, for a moment, I felt a moment of glee, then I remembered who this is REALLY helping, big corporations, Bush's supporters, and the sheep who think he really did anything to boost the economy.

Like it or not, people vote with their pocketbooks and when they see these big gains, they will be happy.

Ha! Oh, it goes on, but I wanted to close the quotation on a rational point: "Like it or not, people vote with their pocketbooks." Of course, he meant "vote in accordance with their pocketbooks," but the mild gaffe struck me funny for some reason. Perhaps it has to do with the indication that the truth is always there to be trod upon.

Sorry. Just had to share.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:50 PM EST


Friday, December 12, 2003

A New Fantasy with an Old Cast

Alright, I know a number of readers will scoff at this, but it has become a silly daydream-type fantasy of mine to write for Joan of Arcadia. I just like the concept, and I think it is in a unique position, emphasized by the basic premise of a modern high school girl talking to God, to do some good. Broadly speaking, I think it's merely a single instance of what will surely prove to be a broader trend.

Tonight's episode seemed practically intended to shine a spotlight on my current circumstances, good and bad. It took me a while to realize it, but the bully on whom this episode centered was Fred Koehler. Anybody my age or a little older will remember him as Chip from Kate & Allie. Although he'd never know me from a bum in the gutter, Koehler's life has intersected mine multiple times.

When he and I were both about fourteen, he was next in line at the audition in New York City that convinced me that I didn't want to be an actor. The casting agents sat me down next to a pretty girl about my age in a relatively empty, large white office with lights and equipment everywhere. Then they put cold chicken soup in Styrofoam plates on a counter in front of us, gave us plastic spoons, and told us that we were brother and sister and that our scene was eating soup and talking about our day. Suffice to say that I don't think I was enough of an actor to pretend that I was enjoying the soup, and all I could think to talk about was the actual day that I would have been having if I hadn't taken off to go into the city. (And my "sister" wasn't much help with the improvised conversation.) Anyway, when I walked out into the waiting room, discarding a scene from my vision of an actor's future with each dragged foot, to collect my mother, I saw that she was sitting next to Chip and had lent him a pen to fill out the audition form.

Well so much for acting. So much for New York. But not yet farewell to Chip. As it happens, he was a background cast member in the tragic Pittsburgh-based drama that was my year at Carnegie Mellon University, where I was majoring in creative writing (I know, laugh if you like) and he was majoring in acting, exactly ten years ago. Periodically, as I skulked my lonely, hung-over, depressed, failure-of-a-young-adult way across campus, I would pass by Fred, who was as often as not arm in arm with a gorgeous co-ed much taller than him.

During the fall semester, a fellow pledge and I were watching the door of the frat house during a party when Fred walked up with not one, but two gorgeous co-eds (both taller than him) and asked to come in. I don't believe the party was a closed affair, but something in his attitude when we called him Chip led us to insist that Fred admit that he was, in fact, Chip if he desired admittance. He didn't.

The fraternity soon terminated my pledgeship, fearing that my wild streak might prove too much for a group that included the son of a higher-up at Exxon, among other fine lads, the oldest of whom were about to graduate into jobs paying $60,000–80,000. At the end of the year, I terminated my enrollment at Carnegie Mellon University.

So, there it is. That's why I couldn't help but produce a sad, ironic smile when I recognized just who it was playing the school bully whom God was instructing Joan to ask to the dance and then to chase after, when he stormed out, so as to prevent the young psycho's going on a killing spree in the hallways — a decade to the day, for all I know, from that night that I rejected the very same actor from our dance out of jealousy.

Who needs a degree in creative writing when life is apt to twist thus?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:15 PM EST


It's in the Subtext

Kathryn Jean Lopez writes on efforts in New Jersey, the state of my childhood, to further the cause of cloning. She quotes an exchange from biotech lobbyist Michael Werner's June hearing before the presidential bioethics commission, in which Werner reluctantly admits that any boundaries to which scientists submit in order to pursue research will be considered temporary. This paragraph, particularly, could do with some explaining:

I think it's okay for us to say we've said it throughout history with new technology. It's okay to say, you know, this is something that's troubling, but now, you know, umpteen years later we for some reason feel like, you know, we can re-explore whether that's an appropriate limit. I will tell you that I have no view that, sure, we're going to move the goal post. I would say our view is 14 days because the primitive streak seems like an appropriate boundary, and that's where we are.

What do you suppose he means by "primitive streak"? Is this some biotech term that I don't know, or is he referring to our last vestiges of sane morality?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:40 PM EST


Aren't Terrorists Insane by Definition?

Here's a little-known literary/historical fact: Herman Melville's father-in-law, a judge, was a key figure in introducing into law the rule that a criminal must be able to understand right and wrong in order to be found "guilty." Although I have the ruling in a box of college papers somewhere, I've forgotten most of the details except for the fact that the mental issue was then called "monomania."

Whatever it's called, this legal thinking has always seemed to me to be fundamentally ridiculous. A murderer is, by definition, insane, and a murderer who kills without reason is most dangerous of all. Ever since I came across Melville's father-in-law in college, I've fully expected the insanity plea to expand to the point at which the fact of the crime was used as evidence that it wasn't, legally speaking, a crime. Andrea Yates and her defenders (hired and voluntary) tried this, to some degree.

Jim Robbins points out that terrorism, and the case of Lee Boyd Malvo, specifically, is pushing the envelope:

The ironic thing is that these drawings have been entered into evidence by the defense. Malvo's team is seeking to make a case for insanity, that the young man was brainwashed into participating in the murders by Muhammad, whom he came to believe was his father. The drawings, given their violent intensity and ideological bent, are seen as proving the effectiveness of Muhammad's indoctrination. The implication is that no sane person could believe all these things, so the more the defense is able to portray Malvo as a sincere jihadist bent on destruction, the crazier he must be.

Sometimes I wonder whether the American public isn't just educated enough to have its intellect contorted by intellectualism.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:34 PM EST


The U.S. Government: So Much to Reform and So Little Time

Jonah Goldberg writes on the Supreme Court's McCain-Feingold ruling and reaction thereto:

But political speech is what the First Amendment is about. The artistic types who think the first amendment protects every taxpayer-financed bit of sacrilege on every public museum's wall, may have every right to be angry about government censorship of art, but art wasn't what the First Amendment was primarily designed to protect. The First Amendment was first and foremost designed to protect the expression of overtly political speech, of criticism of the government and elected officials.

But for some unfathomable reason, we've turned this logic on its head in this country. Today, highly educated people hurl their salad forks in rage over the "censoring" of a performance artist when she doesn't get free money from the government. But they nod approvingly when the federal government tells the ACLU it can't say what it pleases, when it pleases, about George Bush. We used to protect core rights by protecting peripheral rights. We'd say, "Sure, you have the right to smear your naked body with chocolate in the middle of Main Street," because we figured, so long as that sort of asininity is protected, our most vital freedoms will surely be secured. But now our freedoms are rotting from the inside out. As Justice Scalia noted in his dissent, the court in the last four years alone has protected such "speech" as kiddy and cable porn, but it now finds direct criticism of politicians during an election to be deserving of regulation.

The problem is that the salad-fork throwers have forgotten (or never knew) the reasons for their outrage. In some ways, it's an adolescent mindset. To them, the government, when it isn't handing over some cash and the keys to the car, is like the parent against whom citizens ought to rebel in superficial ways. From this perspective, the First Amendment becomes all about "what we are allowed to do," rather than a limit on what the government is allowed to do.

This explanation also seems to be in evidence in the plainly bizarre notion that "free speech" means a right to speech without consequences, speech for pay, or speech uncensored by fellow citizens or private organizations. The government isn't a factor, in this worldview, because it is, by default, supposed to believe whatever the liberals believe, or it is at least supposed to be an all-forgiving, permissive parent who is "cool" enough not to force any rules to which its children really, really object.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:12 PM EST


There Is One Side to Every Big Oil Story

John Cole did an excellent job of pointing out some of the considerations that might make the price that Halliburton charges the DOD for gasoline in Iraq higher than other prices, without its being an indication of some sort of conspiracy.

The correct attitude, regardless of one's politics, to take upon coming across these stories is, "Gee, that's bad if it is an instance of greed gone wild. I wonder what factors the company will put forward in its defense." In the hate-filled, manic political atmosphere that liberals have made increasingly dense of late, these considerations are mooted before they are suggested. It's known, beforehand, that corporate evil is the true explanation.

John has subsequently noted that any extra profits that were made may very well have gone to a company other than Halliburton (which, of course, true believers will see as just an additional layer in the plot). This sentence, that John quotes from the New York Times strikes me as very significant, as well:

Halliburton has also said that one reason it needed to charge a high price for fuel was that it must be delivered in a combat zone. Several K.B.R. workers have been killed or wounded in attacks by Iraqis.

This is from an AP report that doesn't mention the killed workers:

The possible overcharging involved 56.6 million gallons of gasoline KBR supplied in Iraq from the end of the war until Sept. 30, the Pentagon officials said. The officials said KBR was charging $2.27 a gallon for gasoline while another contract for gas delivered from Turkey was for $1.18 a gallon.

If the Turkish gas was going, say, to northern and/or western Iraq, while the Halliburton (Kuwaiti) gas headed for the Sunni Triangle, a price premium would certainly seemed justified, not the least because workers would demand additional pay to take on the more-dangerous job. Whatever the case, there are enough variables involved in the process of delivering gasoline into arguably the most tumultuous metropolitan area in the world that anybody who runs straight for the "war profiteering" angle, whether it's a liberal blogger or the Associated Press, ought to be read with a great deal of skepticism.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:00 PM EST


Speaking of Traditions

Ever since the information slipped through the information censors filter of the media by way of a talk-radio caller a couple of years ago, I've had to shake my head whenever I see Kwanzaa held up with real, long-standing, historical, and religiously based holidays.

Today, Sesame Street elicited an even drier smirk, ever since Lane Core posted Kathy Shaidle's "'Twas the Night Before Kwanzaa." Kathy's poem, by the way, has apparently already been snagged by the censors filter of the media via its AOL branch.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:35 PM EST


Allah Versus an Abstraction

Ezra Levant is extremely well balanced in his piece about the new Sharia court in Ontario, and in so being, he reminds us that this is not yet an outrageous matter. But it does justify a close watch.

As Levant points out, Sharia hasn't been refined over millennia to the degree of the laws of other major religions. (Let's put aside theology, here, as it pertains to Christians' perspective on Old Testament law.) Sharia also doesn't merely apply to business matters, as this new court currently does. Levant's closing question is exactly the reason that such developments must be viewed with some trepidation and emphasizes the importance of reaffirming traditional Western values in North America:

What do you think will happen -- who do you think will yield -- when the Sharia court inevitably collides with Canadian courts that increasingly believe in nothing?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:26 PM EST


Step Away from the Submit Button, Ma'am

I know nothing about Linda P. Campbell of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, but on the basis of "No scarlet letters, please," she has made it onto my list of opinion writers whose publication is inexplicable. People can disagree about a whole range of issues, and with varying degrees of rationality and vehemence, but this is just disgusting:

WHAT WOULD Jesus do?

Somehow, public flogging, shunning and outright humiliation don't seem his style.

Yet these are techniques that some U.S. Roman Catholic bishops apparently would favor employing against politicians who they feel have strayed too far from church teachings -- at least on some incendiary topics.

And ignorant (priests aren't supposed to physically prevent anybody from taking Communion):

The assumption has always been that Catholics get their moral life in order through private examination of conscience and confession, and "then" they receive Communion in good standing. Will priests start publicly inquiring of politicians whether they've lied, cheated or stolen before letting them receive the sacraments?

What will be the hierarchy of acceptable and disqualifying votes? Will elected officials who've divorced and remarried without benefit of annulment be told not to bother approaching the altar?

And just plain dumb. Campbell proceeds to rattle off a list of issues as if no distinctions or weights can be attributed to any of them. As if the fact (if it is a fact) that Nancy Pelosi "raised five children and works on health, human-rights and family issues" overbalances her support for abortion. As if "better housing and wages for farm workers" belongs on a list with euthanasia and capital punishment. As if there aren't important distinctions between abortion and capital punishment.

Such sentiments wouldn't even be worth the efforts of serious-minded people to address if they weren't treated as if they had merit by the gatekeepers to the public forum. Ms. Campbell writes:

The bishops can be influential advocates for social improvement. But it seems that they'd be more effective by appealing to reason than by heavy-handed use of that old standby: guilt.

Given the column that precedes this statement, I can't help but ask: what would be the point of appealing to reason?

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:17 PM EST


The Glossen Rule

I'm in a conflicted state when it comes to the death penalty. I'm pretty sure that I want it on the books, not so sure about how it ought to be applied, and preoccupied with other matters that leave my feelings unresolved. That said, when somebody writes something like this, it seems likely that she has preempted internal conflict, so to speak:

In the case of John Muhammad, it's been suggested that he believed he was "getting even" for wrongs done to him, so felt justified in taking his feelings out on others. It's hard to condemn such rationalizations when our national leaders apparently think the same way -- encouraging a "shoot now, explain later" mode of retaliation for the actions of Sept. 11, 2001.

Associate professor of religious and social ethics Judith Kay puts that paragraph forward for our consideration in the context of The Golden Rule, and "a metastasizing national move toward vindictiveness and retribution." For interest's sake, look beyond the brow-furrowing question of what parallel-reality U.S. history Kay must have learned in which the trend is actually thus. What truly astonishes is the utopian Sheryl-Crow-t-shirt level of Kay's ethical construction:

In contrast, the golden rule encourages humans to act with integrity, especially when wronged. Painful feelings of victimization should not be allowed to motivate harmful action. The golden rule respects individuals by holding them accountable for their actions. Because people are bound in a net of mutuality, each person's actions matter, and must be responded to. Refraining from violence, restraining those who have violent habits, holding people accountable, listening to painful stories of trauma, meeting victims' families and offenders' needs -- these are the kinds of responses to wrongdoing that the golden rule inspires.

Well, should I ever pick up the "violent habit" of murdering my fellow Americans, including children, in premeditated cold blood and from a distance, and thereafter remain without remorse, believing myself to have furthered the cause of jihad, I'm not so sure that I would prefer (now) that others refrain from doing unto me as I had done unto others.

The remorse is the key. If a person's moral thinking has become so distorted that remorse, repentance, and rehabilitation seem unlikely in this world, perhaps that person is truly better off moving on to a place in which other methods of persuasion are available. This is particularly true if we continue to treat convicted murderers as autonomous citizens to whom we can do no more than "restrain."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:26 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:36 AM EST


No Bike Path Means No Resurrection

Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus is particularly good today. Did you know, for instance, that Howard Dean quit the Episcopal Church because one of its churches sided against a public bike path to waterfront that he supported? Says Dean:

Because if you're a Christian, you're a Christian. I don't believe it ought to matter what kind of a denomination you are. As a matter of fact, if you're a religious person, you're a religious person. I don't think it ought to matter what religion you are.

I think that Mr. Nordlinger, in a rare moment of open hostility, puts it well:

His English is incoherent, his reasoning shallow, his understanding weak. The amazing thing is that Democrats, and probably not a few others, consider this guy the mental superior of George W. Bush. Dean doesn't reach to Bush's knees.

Overall, I think Jay (may I call him "Jay"?) has just about had it with trying to be a reasonable disputant in the face of Democrat insanity.

Me, too.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:27 AM EST


Thursday, December 11, 2003

The Blogger's Following

Victor notes a post in which Mark Shea writes, "You three or four thousand readers I still have left talk amongst yourselves." Victor's comment and something Mark writes in the comment box of his own post clarify that this boast is made in mockery of those (me?) who suggest that Mark is "alienating" some readers. Well, that's fine; Mark is simply confirming that he doesn't care about that segment that he is undoubtedly driving away.

Not so much to bring Mark down a peg as to address concerns that have been expressed to me about the reach of Shea's rhetoric, I thought I'd take a look at this army of Sheavists. Moreover, Web traffic stats are notoriously confusing, so a quick explanation of how they work might be generally valuable.

According to Site Meter, Mark averages 2,861 visits and 5,513 pages per day. The pages number basically means that the server delivers that many HTML files. To be exact, pages are any files that are complete in themselves, including PDFs, MP3s, and so on, just excluding such things as images, but in Mark's case, pages will almost exclusively mean his blog, whether the main page or specific posts. It could be one person reloading 5,513 pages, or it could be 5,513 people loading one page.

Visits are less straightforward, and different programs will count them differently. What the stat seeks to do is to count the number of times people come to a site, click around reading, and then leave. Because of the nature of blogs, visits aren't that exact. Site Meter measures a visit as any number of pages that are viewed without a half-hour passing between clicks. So, for example, if a reader checks Shea's site every 25 minutes exactly, that reader will count as a single visit for the entire day. In contrast, if a reader checks Shea's site every 30 minutes, that single reader could count as up to 48 visits in a single day. So, the 2,861 daily visits that Shea averages could theoretically represent as few as 60 people.

I highly doubt that 60 people check Mark's site every half-hour for 24 hours, but that does give a low-end boundary. However, considering that Shea's blog is essentially a single page, unless people tend to click around in his archives, the fact that the average visit includes about two pages (5,513/2,861) suggests that a significant number of readers hit "reload" or return frequently.

Although it would be the most useful for determining how many "readers" a site has, the "unique IP address" stat is about the most complicated, with a lot of variety in counting and with the possibility that multiple people could all count together because they use the same Internet service. This is probably why Site Meter doesn't show it. However, anybody who's spent much time reading Catholic and Enjoying It will know that Mark posts frequently (encouraging frequent visits from each reader) and that a core group checks up on conversation threads frequently. Of course, there will be a range of people, from the once-a-day readers to the obsessive readers, but I'd say it's reasonable to assume that Shea's average number of return visits is pretty high.

How high, I can only guess. However, to give you some idea of how the numbers would look, consider that, if the average reader visits Mark Shea's site (with at least a 30 minute break between) 2 times per day, then Shea averages about 1,430 readers. If the average reader visits 4 times per day, there are 715 of them; 10 times means 286 readers. I would guess that Shea's blog actually has between 600 and 900 readers.

Now, among that total would be Google and other search-engine hits, which amount to 10% of my traffic (but probably a smaller percentage of Shea's). Other hits will come from people who click over from other sites, read one post or part of one post, and then go back to the other site; that looks to be about 20% of my traffic. So, if we're talking regulars, who might characterize themselves as "readers" of Catholic and Enjoying It, the number is probably between 450 and 650.

That is, to be sure, a lot of readers by blog standards, but it is a far, boastful cry from 3,000–4,000.

I've obviously hurt Mark Shea's feelings, and for that, I am very sorry. I honestly did not expect Mark even to read this post, let alone respond, let alone respond like this. Generally speaking, I do think he could stand to take his rhetoric and arrogance down a notch (something that I've said before), but I didn't think my number-crunching would cut so deeply that he would bring the matter back to his blog and tell his readership (which dwarfs mine, whatever the exact numbers) what an obsessed weirdo I am to have spent "quite a lot of time and energy" investigating.

Well, now that Mark has ensured that somewhere between 450 and 650 people will know of this post, rather than the mere fraction of that who come here regularly, I feel I should mitigate. Therefore, I will immediately delete the phrase "deliberate boastful deceptions" from the above. Oh wait a moment... I didn't use that phrase. I wonder why Mark put quotes around it on his blog as if I did. It couldn't have anything to do with his jaw-dropping exaggeration and attempt to paint me as an inexplicably vengeful nutcase who can't understand when a joke is a joke, could it?

As I've said in the comments here, Web stats are something that I've wanted to figure out for myself — just to know — and this minor incident gave me an excuse to do so. It really didn't take all that long, and Catholic and Enjoying It represented a particularly auspicious case study because I'm familiar with Mark's blogging frequency and the ways in which his readers interact. But I can forgive Mark for missing the nuances of tone and intention of the post because, in his fury, he apparently couldn't bear to read it; he asks his readers to explain the difference between "visits" and "page views." Somehow, he didn't see that I explained it to fulfill my role as "Arbiter of Absolute Truth in Minor Jokes," as he puts it.

Anyway, I understand that he is only fulfilling his own role as the more senior, more successful, and more respected blogger, professional writer, and Catholic apologist when he spits out a lengthy post portraying this entry as something that scarcely resembles the original. I also understand that it is only righteous unity that will drive Mark's readers to his comment box in order to give him reason not to wonder whether his attitude might really cause people to stop taking him seriously. The very first commenter on Mark's site, AB, jumped at the opportunity to call me "a Geek" (with a capital "G").

Well, perhaps I'm guilty as charged. Perhaps not. Maybe after I've reached the age of 30, I'll start worrying about name calling again. If I do, I'll know where to go...

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:40 PM EST


Fables for Liberal Education

The fable that certain countries' exclusion from the Iraq bidding process inspired Rod Dreher to write is cute. It sort of makes me wonder whether conservatives mightn't do well to take it up as a general practice for teaching liberals how the world works...

"... the first little pig built his representative democracy out of micromanaging regulations...."

(Note: that's not from Rod's piece.)

It occurs to me, in this context, to mention a column that I wrote back in June, which I called "reality from metaphor." I actually lost one of my few subscribers over that column. Maybe it isn't such a good idea, after all.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:01 PM EST


Has the Press Picked a Side?

Beyond being busy, I haven't posted on the anti-terrorist, pro-U.S. protests in Iraq because, well, beforehand, I thought it would get all kinds of coverage, and after the fact, I still can't believe that there hasn't been any coverage. Is a glitch in my Internet service somehow erasing the story from all of the mainstream news outlets?

Glenn Reynolds notes that I'm not alone in having my bewilderment slowly transform into outrage. He also notes a New York Times paragraph that I'm not too embarassed to have missed. It was paragraph 9 in a 13-paragraph report, positioned right in the middle of a series of bad-news paragraphs (which are not in chronological order):

In contrast, a heavily policed march in central Baghdad on Wednesday, organized peacefully by the country's major political parties, drew thousands of Iraqis to protest attacks by guerrilla fighters, which have injured and killed Iraqi civilians as well as occupiers.

In this editor/writer's opinion, the Times would have been better off saying nothing at all, because the way in which the reporter cast the sentence just makes the near-silence seem deliberate. Just look at the language of it! It's almost enough to make one speculate that the poor education that many American students receive in grammar might be a conspiracy between the education establishment and the media.

For one thing, "heavily policed" looks intended to contrast with "organized peacefully," making the conflict seem as if it is between the police (read: the occupiers) and the protestors. (I realize that protests can become hostile, but how would one organize them violently?) Moreover, the placement of the facts within this long, clause-laden sentence is such that one could read it and still not have a sense at the direction of the protestors' message.

The core of the sentence is: "A march drew thousands." I won't get into the grammatical subtleties that can impart many, and conflicting, meanings on this objective statement. However, I will give you an example of a sentence that uses the exact same wording, but that conveys quite a different message:

In contrast, to protest attacks by guerrilla fighters, which have injured and killed Iraqi civilians as well as occupiers, the country's major political parties peacefully organized a march in central Baghdad, which drew thousands of Iraqis and was heavily policed.

Guess you can tell whose side I'm on.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:13 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "from Dishonorable Intentions [now Ambushed]," by Anne DuBose Joslin.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:52 AM EST


Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Just to See What Happens

Just to see what happens, I've put an autographed copy of my novel, A Whispering Through the Branches, up on eBay.

Bidding starts at $1.00, and every bid will be worth many times its dollar value to the author.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:33 PM EST


And So Ends Tier 5

Here's the last batch of CDs from this tier. Some of the CDs have really surprised me — some selling for almost what I paid for them, and others garnering a profit! Well, here are the last CDs of tier 5.

Oasis, (What's the Story) Morning Glory?
Lou Reed, Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed
Lionel Richie, Back to Front (Best of)
Joe Satriani, Surfing with the Alien
George Thorogood, Live
311, Music
Roger Waters, Amused to Death
Neil Young, Sleeps with Angels
Various artists, Album Network, Expand-O Tune Up 8
Various artists, Soundsavers, Classic Rock 4
Various artists, Hits, It's Post Modern
Various artists, PGD Great Sounds 4
Various artists, PGD Sound Savers 4
Various artists, Pick This
Soundtrack, Platoon
Various artists, Price Busters Favorites
Soundtrack, Rocky Horror Picture Show 15th Anniversary 4 CD Box Set

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:44 PM EST


Finding the Morality Gene

[Prince Rilian said, "]Now that thing which we call the sun is like the lamp, only far greater and brighter. It giveth light to the whole Overworld and hangeth in the sky."

"Hangeth from what, my lord?" asked the Witch; and then, while they were all still thinking how to answer her, she added, with another of her soft, silver laughs: "You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children's story.

"... we should do no better with your lion, as you call it, than we did with your sun. You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You've seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it's to be called a lion."

This passage from C.S. Lewis's The Silver Chair bears an eerie similarity to something that Edward O. Wilson wrote in The Atlantic Monthly in April 1998:

In a troop of rhesus monkeys the alpha male is remarkably similar in mannerisms to a dominant wolf. ... The male or female subordinate affects a furtive walk, holding its head and tail down, turning away from the alpha and other higher-ranked individuals. It keeps its mouth shut except for a fear grimace, and when challenged makes a cringing retreat. It yields space and food and, in the case of males, estrous females.

My point is this: Behavioral scientists from another planet would notice immediately the parallels between animal dominance behavior on the one hand and human obeisance to religious and civil authority on the other. They would point out that the most elaborate rites of obeisance are directed at the gods, the hyperdominant if invisible members of the human group. And they would conclude, correctly, that in baseline social behavior, not just in anatomy, Homo sapiens has only recently diverged in evolution from a nonhuman primate stock.

... True to their primate heritage, people are easily seduced by confident, charismatic leaders, especially males. That predisposition is strong in religious organizations. Cults form around such leaders. Their power grows if they can persuasively claim special access to the supremely dominant, typically male figure of God.

There is much that could be said about this idea, and it would have to be noted that Wilson is conspicuously selective in the religions that he cites, but I've only just now come across his essay (amid the comments here) and haven't the time to give it a thorough reading. Suffice to say that, just as I have no problem with evolution as God's biological method, I would have no problem accepting that alpha males were His way of forming particular interactional instincts. We religious folk shouldn't feel threatened by the idea that morality and religious feeling formed as human beings and then their society evolved. Indeed, Wilson states that the "inevitability" of the formation of "religious mythos" suggests that it represents "instinctual behavior." This is merely a biologists way of saying that we are driven to seek God, and theists oughtn't object to the notion that God imparted that drive through natural methods. God, after all, defines what is "natural."

However, you probably won't be surprised to hear that Wilson goes further than that in his handling of ethics and morality, and in a way that draws on his most fundamental assumptions. For Wilson, there is no abstract "ought" — as in, what we "ought to do" — there is only "is." Put another way, he sees two essential approaches to ethics:

But the split is not, as popularly supposed, between religious believers and secularists. It is between transcendentalists, who think that moral guidelines exist outside the human mind, and empiricists, who think them contrivances of the mind. In simplest terms, the options are as follows: I believe in the independence of moral values, whether from God or not, and I believe that moral values come from human beings alone, whether or not God exists.

The empiricist seeks to trace the formation of ethics along lines of the biology and sociology relative to a given community, to find the circumstances that made a particular ethical principle biologically desirable and that perpetuate it. Whatever is similar between distant cultures is pushed back into history, beyond our ability to do more than speculate. The problem arises immediately, as it does with the atheistic faith of scientists: what Wilson sees as the benefits of empiricism are in actuality its limitations. Even with complete material information, it could only tell us how something came to be, but never why.

Even if empiricists develop persuasive (but still speculative) models of how a particular item of morality came to be beneficial to the species, they cannot distinguish between two explanations: that a chance circumstance inspired the morality, or that the circumstance was designed to be inevitable for the purpose of instilling the morality. If we concentrate on the biological, genetic aspect of the empiricist's endeavor, we are even more mired in the how without access to the why.

This distinction becomes of dire significance when objective inquiry begins to transform into "objective" application. Knowledge about how a rule came to be a rule still leaves guesswork when we ponder whether to maintain it. Intertwined with his empirical quest is Wilson's motivation. He is exploring the material roots of ethics not to discern what they ought to be — not even to discover what our moral inclinations are in order to better align society with human nature. Rather, underlying all such arguments is the notion that materialists must be able to provide a mythology to caulk the emotional rejection that will inevitably be squeezed by the demands of scientific exploration and application. Science will eventually exceed — is already exceeding — the boundaries of human ethics. When that occurs, the thinking goes, ethics will just have to change. Wilson writes:

...causal explanations of brain activity and evolution, while imperfect, already cover most facts known about behavior we term "moral." Although this conception is relativistic (in other words, dependent on personal viewpoint), it can, if evolved carefully, lead more directly and safely to stable moral codes than can transcendentalism, which is also, when one thinks about it, ultimately relativistic.

"Directly" means "efficiently and deliberately." As for "safely," well, for all his desire to discern the reasons for the development of our morality, it would seem that Wilson has missed a lesson from the past, one that is right there in his own essay for him to discover:

The old ethical codes were transformed into coercive regulations, always to the advantage of the ruling classes. About this time the idea of law-giving gods originated. Their commands lent the ethical codes overpowering authority -- once again, no surprise, in the interests of the rulers

I pose a question to Mr. Wilson: what if we take transcendentalism to be an attempt to order our moral imperatives according to just how transcendental and imperative they are observed to be? It seems to me that understanding what is most basic in our morality and putting fundamentals beyond the reach of deliberate manipulation is a benefit of transcendentalism that is lost with empiricism. In the case of ethics, the wise would choose that approach that relies the least on "personal viewpoint," however much it may be unavoidable. Considering the power of our technology, and its rate of change, we really don't have much room for the trial and error associated with evolution.

Moral efficiency would be, to put it succinctly, immoral.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:16 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

The Redwood Review poem of the week is "Elsewhere," by B.E. Delaplain.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:32 AM EST


Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Bush the Future

To be honest with you, unless interesting, new things start to happen, I don't know if I have the stamina to maintain interest all the way to the Presidential election next year. It seems as if the general election began early this year — essentially replacing the primary. Last time around, there were interesting primary battles, after which the two popular underdogs lost, and the election itself began. This year, there's been nothing of interested within the Democrat primary, and it looks as if the press's favorite underdog will win. That means the same rhetoric may be made to carry us all the way to the election, perhaps only increasing in temper, although it's hard to see how.

Michael Novak offers an interesting idea about the why:

The second thing the Democrats think they own, by a kind of Hegelian dialectic, is the future. The Left has long believed that the Left defines the future, and points out the path of progress. In the past, moderate Republicans tended to respect this leftist claim, protesting only timidly, "Not so fast, not so much, not just yet." The Democrats got used to facing an essentially compliant, "me-too" opposition. They thought President Bush would be the same. He isn't.

That's why some Democrats call Bush "the most radical president in history," "the worst president [from their point of view] in a hundred years," a "disaster," and other such names.

I've felt the tide turning, although I've wondered if it'll be too little too late. Whatever the case, it must be difficult for a group that sees itself as the latest iteration of an ideological cadre that has shaped the public debate for as long as anybody can remember to begin noticing the public hinting that they've gone too far and voting accordingly.

I've been thinking, increasingly, that I really wouldn't be surprised to check the news and find headlines about an attempt on the President's life. (And I'm not alone.) Just look at the "joke" at the bottom left of this Mad Magazine parody. You would think that with the nonsensical degree to which liberals have taken "hostile environment" talk, they would be more aware of the environment that they, themselves, create.

Then again, perhaps they are all too aware of it.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:43 PM EST


Tuesdays with the Blog

Sorry to be incommunicado today. Just as I was preparing to settle down and blog some of the items that I'd left open in my browser, my boss emailed offering more hours this week. I had to take them. (Well... if y'all would get crackin' buying those books 'n' stuff...)

At some point tonight, when I need a break from editing a document about the mobile and WiFi infrastructure market, I'll direct my attention to subjects that I, at least, find a bit more interesting.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 06:44 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 12/09/03

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Not a Great Man" by Victor Lams. I know this was the Song You Should Know relatively recently, but Victor's turn is up again in the regular rotation, and I like this so so much that I'm using it again.

"Not a Great Man" Victor Lams, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:07 PM EST


Monday, December 8, 2003

Like Lead in Water

I don't know what that title should imply, but I just wanted to note that Craig's got a number of posts worth reading on Lead and Gold, including a mention of Lane Core's skepticism that Hillary will run in 2004. On this matter, I'm apathetic and on the fence. My thinking is that Hillary's likelihood of jumping into this race is inversely proportional to the likelihood of Howard Dean going down in flames, which could be less likely than many conservatives believe. [Note: I had written this sentiment backwards, earlier... oops.]

Craig also wonders aloud about the extent to which Chief Moose enabled further murders by misleading the public about the D.C. sniper profile. I probably haven't paid as much attention as I should to the epilogue of the sniper attacks, but can you imagine the coverage and the outrage if a white police chief had possibly enabled a white sniper to continue killing because the police declared a similar degree of certainty that the killer must be black? It wouldn't even matter, to the press and the public, whether the incorrect profile actually contributed to any deaths. The controversy would be among the top headlines for the nation for months on end.

And finally, Craig also notes Reason's "35 Heroes of Freedom." To be honest, I suspect that I'm falling for Reason's trick by even linking to the list, because it's exactly the sort of thing that seems designed to attract the attention of detractors more than of those who agree. Reason even prefaces the list with an email address to which people can send "angry responses." Matthew Stinson points out a line that will surely be the cause of many such emails:

Mandela cheerfully served a prison sentence that would have left Jesus bitter and spiteful.

I'd respond, but to be completely honest, despite the occasional article that is worth reading, I have a hard time taking Reason seriously as a whole. Stinson opines that the list reads "like it was written by the president of a high school Cbjectivist club." To my experience, much of the magazine reads that way, with the emphasis on "high school."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:00 AM EST


Sunday, December 7, 2003

Howard Dean Becomes a Uniter, and Night Becomes Day

I think Howard Dean has begun to roll out his general-election strategy. Anybody who follows the issues and knows how they fall out will likely notice that it's mostly nonsense, but Dean, man of the people that he is, seems to understand that most people don't follow the issues very closely. For example, in a Fox News Sunday interview, today, he asserted that President Bush has been "talking about scaring [white people] into thinking somebody from a minority community is going to take their jobs." Bush, of course, has gone in just about the opposite direct, disappointing many in his own party with his supine handling of the major affirmative action issues that have come his way.

More generally, Dean's statements on race are a bit of a language trick — and not just because he mentions race repeatedly, even as he's claiming that there "are no black concerns or white concerns or Hispanic concerns in America." In the speech from which that quotation comes, Dean speaks out for affirmative action, yet notes that 8 million of 12 million children living in poverty are white, with an eye toward pulling some poor whites away from the Republican camp.

There is certainly room to argue that, according to those numbers (taken at face value), 67% of poor children are white, while 80% of the population is white (although a smaller percentage of whites are under 18). But the point is that Dean's message is essentially that everybody deserves more opportunities and better lives, but perhaps minorities deserve a little bit extra. It's sort of like a unity with divisions. Sort of a suggestion that we'll just not talk about the divisive issues; we'll just go with Dean's opinion.

This strategy extended to cover the entire culture war in the Fox News Sunday interview:

I'm very comfortable talking about values, but we're never going to agree on some of these issues. ...

So why can't we talk about jobs, health care and education, which is what we all have in common, instead of allowing the Republicans to consistently divide us by talking about guns, God, gays, abortion and all this controversial social stuff that we're not going to come to an agreement on?

See, it's not a matter of resolving our differences; it's a matter of not talking about them. Not that Dean intends to let the issues lie. This is from the "Ensuring Civil Rights and Justice For All" position page on his Web site:

And so on. Apparently, Dean plans to unify the nation on these and other issues by dismissing opposing opinions on the basis that they are divisive.

Such instances of rhetorical and political prestidigitation from Dean are as thick as the snow where the plow piled it at the end of my driveway this morning, so I won't go through them all. However, the Fox News Sunday interview did present reason for concern that Dean has correctly identified a vulnerability in the President's political armor:

My attitude is, each state's going to make their own kinds of decisions about these difficult issues that we're -- you know, the social issues that divide us. ...

I really believe that states ought to have a role. My gun policy basically is let's keep the federal laws, let's enforce them with great vigor, and then let's let every state make additional laws if they want to. You're going to have states that want gun control making more, and you're going to have states like my state saying, look, we'll enforce the federal laws and leave it at that.

Why can't we take that kind of an approach to these issues and stop getting exercised about them?

Once again, anybody who pays attention will know that these are just words meant to hit Bush on the federalism nerve (which is, to be sure, aching in people who care about it). It's clear that Dean doesn't support handing the states those issues on which his party currently has the advantage in the national arena. In contrast, I'm sure he'll be more than happy to push other issues, such as gay marriage, out to the states, where the judiciary looks likely to choose his side, anyway. And he may actually do as he is claiming for those issues that his political team assesses to be safe, such as gun control. The danger, for the President, is that some number of voters will vote for a sentiment, however hollow.

As Marc, a conservative Rhode Island blogger (whose direct links aren't working), quotes Democrat sci-fi novelist Orson Scott Card:

I watch the steady campaign of the national news media to try to win this for the Democrats, and I wonder. Could this insane, self-destructive, extremist-dominated party actually win the presidency?

They might -- because the national news media are trying as hard as they can to pound home the message that the Bush presidency is a failure.

Even though by every rational measure it is not.

Relatively few Americans actually pay attention to the primaries, so it may turn out that Dean finds his various statements — contradictory and disingenuous as they may be — cleaned up and channeled to where they can do him the most good. On top of this, Dean might take some of the bite out of the New Media, which would usually chip away mainstream gloss, by mouthing appeals to the libertarian streak that is strong there.

From the other angle, it wouldn't be surprising if Bush's having rebuffed his social conservative base to the extent that he has cost him more in enthusiasm than it gained him in immunity to racial and other demagoguery. Some of those who vote Republican based on the "where else you gonna go" factor might allow their fear of the other side to be assuaged.

Whether it will be enough to unseat President Bush, we can't yet say. I, for one, see reason for hope that Card is not alone as a Democrat "waiting in the wings until after the coming electoral debacle in order to try to remake the party into something more resembling America."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:18 PM EST


A Tip for Not Making a Fool of Yourself

I just wanted to offer a general strategy that I've found useful in my opinion giving. If you are a blogger — or even a professional writer — who feels overwhelmed by all that you must do, with a gazillion emails and piled on top of the paying work, be particularly credulous of claims that you are misunderstanding the comments of others, or at least missing some nuance. It's also a good idea to sprinkle such remarks as "if you are saying" and "I may be missing your meaning" throughout your tempered remarks.

There's no shame in admitting that you're too busy to venture into subtle conversation. There is shame (and more) in attributing evil and insanity to people whom you may very well be misreading. After a while, people will just stop taking you seriously.

Just something to keep in mind.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:23 AM EST


Friday, December 5, 2003

Just Like the Ones I Never Knew

Cal Thomas pines for the Christmases of his youth:

The ACLU and other groups are performing their annual ritual of keeping the public square (including the public school) clean of any mention of Jesus Christ, unless that mention is intended as a curse word. In such a case, the ACLU will leap to the defense.

Why participate any longer in this charade where the focal point of worship has shifted from a babe in a manger to a babe in the Victoria's Secret window? From gold, frankincense and myrrh to Bailey Banks & Biddle? No room in the inn has been replaced by no room in the mall parking lot. If God would get a lawyer out of hell, He might be justified in suing for copyright infringement.

Because of my upbringing and the era in which I was, umm, upbrought, I don't have distant memories of Christmas as I now believe it ought to be. That's a tentative balance — between feeling connected to tradition and changing the meaning of the holiday. Somehow, though, I think it might be a natural change as one's general lifestyle and priorities change:

It's instructive how just one season away from lusting after material things can break the habit. It's something like liberation from an addiction or lifestyle choice. Being away from it can cause one to realize the behavior is neither missed nor needed for fulfillment and enjoyment. Absenting oneself from this faux Christmas might bring a conversion to its real meaning and free a family from its dependency on material things.

I can relate to this "liberation," and in some ways, I can thank the blessing of relative poverty for it. That's an irony that almost — almost — seems to be by design. The more insane the demands for the secular Christmas become, the more people will have no choice but to question why it is they're accepting such a strain, when the gifts all feel obligatory and the giving seems without meaning.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:35 PM EST


Unemployment "Slipping"

You just have to love the language:

The Labor Department reported the nation's unemployment rate slipped to 5.9 percent in November, the lowest level in eight months. But investors focused on a negative part of the report, job growth.

Poor job creation has been a consistent concern in recent weeks even as other signs of a strong recovery have emerged. Economists worry that U.S. companies, in a bid to keep operating costs low, are producing more overseas where salaries are lower rather than hiring in the states. Without growth in jobs and salaries here, there are fears that consumer spending may sputter, undermining the recovery.

You have to read that first sentence twice. Contrary to expectations, in this usage, "slipped" is a good thing. We can only hope it "plummets" lower, and if we're really fortunate, perhaps we'll see "the bottom fall out." I agree with what Paul Harvey said today: they ought to report that employment increased to 94.1%. And is it just me, or have analysts been worrying that "consumer spending may sputter" since the very beginning of the slowdown? I guess there's always an obsidian lining.

I don't know enough about the stock market to say whether it's significant, but take a look at this, considering that the title of the AP report is "Stocks Close Lower on Jobs, Intel Numbers":

The downbeat reading on employment blunted the optimism that led the Dow to its highest level in 18 months on Thursday. For the week, the three main gauges finished mixed, with the Dow up 0.8 percent, the Nasdaq down 1.1 percent, and the S&P 500 up 0.3 percent.

Intel, by the way, is on the Nasdaq index, as is Jet Blue airline, which plummeted almost 30% this week based on bad financial reports. Maybe those who are worried about the market news should look and relook at the employment trend chart. I could be wrong, but it looks like a turnaround to me.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:09 PM EST


The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:15 AM EST


Thursday, December 4, 2003

Why Do Mark Shea's Readers Continue to Volunteer to Be Targets?

So, seeing him apologize to Joseph D'Hippolito, and since he focused on issues on which we agree for a while (a few days anyway), I started to fall back into the habit of regularly reading Mark Shea. Well, he may have cured me of the habit for good this time. It's difficult to express just how offensive Mark Shea can be, and worse, he doesn't seem to understand why his rhetoric is offensive, and therefore, he sees no reason to question it. For a taste of what I'm talking about, you can start at this post and scroll up.

Suppose I were trying to make a point about, say, the unimportance of appearance in moral judgement, and somewhere in that post I wrote the following:

Look, the bottom line is that, if I'm on an island inhabited by cute, pig-tailed tween girls who are all trying to kill me and my family, some of those pig-tails are gonna be a-flyin'. I'll grab 'em, spin 'em around — whatever it takes to get my family to safety.

If I were to write such a post, I wouldn't be surprised to find, the next day, that Mr. Shea has decided to illustrate his moral system — a superior, more Catholic one than my simple-minded war-mongery — by paraphrasing the above passage as follows:

"But this is escape from evil, dammit! Would you sacrifice your family on the altar of some abstract theological proposition????!!!!!"

This, being translated, means "It's okay for me to deliberately pull out the hair of some poor island girl, whom I don't know, or even kill her, in order to save my family. Or more precisely, it is to say, "I love my family so much that I will commit deliberate mortal sin to save it."

Now, I imagine that I'd be inclined to correct Mark's false restatement of my position in his comment boxes, and I imagine there would be multiple people who would agree with me. What we would tell him, essentially, is that it isn't correct nor fair to imply that I suggested that I would run around the island abusing pig-tailed girls who are doing nothing but sitting in their rooms playing with their dolls. We would attempt to explain that the position in which I find myself gives me two options: 1) hand myself and my family over to be skewered and barbecued alive (didn't I mention that the girls are cannibals?), or 2) kick a little tween butt.

Mark, if he kept with his usual strategy, would act as if there were no difference, saying something like, "Do *you*, gentle reader, in the final analysis, think it worth eternal damnation to escape a dangerous island?"

To this, the very same people would challenge the suggestion that the action that everybody's been discussing will result in "eternal damnation." Some, wrapping the answer in many qualifiers, might ultimately suggest that, if that's Mark's definition of a "mortal sin," then they would commit it to save their families. Well, now they've gone and made the mistake of giving him exactly the direct answer that he's been phrasing all of his strawmen and hypotheticals to force on those among "his readers" who just don't get Christ's message like Mark Shea gets Christ's message. "Those readers" may now be stuffed into the box reserved to those "insane" people who have completely denied the Lord whom they claim to follow because they have become addicted to war:

War is, at it's very best, medicine, not food. And it is to the health of society as an amputation with a rusty saw and no anesthetic is to medicine. Yet, what is remarkable is how much energy we are willing to put into finding ways of saying, "Let's get real! Amputations with rusty saws and no anesthetic are a necessary part of life! Don't bore me with the kumbaya crap about trying to diminish the number of rusty saw amputations. In fact, let's talk about just how slowly and painfully we'd saw off the healthy limbs of the Enemy! Because it's the only thing those bastards understand!"

One get the impression, in short, that for not a few people, the medicine has become addictive and more important than the food. There's precious little interest in the possibility that most people, even in the Islamosphere, might be interested in the ordinary stuff of life and that the way to defeat them is turn them into friends and against the loonies in their own culture. Instead, the drive seems to be toward turning the mushy middle in Islam into hardened extremists. Indeed, it seems to even be to do whatever possible to turn Palestinian Christians into people who feel compelled to turn to Palestinian Muslims for help since their own Catholic brethren regard them as expendable.

I regard this, as I regard the proposition, "Eternal damnation before defeat in war" as insane.

You see, it's never Mark who isn't acknowledging the points that others are making. It's always "those readers" who need to "stay on topic." Of course, that admonition would be entirely justified if Shea ever lowered himself so much as to say, "Well, if you're saying X, then I can see where you're coming from, but I'm not sure I agree. So, what about Y?" Instead, X and Y remain equivalent, and "those readers" will become the object of repeated insult wherever possible, even if it has nothing — nothing! — to do with the area of disagreement.

Talking about condoms distributed everywhere across a city?

Under the "This is war, dammit!" theory of all-excusing moral antisepsis, it can, of course, only mean that to criticize this is to favor flying planes into skyscrapers and pushing Israel into the sea. So allow me to be the first to patriotically celebrate the mass distribution of free condoms in DC. Those damn Muslims don't have this stuff. And that's why God is on our side!

Talking about Germans who eat each other as a sexual fetish?

It all begins so slyly. All you have to do is deploy a couple of quotation marks around the word "cannibal" and you already begin the process so successfully completed with other forms of perversion. And so, gays who like to pee in each others faces aren't perverts. They're "perverts", that is, nice people cruelly labeled by right-wing bigots. An unborn child becomes a "so-called 'unborn child'" and finally a "fetus". Partial birth abortion becomes "what critics label 'partial birth abortion'". The proposal to nuke civilian population isn't a call to commit war crimes but "war crimes" (we'll contextualize it all later).

And there you have it. Frankly, some of the instances into which Mark squeezes these jibes border on obsessed psychosis, if you ask me. At the very least, it doesn't strike me as a very charitable way to treat one's coreligionists — one's coreligionist readers — to liken their abstract comments in a comment box to statements made in the mainstream press about abortion and cannibalism.

Even if you've never been a direct victim of the Shea Treatment, how do you bring yourself to continue reading him? I really want to know, because I just can no longer excuse his vitriol where we disagree for the sake of his insights where we do agree. For me the crap stains everything he writes, and one can get theological insights all over the place nowadays... and without worrying that casual conversation with the blogger may the next day result in your being compared with Kevorkian.

7 comments (click to link)
Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:59 PM EST


Some Catching Up

I've already mentioned David Bernstein's review of how Canada went from seemingly reasonable restrictions on free speech to the erosion of civil liberties. However, it seemed relevant in relation to this story, which makes me really, really glad that we're not participating in the International Criminal Court:

"You were fully aware of the power of words, and you used the radio — the medium of communication with the widest public reach — to disseminate hatred and violence," wrote presiding Judge Navanethem Pillay in sentencing to life in prison Ferdinand Nahimana, founder of Radio Television des Mille Collines. ...

"This is the first time that journalists have been convicted for their participation in genocide, and I think it's a wake-up call to hatemongers everywhere that they can't incite people to commit genocide or ethnic cleansing," said Reed Brody, legal counsel to Human Rights Watch. "If you fan the flames, you'll have to face the consequences."


"A prison officer was sacked for making an allegedly insulting remark about Osama bin Laden two months after the September 11 attacks, an employment tribunal heard yesterday.

Colin Rose, 53, was told he had to go because, although he did not know it, three Muslim visitors could have heard his "insensitive" comment about the world's most reviled terrorist.

...The Norwich hearing was told that on Nov 15, 2001, he threw some keys into a metal chute at the prison gatehouse. When someone said it sounded as if he had thrown them so hard that they were going through the tray at the bottom of the chute, Mr Rose said: "There's a photo of Osama bin Laden there."

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:49 PM EST


Quothe the New Media: "Give Me Your Sick; Give Me Your Tired"

Yeah, what she said:

I am SICK AND TIRED of our media. I am SICK AND TIRED of the superficial nature of their reporting on Iraq and their incessant preaching of quagmirism. I am SICK AND TIRED of their efforts to turn every U.S. military action into Vietnam, all facts to the contrary be damned. And I am SICK AND TIRED of 16-words-gate and Plame-gate and mission-accomplished-gate and now, God help us, turkey-gate.

We live in momentous times, and our media -- the freest and most technologically advanced media in the history of the world -- is mired in 60's nostalgia, conspiracy theories and banality.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:38 PM EST


Humbling Your Haughty Blogger

If anybody is wondering: Where are the young idealists? Where are the people willing to devote themselves to causes larger than themselves? They are in uniform in Iraq, straddling the divide between insanity and order.

That quotation is from a recent David Brooks column, and it got me to thinking. Oh sure, sometimes the news media will serve up stories and quotations making it sound as if people had taken to joining the military with the expectation that they'd never actually have to do anything. And to be sure, there are other ways and means of idealism and devotion. Nonetheless, in the context of a secular vocation, those who dedicate themselves to service that calls on them to enter into harm's way, to submit themselves to the suffering of he who acts, and simultaneously to be the humanitarian face of their country represent what Americans should aspire to be.

For a variety of reasons, many of us can't, or shouldn't, take up that specific call, but in looking for a model of how to apply ourselves in that which we are called to do, we could do worse than to cast our eyes to those in uniform.

Okay, I'll admit it: I teared up when I read this. (And it's apparently authentic.)

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:34 PM EST


Two Tones for Saying Conservatives Should Quit Politics Altogether

I'm glad to read National Review's official position on the Federal Marriage Amendment:

In the absence of an amendment, however, the courts are very likely to insert a liberal resolution of the issue into the Constitution. Conservatives have for the most part avoided using the courts to advance their preferred social policies. Liberals have no such compunctions. Now we are told that conservatives should also refrain from asking the people to use the amendment process to pre-empt the courts from imposing liberal policies. Maybe conservatives should just quit American politics altogether.

... As Republican politicians read the conservative columnists and try to figure out what to do about marriage, they have to think about considerations far weightier than mere electoral advantage. But the political stakes are not trivial. If the conservative coalition does not take effective action to fight judicial liberalism, the conservative coalition will not survive.

Ann Coulter makes a similar point, somewhat differently put (as might be expected), with reference to abortion and with less of an eye toward the politics, in an absolutely must-read-in-full column:

In the past few years, federal courts have proclaimed a right to sodomy (not in the Constitution), a right to partial-birth abortion (not in the Constitution), a right not to have a Democratic governor recalled (not in the Constitution), a right not to gaze upon the Ten Commandments in an Alabama courthouse (not in the Constitution), a ban on the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance (not in the Constitution), and a ban on voluntary student prayers at high-school football games (not in the Constitution).

These bizarre rulings illustrate the notion of the Constitution as a "living document," one which rejects timeless moral principles so as to better reflect the storylines in this week's episode of "Ally McBeal." You may like or dislike the end result of these rulings, but — as subtly alluded to above — none of these rulings come from anything written in the Constitution.

In response to the court's sodomy ruling last term, conservatives are talking about passing a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. It's really touching how conservatives keep trying to figure out what constitutional mechanisms are available to force the courts to acknowledge the existence of the Constitution. But what is the point of a constitutional amendment when judges won't read the Constitution we already have? What will the amendment say? "OK, no fooling around — we really mean it this time!"

One needn't dig too deeply to find liberals willing even to admit that they support judicial activism. In my argument about gay marriage with John Scalzi, he stated that sometimes society needs a push; when I suggested that it isn't the court's place to push it, he essentially replied that the judges are in a position to interpret the law to determine whether or not it is their place and, in Massachusetts, they determined that it was.

Now, I'm not inclined to advocate that conservatives begin rejecting, in Coulter's words, their "fetish about following the law," but I do think it's high time we begin using the mechanisms within the law left by founders who foresaw that one or another branch of the government might begin to elevate itself above the others.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:46 PM EST


The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "I-Roc, Do You?," by Gary Bolstridge.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:59 PM EST


Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Twelve More CDs

The last batch of CDs sold very well. Thank you to anybody and everybody who bid. But I've still got a whole lot of debt, so here are some more:

Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems
Goo Goo Dolls, Superstar Car Wash
Jane's Addiction, Ritual de lo Habitual
Elton John, Classic Elton John
Freddy Jones Band, North Avenue Wake Up Call
Journey, Greatest Hits
Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti
Led Zeppelin, In Through the Out Door
John Lennon, Lennon (4CD boxed set)
George Michael & Elton John, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"
Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Let's Face It
Steve Miller Band, Living in the 20th Century

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:40 PM EST


Promiscuity as a Measure of Opportunity

My first impulse was to laugh off this comment by Dale A at the Marriage Debate blog. But I found it so bizarre that I gave it some thought, and in so doing, I think that the points that it misses trace back to an essential argument against gay marriage.

Where have we established as an undoubted fact that gay men are more promiscuous than straight men? And how is this known? If the measure is simple number of sexual partners then perhaps gay men are at the higher end of the spectrum. If, however, the measure is acting on opportunities, I suspect the situation changes. In my experience men seeking women act on each and every opportunity that comes along. These come along infrequently. With gay men opportunities for sex may be much more frequent. A straight guy who grabs 100% of his chances for casual sex strikes me as much more promiscuous than a gay man who takes up 50% of his chances. This would hold even if the straight man has two partners and the gay man 200. I think this line of reasoning confuses absolute numbers with rates, which is not a particularly valid line of reasoning.

It's an odd view of promiscuity that would characterize a fellow as less promiscuous if he were to exhaust his sexual stamina without exhausting his opportunities!

The first question that this ignores is whether having opportunities is entirely divorced from personal discretion. Suppose I choose a conservative lifestyle that, by design, makes opportunities for casual sex very rare, but I do slip, at some point, when an opportunity presents itself amid the various practical, moral, and psychological restrictions. Am I thereby more promiscuous than a gay man whose regular appearances at bath houses leave him with more propositions than he's able to accommodate?

The second question is too obvious for Dale not to have spotted it: what is it that makes opportunities "come along infrequently" for straight guys? Well, since the only categorical differentiation between the two groups of men is the gender of their preferred partners, the answer must be that women limit those opportunities.

Putting these two questions together yields the reason that promiscuity is a factor in the gay marriage debate. A life-long promise of fidelity between a man and a woman that is sanctioned, supported, and respected by society at large serves to limit the opportunities for promiscuous behavior among men. For gays, men are not only those accepting opportunities, they are also those who offer them. And considering how casually Dale admits that opportunities arise less frequently for men among women, it would seem that there is real reason to worry that gay marriage would not perform the same function for homosexuals.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:55 PM EST


The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:23 AM EST


Tuesday, December 2, 2003

The Federalism Ruse

In the heat of argument, it's easy to lose sight of important pieces of an argument. Lane Core, to my knowledge, is the first to remind us all that a Constitutional amendment isn't exactly a breech of federalist ideals:

I do not say Federalism Shmederalism because I think federalism should be abandoned to prevent the judiciary from imposing its arbitrary will on the people, by inventing "gay" "marriage", but because I do not think that a Federal Marriage Amendment is an abandonment of federalism: I think it is an exercise in federalism.

For the federal government does not impose a federal constitutional amendment onto the states; the states impose it onto the federal government and, insofar as is specified, upon all the states.

As Lane points out, 75% of the states have to approve an amendment before it can go into effect. In keeping with what I've been writing lately, I imagine this will be yet another argument that the pro–gay marriage forces will ignore. Nonetheless, it does help to shift the balance of the equivalence between federalization via amendment and federalization via judiciary. Not only is the former the prescribed method, not only does it place the responsibility with elected, accountable representatives, but it also leaves the determination ultimately to the states.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:09 PM EST


Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another?

Methodist Minister Donald Sensing had some interesting things to say about how a culture handles offense:

Nowadays, however, offenders know that they will never personally have to defend their speech or behavior because the offended will never personally challenge them. Both contract out their honor to lawyers. Maybe this is an improvement over duels (no, I am not seriously suggesting we legalize dueling) but as in everything else, there are tradeoffs. Fisticuffs were quick, simple and, compared to lawsuits, much more painless. They also left the courts to deal with problems more serious than hurt feelings.

I wonder whether we have become a coarser society in large part because no one either has to defend or suppress perceived offensiveness physically, with his body. It's literally safe to insult now because the offended person will only whimper and cry and maybe sue, but that’ll be settled out of court.

Of course, as Rev. Sensing notes, neither litigation nor dueling satisfies Christian ethics. However, he did go on to refine the idea some, with reference to Matthew 5:39, about turning the other cheek.

Most often, when one hears that phrase, it is meant to imply that one ought either to walk away or submit to a beating. Those aren't very satisfactory suggestions. Another meaning that I had heard before is that it's really a "subversive" statement, because being hit on the right cheek was probably done backhandedly and was therefore an insult. Thus, turning the other cheek is a "defiant" assertion of equality. This interpretation, while more amenable to a modern conservative American sensibility, has always left me a little squeamish.

Well, having given it some thought, in response to Sensing's post and the comments thereto, I think I've put it together, at least for myself. As I commented on Sensing's blog:

The difficulty arises in using terms such as "passive," "resistance," and "subversive." Since this comes right before "love your enemies," and in light of comments about relative power, it seems that Jesus is urging a sort of parental response from the oppressed, here. The object is to love the slapper, to realize that the believer's power is greater than the oppressor's, and to walk the line that a parent might when under assault (so to speak) from an unruly teenage son. Not that a parent should allow a child to slap him, but we're speaking on a broader level, at which a slap, even a beating, is relatively unimportant.

This is why it seems to require crossing some slippery ground to suggest that Jesus means, "as your equal, I have the right to strike you back." What this statement lacks, to my mind, are some heavy qualifiers. For example: "Under society's rules, I assert that I would have the right to strike you, but my power and pride derive from a higher order."

The dangers, on either side, are slipping to abject submission, which does nothing but reinforce the oppressor's view of himself, or to barely restrained aggression, whereby that second slap grants permission for a reciprocal ass whuppin'.

I would add only that we still have a right to self defense, allowing us to actually fight back when the likely harm to ourselves is "grave." Deciding when the point for the emphasis shift comes, however, is one of those truly difficult, case-by-case moral judgments.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:37 PM EST


Scraping by at $12.50 an Hour

John Hawkins's title says it all: "When The Safety Net Turns From A Hammock Into A Queen Sized Bed." He quotes a newspaper story about a 26-year-old single mother who will soon be forced off of welfare:

Oberg landed a full-time job with benefits in Richmond and is now making $12.50 an hour. That's higher than the $7.05 average for timed-out families. The county covers most of her $117-per-week child-care costs.

"I feel it was a positive move at some point because it got me to do something to take care of me and my daughter," she said.

The hardships continue, and unanticipated costs can broadside Oberg's budget. Expenses are rising, but her paycheck isn't. She bought a reliable car mainly for work, but the $336 monthly payment drains her bank balance. Fortunately, her landlord is understanding when her $995 rent check arrives late.

Her relatives fill in the gaps. During the holiday, her mom will buy a few gifts for her granddaughter and put Oberg's name on them.

I'm glad to hear that Ms. Oberg's family helps her out the way families ought to do, and I'm particularly happy that she has begun to see the ultimately "positive" nature of being forced toward personal independence. But this seems to me to be a success story, not a hand-wringer as the story seems to be presented. Full time at $12.50 is $26,000 per year. That's not a lot of money, when one has a child, but it's manageable. However, it does make inadvisable the purchase of such cars as leave one with a $336 car payment, particularly when a little effort can get one a reliable used car for $1,000. That the car is reported as if auto prices were no more variable than telephone bills points to the underlying false mentality that leads to excesses of social welfare policy to begin with.

Moreover, Hawkins is right: maybe conservatives shouldn't be attacked when they suggest that behavior that can lead to the conception of children with an "unfaithful boyfriend" ought to be avoided. And maybe, now that the momentum of society is shifting, we won't be.

And to Ms. Oberg, for whom that advice would come too late, I say: you're headed in the right direction. Keep up the good work, and teach your children well.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:28 PM EST


Notch by Notch, Winter by Winter

The title of this post comes from a Nick Cave song called "Cabin Fever!" (on From Her to Eternity), and the specific reference is to a captain's gradual carving away of his peg leg because of... well... cabin fever.

That's what came to mind when I read David Bernstein account of Canada's gradual whittling away of freedom of speech. The cabin fever analogy would need more thought to make it apply, but the shaving of a peg leg into a splinter certainly works, as PC groups have tried to scrape away speech on the opposite side only to find that the civil right is losing its ability to withstand the weight of the ever-fattening, ever-pacing government.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 05:01 PM EST


Songs You Should Know 12/02/03

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

"Empty Jar" Rosin Coven, Arthouse Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Penumbra

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:17 AM EST


Monday, December 1, 2003

Condemning Excommunication as a Political Tool

I'll tell ya, unless Rod Dreher receives constant reader correspondence offering encouragement, it must take a whole lot of resolve for him to persevere. I'm not afraid to enter a hostile room, as it were, and be a lone voice, but it must change things substantially when that hostile room is also the workplace, and when offering opinion is the business. (And where coworkers refer to you as "Brother Dreher" and "Herr Dreher.")

I just took some time reading the Dallas Morning News blog, which has a running conversation going about whether Catholic bishops should react harshly, even unto excommunication, when politicians pull the "personally opposed, but..." trick. The first post was by Jim Frisinger, at Dec 1, 12:09 PM (apparently, there are no direct links), who says, "I shudder at the effort by a few Catholic bishops to enforce their terms of what being a 'good Catholic' is on elected officials who happen to be Catholic but who refuse to vote a consistent Roman Catholic Church platform."

A 2:35 p.m. comment by John Chamless better captures what I see as the common disjunct reasoning:

A very practical matter is being overlooked. If the Catholic Church was viewed as controlling the votes of Catholic politicians, there would be a backlash, with some people automaticaly voting against any Catholic. It was a high hurdle for John Kennedy to convince the public that he wouldn't be controled by the Vatican. Now, most of us don't think at all about the religion of a candidate, but it wasn't always that way.

I don't know how true either the backlash idea or the lack-of-thought idea is. On the latter count, I'd suggest that members of a religion do pay some attention to whether a candidate is a coreligionist. In that sense, it seems that a Church has a positive duty to enforce an understanding of who can rightfully claim to be a member of that religion. Extending beyond the denomination, Chamless is assuming that the public — now, not in the 1960s — would object to religious fidelity, even from a Catholic. I think that's a tide that may have turned.

Moreover, the "controlled by the Vatican" line strikes me as unfair, and it may be that the public has had enough experience with Vatican-dissenting politicians to see it as such. The Church itself doesn't claim to micromanage the professional lives of its members. Rather, it offers guidance for how theological considerations ought to bear on our behavior. In that case, knowing a candidate's religion is useful to voters to gain a general concept of what the politician's moral positions are. Excommunication would simply make explicit where those positions become hard rules. Rod is entirely right to keep pressing the question of whether "personally opposed, but..." ought to have been a valid political position in the case of slavery. Perhaps media types don't get this, but there is a substantial segment of the American public that would consider it a plus that a candidate would be reliably pro-life and against gay marriage (for example).

I don't think it's necessarily a good thing to the extent that people don't consider a candidate's religion. As others of Rod's coworkers have noted, religion lies in the realm of morality. What they didn't subsequently question was whether, if a candidate's religion is immaterial, we ought to be concerned that morality is not important in our elected leaders. That may go too far, but at least we must wonder where the relevant morals will come from if not from religion.

And that's the central problem: these issues — and the government's position on them — always were, are still, and always will be up for grabs. If, as Michael Landauer said at 1:52 p.m., "As a legal right, the right to choose abortion is Caeser's to give," then it is also Caesar's to take away. In a representative democracy, the people (even the religious ones) ultimately decide what Caesar gives and takes. (Obviously, if abortion is murder, which I believe it is, then the right should not be Caesar's to grant.)

This lost distinction appeared — almost incidentally — again at 4:54 p.m., when Michael Landauer wrote:

I'm not sure if ex-communication is lobbying, and I'm not sure the First Amendment doesn't trump tax-free status, but it's an interesting point. Keeping church and state (morals and policy) separate works more FOR the church than against it.

The equation of church and state with "morals and policy," respectively, is one of the most dangerous fallacies of our time, and one that has, coincidentally, had the general result of furthering liberal causes, at least social ones. Policies can't help but relate to morality in some way. Pretending that this is not the case merely assumes one's own morality as objective. When that "objectivity" extends to the point at which a Church and its followers are barred from direct competition with other ideologies for "hearts and minds" (e.g., in public schools), that certainly doesn't work "more FOR the church than against it." And when the "objective" view is that those who influence public policy ought to leave their religion at the church door, as it were, then the Church's mission of battling those ideologies in practice is unjustly obstructed.

At least according to this IRS PDF, it would look to be doubtful that threatening and carrying out the excommunication of an elected representative would risk a Church's tax-exempt status. In the case of lobbying, it's a question of whether an organization's activities are "substantial," which is measured primarily according to the allocation of time and resources; excommunication does not require much of either. In the case of electioneering, while of course kicking a politician out of the Church would be quite a statement, it does not amount to telling members to vote against him or her (the other candidate could be worse, after all).

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:22 PM EST


The Catholic Church Has Forgotten Same-Sex Love?

I had to allow myself a distraction from work in order to note a jaw dropper from Andrew Sullivan. Keep in mind that I've noted (in the context of "research" that the Catholic Church has, in history, accepted gay marriage) that I think one of the most damaging results of frequent and glowing promotion of homosexuality in the popular culture is the deterioration of the idea of non-sexual love between same-sex friends.

One of the sad aspects of the current Catholic hierarchy's obsession with sex is that they give short shrift to friendship. I noted David Hume's more balanced view of marriage over the weekend, but Hume isn't the only thinker who sees how important friendship is in marital or non-marital life. ...

Aelred did not share the vicious homophobia that entered the church in the twelfth century. Maybe soon Catholicism will recover some of its lost appreciation of same-sex love.

Love yes, Andrew, but not sex. Sullivan wants the Church to grant him the spiritual permission for behavior that is even discouraged among heterosexual married couples (i.e., inherently non-procreative sex). This is the problem: it isn't homosexuality, per se, that is the danger, but that everything must bend and give under the weight of its sexual demand. Note that, in the process of leveraging the spiritual appeal of platonic love for his own cause, he has indeed bent the distinction between the love of friendship and the sexual passion of homosexuality.

And I doubt that he even noticed that he did so.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 07:16 PM EST


Monday Blogging

I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving.

Although I no longer have a column to write on Sunday/Monday, I find myself behind today nonetheless. For the most part, it's attributable to a running discussion about gay marriage in which I've been engaged on John Scalzi's blog. I had decided that we'd reached the end of productive discussion, but then, addressing somebody else, Scalzi cited a survey that "conservative Christians" are more likely than the national average to get divorced. Obviously, I found the survey to be flawed, and I spent some time investigating it last night (it's still flawed). This morning, I tried to explain how Scalzi was missing my point. In some ways, it's a waste of time, but at least I'm learning. (Although if the commentariate continues to ignore me, and if my position causes friction in my non-pundit life, then it could be worse than a waste of time.)

Anyway, for that reason, I have to get to work. In the meantime, you might want to check out:

Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus, which deals mostly with the political front of the War on Terrorism.

Anne Morse's description of a victory of decency over clothes-retail porn.

Brent Bozell's comments about the media's push for gay marriage.

David Blankenhorn's response to what I've found to be a discouragingly common strategy among many conservative (or just less-liberal) people in the media regarding gay marriage: "a series of (I thought) fairly disconnected observations on SSM, in which he comes close to endorsing (or at least accepting) SSM, without actually doing so." I honestly believe that folks like Goldberg, Will, Safire, Brooks, and (for local flavor) Terzian just do not want to take a side on this issue, and they don't seem inclined to spend too much time thinking about particulars that will force them to begin to do so. Therefore, they jumble together a few pluses and minuses, offer vague allusions to some potential conservative arguments against gay marriage, present some "but still" points, and then end without choosing between the practical options on the table.

Friends, I think what this indicates is that we're starting to see the hardening of the culture war, and perhaps even the "outing" of people who've more or less ridden its waves up to this point. This is a relatively new observation, for me, so I haven't worked the whole thing out, but it seems that the least one can opine is that many of the people who bring more-conservative views than the norm into mainstream media intend to sit this one out. What should the rest of us do about it? Don't know yet.

Meanwhile, despite years of safe-sex education ("if the parents aren't going to do it..."), with no American currently "coming of age" having not been provided with condoms and sexual instruction, HIV is up, especially among gay and bisexual men.

Oh, and here's an interesting description of a church being transformed so that its focus shifts from religious ministry to homosexual advocacy.

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Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:11 PM EST


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