January 31, 2004

The People Affected by War

Victor Morton has posted a heartfelt letter by a man who has been acutely harmed by President Bush's aggressive foreign policy.

Nonetheless, I hope he doesn't have recourse to the American judicial system.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:28 PM | Comments (1)
Middle East

The Times's Sneak Attack

The New York Times's effort to "cover conservatives" is just so bizarre-yet-predictable that I haven't known what to say about it that the fact doesn't say about itself. However, Lane Core makes a suggestion that I find dishearteningly plausible:

I think "what this is about" is playing up as much as possible — if not more — the differences of opinion among various conservative camps, to make it look like the general conservative movement in the country is weaker than it actually is. They will, concomitantly, downplay or ignore the differences between various liberal factions.

A Universal Common Cause

Glenn Reynolds passes along news of a weapons cache discovered by accident in Texas. He notes the danger of (actual) right-wing extremists hooking up with the Islamicist variety and, after posting an email, writes something that led me to a really terrifying hypothetical:

Though domestic extremists are a different breed, and often seem to view the accretion of huge arsenals as an end in itself -- they're waiting for some future date when war breaks out against the "Zionist Occupation Government." That provides only limited comfort, however, as one can never be sure when they'll decide that the time has arrived.

The scary thought to which this led me is that these extremists will realize that the Z.O.G. has already reached the highest tiers of our government (hint: the name with which they disguise themselves starts with "neo"). When they figure that out, the right-wing nuts will find that they have common cause with the left-wing nuts, who have common cause with the "diverse" "third-world" nuts, who already have common cause with the sort of people who have maps to bomb shelters and weapons caches tattooed on the soles of their feet.

You've got to hand it to the people of my paternal line; their power to unify groups that otherwise have few commonalities is enormous.

One of the problematic factors that arises from the nature of blogging is that a high-profile link can bring what is essentially a quip to the attention of people who have little or no understanding of the long-running context in which it is made. Nonetheless, I thought I'd written this post in such a way as to make the pervading humor obvious, even for those who are not aware of my politics.

One blogger summarized the above and then gave every indication that he thinks it's intended as serious analysis. Given the name of his blog, one would hope that he isn't always so literally minded. Meanwhile, David Neiwart, who is an actual journalist, has this to say:

I'm not sure if I've encountered anything as laughably convoluted and ludicrous in the blogosphere before, but this post sets a new low watermark.

Neiwart goes on to treat the post with complete credulity, pointing out that "there have been no known associations of their violent factions whatsoever." Well, of course there haven't! The parties in question haven't figured out that the Vatican has a secret underground tunnel to Paul Wolfowitz's house (running along the Halliburton pipeline to Iraq), yet. But once they do, their differences won't seem so large. How incompatible is book burning with tree hugging, after all?

Perhaps my tone didn't come across as well as I'd have liked, but it seems to me that the only reason to miss the fact that I was trying to be "laughably convoluted and ludicrous" — albeit with a serious, and valid, underlying observation about anti-Semitism — would be actual knowledge of people who have maps on the soles of their feet.

Now that's worrying.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:07 PM | Comments (2)

Games of History

As you may have inferred, I'm reading Andrew Sullivan's "reader" of works having to do with same-sex marriage, Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con. Therein, I just came across an instance of the sort of thing of which one must be wary in arguments about an ideologically divisive issue. Facts are not necessarily facts, and for this particular issue, Sullivan is to be commended for including the materials necessary to spot — although he doesn't draw attention to — a rather remarkable lie.

If you've followed this issue with any devotion, you've likely heard of the book Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, in which author John Boswell claims to have found Christian ceremonies for gay marriage. Sullivan presents a portion of Brent Shaw's criticism of the book, followed by a response to that criticism by Ralph Hexter. In that last piece, Hexter writes (on page 20):

In the words of Montaigne, who witnessed the adelphopoiesis ceremony [the "gay marriage" ceremony in dispute] performed in Rome in 1581, "ils s'espousoint masle à masle à la mess" ("they married, one man to another, at a mass"). Apparently contemporary authorities didn't interpret the ceremony as the "ritualized" friendship Shaw would have us believe it is, unless we are also to believe that such friendships called for the burning that we know at least some of those who participated in the ceremony suffered in the sixteenth century.

Even as presented, one could respond that it was perhaps the heretical cooption of what was meant to be a brotherhood ceremony to cover gay marriage that sparked the flames, so to speak. But turning the page and reading Montaigne's actual account, one notes that Hexter (perhaps taking from Boswell) is guilty of more than shady analysis:

I met a man who informed me humorously of... San Giovanni Porta Latina, in which church a few years before certain Portuguese had entered into a strange brotherhood. They married one another, male to male, at Mass, with the same ceremonies with which we perform our marriages, read the same marriage gospel service, and then went to bed and lived together. The Roman wits said that because in the other conjunction, of male and female, this circumstance of marriage alone makes it legitimate, it had seemed to these sharp folk that this other action would become equally legitimate if they authorized it with ceremonies and mysteries of the Church. Eight or nine Portuguese of this fine sect were burned...

So, not only is it untrue that Montaigne actually witnessed the same-sex union ceremony — hearing of the incident through anecdote, and humorous anecdote, at that — but it wasn't even the adelphopoiesis ceremony that he did not witness. One wonders how often those who cite history count on the ignorance of their readers.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:49 AM
Marriage & Family

The Many Ways to Slice a Kay

Paul Craddick (whose blog is very handsomely designed, by the way) focuses on David Kay's statements with respect to Syria in a post that is very much worth reading. Parsing various sources, he concludes the following to be the nuanced opinion that Kay has found it difficult to convey through professionally conducted interviews:

To sum up my impression: "WMD-related stuff probably went to Syria, but we don't know exactly what; it would be good to pursue the matter further, but we can't; since we're focusing on what we can establish at least somewhat definitively, this one will most likely have to be filed under 'intriguing and unresolvable'."

That's the sense that I've gotten, although I would emphasize something that Paul addresses: we don't know what, in all this, abuts classified information. In other words, the view that Kay is presenting for public consumption is inherently broad.

But turning back toward the media, Paul's post reminded me of something that I've neglected to point out in any of my writing on this topic. To see the mechanics of the distortion of Kay's message, consider this exchange from an interview with Tom Brokaw:

TB: Intelligence report says ... "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with range in excess of U.N. restrictions. If left unchecked it probably will have a nuclear weapon within this decade."

DK: Well, I think it’s got elements that we have certainly seen are true. The area that it’s probably more seriously wrong in is in the nuclear area.

TB: But as you know, the vice president and, to a lesser degree, the president of the United States, raised the nuclear threat as a reason that the United States had to go to war against Iraq.

DK: I think the weight of the evidence — was not great.

If you watch the video (which isn't working for me just now), you'll see that Kay's tone and body language were sending quite a different message than the words suggest of themselves. So much is this true that it's obvious that MSNBC edited the video a split second before Kay was able to say "but." Unfortunately, the original interview is currently locked away in the network's vaults, so it's unlikely we'll never know what degree of "not great" he meant.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:12 AM
News Media

We Can Fix It (Although Nothing's Wrong). Really!

The Providence Journal's editorials are generally fair and well considered. This, however, lightly highlights an attitude that contributes considerably to the problem:

As far as the BBC is concerned, Lord Hutton's report was full of recommendations about reforming its editorial processes to avoid a recurrence of that one faulty story. Our conclusion is that news organizations, even government-subsidized ones like the BBC, are well equipped to improve practices on their own, and that the last thing a free press needs is government "guidance" such as Lord Hutton suggests.

It wasn't just one story, and it wasn't just a fault. I haven't read the Hutton report, so I don't know if this remains an officially unstated truth, but the underlying problem is that the BBC acted out of naked political, ideological interest. It didn't just err; it deliberately "sexed up" its story on intelligence being "sexed up" out of an inexcusably similar motivation to that of which it accused Blair's government.

How can news organizations be "equipped to improve practices on their own" when they don't realize that anything substantive needs improvement? Frankly, I'm beginning to think — not only out of wishful thinking, but out of observation and analysis — that the day of "big media" as some mythically objective social institution and political force is coming to its sunset.

The major outlets, such as the Providence Journal, aren't going to disappear; they've too many resources and investments for that. But they will become, in essence, better-funded, more-polished, but no more credible bloggers.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:37 AM
News Media

January 30, 2004

It's Only Guessing When the Enemy Does It

I've been taking a break from Andrew Sullivan commentary. There's just so much that can be said about the way in which he responds, insults, and plays the race card in reaction to Stanley Kurtz's essay on Scandinavian marriage that I couldn't possibly address it well with the limited time in my schedule. But one point, I just can't pass up. Here's Sullivan in the post at the first link above:

There are no marriage rights for gays in the countries he cites. There are, instead, what are called "registered partnerships." ... Then Kurtz tries to argue that there is a causation effect between registered partnerships for gays and the decline of traditional marriage. He proves nothing. There are so many independent variables - from secularism to contraception to cultural gender roles and on and on - that such a conclusion is intellectually preposterous. ... These kinds of unsubstantiated correlations, slippery links and simple associations would be laughed out of a freshman social science class. Did no one edit this?

And here's Sullivan introducing the "Same-Sex Marriage in History" section of his Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con (1997):

And today in Denmark and Sweden different compromises have been made [for homosexual relationships] that affect the meaning of marriage itself.

Upon further reading, there's more that's worth noting. Sullivan on his blog:

... the entire premise of the piece - that marriage for gays is legal in Norway, Denmark and Sweden - is factually untrue. There are no marriage rights for gays in the countries he cites. There are, instead, what are called "registered partnerships."

From a summary essay about Denmark's Act of Registration of Partnership by Deborah Henson on page 42 of Sullivan's Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con:

This legislation is the first of its kind to grant homosexual couples the legal status comparable to married couples — with the exception of adoption and custody rights. The new law provides for "registered partnerships" which give each partner the same rights to inheritance, tax deductions, social service entitlements as married partners have, in addition to mandating similar obligations as well: tax liabilities and partner support upon separation. ...

... the Act also allows registered partners to be included whenever Danish law refers to "marriage" or "spouse." If the terms in a given statute are "husband" or "wife," however, registered partners are not included in coverage.

As I understand, from Kurtz, Sweden and Norway had instituted or expanded their offerings similarly by the mid-'90s to, as he characterizes it, "de facto gay marriage." It bears mention that precisely this sort of direct legal comparison to marriage would be barred by the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:01 PM
Marriage & Family

No Answers for Terrorism?

Today's Chris Muir cartoon made me wonder if he meant: "Only when there is William Jefferson, is there ever a way."

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:49 PM | Comments (2)

The Miracle Physics

Although I'm much delayed in noting it, Rev. Sensing had a worth-reading post on whether explanation disproves a miracle:

The fundamental understanding of "miracle" in Christian thought - and I'm pretty sure in Jewish thought, too - is not primarily supernaturalism (though that's there, to be sure), but the way that God's will is worked in the affairs of nature and human affairs, what America's founders, for example, called God's providence. So that the parting of the Red Sea might have occurred through natural causes disturbs this notion not a whit, because nature is under the dominion of God. Hence, I see no problem with Prof. Volzinger's observation that "God rules the Earth through the laws of physics."

As I explained in parts III and (more) IV of my "theory of everything" series of essays, timing and odds are really the relevant measures of a miracle. That makes direct sense, doesn't it? Perhaps people believe that they can imagine miracles that "defy the laws of physics," but I don't believe it's possible even to do that much.

The reason people err in this way has more to do with the understanding of laws of physics than of miracles. Whether or not something accords with the laws as we know them, if we can perceive that something, it must manifest in the physical world. Therefore, there will be a proximate cause (a change of velocity, a shift of atoms, a condensation of molecules, etc.), and since we will then know that the thing actually happened, it will, by definition, be allowed by the laws of physics.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:32 PM

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:19 PM

What They're Learning

It would be wrong to take much — anything, really — seriously about a recent editorial in the University of Rhode Island student paper, "Civil union, gay marriage has no place in political arena." However, this part still has me shaking my head the day after reading it, so I thought I'd share my amazement at the apparent miseducation:

While the topic often seems to make candidates uncomfortable, the question should not be one of legality but in reality, not a question at all. The United States is a country founded upon a wealth of freedoms and it is a contradiction to that foundation to allow politicians to decide on an issue of love and companionship. ...

As the Vermont Supreme Court passed the burden onto the state legislature, gay couples received a slap in the face. Politicians aren't attempting to work for the benefit of the people they are supposed to be serving, but instead merely appeasing them in order to make it through the next election.

Well, maybe the young editorialist's "miseducation" has less to do with how our government is supposed to work than how socialist liberals are supposed to disguise their thinking.

Damn those representatives for declining to dictate the unadulterated truth to their constituents and choosing, instead, to represent their views. It's a good thing there are judges to straighen out this foolish quirk of democracy!

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:26 AM

January 29, 2004

Thanks for the... Umm... Encouragement

James Lileks offers a view of a newspaper-business reality pertinent to those who desire to write books for a living of which I've been informed in the past:

I should note that I rarely buy books - I work at a newspaper, which is a cornucopia of free reading material. You cannot imagine the heaps of stuff shoveled from the book room every day. I always want to take young writers to the book room and show them the mountains of books - unread, to say nothing of unreviewed. This is what you're up against. And this doesn't included the sixty billion paperbacks printed every year, half of which are pulped and set to Japan to make toilet paper. That's right: the end result of most American author's labors ends up hanging on a roll in a karoke bar in a Tokyo suburb.

But keep writing!

Gee. Thanks a lot.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:13 PM

Fighting the Agenda in Enemy Territory

(Let me preface this post by admitting that I realize that it isn't very polished, does little more than gripe about statistics, and is so narrow of focus that it won't be of much interest to very many readers. However, I suspect that the group in question intends to take a central role as the gay marriage battle moves into Rhode Island, so it may very well prove useful to my side to have some preliminary analysis of the group's data and statistical techniques.)

I had only intended to mention a Providence Journal article about a new advocacy group for homosexuals called Equity Action to make a few minor points. I stress, at the outset, that my intention, here, is to address organizations, not people.

The first minor point is to note that, in contrast to this free advertisement for a fund-seeking organization, I still have yet to see within the paper a single mention of the rallies Massachusetts against gay marriage. The second is to suggest that the data being presented is inevitably skewed, not only by the standard survey disclaimers, such as that people will tend to give the "right" answers for personal questions, but also by the fact that this survey is obviously intended for advocacy purposes, something stated in the instructions of the survey. And the third is to challenge, out of hand, the contention that homosexuals in Rhode Island have any legitimate major complaints, as a group.

But when I began to look at the specifics, mostly out of curiosity, the distortion that I discovered in the study's summary and the Projo article proved so egregious that anything either organization says on this matter ever must be considered suspect in the extreme. The degree to which the authors sought to exaggerate the supposed difficulty of being gay in Rhode Island and to minimize any factors that might suggest that gays are doing just fine is ridiculous.

The summary document (PDF) lumps together all household income between $25,000 and $100,000 in order compare the 70% total for Rhode Islanders in the U.S. Census with 65.8% of the homosexual respondents. Of course, the writers can't do otherwise than admit that homosexuals have higher incomes, but the numbers as presented aren't dramatic given that more than three-quarters of the survey respondents were over 30.

However, whoever put together this particular table, although he or she managed to calculate the raw numbers of people correctly, included the $15–25K data from the Census chart in the $25–100K percentage. Therefore, the <$25K comparison should be 30.1% (Rhode Islanders) versus 12.9% (RI homosexuals); the $25–100K should be 58.5% versus 65.8%; and the >$100K is correct at 11.4% versus 21.4%. Looking at the raw data (PDF) for the homosexual survey, it isn't surprising that the middle income group has significantly more representation toward the higher end than does the public at large.

To be fair, the lumping of that huge income range was likely done, in part, because the categories differ between the two sources by increments of $5,000. That's a fortuitous oversight on the surveyors' part. Similarly, the calculations for the report's table were likely a mistake (although I wonder why the person with the calculator wouldn't notice that he'd added up three rows to get the raw number, but only two to get the percentage), but it's a fortuitous one.

Another area of fortuitous skew is the monogamy number. According to the survey, 53% of respondents say they are currently in monogamous relationships. Of course, once again, the age ranges contribute to this result. It's also worth noting that 3.5% are in straight marriages. And it should also be remembered that the respondents knew the advocacy purpose of the survey. On top of these points, the survey's methodology makes it likely that a significant number of the people in committed relationships who answer this question are, in fact, committed to each other.

But that's all "fun with numbers" analysis. The truly egregious distortion comes into play with the dark side of being gay in Rhode Island. Projo writer Karen Lee Ziner declares:

And yet, the report states, they endure frequent harassment and discrimination -- at work, at school, on the street, in doctors' offices, in public places and in their places of worship. Some have experienced physical violence, or fear it, because of their sexual orientation.

Referring to the press release (PDF) from which she likely got this impression, one notices that the numbers are extremely small for all but the monthly and yearly instances categories, and even here the numbers are all under 23% for monthly and 33% for yearly. One who has already looked at the raw data might also notice that the never column has been dropped from the official table. Here's the never data, with "not applicable" in parentheses:

At work: 47.2% (18.9%)
At school: 16.8% (65.6%)
At home: 64.3% (19.7%)
On the street: 27.9% (6.3%)
At a public establishment: 31.6% (6.2%)

Moreover, the "at school" row of the table is footnoted as "only those who indicated being a student," even though those respondents who answered the question all had some reason for doing so. (Otherwise, they would have selected "not applicable.") The effect? The first number is the press release/summary table, and the second number is the raw data:

More than 1x/day: 6.5% versus 2.0%
Daily: 9.1% versus 2.3%
Weekly: 9.1% versus 2.3%
Monthly: 19.5% versus 5.8%
Yearly: 18.2% versus 5.2%

Not only has the data been selectively presented, but one very important fact was left unsaid: 44.6% of the respondents said that none of the homophobia/harassment was directed at them. 34.7% said only a little was; some, 15.2%; a lot, 3.5%; and all, 2.0%. So a great many of these daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly instances of homophobia and harassment could be off-color jokes, misunderstood comments, or imagined bias.

The press release goes on to claim that "LGBTQ individuals are afraid to reveal their sexual orientations or gender identities even to family members," but one need only look at the accompanying table (noting that the question is being "out," not the reason) to see how ridiculous this claim is. The raw data for "support and acceptance" reveals this even more.

More interesting, however, is the summary's handling of healthcare. It includes a paragraph about the dangers of providers' discrimination, which "results in delayed, infrequently, or avoided use of these services" and leads to "late diagnoses, misdiagnoses and missed opportunities for healing and prevention." Looking at this question in the raw data, however, it isn't difficult to understand why the summary doesn't offer any of the data relevant to this question. Of the 80.9% of respondents who have told some or all healthcare providers about their being homosexual, 12.7% say that their care improved, with only 2.0% saying that it worsened. In contrast, of the 19.1% who haven't mentioned it to a healthcare provider, only 13.5% (2.6% of the total) cited reasons having to do with discrimination or other people finding out.

Now, if some group wants to get together and study Rhode Island's gay community for the purpose of finding out what they actually require, then I wouldn't be inclined to object. This (non-profit) group, however, has the stated purpose of lobbying for civil rights legislation. For a wealthy, largely comfortable segment of the population that has a powerful advocate already in the state's only major newspaper. Using statistics that are either next to useless or incompatible with the "interpretation."

If Rhode Island's busybodies wish to investigate an oppressed minority that feels intimidated, undersupported, and even uncomfortable telling people about the thing that makes them different, they should perform a similar survey among conservatives. We certainly could use a little more representation in this state.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:10 PM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

Another Reminder About the Lights

For the benefit of anybody who comes here as a result of the TCS piece, I thought I'd mention that, if the design of this page makes for difficult reading, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:28 PM
Site-Related Announcements

Inspired Hiring

Frank Gaffney, Jr., makes a suggestion that I'd enthusiastically support:

The president should, instead, feel grateful to the erstwhile head of the Iraq Survey Group, both for his past, courageous public service and for his present candor. And there is no better, or more appropriate, way to express his appreciation than to ask him to replace George Tenet as Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).

David Kay has, after all, demonstrated once again the qualities of intellect, integrity, and independence that are always desirable in leaders of the U.S. intelligence community, but rarely more necessary than right now. Although he has expressed a view about the status of Saddam's missing weapons programs that is debatable — and may ultimately be proven wrong — the former weapons inspector has certainly said many things that have long needed saying.

Such a move would make valuable statements on many fronts — from accountability for Tenet and the C.I.A., to rewarding the qualities that Gaffney cites, to showing the President to be more concerned with honest results than political considerations. That last point, however, could be merely a matter of appearance, because I'm not as sure as Gaffney about something:

President Bush could be forgiven for feeling annoyed with Dr. Kay. A heated reelection campaign is not exactly the moment any candidate would chose have new turmoil engendered over one of his most controversial decisions.

I've wondered whether there might be more to Kay's resignation than he claimed, particularly if he believes that the proximate Iraqi government will put an effective end to the major period for the WMD search and if he's correct that the job is 85% done. Why not tough it out for a few months, to ensure a continuity of leadership?

Well, in the spring, or whenever that 15% would be wrapped up and the efforts summarized, the election will be much closer, and the primary season will be over. Now, Kay has gotten news that is potentially harmful to the administration out in the open while there's still hope that he's wrong, while the Democrats are still battling each other through rhetoric that they will later mitigate for general consumption, and more importantly, while the President still has time to overcome the obstacle. And if WMDs do show up, then Kay has set the stage for a dramatic revelation, and he has done so without too much personal tarnish.

In this sense, giving Kay Tenet's job would be a justified political reward.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:16 PM

Ad Spotting

Hey look! A hair club that promises to turn even ordinary-looking men into Bill O'Reilly.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:41 PM
Quips & Asides

The Base Rumbles

Michael Williams notes some movement among Congressional Republicans to curb spending and writes:

Apparently President Bush's mention of fiscal discipline was more than window-dressing. I hope Republicans will quit doing all the things we castigated the Democrats for when they controlled Congress.

Meanwhile, John Hawkins notes that Republican Congressmen are none too happy about the President's immigration proposal. They're right to be concerned. I can't be the only Republican voter to come to the conclusion that national security concerns make Congress the place in which we ought to express our displeasure.

I'm sympathetic to the argument that the ways in which President Bush is spending taxpayer money will, in the long run, move the country to the right. Perhaps that, of itself, will take an ironic turn in the distant future and result in a smaller government. That would be a long-shot argument, though, and a gamble that the purpose wouldn't be subverted before the effects could manifest.

Moreover, such an objective doesn't justify much more than maintenance of spending. The fact that a cause is worthwhile doesn't mean that the government ought to fund it — let alone continue to increase its funding. Roger Kimball praises (and spins) the President's increased funding of the National Endowment for the Arts by noting the improvements in its activities under Dana Gioia. I'll admit that I'm not constitutionally opposed to there being an NEA, but even Shakespeare's belt can be tightened when there's a war effort during an economy that has not fully recovered.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:38 PM | Comments (1)

The Homily Heard Around the Internet

Father Rob has posted a recent homily of his:

You see, since 1973, in our nation, abortion claims the life of 1 out of every 4 children conceived. One out of four children conceived today will not survive to birth because of abortion. One out of four. And that child, that fourth child, would have been sitting in in that empty chair. That empty chair would have been filled by a child, by a young person, if it hadn't been for abortion.

It's must-read material (which is why many of you have probably already read it). And I think Fr. Rob has come across yet another fantastic effect of the Internet generally and blogging specifically: Not only has this homily attracted the attention of multiple bloggers (I'll be ninth, according to Technorati, but there are surely more) with hundreds and thousands of readers, but by that very attention, it will encourage — challenge — other priests to raise the collective level of preaching, to address important topics memorably, and to find new methods of sharing their messages.

Good work, God's work, Father!

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:59 PM

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:56 PM

Add Conventional Wisdom to the Fire

Remember when I expressed my desire for somebody to investigate what David Kay meant by his suggestion that Iraq was more dangerous than we'd thought before the war? Well, some guy named Justin Katz has done some of that investigating in a piece on TechCentralStation.

I don't know whether it's an effect of the media's biased conventional wisdom or what, but I've been surprised at the degree to which some have conceded a new political reality in response to the errors that Kay has suggested. Maybe it's because I supported the toppling of Hussein on humanitarian grounds long before the debate began in earnest, or maybe it's that I always considered any WMDs in his hands to be too many, but it seems to me that anybody who based their support for the war, tentatively or not, on some of the larger stockpile estimates understood neither the argument for war, nor the nature of WMDs, nor the nature of intelligence work. As I argue on TCS, even proof of programs and short-term potential to produce is sufficient justification, because 1) we couldn't maintain sanctions forever, and 2) we just couldn't know whether those programs were implemented to produce.

Even now, and even granting every one of Kay's assessments, remembering the dictator around whom these events took place ought to make any reasonable person wary of declaring the war's premises false. Craig Henry wonders what would have happened to con-artist scientists if Saddam demanded a demonstration. At the very least, it would seem likely that they'd have held some not-insignificant amount of substances.

More fundamentally, we in the public sector ought still to be a bit more circumspect about the information as it filters to us. Indiana University Professor Eric Rasmusen has done some analysis of the likelihood of Kay's claim, with due consideration to the inspector's self interest.

Look, for some reason that I can't fully articulate, I trust Mr. Kay, who seems like a uniquely even-handed government player. He's been pretty open about the limitations of his claims. Nonetheless, unless those claims are restricted to an absense of major production on a nearly industrial scale, the situation in Iraq during the '90s will certainly be an intriguing chapter in the history books — more incredible than fiction. Perhaps the C.I.A. ought to employ Tom Clancy.

Colin Powell, in his U.N. presentation, told of Iraq's removing topsoil to hide chemical weapons activity that was performed there. Remember Steven Hatfill? He was one guy under intense scrutiny, and the FBI searched his apartment — which, as I understand, is much smaller than Iraq — multiple times before believing that it was clean. At one point, the theory was that he built a custom box in order to produce anthrax under water!

Are all of Iraq's scuba suits accounted for?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:24 AM
Middle East

January 28, 2004

A Better World in the National Interest

In the final installment of his Davos journal, Jay Nordlinger quotes the somewhat coolly received Vice President Cheney:

Europeans know that their great experiment in building peace, unity, and prosperity cannot survive as a privileged enclave, surrounded on its outskirts by breeding grounds of hatred and fanaticism. The days of looking the other way while despotic regimes trample human rights, rob their nations' wealth, and then excuse their failings by feeding their people a steady diet of anti-Western hatred are over. Nations fail their people if they compromise their values in the hope of achieving stability. Instead, we must seek a higher standard, one that will apply to our friends in the region no less than to our adversaries.

Perhaps it betrays the degree of neocon brainwashing to which I've been subjected, but this strikes me as entirely correct. We can't just sit on our hands within our own borders and allow despots to rise to power beyond them. Tyrants are infamously incapable of sating their hunger for power through mastication of their own people.

Of course, the degree to which this general truth can be stated confidently and pursued as policy owes much to the current state of the world. When another challenge that represents an overriding threat — as the Soviet Union did for so many years — survival will tend to trump principle.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:06 PM
International Affairs

The Tide Begins to Turn

He and his seconders have got my vote for reelection:

With legal assistance from the Thomas More Law Center, South Dakota state Rep. Matt McCaulley introduced a bill last Thursday making abortion a crime unless it is necessary to save the life of the mother. House Bill 1192, which already has the support of a majority in the state house and senate, directly confronts the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which gave women a constitutional right to abort their babies.

Rep. McCaulley presented the legislation on the 31st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, saying, "Medical and scientific discoveries over the last 30 years have confirmed that life begins at conception, a question the Roe Court said they could not answer."

(via Victor)

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:19 PM

The Victor Reporter Writes the History

Craig Henry makes a great point:

My question is, how many J-schools focus on what went right and wrong with war reporting in SE Asia? Do any of them discuss how the military victory of Tet '68 was portrayed as a military defeat for the US and why this mistake was made? Do any of them remind students that it was an armored blitzkrieg from NV, not a peasant uprising which doomed Saigon in 1975?

I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of journalism professors continue to believe that Tet was a defeat. More broadly, I don't know that I've ever heard of journalism schools' performing that sort of analysis — although some probably do in certain courses.

Beyond the process of (and building a career in) journalism, most of what one hears has to do with the "ethics of journalism." You know, the sort of would-you-tell-the-soldiers- that-they're-about-to-be-slaughtered kind of ethics.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:07 PM
News Media

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:40 PM

Wednesday, Just So's You Know

Apologies for the slow start today. I was already busy this week, but other matters have piled on (most of them good things... I'll let you know).

It doesn't help that I've been flooded with that email worm that's going around. (Most notable person whose email has sent it to me thus far: Jonah Goldberg.) It really didn't help that, after a very late night premised on the promise of a sleep-in snow day for my wife, my dog decided it was the ideal morning to pester me to go out earlier than usual and then to bark at the door, yet refuse to come in.

Oh well. I think I'm more or less caught up with myself (if tired), so you can expect posts today, as I take breaks from the day job.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:36 PM
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January 27, 2004

Songs You Should Know 01/27/04

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

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:15 PM

More on Kay

Jim Miller, who also spotted the abysmal failures of that NPR David Kay interview, linked to a related New York Times article from yesterday. I'm not going to go into the specifics of it, here, because the Times's handling of the interview raises important questions.

The piece is essentially a summary of the interview, and because it appears to have been conducted by Times reporter James Risen, there is nowhere to turn for the original audio or even a transcript. Frankly, I only reluctantly trust anything within that paper's pages that isn't surrounded by quotation marks (and even then, one must be careful). As Roger Simon asks:

Why is not the interview with such an important person on such a key issue published directly without "interpretation" or filtering of what he said, allowing us to draw our own conclusions?

Well, we can guess — remembering that it is an election year. Bill Hobbs's comment focused elsewhere certainly applies to the media treatment of the war from the very first whispers of its possibility:

Having forced Bush to go to the UN - even though it gave President Clinton a pass when he deliberately avoided the UN in the decision to intervene in the Balkans - Congressional Democrats narrowed the focus to Iraq's WMD. Now they complain the war was not justified because, it seems, Iraq had little or no WMD. They may be right about Iraq's WMD, but they are wrong about need to go to war.

Although, according to Scott Ott, Secretary Rumsfeld has apparently had a change of heart.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:01 PM
News Media

Our Spy at Davos

Reading Jay Nordlinger's annual reports from the elite Davos sip-and-grip is neat. One can imagine him wandering the halls feeling like an infiltrator. Among the insights from the third part of this year's edition is this instance of those mephitic mutual congratulation sessions that one senses are common among the lights of the Left:

At one session, the Saudi ambassador — Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Saud — decries "the occupation of Iraq and Palestine." And at this same session, there is what I can only describe as a Two Minute Hate — although it lasts about ten minutes — against Robert Kilroy-Silk, the BBC commentator who was fired for making what were judged intemperate and intolerable remarks about Islam. In the audience, a man from London arises to say — to brag, really — that he led the effort to get Kilroy-Silk sacked. The moderator of the session, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, responds, "Let me applaud you. It's up to people like you to hold us in the media to account." Patricia Mitchell, the head of PBS in America, heaps yet more praise on him. She also contends that, before 9/11, Americans didn't know anything about Islam. You couldn't find anything on the subject in the media. I wonder what she was reading (or watching).

Not to be outdone, Lord Carey of Clifton, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, says, "Let me express my gratitude" for the Kilroy-Silk antagonist.

Of course, such play acting can quickly run into harsher reality, and I would have liked for Mr. Nordlinger to describe the audience's reaction to this:

To his credit, Lord Carey does happen to mention that it would be nice to have a church in Saudi Arabia, someday. The ambassador responds that if only Christians accepted Mohammad as a prophet, they could come to mosques to pray. What need have they of churches?

I imagine a "tasteful silence."

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:14 AM
News Media

I Can't Believe It

I'm with Rev. Sensing in my absolute astonishment that Mel Gibson, after so much striving against adversity, would cave so completely (scroll down to the last item in the first cell).

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:50 AM | Comments (2)

Saving the Soul of Marriage

For months, Stanley Kurtz has been personally promising me a major weapon in the battle to preserve marriage, and I think this is it:

MARRIAGE IS SLOWLY DYING IN SCANDINAVIA. A majority of children in Sweden and Norway are born out of wedlock. Sixty percent of first-born children in Denmark have unmarried parents. Not coincidentally, these countries have had something close to full gay marriage for a decade or more. Same-sex marriage has locked in and reinforced an existing Scandinavian trend toward the separation of marriage and parenthood. The Nordic family pattern--including gay marriage--is spreading across Europe. And by looking closely at it we can answer the key empirical question underlying the gay marriage debate. Will same-sex marriage undermine the institution of marriage? It already has.

More precisely, it has further undermined the institution. The separation of marriage from parenthood was increasing; gay marriage has widened the separation. Out-of-wedlock birthrates were rising; gay marriage has added to the factors pushing those rates higher. Instead of encouraging a society-wide return to marriage, Scandinavian gay marriage has driven home the message that marriage itself is outdated, and that virtually any family form, including out-of-wedlock parenthood, is acceptable.

It certainly is an important piece, and anybody with interest in any facet of this debate ought to read it in its entirety. Apart from directing people to the essay, there doesn't appear to be much to say about it — at least until the opposition reacts. However, I do want to note a paragraph of particular interest to me, given my faith:

Yet the pattern is spreading unevenly. And scholars agree that cultural tradition plays a central role in determining whether a given country moves toward the Nordic family system. Religion is a key variable. A 2002 study by the Max Planck Institute, for example, concluded that countries with the lowest rates of family dissolution and out-of-wedlock births are "strongly dominated by the Catholic confession." The same study found that in countries with high levels of family dissolution, religion in general, and Catholicism in particular, had little influence.

Lane Core noted in a comment to this post that "only the Catholic Church is able to give a consistent, coherent response to pro-homosexual 'marriage' arguments." Obviously, I would insist that a consistent, coherent response can made within the boundaries of our secular government system without reference to religion. However, expanding to the full depth of the issue for individuals, beyond how the society ought to be structured and into how people should live their lives, Lane's point is much like Kurtz's: the dissolution of such institutions as marriage occurs through a sort of mutual orbit of cause and effect, where effect causes the next step to be easier to take, and the previous state more difficult to reclaim. The Catholic Church — in a way that will inevitably frustrate somebody on any given topic — reacts to culture slowly, mostly because it is rooted in thousands of years of theologically privileged tradition.

Of course, the Church, almost by definition, is also relatively well organized, as indicated by this rally that I would have attended, were it not for the duties of a birthday-girl's father. Eight hundred "protestors" may not seem like a lot, but in this area, and overlapping with the March for Life, it is.

Unfortunately, I mightn't have thought to read up on it if the local talk radio guy didn't promote his 5:00 discussion of the topic as I drove to the post office, because the Providence Journal printed not a word about it... that I can find. But even more infuriating than that silence, is the picture with which the Fall River Herald accompanied one story and with which it greeted visitors to its main page:

That's a blatant propaganda choice. It relates perfectly to something that Tim Graham said in the Corner today, when seeking to explain the limited coverage of the March for Life:

The March for Life is not strident and Dean-screamy from the podium, but solemn and prayerful and mourning. That would clash with their media profile of pro-lifers are violent haters.

At least the Boston Globe managed to close out its piece with this sentiment:

At the Worcester rally, Laurie Letourneau, founder of Mass Voices For Traditional Marriage, said that gay-marriage opponents "won't stand still." Before the two-hour rally began, Letourneau ripped a sign out of the hands of an audience member that said "No Homos Need Apply."

"We're not trying to denigrate anybody," Letourneau told the assembly. "This is about love, not about hate."

(The Herald doesn't identify the woman in the picture, but I think it might be this same woman.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:25 AM | Comments (6)
Marriage & Family

January 26, 2004

Blogging Today

As the night closes in over Rhode Island, I just wanted to write a note to let y'all know that I have a number of items about which to blog, but various things keep draining my time, including a two-year-old's birthday, a teacher-wife's school open house, various work-related matters, and a couple noteworthy events — big deals in my little world — that I'll let you know about when they come to pass. (And having to personally transcribe the David Kay interview didn't help me to get my schedule under control.)

So, stuff will appear in this space throughout the night and on into tomorrow.

Meanwhile, if you receive suspicious emails with zip attachments — don't open them!

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:08 PM
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"We led this search to find the truth, not to find the weapons."

Since Glenn Reynolds has paid me the compliment of linking to this post, bringing hoards of people here for the first time, I thought I'd note that, if you find that the page design makes for difficult reading, you can click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column for a lighter layout that will scroll with the text.

Glenn Reynolds notes Bryan Preston's efforts to make sense of what appear to be contradictory statements by ex-weapons inspector David Kay.

Kay told the Telegraph that some materials — not stockpiles, but perhaps substances and "some components of Saddam's WMD programme" — likely made their way to Syria. On the other hand, AP writer Scott Lindlaw summarizes David Kay speaking to NPR as follows:

U.S. intelligence agencies need to explain why their research indicated Iraq possessed banned weapons before the American-led invasion, says the outgoing top U.S. inspector, who now believes Saddam Hussein had no such arms.

"I don't think they exist," David Kay said Sunday. "The fact that we found so far the weapons do not exist - we've got to deal with that difference and understand why."

What initially struck me was that Kay's statement is in the present tense, while Lindlaw's characterization is in the past tense. Having listened to the actual NPR interview, by Liane Hansen, from which the AP article draws, I think it equally significant that Lindlaw emphasizes "no such arms." Kay is, here, talking about stockpiles, which is a term that he uses deliberately throughout the interview with reference to the lack of evidence:

One has to be cautious in this regard. Because of the breakdown in social and political order at the end of the war and rioting and looting continued unchecked for at least two months, we're going to be left with ambiguity as to what we've found.

My summary view based on what I've seen is that we are very unlikely to find large stockpiles of weapons. I don't think they exist. But that's my personal view based on the evidence as of when I left. The search is going to go on, and indeed, one shouldn't be surprised in Iraq by surprises. You continue to be surprised by what you find. I personally think we're going to find program activities, and some of them are quite substantial, as in the missile area. We're not going to find large stockpiles.

Of course, one could spin this to say that Kay probably believes that the weapons could have been there but have been moved, perhaps to Syria. Unfortunately, that's not the picture that Kay paints in totality. What he's saying is that Iraq clearly had weapons programs, some of which could have been made to bear fruit on short order, but that after the first Gulf War, Iraq did not engage in large-scale production of WMDs. Again, he emphasizes the scale that he is ruling out, and it's important to remember that most (if not all) previous claims of certainty had to do with stockpiles produced before the first war.

I've argued before that we who supported the war have no reason to back down if programs turn out to be all that can be proven, and they've already been proven. As for weapons, when asked why his statements differ somewhat from those of Vice President Cheney, Kay emphasizes that ambiguity will always exist:

I think we're both looking at what is an enigma from slightly different positions. Based on what I've seen there, my conclusion is they had not resumed large-scale production. There is uncertainty; that's one of the reasons it's important that inspections continue, and I look forward to Charlie Duelfur, who I know well and have a great deal of respect for, leading those inspections now so that we can come to a consensus view. My warning to the American public though is that there is always going to be some ambiguity here. The failure to establish security at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, allowing the looting to continue, meant the records had been destroyed and had been destroyed forever and can't be put back together again.

More than that, he suggests that, focusing on the WMD component of the argument, the President and the nation as a whole were justified in going to war on the basis of the information that was available. His admonition is that we must understand why our intelligence failed in order to fix it:

I actually think the intelligence community owes the President [an explanation], rather than the President owing the American people. We have to remember that this view of Iraq was held during the Clinton administration and didn't change in the Bush administration. It is not a political "got you" issue; it is a serious issue of how you could come to a conclusion that is not matched by the future. It's not unusual — I remind you — as you well know, at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the intelligence estimate was that there were no nuclear weapons in Cuba. We learned only afterwards, and as former Secretary of Defense McNamara said in the recent movie, The Fog of War, two societies came within seconds of destroying each other based on a misperception of what reality was. Often estimates are different than reality. The important thing is when they differ to understand why. This is not a political issue. It's a fundamental issue of national security.

And here's where Ms. Hansen drops the ball completely as a journalist. Having stated that he believes it was reasonable, before the war, to characterize the threat as imminent, Kay offers this intriguing statement:

I must say, I actually think what we learned during the inspections made Iraq a more dangerous place potentially than in fact we thought it was even before the war.

You can listen for yourself (it's at 11:50 in the streaming audio), but to my ear, Ms. Hansen's stutter and redirect back to "imminent" have the sound of a woman ushering one boyfriend out of a room in which another hides. What that stutter indicates — symbolizes — is that the ambiguity is certain to be exacerbated, even nourished, by the media, as the primary source is skewed and all subsequent coverage pushes the story closer and closer to what the reporters want it to be.

That, at least, is not surprising. But I'd sure like somebody to investigate what Kay meant.

One thing that gave me a chuckle. Asked about the possibility of writing a book, Kay once again emphasized that it would be about the intelligence issues that he believes to be so important. Then he said, "I'm not doing a Paul O'Neill."

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:24 PM | Comments (14)
Middle East

January 25, 2004

For Your Records

I went to print out an entry from this blog, yesterday, and I noticed that, while the sidebar printed in its entirety, the actual content ran off the first page and never reappeared. Therefore, I've created printer-friendly versions.

On any individual entry page, click "Printer friendly version," and there you go: Dust in the Light readable the old fashioned way.

(As always, please let me know if you encounter any glitches.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:11 PM
Site-Related Announcements

January 23, 2004

Random Info Picked Up While Editing

Did you know that a Canadian dollar is called a "loonie"? As in: "The rising loonie is helping to slow inflation." Or, better: "You get more loonies for your dollar in Canada."

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:31 PM | Comments (1)

The Phantom Alternative

Ramesh Ponnuru highlights something that I've noticed in the various polls regarding gay marriage:

They find 58 percent opposition to the amendment, and 38 percent support, when the alternative of letting each state decide is presented. That's a noteworthy result. It tells us, for one thing, which argument opponents of an amendment are likely to find most effective. But to frame the alternatives in this way is not to ask a neutral question. It is to take sides in the debate. FMA proponents, for the most part, say that the whole reason an amendment is required is that a state-by-state approach is not a real-world alternative.

This is one of the reasons that I believe opposition to gay marriage will increase in tandem with public discussion and understanding of the circumstances and exigencies. As citizens come to understand that there isn't some phantom solution that would "leave it up to the states," support for the amendment will approach the level of the large majority of Americans that opposes gay marriage.

This, as Mr. Ponnuru suggests, is why activists such as Andrew Sullivan are hammering the idea that an amendment is "for ever" and misreading it in the most extreme way possible. I also suspect it's why media types are having apparent difficulty finding anybody able to argue against legalized gay marriage without recourse to religion (deliberately turning them away?). After all, if the issue is presented in the realistic terms — entirely within civil discussion of our secular government — of an amendment versus judicial imposition of gay marriage, people will be less likely to choose the vague option of "some other way."

Murky waters are clearly in the interest of gay marriage's proponents, and contrary to assertions to the contrary and proclaimed trends, time is not on their side. This, ultimately, is why I lean toward the hopeful side in reaction to President Bush's comment on the topic in his State of the Union. Even if he's attempting to keep one foot on the imaginary compromise, he framed the issue in terms of the two feasible choices.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:54 PM
Marriage & Family

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:06 PM

Career Inertia

Although I'm always grateful and impressed whenever companies contact me to thank but no thank me for submitting my résumé for consideration, it's still a bit of a jab in the gut.

Such is the professional world. Recoup. Move forward.

In the spirit of moving forward, I've added some pictures of things I've designed in the recent past, but that I hadn't added to my online portfolio because I didn't yet have a plan for the major site redesign. If you're interested, I've added two new sets of page images to the books page, a couple of ads to the "promotional" page, and some new pictures to the illustration page.

As always: if you're looking to hire somebody like me, I'm available for the position.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:01 PM
Site-Related Announcements

A Future We Seek to Avoid

I've been remiss in not saying anything about the March for Life and related happenings. For the most part, I haven't had anything to add to what I've seen elsewhere, particularly since I'm so busy and stressed. But to remedy my negligence somewhat, herewith is a piece of mine that is no longer online in full (because it's in the Just Thinking book).

Quality Inspectors to Make Rounds
by Justin Katz

New York, June 3, 2012 — The New York chapter of Defenders of Ensured Termination Healthcare will host a skewer barbecue at City Hall this Saturday to celebrate the mayor's decision to require Abortion Quality Inspectors in all ob-gyn medical facilities.

"We believe that doctors that ask patients who want to exercise their option of choice to seek the procedure elsewhere put those women at risk of receiving substandard medical care," says Kathy Quillit, executive director of DETH. She adds, "And the recently passed law requiring all doctors to provide abortion care is not enough on its own. Who knows what these fanatic doctors might do?"

To safeguard against "medical activism," Abortion Quality Inspectors will be licensed to carry firearms while protecting patients' right to safe and comfortable abortions. The move comes after some doctors refused to comply with city requirements that they learn and provide unwanted-pregnancy termination procedures.

The policy will go into effect on July 1, the ten year anniversary of the inauguration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to make abortion training mandatory for all New York City medical students. At that time, many students opted to take advantage of a "conscience clause," and still others declined to offer the procedure even though they had been well trained in it.

Not everybody agrees with the latest measure. One conservative agitator, who asked to remain anonymous, citing "fear for my family," says, "This is why I believe that people on the Left know they are wrong. Rather than offer scholarships to like-minded med-students or campaign to encourage women to patronize certain doctors, they'd rather just force the medical profession to acquiesce to their pro-choice demands."

"I was in the first class that was no longer allowed to choose not to participate in abortion training," says Dr. Christian Hashart, referring to the 2007 change in policy to allow only ordained religious medical students to opt out of mandatory abortion studies. "Frankly, I've tried to talk more than a few women out of aborting their children," he says.

Dr. Hashart is especially concerned about the infringement on patients' privacy once a Quality Inspector must be present during all of his patient-doctor consultations. Ms. Quillit justifies the move, saying, "It can be very harmful to women to hear an opinion from a respected doctor that is contrary to their own choice."

Safety is the central concern, according to the Abortion Quality Inspector General, Frank Lee Hitmynn. "We require all firearms to be turned in before Quality Inspectors leave the premises. We also require that all weapons be visible throughout the course of the day to make sure that the doctors don't get any funny ideas."

I wrote this piece in July 2002 and have been unable to locate Dr. Hashart for further comment since.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:49 AM

January 22, 2004

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "from Ambushed," by Anne DuBose Joslin.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:40 PM

Give Them Something Better to Do

I have to admit that I was happily surprised to be in such agreement with a Glenn Reynolds column about teen sex:

Perhaps if teen-agers were encouraged to take on adult responsibilities and win status and recognition in constructive ways, they'd probably start acting more like citizens, and less like a leisure class, with all the vices that have historically attended leisure classes.

If teen-agers weren't infantilized in so many other ways, they'd have a better base of judgment and self-respect, and could make better decisions about when they were ready to have sex and be more responsible about precautions and consequences when the time came.

Keep them productively engaged, and they won't be reproductive without engagement. (Ouch! Sorry 'bout that; it just popped out.) The dynamic is so powerful that one can observe it among the same group of teenagers in different places. The kids ringing up my pizza on a Friday night entirely lack the air of malice that hovers over probably some of the same kids as they saunter around town.

It doesn't even have to be work; hobbies and projects like making digital movies or music or even blogging could fill the void. It seems to me that, when people talk about children "growing up too soon," it generally speaks to their facing hardships before they're prepared. In contrast, I think what Glenn is talking about is allowing them to take on some of the responsibilities of adulthood before they have the dire consequences of adulthood.

(I'll tell you whether this is easier said than done in about fourteen years.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:26 PM

Making Use of the Pain

The Marriage Debate blog noted the latest development in a story that reached only the periphery of my current-events awareness when it first broke because I wasn't paying as much attention then:

In the first case in the nation that recognized a couple who entered into a Vermont civil union as spouses outside that state, Lambda Legal today asked an appeals court to uphold an earlier ruling that a gay man in New York is a legal spouse and able to sue St. Vincent's Hospital for medical negligence leading to his longtime partner's death.

I've given this story a bit of extra consideration not only because it is rooted in a pain with which anybody who cares about anybody can easily empathize, but also because multiple angles of the gay marriage debate and larger judicial problems come into play. The strands, suffice to say, of this ball in which emotion, morality, civil rights, religion, the role of the judiciary, and the sexual demands of the post-Sixties culture all tangle are difficult to unravel.

For an example of threads tying themselves together in unexpected ways, consider the difficulty that this case presents to somebody who opposes gay marriage, yet is by nature compassionate. Beyond forcing the Vermont civil unions in the first place, the American judiciary's loose — cut, paste, and blur — standard for precedent exerts its weight exactly where we might seek to rest a balanced, respectful conclusion. The court forces us to argue the cold, bad-guy side of a heartrending story because exceptions cannot be made without a high risk of their becoming the rule. By the same token, the case illustrates why a constitutional amendment is so necessary.

If precedent were more context-sensitive, then it would be possible to argue that, within this narrow set of circumstances, civil unions ought to act as marriages. (I'll address this suggestion in an addendum.) In the initial ruling (PDF), Nassau County Supreme Court Justice John P. Dunne explicitly left open the applicability of his reasoning to other areas in which marital policy intersects with the law, and considering the extent to which Dunne drew on such cases in other areas (e.g., rent-controlled housing) as well as the extent to which he makes use of selective precedent, there can be little doubt that he has flung open the door.

In one emotionally charged case — with an ideal plaintiff and particularly unforeseeable tragedy catalyzing the lawsuit — lie myriad angles through which gay marriage can become law by way of the judiciary. That this is so is a prima facie consequence of the magnitude of what the judge's logic has accomplished: not only is Vermont's civil union law imported to New York, but it is equated with marriage — all in one swoop.

The most direct way in which this case will become legal inclusion of homosexuals in marriage is that the court's reasoning will simply be copied as precedent for a less emotional issue. The court called a homosexual partner a "spouse"; therefore, the law says that such partners count as spouses, whatever the circumstances.

A more subtle path to the same end, including the direct precedent or not, emerges from Dunne's having rested his decision on New York's standards for handling the common-law marriages of other states. Considering that the couple was not from Vermont, merely going there for the purpose of marriage, the judiciary has invented a way around any and all New York marriage laws — at least for homosexuals.

At the most restrictive, gay couples would have to "honeymoon" in a state with civil union laws, enacting their union while there. At its most permissive, the state of New York will essentially have created "common-law marriage" for gays in every state — even states, such as Vermont and New York, that do not recognize heterosexual common-law marriages.

For one thing, Dunne has ignored the fact that common-law marriage isn't the sort of thing that can be established over a weekend. Moreover, revealing the tangled net that the American judiciary is casting to capture this cause, the Massachusetts Supreme Court was forced to admit that the opposite-sex definition of marriage derived from common-law and to assert the right to change it. Now, on the strength of New York's previous handling of common-law marriages from states that recognized them, Dunne writes:

Raum [a previous case that established an inconvenient, and thus "notwithstanding," precedent] held that the wrongful death statute excludes unmarried heterosexual partners to the same extent that it excludes unmarried homosexual partners, and therefore it does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Plaintiff cannot be categorized as an "unmarried" partner, rather he is like a common law partner, recognized in New York as a spouse because lawfully recognized in a sister state. To withhold recognition from one joined under the Vermont statute on the grounds that it is not a marriage, when it requires all the same formatlities as New York, and at the same time to extend recognition to a common law "marriage" of a sister state, does not withhold benefits equally from homosexuals and heterosexuals.

In this way, it comes about that homosexual couples are required to be treated as if they are married because all of the precedent that restricts heterosexual relationships like theirs does not apply to them. They are "married" because Vermont has set up a civil arrangement that is not marriage. They are entitled, for reason of equal protection, to be treated like married couples because unmarried heterosexuals in both their home state and the state of their civil union are not treated like married couples.

The shadow through which the judge slips is the difference, in the eyes of the law, between marriage and civil unions. If Vermont recognized common-law marriage to the exclusion of homosexuals, then it would be plain that civil unions and common-law marriages are not equivalent in either Vermont or, therefore, New York. Dunne takes the fact that the relevant categories are marriage, civil union, and nothing as reason to equate civil unions to a form of marriage that Vermont does not offer. (Legally speaking, it is important to note, marriage and common-law marriage are not really different forms of marriage, but merely different ways of entering into marriage.)

Another implication of this backward approach to requiring gay marriage to be portable is, obviously, that the Defense of Marriage Act was a waste of time and paper. Dunne dismissively concludes that "New York's public policy does not preclude recognition of a same-sex union entered into in a sister state." Therefore, because the state's judiciary, in the person of John Dunne, is accepting the gay marriage, the "government" is not being "required to give effect to" the marriage law of another state. Rather, the tacit argument goes, New York is opting to do so. Under its own laws it... requires said recognition.

Beyond the slippery methodology, with state courts' making a habit of citing each other's rulings, Dunne's logic will act as precedent, and this sentence will surely come into play:

It is unclear by what authority the Congress may suspend or limit the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution, and the constitutionality of DOMA has been put in doubt.

For its part, the New York case undermines DOMA both on the basis of treating civil unions as marriage without calling them such, and by making ambiguous to the point of inapplicability the idea of "required to give effect." Meanwhile, the California legislature has illustrated that New York's lack of a "mini DOMA" was not the decisive factor.

By a one-vote-majority party-line vote, that legislature has passed a domestic partnership law (in effect in 2005) that will equate those arrangements with marriage, despite the majority demand of the people that marriage be defined as between a man and a woman. So, even in states that have explicitly declared marriage to be limited to heterosexuals, civil-unions-gay-marriages-whatevers can be construed to grant all of the rights of marriage and, therefore, to be marriage.

Thus, in every state, in every area in which marriage touches on public life, most of which are personal and carry a great deal of emotion, activists will leverage the courts to push through their agenda. Where possible, they will push legislatures to create "marriage-like" unions that can then be moved across borders and transformed into relationships between "spouses."

The only means of stopping this avalanche mid-roll in such a way as to ensure that the decision to change the definition of marriage falls to the majority of our society is through constitutional amendment confirming the opposite-sex requirement and barring other civil arrangements from being treated as marriage-that-isn't-marriage. Without such a move, taken in full, there isn't even the plausible possibility of each state "experimenting" with such compromise measures as civil unions.

This case also shows why civil unions cannot, under equal protection, be limited to homosexuals or even, properly, members of the same sex or exclude close family members. If the logic — and emotional hook — is the degree of interdependence and commitment, there is really no reason to limit the benefits to gay couples.

In an emotional case akin to the one facing the courts of New York, would we discriminate against, say, heterosexual friends of opposite sex who were emotionally and financially reliant on each other merely because they were "just friends"? (That is, on the basis of their sexual orientation.) Or what about family members who are in the same situation?

Such argument is probably moot, anyway — what with judges taking the approach that their burden is to fit their preference into the law rather than judging what the law actually states.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:10 PM | Comments (4)
Marriage & Family

MoDo's Self Fisking?

Maureen Dowd is a walking, writing argument for government regulation of supposedly respectable opinionistas. Fortunately, she's not a very good argument for anything.

So bad has she become — such an outright joke — that she's now mocking herself, albeit perhaps not (yet) consciously. How else to explain a delusional column titled "Riding the Crazy Train"? How else to explain the fact that "ombudsman" is the final word of the piece? She's like a con artist whose deeply buried conscience is inspiring risks with the hope of being caught.

She even provided a perfect, obvious, and easily checkable example of her M.O.:

You wonder how many votes he scared off with that testosterone festival: the taunting message, the self-righteous geographic litany of support? The Philippines. Thailand. Italy. Spain. Poland. Denmark. Bulgaria. Ukraine. Romania. The Netherlands. Norway. El Salvador.

Can you believe President Bush is still pushing the cockamamie claim that we went to war in Iraq with a real coalition rather than a gaggle of poodles and lackeys?

The litany that the President actually offered was:

Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Netherlands, Norway, El Salvador, and the 17 other countries

It could not have been other than a conscious choice that she skipped the first four and Hungary. In other words, she knows that she's hawking (perhaps believing) a distorted view. The message is unmistakable: "I don't care about reality."

One might suggest that the New York Times joins her in the additional statement: "I don't care about the truth."

Following the trackback link to this post leads to a useful illustration by Citizen Smash for Ms. Dowd's and others' benefit — a map of Europe making the distinction between the Coalition of the Willing and Old Europe. Somehow, I think Ms. Dowd's view of Europe is more akin to this.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:50 AM
News Media

January 21, 2004

Constant Misunderstandings

I'm busy working, but I wanted to offer a quick review of two statements from the State of the Union last night because I've noticed that misunderstandings abound. The first, and most common (no links needed, just look around), is in response to this:

I signed this measure proudly, and any attempt to limit the choices of our seniors, or to take away their prescription drug coverage under Medicare, will meet my veto.

On its own, this looks like an attempt to split the middle, warning folks on the left who wish to edit out the freemarket components and folks on the right who wish to nix the thing altogether. As John Miller notes, there aren't many people in the latter category. Combine that truth with the fact that the previous paragraph dealt with the freemarket/choice aspect:

Under this reform, senior citizens will be able to keep their Medicare just as it is, or they can choose a Medicare plan that fits them best -- just as you, as members of Congress, can choose an insurance plan that meets your needs. And starting this year, millions of Americans will be able to save money tax-free for their medical expenses in a health savings account.

And it looks as if the veto warning was pretty strongly against those who would reform the reforms out of existence — with a nod in the other direction for the sake of a uniter-not-divider tone.

The second misunderstanding has to do with probably the oddest part of the entire speech:

To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message -- that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.

In response, Jeff Jarvis asks, "What the hell is the government doing getting involved in sports and steroids?" Well, the government isn't "getting involved" with them; the President just used his giant megaphone to encourage the sports industry to do something about steroids because... well, for whatever reason Bush had for doing that.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:19 PM

First Panic in the Year of the Breakdown

Well, I made it a full three weeks before my first career-related panic attack of the year. I'm not exaggerating when I say that, careerwise, I'm completely lost — staggering around the alleys of the economy like a vocational vagabond, spread too thinly, with too many interests and no reason to pursue any one with particular vigor, because there's little variation in lack of apparent opportunity, yet clinging to each like a worn bit of cloth in the dead of winter. More and more regularly, I've found myself lurking by the entrance of St. Jude's Home for the Uselessly Talented.

I'm going back to the drawing board with the Flash site. I just wasn't translating the vision with which I began into a final design, and it may be the case that I have to do some self-training before I'm able to do so. Perhaps a whole new concept is in order. We'll see. Meanwhile, my attempts to restart the piano playing are slipping (I've always found it more difficult to motivate myself to practice without a real piano, for some reason), and a delayed Web design means a delay in a return to writing my next book.

Well, such is life, particularly when full-time employment doing anything remotely similar to one's interests and/or well paying becomes like fruit to Tantalus, when one's family still lives in a shack, and when one has another child on the way. It is best, of course, to concentrate on that which is going well, but somebody must be aware of the looming dangers, and being that somebody in my house, I'm allowed to vent, no?

I began the year with three weeks of irrational optimism. With effort on my part, it will return, but there's a very real possibility that this could be the Year of the Second Breakdown. (Then again, the Year of the First Breakdown brought the first steps toward conversion.)

Stay tuned.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:34 PM
Diary & Confession

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:00 PM

The Center of Rhode Island, Last Night

The Providence Journal offers a view into the living room of the most famous Bush-supporting Rhode Islander:

On Friday, Ashley's father, Thomas, received a phone call from the president's speechwriter. Pearson, a truck driver, called Ashley up from the basement.

"He said I'm in big trouble," the tall and thin fifth grader said. "I didn't believe him."

Her dad broke the news: President Bush liked her letter so much, he planned to read it in his State of the Union address on national television. The family was stunned. ...

Ashley wrote the letter right after the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"I wanted to make sure that the troops got notice that I was proud of them and so were my friends," she said. "I thanked President Bush for doing the right decision for going to war. I sometimes think war is wrong, but he did the right decision because we could have been killed."

Ashley's mom took a deep breath as the rhythm of the president's words signaled the speech was coming to a close.

What a thrilling and hopeful scene. Thank you, Ashley.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:57 PM

January 20, 2004

Watching the Crowd

Oh, you'll hear more analysis than you want of the President's speech, so I'm not going to contribute to that avalanche, here, except for two points:

1) Regarding marriage, the President came out for an amendment more strongly than I'd expected, but not as strongly as he could have. He seems to be intent on putting the ball in the court of the judiciary and advertising the fact that it's there, but I'm not sure why. It almost gives the feeling that there's more going on behind the scenes — such as (to be paranoid) direct cooperation among judges — than the average citizen realizes.

It's more likely that he wants to ensure that any action he supports will represent a forced hand not only factually, but politically. I'm not sure when President Bush intends to kick his support into gear, or what he expects to be the trigger. Is he waiting for some word from Massachusetts? Will he swoop in upon the first court to transport a Massachusetts gay marriage to another state? Will that leave time? I don't know the answers to these or many other questions, but I kinda sorta got the feeling that the President had something in mind and wasn't just spouting hopes to keep his social conservative base in his camp. We'll see.

2) The Democrats offered a fabulous example of why they're in trouble, with slim chances of a recovery. Until they don't feel compelled to keep their seats when a Republican President lists all of the signs that Americans' financial lives are improving, they will continue to lose their connection to those Americans.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:34 PM | Comments (1)

A Seconded Confession

Just so Craig Henry doesn't feel himself alone in his dirty little secret, I empathize with this confession:

I know that conservatives are supposed to be excited that Dennis Miller is pro-Bush and that Arnold won in California. But to tell you the truth, i'd swap both of them for a half dozen candidates willing to log the miles and endure the mockery while they carried the conservative message into (currently) inhospitable areas.

Even if he is talking about Kucinich.

Arguably, Miller and Arnold bring select conservative views into about the most inhospitable area of American society, but the emphasis is entirely different than with the quality that Craig is lauding. Arnold ran for office because he believed he had a shot at winning; Miller has found himself a brand new audience — and solidified a base that he already held. Kucinich knew he would lose and thought his (loony) beliefs sufficiently important to run on them anyway.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:02 PM

Voted into Heaven

Patrick Sweeney writes on politicians and religion:

If these men and women are sincere in their claims to believe and profess the Catholic faith, then they acknowledge that at the end of this life they face neither a poll nor the Supreme Court but another judge.

It seems to me that evil has won the game when the one inadmissible factor in a decision is a leader's religious belief. (Of course, God is often cited, but only with the tacit understanding that His approval isn't decisive — or even more than a public endorsement.) Consider this JFK statement that Patrick quotes:

Whatever issue may come before me as President--on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject--I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.

How could it ever be possible for defying God to be in the national interest? And in what is your conscience rooted if not your religious belief? This is the sleight of hand whereby a politician builds an illusion of morality into a fundamentally amoral policy.

A President could certainly follow the rules of his office without reference to his faith inasmuch as the decisions require no judgment. But Americans don't want a President to be a paperpusher, an automaton; they want him to be a leader.

It speaks ill of our system of government that those who run for office have such difficulty saying what is so obviously appropriate and inescapable:

I will administer my position within the bounds and structures of my office, but when my duties require me to apply moral judgment, I will follow those religious dictates by which I've formed my conscience. However, where it is not given to me, in my public role, to express my conscience, I will concede what I believe to be right for the greater good of the rule of law and the blessing that is our representative democracy.

The whole thing — politics and government, that is — is hardly worth serious comment, though. None of it means anything, and all such declarations and promises are applied only as convenient... for the most part.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:55 PM | Comments (3)

Spoils of War

Michael Williams notes that billions of Saddam's dollars found their way to Syria and says:

That money rightfully belongs to the American people, and should be immediately claimed as spoils of war and used to pay Halliburton to develop Iraq's oil fields and build a giant pipeline to Texas through the center of the earth.

Wonder how many people out there wouldn't realize that Michael's kidding — probably about the same number who thought Dean's defeat speech erudite and inspiring.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:51 PM | Comments (1)
Middle East

Songs You Should Know 01/20/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Too Good to Be True" by me.

"Too Good to Be True" Justin Katz, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:00 PM


I can't take it anymore. I've been laughing so hard my stomach hurts, and I want to personally thank Howard Dean for making my Tuesday morning so enjoyable.

Set to music

Can't wait to hear Rush, today. [Rush wasn't as good as I expected. — JK]

Stop. No, no, stop! As you poke around the Internet, see if you can keep from laughing every time you see that another columnist has spelled out — in all caps — Howard Dean's who-left-the-plunger-in-the-toilet yell.

Uh-oh. Is Dean a trendsetter?

"Howard's non-syllabic verbal flourish put his opponents on notice and set a new standard for statesman-like oratory," said the unnamed official. "During the foreign policy segment of tonight's address, the President will cut loose with a Dean-like jurassic screech that will set your hair on end. I've heard him do it in rehearsal, and it will definitely tell the terrorists that America is a force to be reckoned with. Our Commander-in-Chief is one tough velociraptor."
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:25 AM | Comments (1)

January 19, 2004

A Few Righteous Citizens

David Kupelian explored the dark side of our culture in a two part series:

Remember in the classic, biblical epic films of the 1950s, how Sodom and Gomorrah were portrayed? Drunken men with multiple piercings and bright red robes, with one loose woman under each arm, cavorting in orgiastic revelry against a background of annoying, mosquito-like music? Maybe a bone through the nose as well? Hollywood took pains to depict these lost souls in the most debauched and irredeemable manner — to justify their subsequent destruction with fire and brimstone as punishment for their great sinfulness.

Guess what? Those Hollywood depictions don't even begin to capture the shocking reality of what is going on right here in America's culture today — I mean, they're not even close.

Lord help us. I think I know of ten righteous people... I think.

Kupelian prescribes home schooling as one method to raise children well amidst the madness. Parents must make their own decisions, but as tempting as home schooling is, I'm not yet convinced that it is for the ultimate good of the children or the society. (But then, I've always been a bit of a brawler.) At any rate, there is reason for hope exactly where it mightn't be expected:

Today's youth rebellion is not only against failing parents, but against the entire adult society — against the children of the 1960s cultural revolution who grew up to become their parents. Unfortunately, many of us never shook off the transforming effects of that national trauma, which birthed the "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" youth counterculture, the leftist hate-America movement, the women's liberation movement and overriding all, of course, the sexual revolution.

By this point in the second part, Kupelian clearly means "youth rebellion" to indicate children's taking their culture to the next level of depravity. That's not the whole story, however. Some number of those children of the children of the Sixties are rebelling toward morality. In that respect, Kupelian is absolutely correct that proper culture is going to have to reassert itself as a subculture, first. But that doesn't mean that those who would initiate the subculture ought to disengage themselves into caverns of home schools and secret living-room gatherings.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:26 PM | Comments (2)

Flash Feedback Welcome

Now that the blog is redesigned and will do me for at least another year and a half, I'm back to trying to crank out the first Flash version of timshelarts.com, and I've gotten it to a point at which I'm not embarrassed to show it. So, if you've got a Flash player and relatively good bandwidth, take a look.

Thus far, there are only two interactive components, and only one of them does anything much. Even so, I very much welcome — value — your input.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:53 PM
Site-Related Announcements

Pushing Western Ideals (Here and There)

Nicholas Kristoff has not escaped the ire of this blog, but his latest column goes outside of the topics of the day to explore a travesty that demands global outrage:

One thinks of slavery as an evil confined to musty sepia photographs. But there are 21st-century versions of slaves as well, girls like Srey Neth. ...

Some 700,000 people are trafficked around the world each year, many of them just girls. They form part of what I believe will be the paramount moral challenge we will face in this century: to address the brutality that is the lot of so many women in the developing world. Yet it's an issue that gets little attention and that most American women's groups have done shamefully little to address.

Such reporting illustrates exactly why we are obligated to push "Western values" around the world. Yes, yes, we ought to be circumspect about what we push and what we respect of indigenous cultures, and we can't ignore the ways in which evil seeps its fingers into our own culture, but it simply can't be argued that the West is anything other than a force for good in the world, all things considered.

(via Right Wing News)

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:48 AM | Comments (4)

An Invitation from God

Of course, sometimes we're intended to "turn temptation away," in Lileks's words:

As I have noted from time to time, I’m a Lutheran Deist. By some peculiar coincidence my concept of God flatters my own conceptions of the universe; imagine that. If I were king of the forest, and I set this blue-green ball up to follow my dictates, I would have made the night sky inky black - if you want the bald apes below to follow your lead, don't give them stars; they;ll only make up stupid stories. But the night is alive; there are a billion blazing stars above. A challenge? A warning? A promise? We don’t know, but they are so very tempting. And we are notoriously bad at turning temptation away. Haven't you ever looked up at the great dark beyond and felt you were being drawn from where you stood, carried into something greater? Every night the sky is an invitation. Who can look up and see nothing but a roof?

As I've written at length, I believe it may be the case that we're meant to turn away from this very temptation... at some point. We're not there yet, though, as far as I can see, so onward Christian astronauts.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:07 AM

January 18, 2004

The Mystery of Saving Marriage

Every now and then, a columnist will write something that makes column-writing seem as if it must be an arduous job. The need to make pronouncement on every issue that crosses the desk — and to do so before everybody else has — must apply dreadful pressure to come up with something to say. Froma Harrop has one such column on that Bush marriage initiative, about which nobody can do anything but speculate.

Given the political realities at work, it would seem naive to seriously discuss the merits of a campaign to promote marriage. But let's do it anyway.

Well, if it is naive to discuss those merits when the specifics are known, it is ridiculous to discuss them when they are nothing more than guesses. So, constituting Harrop's attempt to get out in front on this item, we get cliché and commonplaces:

Similar programs have tried but failed. Have consultants found a new way to sweet-talk people into tying the knot? And is doing so really a good idea? Most everyone agrees that children are better off in a stable marriage. But suppose one of the parents is an abuser, drug addict or drunk.

There's another concern. Programs that advertise marriage as an emotional and economic cure-all encourage hasty unions. Some blame high divorce rates in the Bible Belt on a culture that oversells marriage to couples too young to understand the deal.

To end on an unromantic note, money does matter in a marriage. While marriages are ideally based on moral and emotional commitments, economic tensions can strain even the good ones.

These paragraphs have the unmistakable feel of a writer casting about for anything that she can think to say. You've heard that catch phrase about "ass-u-me"? Well, keep that in mind:

The marriage promoters seem to assume that single mothers are sitting around spurning marriage offers from good providers.

An assumption on what will be assumed! Well, whatever her accuracy, Harrop has staked out her ground. The specifics of the $1.5 billion initiative probably won't come — sufficiently for Harrop — in the form of disguised welfare nor socialized healthcare.

The column did me one good turn, though: I now feel exculpated in my decision not to make comment on Bush's program until I know what it is.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:54 PM
Marriage & Family

January 17, 2004

A Harder Charity

The defining benefit of being a Believer is the view that the universe means something; there's a purpose, or at least a higher level to reality than our everyday aches, pains, and pleasures. For the Christian believer, this benefit is infinitely enhanced through our being intimately connected to this Purpose and our confidence that it all works out to our eternal elation — if we allow it to.

The entire universe is designed in such a way that this acceptance must be a choice. We are so designed that it must be our choice, individually. Even in the height of tranquility, human beings can reject God, while even in the pits of suffering, in flames, or on a cross, we can turn to Him. Often, comfort makes faith more difficult, while those who suffer in faith are blessed.

So here we have a single choice that is personal, individual, and of central import in our lives. Bringing people to the proper understanding is the single most charitable task we can undertake. In fact, it is so central and so important that we are positively obligated to further others' faith. It is more important than ensuring that the poor have warm coats in winter. More important than feeding poor children in distant countries. More important, even, than protecting the unborn.

Unfortunately, faith is not something that we can donate to others. We can never give it as a gift; we can only move others toward it and walk them around it in circles until they see it for themselves. And as it happens, accomplishing this requires warming and feeding them and turning them toward the choice of life. It involves, in short, every facet of our interactions. Thus — where the ambiguous design of the world intersects with our individuality — our everyday aches, pains, and pleasures come to represent the purpose and the higher reality.

I bring this all up, here and now, because people are forgetting to ask themselves whose souls they are looking to save when they act. "Preaching to the choir" may be useless, but when the saved seek only to save each other, the result can be catastrophe — weighed down by the fact of salvation, rather than elevated by its pursuit.

What reward is there for loving those who love you — for convincing those who already agree? Will you save your family by shunning those who have forgotten what family is for? Will you save yourself from corruption by closing your ears to those who mistakenly call it virtue?

Whose soul are you looking to save?

When somebody with whom you periodically agree raises a matter of disagreement, it can serve no purpose to send him away to express it to others who will be sympathetic. Deroy Murdock sought to turn the principles of social conservatives — with whom he shares cause in other areas — around on them. The response should be what? "Get out; you and I cannot coexist"? For my part, I think it is better to listen and to reply with credulity — or good-natured incredulity.

When Catherine Seipp skips through the over-scented roses and titters, it wastes opportunity if we push her to the door and add insult to the stench of sin. Who, in our company, will be seduced by the smell? The problem with communication is that it requires listening. We can either seek those on the other side out and berate them where they control the guest list, or we can invite them out of their insulation. This doesn't mean that we allow them to bring samples of their smut, but if we don't hear their arguments, we can't know what to leverage in order to convince them to stay with us.

Worse: if we fear even their words, then some among us, or between, may be intrigued, having gotten the impression of a phantom strength. If we have the stronger argument and the greater Truth — let alone a Divine Will actively working through us — then it is in our interest to connect with those whose values repel us. Don't we believe that we'll win, ultimately? Of course, we do; we have no reason to say, "Get out of here with those questions," as if we fear that we lack for answers. The answers are there — although they slip from us, if we never have cause to recite them, and they are lost to those who never hear.

This goes on through layers of subtlety and degrees of disagreement. Sometimes we have to shock or offend people into asking new questions of us or (better) of themselves. Sometimes tentative encouragement is needed. We can never give up, though. It may be that one just cannot address the needs of another — whether for reason of time or of temper — which is to say that a break is necessary. But if we aren't letting the land lie, then we ought to stoke its fertility.

This is why I found it unconscionable for Mark Shea to encourage his readers to go out of their way to harm the dreams — the livelihood — of Joseph D'Hippolito. Yes, if Mark believes that Joseph has dangerous ideas, he ought to address those ideas. But if Mark saw a "facade of sanity" in Joseph's article, there must be some understanding of sanity there with which to work. (To be clear, I don't believe that it was a facade.) In our capacity to influence each other toward better thinking, we have to offer encouragement when the direction is true. Mark and his reader instead made it clear that Joseph was damned, in their eyes, either way.

We aren't on this Earth to allocate our brethren into categories of damned and undamned. It isn't even our place to predict an outcome. Why should people who would give murderers every chance to repent discard hope with those who are willing to engage in debate? Our shared room is less a "big tent" than a tabernacle. The purpose of the former is to gather for battle. The purpose of the latter is simply to be present, and it isn't for us to decide who enters.

I can't claim to have the key to the aforementioned eternal elation, but I suspect that our entrance has less to do with the speed or directness of our approach than with the number of people — friends — with whom we arrive.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:51 AM | Comments (9)

January 16, 2004

Just When I Thought I Could Start to Get Along with the Catholic Blogging In-Crowd (Except for Mark Shea)

I was ignoring the whole Shea v. NRO thing today because, well, everybody involved is certainly able to develop their own arguments, and their platforms are all much higher than mine. But now that we're nearing the end of the week, it's all gotten to be too much. What lit the first match, which fell into a patch of sticks at Mark Shea's site, was this post from Tom at Disputations (for whom I have the utmost respect, be it known) (emphasis in original):

... notice the language used: "Attack of the Social Conservatives." "...it is wise of them to attack those allies they have?" This is the language of war. From NRO's perspective, as I perceive it, there is very little room for discussion. There's a war going on, and any criticism from an "ally" is an "attack" that distracts from the war effort.

Well, that's not entirely true. There is room for disagreement between some conservatives on some issues, but evidently not for pointing out that there's more room for disagreement on family issues than on military issues.

A result of this war mentality, this habit of belligerence, is that an otherwise-sensible person finds himself asking, "Do you think that's wise?" when someone else argues his priorities may not be properly ordered.

I found myself unable to withhold comment, linking to this from Shea:

I think it shameful that NRO prints celebratory bullshit like this and tries to dress it up as just one more reason that America is the Anointed of God

And this:

Family is... okay. They're for that. Pretty much. I mean, they're not *fanatics* or anything. But mostly, they think it's a... value. And should be... favored and, er, defended. Kind of.

It's better than nothing and certainly is vastly better than the avowed enemies of the family on the Left.

And of course, Ramesh Ponnuru, whom Tom is quoting, noted multiple attacks fronts instances of harsh words. Can it really be said that Ponnuru drew the idea of "attack" and "allies" out of the thin air of his own belligerence?

Mark, for one, is always on the attack. It's his shtick. Does it indicate a "war mentality" on Shea's part that he uses "somewhat less polite language" — "the coarse Anglo-Saxon English of us groundlings who must endure the fads that the chattering classes in New York, DC, and Hollywood enact into law and manufacture for mass consumption in the Culture Factories of music, TV, media and art"?

Well, even if it perpetuates my fringe, off-the-blogroll status among a certain squadron of our online Catholic regiment, I cannot do otherwise than insist that this is just a bit too much to take from Shea:

What amazes and pleases me is that NRO listened to this complaint in a spirit of actual intellectual engagement, rather than just ignoring or caricaturing their critics. That's a rather rare thing in a culture that no longer knows how to do anything besides emote and preface everything with the all-excusing phrase, "I feel..."

Little wonder that he's amazed...

(Oh well. Back to the classifieds.)

If you've come here via Mark Shea, and if you've got a moment to spare, please do me the service of considering my explanation for my aggravation. (And if you've never been here before and find that the design inhibits reading, clicking "Turn Light On" under "Page Style" at the top of the left-hand column ought to remedy the problem.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:39 PM
Bloggers Blogging

Discarding the Chaff


No doctor is going to do an abortion on a live fetus. That doesn't happen. Doctors don't do that. If they do, they'll get their license pulled, as well they should.

What does Howard Dean think "abortion" means? Well, obviously, the doctor knows what it means; it's just another instance of his wanting to give people a reason to believe what they know to be false.

Enough plausible "deludability." Let's go in for honesty. Victor Lams, for example, offers an idea that I think would translate wonderfully as a pro-choice picture book ("Momma's Gonna Buy You a Parrot"?):

You know, Timmy, the reason you have so many wonderful toys today is because Mommy and Daddy thought it was best to kill off your brothers and sisters. Isn't that wonderful? Why on earth are you holding that baby doll so tight? Awww, Timmy. It's not like we would ever.... Don't worry: Mommy and Daddy love you. Seriously -- come out of that corner. Fine. What do you want? A parrot? Parrots can talk to you and play games, too. Good. We'll get you a parrot. Remember, Timmy: kids with brothers and sisters don't get parrots!
Posted by Justin Katz at 4:41 PM

The Image Alone

I thought the picture alone so hilarious that it needed no embellishment. But that was before Chris Muir went and embellished. I'm still laughing, and I first looked at it this morning.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:33 PM | Comments (2)

Among Christians and a Comprehensive Defense

Fr. David Lewis Stokes Jr. strikes at the heart of the gay marriage debate for Christians:

If the possibility of legal same-sex marriage has done anything, it has exposed just how impoverished we are in our communal reflection on the mystery of the human person -- including a majority of American Christians. But this possibility also presents Christians with an incredible challenge after two millennia: to attempt some sort of articulate retrieval of the divine mystery that exists uniquely between male and female -- to divest ourselves of those secular categories by which we betrayed this mystery to begin with.

I've certainly formed a deeper understanding of my own marriage and its purpose through thinking (and arguing) about gay marriage. However, I think Fr. Stokes risks either overstatement on his part or misunderstanding on the part of others when he suggests that Christians' phrasing marriage as a social unit is an example of the tendency "to adopt the categories of the societies they addresses." Moreover, he makes the perfect the enemy of the good and undermines practical application of that good when he writes:

At long last we have an opportunity (God-given?) to recover what we betrayed. Such a retrieval, such a divestment, such a recovery will not be accomplished through a constitutional amendment. Nor will it be aided by a president reciting that marriage means one thing and one thing only, a man and a woman -- as if this were some self-vindicating mantra. Nor will Christian discourse be helped in any way by angry letters to the editor disgusted at photos of two men kissing.

For if amendments, mantras, and irate letters are the best we can do, we deserve to be laughed out of the forum.

Of course, we must make rhetorical recourse to the full depth of our belief in marriage and its significance, and of course, we must strive to reach that depth for ourselves. However, for both the social support that helps us to do so and the good of others who have not yet entered knee-high, we shouldn't refrain from measures that extend out beyond our own theology.

We tend to lose sight of our faith's reflection in "the categories of society," too.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:29 PM
Marriage & Family

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:21 AM

Rebellion in the Ranks

Well, it looks like the fabled "base" is getting restless:

National leaders of six conservative organizations yesterday broke with the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, accusing them of spending like "drunken sailors," and had some strong words for President Bush as well.

"The Republican Congress is spending at twice the rate as under Bill Clinton, and President Bush has yet to issue a single veto," Paul M. Weyrich, national chairman of Coalitions for America, said at a news briefing with the other five leaders. "I complained about profligate spending during the Clinton years but never thought I'd have to do so with a Republican in the White House and Republicans controlling the Congress."

Warning of adverse consequences in the November elections, the leaders said the Senate must reject the latest House-passed omnibus spending bill or Mr. Bush should veto the measure.

The President is insulated from this chill by the fact that none of the Democrat contenders can be trusted with national security. If handing the office to one of them increases the likelihood of a catastrophic terrorist attack in America in the near-to-mid future by a factor of three or four, as I would guess, the spending simply pales in comparison. However, I've reached the point, myself, at which I'm not sure how disheartened I'd be to see the legislature go back to the Democrats.

I'm sure there are a number of factors that I haven't considered that make such a thing a bad idea, but between the spending and the myriad slaps in the conservative face from the federal government as it currently stands, it's getting a bit hard to take. Luckily, by virtue of my state, this dynamic doesn't come into play for my next vote; I'm voting Republican for Congress to unseat Pat Kennedy and Democrat (or independent) for Senate to unseat Linc Chafee.

Maybe that's the answer: if one of your federal representatives is a relatively liberal Republican, don't allow party affiliation to justify your voting for him or her. Of course, Linc makes that protest a particularly easy one for me to make.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:19 AM | Comments (2)

January 15, 2004

Dennis Miller's Wrong Way to Be Right

I've always been a big fan of Dennis Miller's, but I'm glad somebody took the time to address this:

Mr. Miller said he remained socially liberal. "I think abortion's wrong, but it's none of my business to tell somebody what's wrong," he said. "So I'm pro-choice. I want to keep my nose out of other people's personal business. I guess I fall into conservative when it comes to protecting the United States in a world where a lot of people hate the United States."

Some might point out that even just saying that abortion is wrong is a moderately conservative stance. I didn't point out anything when I read that this morning because I was busy, but if I had, I would have said something akin to Michael Williams's response:

Why does Mr. Miller think abortions (of convenience) are wrong at all? Either he sees them as the taking of a life (that needs to be justified), or not. If he doesn't see abortion as taking a life, then why is it even mildly wrong? If he does see abortion as killing, then why wouldn't he be in favor of laws putting the same justification requirements on abortion as exist for all other sorts of killing?
Posted by Justin Katz at 6:08 PM | Comments (8)

Shea's Hit Squad

Neat! Mark Shea's got a hit squad! One of his readers sent this to FrontPageMagazine.com in response to Joseph's piece therein:

As a regular reader of FrontPageMag.com, I was dismayed to see that, on Jan. 8, you offered a platform for the views of Joseph D'Hippolito.

Over the past couple of years, Mr. D'Hippolito has made himself into a tirelessly bitter antagonist of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. He's well known on a number of Catholic weblogs for his repetitive diatribes against his favorite object of derision, Pope John Paul II. Many's the time he has shown his eagerness to twist any discussion, no matter the subject, into such an attack. ...

Jamie, I hope you will reconsider the wisdom of providing Joseph D'Hippolito with a platform on FrontPage -- not only for the legitimacy I fear the placement will confer on his rancorous and far-out views wherever they're posted, but also for the deleterious effects that the presence of a resolute propagandist will have on the reputation of FrontPage.

About the actual piece that FrontPage published? Nothing whatsoever, although Mark is good enough to admit that Joseph "managed to maintain a facade of sanity throughout his article." As for what Mark of the Rattling Cup thinks about the inclination of one of his readers to transport comment-box discussions into the punditry world in such a way as to do harm to another's professional ambitions:

Kudos to my reader for calling FPM's attention to their blunder. If this man becomes a regular go-to guy for pro-war journals seeking pundits to make the case for some Grand End to Evil Project and to rally the troops against the Church when Just War doctrine becomes inconvenient, it will do more than any thing they could possibly do to demonstrate the bankruptcy of the Agitprop Campaign. He should not be touched with a barge pole. Only utter ignorance of his fanatical views or total desperation would explain it if he goes into editorial rolodexes as some sort of serious Catholic Pundit. And FPM is no longer ignorant.

You can think what you want of me for saying this, but frankly, I'm disgusted by this behavior. So disgusted, in fact, that I can't formulate adequate insults that wouldn't sink below the level that I'd like to maintain. Suffice to say that Mark has confirmed, for me, my previous suggestion that he and some of his followers are evangelists for any faith but their own. By the same token, perhaps I was wrong to seek to offer statistical comfort to those who fear the reach of his acrimony. Yet, despite this disgust, I would never write to editors who give Mark a byline and paycheck to discourage them from publishing the work of a man who has suggested that "God Bless America" is an apt theme for murderers.

If you've got a personal problem with a writer and/or something he's said and written, and you feel inclined to address them away from a platform of your own, do what you can to rebut his statements wherever you find them. If it seems relevant, include in that rebuttal an allusion to previous instances of "vile and monstrous ideas." But if the only ammunition you've the temper or intelligence to use includes references to decontextualized impressions about statements made in Internet comment boxes, then use your itching fingers to do something productive, like pick your nose.

Look as I might, I can't see the Christian value in the actions of Shea's Brownshirts.1 A brutal dictator proves himself a dangerous belligerent in a terrorist-infested world? Turn the other cheek. A fellow Catholic makes some excessive comments on the Internet? Sic 'im.

1. "I refer to gay activists and gays who intimidate, shout down, bully, threaten, muzzle, physically harm and even kill as brownshirts."

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:01 PM | Comments (2)
Bloggers Blogging

Don't Compare Hitler to Hitler

Having just hinted at the unfairness of painting MoveOn.org's ad contest with the red ink from the two Bush=Hitler ads, Sheila Lennon links to a comment on the subject with the title "Let's not retire the Hitler comparisons."

The title is misleading. David Weinberger's essay actually makes a worthwhile point that we oughtn't forget that Germany reached the horror that it did through some series of events, and that we shouldn't hesitate to learn from that history. Of course, the circumstances, both domestic and geopolitical, that brought Hitler to power make his situation different in just about every significant way from George Bush's.

But Weinberger's argument is well taken, particularly if we remember that some steps that may be cause for concern may not, therefore, be unjustified to take at a given time. It further legitimizes the argument if we emphasize, as Mike Sanders seems to do in a comment to Weinberger's post, that the similarities can come from both sides of the aisle (ahem — refer to the NRO picture in the previous post).

All of this said, it would be remiss of me not to draw attention to a parenthetical that nearly made me discount everything Weinberger had to say thereafter:

(Oddly, none of these commentators have complained about the Bush administration's repeated characterization of opponents of the Iraq war as "appeasers," a direct reference to the British policy of appeasement that failed to stop Hitler, or about its use of the phrase "Axis of evil" with its implicit comparison to WWII's Axis.)

That's jaw-dropping in its foolishness. Think it through (as my Dad used to insist I do): If one refers to British appeasers to explain anti-war folks in the U.S., then Hitler, in the modern parallel, would be... Saddam Hussein. The Axis of Evil designation compares Iraq, Iran, and North Korea with Germany, Italy, and Japan. How are either of these inapt — let alone unfair? Moreover, how do they even begin to balance the rhetorical scale with calling the President of the United States Hitler?

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:53 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

Today's Banner at NRO

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:07 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

They're Heeere (A Liberal Administration)

Fr. Rob learns from The West Wing:

I think that Leftism is false, like any other ideology, because it is an a priori approach to the world. As such, it fails to acknowledge or account for reality. It fails in economics because it fails to account for the principle of scarcity, the reality of the market, and how human beings actually behave economically. It fails in social policy because it fails to acknowledge the reality of human nature, most often by denying that there is such a thing at all, or by holding, usually implicitly, that human nature can somehow be changed. It fails morally also because it fails to account for human nature (usually by ignoring the Fall and its consequences), and because it denies, most often implicitly, but sometimes explicitly, the reality of the created order and its Author.

You can follow the link to see how this view relates to the television show and the circumstances under which the connection occurred to Fr. Rob. Let's just say that liberals would prefer to recast the role of reality's Screenwriter.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:37 AM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

The Tools and Mission We Give Children

Noah Millman notes further evidence of a trend — actually, the coalescence of two trends — that I've been following for a while. Here's the first, visible in the contrast between the United States and the United Kingdom:

The surge among youngsters to espouse President Bush's tough moral stance on teenage sex - he has ploughed $117 million (Ł64 million) into what is known as "abstinence education" in schools - has been credited with slashing America's hitherto high rate of teenage pregnancies. ...

In the past decade, the number of teenage pregnancies in America has decreased by 30 per cent, with the past year's statistics indicating a historic low of just 43 births per 1,000 teenage girls.

The strategy has been acknowledged as a success, and we, on the other side of the Atlantic, look on in envy. In Britain, the Government has adopted a vastly different approach - that of dishing out condoms and morning-after pills, making sex education compulsory in secondary schools, and inundating our teenagers with explicit information on sex. Sex education in our schools is aimed at increasing sexual knowledge and encouraging contraception to combat teenage pregnancy, rather than condemning underage sex: preventing pregnancy rather than preventing sex is the Government's aim.

While it is a strategy that is lauded in liberal circles, it is also a strategy that has not worked. We have failed utterly to reduce the numbers of gymslip mothers. For the past 12 years Britain has been the pregnancy capital of Europe. According to Unicef's latest figures, in 2002 some 41,966 British girls under 18 became pregnant. Of those, 5,954 were 15; 2,011 were 14, and 450 were under 14.

The second trend — more of a "reality" — very well may be related to the fact that the British Telegraph capitalizes "Government":

As president, Mr Clinton introduced legislation that ensured single teenage mothers received welfare and childcare only if they undertook job training - and then cut off those cash benefits after a maximum of two years. It meant that heavily subsidised public housing and hefty benefit cheques were no longer an incentive for young girls to become pregnant: a baby in your teens means a lifetime of drudgery, was the message.

In Britain, surveys indicate that for many teenagers becoming pregnant is an aspiration: the benefits and cheap local authority housing available is seen by some as a reason to become pregnant - especially for teenagers from impoverished or broken homes. A recent poll by the Family Education Trust indicated that 45 per cent of single pregnant teenagers had either wanted to conceive or "didn't mind" that they had. The introduction of Ł5,000 worth of free nursery care to enable pregnant teenagers to return to school is seen by many as a "perverse incentive" to attract young girls into parenthood.

The two-pronged attack seems about right to me: stop teaching kids that they should have "safe" sex (as opposed to no sex) and don't take away the consequences of pregnancy to the extent that they become benefits. When government bureaucrats take the approach that children should "be aware of and enjoy their sexuality" and "young women have the right to freedom from unplanned pregnancy and a fulfilling sex life," the results can be tragic (at least to those with healthy moral views themselves):

Katie, 17, from Swindon, may have been unaware of her local authority's approach, but her life reflects its ethos. At 16 she gave birth to Brandon: father unknown. "We did loads of sex education at school," she says. "I used the morning-after pill a few times, but, you know, you forget . . ." She shrugs. "I was hanging out with boys from when I was 13. My mum knew. She put me on the pill. She thought, 'Better safe than sorry.' To me it was like saying go out and sleep with boys. And I would forget to take that too." Though she has not been given local authority housing Katie receives income support, which entitles her to a host of other benefits.

From her pocket she pulls out a battered pamphlet. Published by the Brook Association, the Good Grope Guide is part of its schools sex manual which is directed at 13-year-olds. One of her friends has another, this time a Family Planning Association booklet aimed at 14-16-year-olds. "Abortion," it assures its readers, "is nothing to worry about."

"We are not like your generation," her friend says. "We get taught how to do it. When I was 14 we were shown a video in school that told us all about sexual positions. And it said that we should consider oral sex if we were a bit unsure about going all the way."

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:27 AM
Marriage & Family

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:01 AM

January 14, 2004

Betting on the Game's Breaks

Craig Henry notes that thirty seconds of Super Bowl advertising time is going for $2.25 million this year. That's a whole lot o' dough to be banking on a single production. Not only is there the gamble, but it may be that viewers' expectations for the commercials actually diminish their value:

There is also the danger of hyper-awareness. Viewers watch, evaluate, and discuss the commercials as commercials. The underlying product can easily get lost. Often advertisers end up making a "great commercial" rather than one that most effectively conveys their message.

What's worse, perhaps, is the intersection of the gamble and the expectations. I wouldn't be surprised if it were true that Super Bowl viewers are actually more likely to recall the products behind bad commercials, but as an unfavorable impression. Advertisers can't fail much more magnificently than by spending $2.25 million for the privilege of giving that many people the impression that the client let them down.

Somewhat related: I've been surprised, and a little disappointed, at my own susceptibility to marketing strategies. The latest indications of this are MCI's Neighborhood commercials. When Danny Glover was the company's spokesman, I found myself inclined to hiss whenever I saw the telltale yellow and green of the campaign. Now that they've switched to "live" performances of feel-good music — of a variety that I like — that accords with the aesthetic of the neighborhood theme, my visceral reaction has completely changed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:24 PM

Politics Illustrated

Cox & Forkum's latest t-shirt design is good for a belly laugh. And just when you think you're done, you spot another aspect that's good for a few more chuckles.

Meanwhile, Chris Muir's Day by Day today is downright profound. Not only that, but he also showed the good sense to (apparently) stop by Victor Lams's blog. Chris suggested that Victor's prediction of a Gen X vs. Boomer battle captures the major theme for Day by Day.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:40 PM | Comments (1)

Nice Ad, Dumb Message

Sheila Lennon promotes the results of the anti-Bush-ad contest on her Providence Journal blog today. It cannot be denied that the winning ad is very well done, makes its point cleverly, and taps into an aspect of the Bush presidency about which I, personally, am not particularly happy: the budget. Charlie Fisher, the ad's creator, certainly deserved his award.

That said, I can't help but think that a great deal of talent has been wasted on a dubious message. The spot features children working blue-collar jobs, with the message that they are doing so to pay off the debt with which Bush has saddled them. Leaving aside the fact that the legislature controls the purse, the message is one that ought to be a bit difficult for anybody with a political memory of more than four years to take these days.

When Clinton was racing against President Bush's father, the media was full of a similar message about the deficit that future generations would have to pay. Yet, with a surge in the economy, that deficit turned into a surplus. The current deficit is too high, of course, and I'd like for President Bush to break out the red pen more often during his second term, but it's still disappointing that deficit rhetoric, at the tail end of an economic downturn, would be the subject of such polished grandstanding.

Nonetheless, all of the other ads were much worse in the extent to which they substituted simplified polemic for substantive commentary. None of the winners, thankfully, reached the level of those Nazi ads, but their spirit was there, as Margaret Cho illustrated by declaring:

George Bush is not Hitler. He would be if he fu--ing applied himself.

According to Drudge, the comment received "big, extended applause." Funny how Ms. Lennon, who has explained her role at the Projo to me as pointing out in the new media what her readers might not have seen in the old, didn't mention Drudge's direct transcript clips, linking instead to some glossed and adoring coverage from liberal sources. (I've offered to blog for the Projo — you know, to provide some balance and to give its readers a view into the other half of the Internet — but they declined.)

As for Mr. Fisher's ad, if he would just tweak it a bit to direct its ire at Big Government, generally, or the progressive movements that have made two-income families a necessity, it would be brilliant.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:14 PM

NY Times: War Changes Nothing

So, did anything significant change, for Saddam Hussein, between the decade plus leading up to early spring last year and the following summer? Apparently, the New York Times doesn't think so. Here's the news:

Saddam Hussein warned his Iraqi supporters to be wary of joining forces with foreign Arab fighters entering Iraq to battle American troops, according to a document found with the former Iraqi leader when he was captured, Bush administration officials said Tuesday.

The document appears to be a directive, written after he lost power, from Mr. Hussein to leaders of the Iraqi resistance, counseling caution against getting too close to Islamic jihadists and other foreign Arabs coming into occupied Iraq, according to American officials. ...

Officials said Mr. Hussein apparently believed that the foreign Arabs, eager for a holy war against the West, had a different agenda from the Baathists, who were eager for their own return to power in Baghdad. As a result, he wanted his supporters to be careful about becoming close allies with the jihadists, officials familiar with the document said.

One might reasonably assume that Hussein's tremendous loss of power and resources might have changed his thinking with respect to working with an international terrorist organization somewhat. Nobody ever suggested that ties between Saddam and Osama were anything other than individually self-serving. However, the paragraph that I cut out with the ellipsis suggests that the Times doesn't consider this changed perspective to have been much of a factor:

It provides a second piece of evidence challenging the Bush administration contention of close cooperation between Mr. Hussein's government and terrorists from Al Qaeda. C.I.A. interrogators have already elicited from the top Qaeda officials in custody that, before the American-led invasion, Osama bin Laden had rejected entreaties from some of his lieutenants to work jointly with Mr. Hussein.

No, it provides evidence that any cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda was based not on their mutual well-being, but mutual dedication to our defeat. In fact, it sounds as if their alliance has taken about the same form that has been claimed, on a larger scale, for before the war: "Military and intelligence officials say they have detected cooperation at the tactical level, on individual attacks, but have less evidence of any coordination at a broader strategic level."

Does the Times require its writers to have or to seek to acquire any acumen at all when it comes to analysis of tactical matters? Or even just critical thinking? The overriding principle must be "Get Bush" if a news story about Hussein's advice to his followers not to work with Islamic jihadists too closely after the war prompts analysis that the President was wrong that the two groups had ties before it.

Of course, "contention of close cooperation" is a strawman — and vague, too — meaning that the Times is now on its third or fourth tier of flawed analysis.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:48 PM
News Media

A Mixed Bag on Manhood

Terrence O. Moore's essay, "Wimps and Barbarians: The Sons of Murphy Brown," is hereby tentatively recommended. His assessment of the problem, at the beginning:

For more than a decade I have been in a position to see young men in the making. As a Marine, college professor, and now principal of a K-12 charter school, I have deliberately tried to figure out whether the nation through its most important institutions of moral instruction—its families and schools—is turning boys into responsible young men. Young women, always the natural judges of the male character, say emphatically "No." In my experience, many young women are upset, but not about an elusive Prince Charming or even the shortage of "cute guys" around. Rather, they have very specific complaints against how they have been treated in shopping malls or on college campuses by immature and uncouth males, and even more pointed complaints against their boyfriends or other male acquaintances who fail to protect them. At times, they appear desperately hopeless. They say matter-of-factly that the males around them do not know how to act like either men or gentlemen. It appears to them that, except for a few lucky members of their sex, most women today must choose between males who are whiny, incapable of making decisions, and in general of "acting like men," or those who treat women roughly and are unreliable, unmannerly, and usually stupid.

The young men, for their part, are not a little embarrassed when they hear these charges but can't wholly deny them. Indeed, when asked the simple question, "When have you ever been taught what it means to be a man?" they are typically speechless and somewhat ashamed.

and of the reason, toward the end:

A close look at the culture in which boys are raised reveals not only that they are no longer encouraged to become vigorous and responsible men, but also that practically every factor affecting their development is profoundly hostile to the ideals and practices of traditional manhood and the painstaking steps necessary to attain it. The demanding regime of physical and moral instruction that used to turn boys into men and the larger cultural forces that supported that instruction have been systematically dismantled by a culture that ostensibly enables all individuals but in reality disables men. "It's too easy!" complained John the Savage of the overly efficient, overly sexual, overly youthful, overly fun Brave New World. That dehumanizing tyranny of pleasure, described by Aldous Huxley, resembles the world of easy effort and easy virtue that entices adolescent males today to indulge in their appetites at the expense of their nobler longings and passions.

are very well considered and said. However, throughout the middle sections, in which Moore attempts to paint the specific pictures of barbarians and wimps, he loses his profundity some in an apparent indulgence of the desire to play the rhetorical sniper. Primarily, the specificity of his portraits cuts out swaths of character types to whom his criticism applies, without being effectively representative. If all "barbarians" where baseball caps everywhere, then there mustn't be too many of them. And yet, by virtue of the very same specificity, he managed to cut me with the barbs that he flung at each group.

To be sure, one could respond with the Sheavian admonition that, "if it doesn't apply to you, don't be offended." One could also suggest that I stop being a wimpy barbarian. I'm merely pointing out that the piece could have been more effective had the portraits been more specific about essences and less specific about superficialities.

It's a long piece, anyway, so if you're busy, you have ample reason to skip the entire middle section and still feel manly.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:09 PM

Making Repentance an Attractive Option

Michael Williams has directed my attention to a post that he wrote back in November (emphasis in original):

Why, then, do many Christians see homosexuality and homosexuals as particularly evil? Theologically, we shouldn't. The real difficulty, however, is that although most of us acknowledge the wrongfulness of our many lies, thefts, and boasts, many people deny the wrongness of homosexuality. Our culture glorifies many types of evil, but individually we mostly agree that greed, slander, gossip, and the rest are bad and that we should not participate in them. However, when it comes to homosexuality, many people argue that it's not wrong at all; and unless we are willing to confess the evil of our actions, God will not forgive us. We must be willing to submit ourselves to God's dictates on right and wrong, and we must be willing to agree with him when he condemns our actions.

I'll quibble with the statement that "God will not forgive us" in an addendum, but Michael's right on target here. Unfortunately, as our society currently stands, there are many who believe that it constitutes "hate speech" to say — privately or publicly, humbly or aggressively — to somebody, "Umm, excuse me, but I just wanted to make sure that you're aware that what you're doing there is a sin."

Michael's comments reminded me of Christopher Johnson's explanation of the difference between Peter, Paul, and Augustine and Episcopalian Bishop Vicky Gene Robinson: the first three repented. And that, really, is the point — even if we Christians lose sight of it from time to time. When it comes to the sins of others, our objective ought to be to lead them toward repentance, which is a tedious and often-lapsing process.

It is sometimes effective to snap people out of frames of mind through harsh reaction to their behavior. I'd go so far as to suggest that the extent of the invalidation of shame and stigma in modern Western culture has proven harmful, not only in the behavior that it lets slip, but also in the form of authority to which we appeal to address the problems that arise (e.g., expanding government). But homosexuals have, for the most part, already built a response to abrasive condemnation into their worldviews. They have made shamelessness into a fashion and stigma into a trophy. They are not alone in doing so.

So, even as we hold firmly to the lines that cannot be crossed — such as gay marriage — we oughtn't lose perspective about our goals and the best ways of accomplishing them. I don't have the answers, and I'm not voicing the caution in response to anybody in particular, but I thought it worth saying — if only for my own benefit.

As sectarian subtext, the conversation represented by this post is between a Catholic, a Baptist, and an Episcopalian, so differences of belief about God's forgiveness may or may not be theological (if they are, in fact, differences of belief and not just differences of phrasing).

On the phrase "God will not forgive us," Michael linked to 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." However, taking into account the entire chapter, the emphasis is clearly on our action:

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

Thus, I think it would be more accurate to say that, unless we confess, God cannot forgive us because we don't believe that we need to be forgiven.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:54 PM | Comments (2)

Striking Balances on Turmoil

In an addendum and the comments of a pre-redesign post, I expressed reservations about Joseph D'Hippolito's piece in the Jerusalem Post. Those reservations no longer apply to a version that Joseph has placed with FrontPageMagazine.com.

"I feel pity to see this man destroyed, being treated like a cow as they checked his teeth," Martino told reporters assembled Dec. 16 for the Vatican's World Day of Peace message.

Many prominent Catholics, such as Michael Novak and the Catholic League's William Donahue, say Martino was not speaking for Pope John Paul II or for the Catholic Church as a whole.

Nevertheless, Martino's comments cannot be divorced from the Vatican's opposition to the war, which reflects a complex mix of competing factors -- from the pope's fundamental worldview and geopolitical goals to latent anti-American and anti-Israeli attitudes among the hierarchy.

In its current form, the piece captures the blend of reactions that I have to the hierarchy's role on the international stage over the past few years, and it's well worth your time to read.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:58 AM | Comments (3)
The Church

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:30 AM

Midweek Reminder

The last post in which I mentioned this is sufficiently far down on this page that I thought it might be worth mentioning, in case anybody is coming here for the first time or missed a few days:

If this page design is too dark for your tastes, click "Turn Light On" under "Page Style" at the top of the left-hand column. That'll also cause the images at the top of the screen to scroll up with the text.

Even though I've been doing graphic design and layout work for a number of years, now, I continue to be amazed at the differences in people's preferences. (The same goes for the written word, as well, of course.) I actually prefer dim backgrounds when I read; some people like crispness and stark contrasts. Each will find the other's preference to be a distraction. Add in that there are myriad aspects to design that vary similarly, and design becomes a constant struggle to please as many folks as possible, while understanding that somebody will still object.

I hope the two style sheets for this page answer your various demands and preferences, but please tell me if there's more that I can do.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:22 AM
Site-Related Announcements

January 13, 2004

When Did Representation Become "Ignoring the People"?

An elected representative in California has proposed some new legislation and, frankly, it ought to represent the end of his political career:

A California assembly member Monday announced legislation to allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses.

“The time has come for California to honor its commitment to equality for all Californians,” stated Assembly Member Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the author of the legislation.

“My bill will affirm the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender adults who wish to take on the responsibility of marriage and ensure that children being raised by these couples receive the same protections as children raised by married couples. For too long, the right to marry has been denied to thousands of Californians based on their gender and sexual orientation, resulting in harm to them and their children.”

The bill is not a violation of Prop 22 says Leno, who is the Chair of California’s LGBT Legislative Caucus.

The largest LGBT rights group in the state agrees.

"Proposition 22, an initiative passed by California voters in 2000, was designed to prevent California from being forced to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who were married outside of California. However, that initiative did not change the criteria for the issuance of marriage licenses in California, which is what the new bill will do," said Equality California executive director Geoffrey Kors in a statement.

It isn't the content of the bill, per se, that proves Leno unfit for public office. It's the fact that he's plainly wasting the taxpayers' money and proving contempt for the people of California by seeking ways to circumvent their will. Here's Prop. 22 in its entirety:

Only marriage between a man and a women is valid or recognized in California

(via Marriage Debate)

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:53 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

Put Up or Admit Bias

This is neat:

The president of a media watchdog group is challenging NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw to a $1 million challenge over comments the anchor made during a recent interview with Columbia Journalism Review.

Brokaw directly took on the Media Research Center and its president Brent Bozell, denying the credibility of their evidence of liberal bias in the press.

"What I get tired of is Brent Bozell trying to make these fine legal points everywhere every day. A lot of it just doesn't hold up," said Brokaw. "So much of it is that bias -- like beauty -- is in the eye of the beholder."

"I know our evidence does 'hold up' and we'll prove it," Bozell responded. "I issue this challenge to NBC and its anchor: Let's assemble a mutually agreeable third-party panel and have them review a compilation of the Media Research Center's 16 years of evidence of liberal media bias."

Wonder if Brokaw will take the MRC up on the bet. Well, I don't wonder too much.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:14 PM
News Media

Sharks in the Flood

I had already planned to mention Heather MacDonald's City Journal article on illegal immigration and crime, but I didn't know what more to say than to suggest that, despite its length, the piece is very interesting; I daresay it's important. However, Jonathan Adler has given me a specific point on which to hang a post. He writes:

The MacDonald City Journal piece is worth reading, but it is important to note that the policies she describes are largely local policies against enforcing federal immigration law, even against those who are guilty of other crimes. This is certainly a problem. But I don't accept MacDonald's premise that America's cities are filled with illegal alien gang-bangers because the federal government is not doing enough to prosecute companies that are willing to hire illegals for otherwise honest work. I doubt that those illegal aliens who join drug gangs are the same illegals who cross the border in search of otherwise honest employment.

In response, Andrew Stuttaford correctly notes:

... the existence (tacitly accepted by the Feds) of a large population forced by the lack of documentation to exist on the margins of society must, surely, provide an ideal milieu in which such criminals can flourish.

However, Stuttaford doesn't go far enough. The largest, most galling information in MacDonald's piece is that police are being inexcusably bound in their enforcement capabilities for political considerations — whether it is a police chief, councilman, or mayor who fears the backlash for suggesting that immigration law ought to be leveraged to stop other crime. Thus, the flood of immigration not only offers mass cover for the sharks within it, but also supplies the political weight that hinders efforts to catch the criminals.

It isn't simply an issue of "local policies against enforcing federal immigration law." The policies forbid working with the INS, even when it would be in the direct and obvious interest of the community. There would simply be no political will to do such a thing if the waters couldn't be muddied with pleas on behalf of "illegals who cross the border in search of otherwise honest employment."

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:22 PM

The Dilemma to Come

Drudge is quoting Michael Moore as saying, about his endorsement of Wes Clark:

He's an honest and decent man. I would like to see the General debate the deserter.

Frankly, I don't care to find out more about Moore's opinion, but his quip brought a question to mind that I'm surprised I haven't wondered yet: what are these debates going to be like?

For the most part, I can't imagine them being otherwise than bad for the Democrat candidate, whomever that might be. If he behaves like a responsible politician, he'll betray his base — who, given the rhetoric thus far, will probably hope to see the candidate say to Bush's face what he's been saying to them for months and years. If he does as they desire, the difference in demeanor will be stark, with the non-loony majority of the country seeing the Democrat candidate as irresponsible, even dangerous.

Of course, the degree of this dilemma will be dependent upon who wins the Democrat nomination. Also of course, the damage in either direction could be mitigated if the mainstream media takes up the task of tweaking the performance of their candidate (which is to say the Democrat) for their respective audiences. If the candidate is either Howard Dean or Wes Clark, the only way I foresee debates helping them is if the media manages to present multiple versions of events to the vast majority of Americans who don't watch political debates. With the burgeoning alternative media, I don't know that such a thing can be done these days.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:13 PM | Comments (1)

Songs You Should Know 01/13/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Cool Hair" by You. Just go ahead and try not to crack a smile when you listen to this song, especially if you're familiar with the serious musicianship of the band's other material.

"Cool Hair" You, Alternative Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:20 AM

Putting the Sin in Its Context

While it is reasonable to expect that unique and unfamiliar sins will gall all the more, I think David Morrison makes some great points about the Catholic Church's and Catholics' reactions to homosexuality. In the flow of things, we're reaching the point at which it is becoming important to fold homosexuality into the "whole panoply of human sexual failures [that] exists today":

The Church needs to both reiterate and explain her teachings in regard to divorce, premarital sex, contraception, masturbation and pornography and adultery as well as homosexual acts. ...

It's not that the Church is just out to say no to the range of sexual temptations that exist. Rather, the Church offers a vision of the human person and human life that is more holistic, deeper and ultimately filled with joy and genuine goodness than can be offered by any sinful alternative.

In one aspect, such an approach would be refreshingly conservative; in another, it would be redeemingly radical. It is difficult to shake the sense that liberal religious seek to legitimize homosexuality in part to keep the legitimacy of their own sins from coming into question. On the opposing side, there sometimes seems to be a reluctance to follow the logic of admitting that homosexual behavior is — to risk pinching some nerves — only a sin. Is consensual gay sex really worse than adultery? I don't think so.

There are groups and there are individuals, David among them, who put many heterosexuals to shame in their efforts to live as their religion teaches them. Surely, it would be beneficial all around to hold them up as examples rather than to offer them a sort of suspension of condemnation. Even more surely, it is detrimental all around to tell those whose efforts go to self-justification that they're okay, just so we can continue to tell ourselves that we're okay.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:11 AM | Comments (3)

They Won't Grow Up, and Courts Can't Make Them

Jeff Miller notes (with an all-too-true punchline) that a judge has decided not to order a statue that is offensive to Catholics removed from Washburn University grounds while a lawsuit to do just that goes through the motions:

A federal judge will allow Washburn University to continue to display a sculpture of a Catholic clergyman while a lawsuit seeking its removal moves forward.

U.S. District Judge G. Thomas VanBebber today denied a request for a temporary restraining order prohibiting the statue's display.

The storyline disoriented me for a moment, until I remembered what statue it was. And while it is grotesque and offensive, I don't agree with using the tactics of the PC censors to remove it. It isn't the high road, for one thing. For another, when those without PC establishment backing try to duplicate the tricks used on them, they hardly ever have the desired effect.

The artist in question, for example, is delighted that his prank has caught some attention (that link has a picture). Moreover, rather than the quick retractions (and increased funding for demographically based professors and student groups) reserved as rewards for the fashionable groups, the school administration offers a variation of "lighten up":

The sculptures are on loan to the university and should remain on display until July, [David Monical, Washburn's executive director of university relations,] said. He said no one involved in picking the sculptures intended to cause anyone pain.

No, lawsuits serve no purpose except to highlight who holds the upper hand in the power struggle and to imply that switching hands would change angle, but not action. Instead, area Catholics should seek ways to force administrators to address the pain that the sculpture did cause. Make them sit in on long chat sessions, for example. Cause a rebuttal controversy.

Running and telling Uncle Sam, however, just brings the lifelong adolescents the satisfaction of exactly the sort of attention that they crave. How much better it would be to creatively offer the attention that they dread — something that confronts them with the superficiality of their poses.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:53 AM
Visual Art

Getting with the Program and Never Admitting Error

Well, it looks as if Andrew Sullivan is more in harmony with the party line than I'd previously thought:

Intrigued by divisions within conservative ranks, gay-rights strategists are trying to portray a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage as a radical step that true conservatives should oppose.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, is targeting conservatives with a radio and print ad campaign starting Monday in 10 areas, including Omaha, Neb.; Indianapolis; Tampa, Fla.; Milwaukee; Las Vegas; and Philadelphia.

"Be conservative with the Constitution,'' the ads say. "Don't amend it.'' ...

The $350,000 advertising effort of the Human Rights Campaign - which will include radio ads on conservative talk shows - is one of the first initiatives undertaken under its new president, former Massachusetts State Sen. Cheryl Jacques.

I wonder if Sullivan has submitted a slogan for an ad campaign. Either the "videocam" ploy or this one would work well: "This is not conservatism. It's discrimination."

(via Marriage Debate)

While I'm on the topic, I thought I'd note Sullivan's response to Ponnuru, in which he completely ignores all substantive objections to his previous post and focuses like a true spokesperson on what gives the appearance of being the rhetoric preferred by a focus group somewhere:

If NR wants to preserve marriage as an institution, why is it happy to see states create a competing marriage-lite institution, civil unions, for heterosexuals? If the point of social policy is to protect marriage and to increase incentives for marriage (except, of course, for homosexuals), why acquiesce in an institution that will undermine it far more deeply and far more comprehensively than gay marriage ever could?

Note that the fleet-footed (or else stumbling) Sullivan slips right around to forgetting all about his previous celibacy for civil unions nonsense:

The answer is that this kind of "anyone-can-apply-they-don't-have-to-have sex" civil union keeps the government from any position condoning or acknowledging gay relationships.

And yet, he continues to ignore the text that he is condemning. Here's Sullivan:

That is the bedrock position of NR. Anything but acknowledgment of the dignity and civil equality of gay couples.

Yet, National Review said:

It would be better, that is, to leave state legislatures free to create civil unions, any type of civil union, and even gay marriage at their own discretion — while banning judges from imposing either.

And back to Sullivan, who (don't forget) just used the phrase "civil equality":

In NR's eyes, gay couples are not the civil, moral or spiritual equivalent of straight couples.

See, the "civil" part is not sufficient for Sullivan. He wants the government to offer "moral" and "spiritual" approval of homosexuality. He's trapped between the argument that gay marriage would tear open marriage to all varieties of relationships and the argument that civil unions, themselves, must be applied equally. After all, we don't want videocams in bedrooms to ensure that those two roommates aren't just married because one has health benefits and the other doesn't. And as the Mass. court ruled, in Goodridge, the government cannot deny "access to an institution of fundamental legal, personal, and social significance... because of a single trait... sexual orientation here."

The rest of Sullivan's post is hardly worth addressing. He brings up Britney again, he whacks the amendments-are-"for ever" drum twice, and he pretends not to realize that social conservatives are currently engaging in defensive maneuvers, having been forced to decisions that they (indeed, most of America) would have preferred not to face.

If you can't hear Sullivan's loose hinges, you're beyond my ability to convince. In fact, I apologize for spending so much time on this. It's just that it's frustrating to think how far extends Sullivan's reach.

Sorry. One more note for the purpose of pausing to marvel at how succinctly Sullivan sums up the position to which most advocates for traditional marriage object so strenuously when he writes:

The answer is that this kind of "anyone-can-apply-they-don't-have-to-have sex" civil union keeps the government from any position condoning or acknowledging gay relationships.

Note the aspect of such civil unions that Sullivan highlights. Not "they don't have to be in love" — not even "they don't have to be intimates." But "they don't have to have sex." Apparently, Sullivan wishes for the sex part to be decisive. This is marriage reduced to the bedroom — a room in which government videocams would be required to ensure compliance.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:18 AM | Comments (3)
Marriage & Family

January 12, 2004

Partial Solutions Are Part of the Problem

I debated whether to post Mark Steyn's column on President Bush's recent immigration policy announcement, because the chance is slim to none that you haven't seen it linked somewhere else already. But Mark Steyn's work has that quality — quality — that makes one wish to quote it.

It's beautifully coded imagery: Whether you came here as slave owner or slave, standing in line and filling in the paperwork or through the express check-in, everyone's an immigrant, and all the rest is fine print. Who are we to distinguish between some uptight white-bread Pilgrim disembarking at Plymouth Rock and an Algerian terrorist with a forged Quebec driver's license making a break for it at the British Columbia/Washington state border en route to blow up LAX? Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Illegal Americans, Islamist Americans, Incendiary Americans, we're all in the same boat, whether we're rowing or planting the plastic explosives.

Apart from the writing, Steyn makes an important point that has floated around the fringes of discussion about Bush's new policy proposal: it isn't so much that some form of guest-worker, semi-legal category is objectionable on its face, and granting it to illegals isn't necessarily an overriding unfairness. The real problem is that the only way to justify the move is to make it part of a larger, multifaceted solution, and the administration doesn't seem inclined to propose any of the other facets.

Unfortunately, this appears to be one of the downsides of our governmental system generally. Effective, complete policies are sure to contain something to which somebody will object, and when important issues require some form of positive action, whittling down solutions to benignity can be worse than doing nothing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:57 PM

The Quest of Ahab Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan is no longer, if he ever was, interested in fairly or even persuasively arguing for gay marriage. He long ago sank into advocacy, leaving his work to be read as one would approach the material of a lobbyist, marketing director, or civil-action lawyer. Lately, he has been pushing toward the boundaries at which "spin" breaks into dishonesty or delusion born of monomania.

In an appropriately (if ironically) entitled post, "More Deception," Sullivan begins with a valid objection to the statistical tricks of omission by a group that opposes gay marriage, but he does so only to raise the stakes with tricks involving statistics right before his very eyes:

The so-called "Coalition for Marriage" had to concede yesterday that it had grotesquely misrepresented the results of a Zogby poll it commissioned. Massachusetts is pretty evenly split on a state constitutional amendment, and a tiny majority thinks the legislature should do nothing to prevent gay marriage. The anti-gay coalition skewed the results to make the opposite point. But of course they had to. They are confronting the religious right's nightmare. When gay marriage gets an actual popular majority, as it soon will in Massachusetts, they won't be able to hide behind their argument about "judicial activism" and will have to be candid that their real, anti-gay goal.

Whether the misrepresentation was "grotesque" is a matter of opinion. The declaration that "a tiny majority thinks the legislature should do nothing to prevent gay marriage" is a bit more objectionable of a flourish. Although I can't track down the actual question, at this time, the source from which Sullivan derives his claim suggests that the tiny minority "felt that lawmakers should prevent the [court's] ruling." In a survey in which 40% of respondents admitted that "they were unfamiliar with the state's high court," and that did in fact (although Sullivan skips over it) find a majority saying that only heterosexual marriage should be legal (52% vs. 42%), it assumes too much to equate a reluctance to have the legislature directly overrule a court with a desire to allow gay marriage through passivity.

But Sullivan goes even a step further in his misrepresentation. Between the two statistics that Sullivan does cite is a paragraph of data that doesn't conveniently fit his image of social conservatives panicking about a growing consensus in favor of gay marriage in Massachusetts. Just after the court's ruling, the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald simultaneously acquired almost identical survey results on the gay marriage issue, helpfully placed side by side here. Here are the results of the three polls (Zogby is the poll to which Sullivan is referring):

Legalize gay marriage?
Herald: 49% support, 38% oppose
Globe: 50% support, 38% oppose
Zogby: 42% support, 52% oppose

Pass amendment defining marriage as man and woman?
Herald: 54% no, 36% yes
Globe: 53% no, 36% yes
Zogby: 49% no, 48% yes

Legislature overrule court?
Globe: 53% no, 16% yes
Zobgy: 48% no, 46% yes

Of course, all of the usual disclaimers for polling data apply, especially because we're dealing with multiple polls. Yet, Sullivan is aware of the previous polls, so the fact that he lets them slip out of relevance now makes his declarations of a trend more than dubious.

Whether the conspicuous misinterpretation is deliberate or an indication that he's in a state of denial is difficult to say. One factor that would support the latter conclusion is that the results indicate something that I've long said: opposition to gay marriage increases with consideration. This being the case, the very trend of the average person's thought contradicts Sullivan's most basic beliefs on the issue — forcing him to confront his own nightmare, if you will.

On the other hand, Sullivan has gone to great lengths to present every amendment proposal in the most extreme light possible — or impossible. For example, he's suggested that an amendment would be written in stone for all time ("for ever"), an assertion that just isn't true. Moreover, I can't believe that, with the extent and frequency of his erroneous statements, Sullivan doesn't at least suspect that he's not dealing an even hand.

Another example of rhetoric leading consideration is Sullivan's repeated warning about "videocams in the bedroom" to ensure that gay civil-unioned couples aren't really having sex. As Ramesh Ponnuru notes in response to the same post that I'm addressing here, it is a mystery how Sullivan gets the idea that celibacy is made mandatory by the proposal that civil unions cannot be premised on sexual behavior. The opposite policy, obviously, would be the one requiring cameras. Sullivan must know this; he must also know that "videocams in the bedroom" is a great image for a demagogue's purposes.

Ponnuru addresses the rest of Sullivan's post, so I won't do so at length here. One thing I will note is that Sullivan accuses National Review of outright discrimination, having paraphrased the editorial's conclusion in a way that is about as far from its actual bottom line as it is possible to get.

One other point that is relevant to my theme with this entry — this one suggesting that Sullivan may not be entirely deliberate in his deception — relates to this:

NR editors want to trash traditional marriage by creating a civil unions structure open to absolutely anyone - gay couples, straight couples, aunts and nephews, college room-mates, bridge partners, whoever. So if you're a young straight couple considering marriage but unwilling to embrace all the responsibilities, National Review will provide you with an easy alternative. That measure would do more to undermine marriage than anything the pro-gay marriage advocates are supporting, or have ever supported. ... NR's open-ended anyone-can-apply civil unions proposal would be the biggest assault on marriage since no-fault divorce.

Thus does Sullivan illustrate his monochrome view. In his world, it can simply be assumed that an amendment allowing state legislatures to enact civil unions would make such contracts 1) universal and 2) virtually indistinguishable from marriage... except involving fewer "responsibilities," however that would work. There is neither the necessity nor the probability that every state legislature would create civil unions. Furthermore, those civil unions that are enacted would very likely fall far short of marriage. What's the statistic with Vermont civil unions? 300 rights/responsibilities for civil unions compared with 1,000 for marriage? And that's in a liberal state.

This isn't even getting into social factors (such as whether churches will offer comparable civil union ceremonies). Civil unions, as the adjective hints, would have the feel more of contracts than of sacraments. That, ultimately, is why Sullivan wishes to argue the "compromise position" out of the debate, to pressure his readers into choosing one of two stark positions, and to cast his desire as the inevitable future: for him, gay sex is a sacrament, and gay marriage is the promised land, to be reached through whatever means work.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:34 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

January 11, 2004

Because I Want You to Be Able to Read What I Write

Thank you to everybody who's offered feedback on my new site design in comments or via email. Even if I decide that other considerations (like an artistic judgment or even just my tastes) override a valid concern, I do consider all input. So, keep it comin'.

To address some frequent suggestions, I've pulled in the margins of the main column some. I've also tweaked the "Light On" version (accessible by clicking "Turn Light On" under "Page Style" at the top of the left column) so that the images at the top will scroll with the text. Hope that helps.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:48 PM
Site-Related Announcements

Studio Matters Notes & Commentary

Maureen Mullarkey's latest Notes & Commentary essay is "The Disappearance of Adulthood," reviewing John Currin's exhibition at the Whitney Museum. Here's a biting paragraph that reminds me why I so enjoy Maureen's reviews, even though her artistic critiques can go way beyond my depth:

Currin's series of balloon-breasted women are . . . . . Never mind, use your own adjectives. You don't need mine for this. In artspeak, these gals are cunning strategies designed to explore the social construction of ideas of beauty. In real life, they are bodice-rippers aimed at teenagers with their hands in their pants. Breasts of Venus? Marky Mark's penis? Drop your Calvins and hold on for ART. Such is marketing in the age of Fabien Baron. Outwitting the audience is the real game. The rules are the same on museum walls as on Times Square billboards.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:37 PM
Visual Art

Reminder About the Lights

I just wanted to post a reminder for anybody who didn't catch the information in the post way at the bottom of the blog:

If you find that this page design makes for difficult reading, you can switch to a different "skin" by clicking "Turn Light On" under "Page Style" toward the top of the left-hand column. That style will also load a bit more quickly, if you've got a slow connection.

If everything works as intended, once chosen, the Light On design should be the one that loads up for you each time (except maybe in the comment boxes).

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:00 PM
Site-Related Announcements

The Logic of Being Unnecessary

Maggie Gallagher had an interesting conversation on a shuttle with a young man (with divorced parents) who sought to argue on behalf of "alternative families":

"Kids just accept whatever their family situation is. It doesn't matter," Matthew told me. After all, he was raised by a single mom and doing just fine.

Sure, he was doing fine, in a lot of ways.

But then I pulled out my big gun: "What about you?" I asked him. "Do you think you'll matter to your kids?"

Matthew seemed taken aback by the question. Obviously he had never looked at it from that perspective. He thought for a moment and then followed his train of thought to the only logical conclusion -- a train wreck:

"No," he said. "Not really."

Abandon your kids early enough, he implied, and fatherlessness is all they know. They won't need you. Kids adjust.

Obviously, Gallagher is in no position — much less are her readers — to suggest that Matthew was deluding himself about his own wellbeing, but it surely fits my experience with the children of divorced parents that Matthew seems to have been among the lucky ones. Divorce tends to hurt the children, even if they have never known their fathers.

Gallagher also addresses the society-wide problems of Matthew's attitude. If "kids adjust" to whatever, then the preference for restricting their birth to the context of stable marital relationships, to begin with, erodes. This not only means that people "won't avoid umarried childbearing," as Gallagher says, but also creates a window of acceptible escape once children are born within a marriage.

Speaking from personal experience, with which most guys in my general situation will likely empathize, I remember the exact moment that I realized, back when my wife and I were just dating, that I had to choose right then between staying or leaving. Postponing the decision would have been callous and unfair.

When our daughter was still in the womb, there were times when I would have a mild panic attack when the reality of parenthood cascaded over me. For the most part, I needed only to remind myself that it was what I wanted. But what if I had previously convinced myself that children just learn to live with whatever, as long as the whatever happens soon enough? My decision would have remained the same, but it would have been in spite of the belief that the last chance to bolt does not pass with conception (let alone marriage). How many men will choose to leave?

Is finding out worth the risk of its being a lot?

Well, I suppose one's answer to that question will have much to do with values and willingness to sacrifice for the good of others. As Gallagher puts so succinctly:

This has been, of course, the big message of the family diversity crowd since the dawn of the sexual revolution: Adults have awesome intimacy needs that must be met. Family forms, social norms, household arrangements all must be wound, unwound and rewound so the adults get what they need. Kids? Oh, they adjust.

Kids shouldn't grow up having to adjust so that adults don't have to grow up.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:41 AM
Marriage & Family

January 10, 2004

Growing Wise (i.e., Conservative)

Lane Core notes a long, but well-worth-reading, essay by University of Texas at Arlington Professor Keith Burgess-Jackson about his maturation to the wisdom of conservatism. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that his increased wisdom made him conservative, or even that he defines conservatism as the viewpoint of the wise.

There's too much worth quoting, in that vein, to pick and choose. However, more interesting, whether Burgess-Jackson realizes it or not (and certainly to the chagrin of many of my fellow bloggers, should they spot it), is that much, if not most, of what he says applies to libertarians, as well.

The world, to the young, came into existence with them and exists to be manipulated by them. What came before is to be questioned and, if found wanting (as it usually is), abolished. The world is to be built anew, from the ground up, using only our ideals and our technology.

He could easily have added "and reason alone" at the end of that passage. In this phrasing, one could say that liberals err in their confidence about the purity of their ideals, while libertarians err in their confidence in logic — specifically, their own personal logic. To be sure, the latter is better, because many problems that wisdom assists in solving, such as those involved with economic issues, really require only a smidge of practicality.

Burgess-Jackson makes other statements that inadvertently catch libertarians in the net that he has thrown over liberals. There's the respect for tradition, and the belief in belief, as well as the codependent nature of liberty and responsibility. And I recalled Ben Franklin's line about a reasonable man being able to think of a reason to do just about anything when I read this paragraph:

The experienced person realizes that institutions such as marriage evolved for a reason, even if the reason is hard to articulate. Institutions represent tradeoffs and compromises among disparate values and interests. Sometimes these values and interests are difficult to discern, so defenders of tradition are easily put on the defensive by their critics. They are accused of being blind, biased, and obfuscatory. They are said to be "prejudiced" and "bigoted." Why, they cannot even articulate their opposition to such things as homosexual marriage or adoption! What ignoramuses! If you can't articulate the reason for something, it is said, you should cease believing and defending it.

Apart from this error of libertarian omission, the only major disagreement that I have with the professor is that he claims conservatism as being pessimistic. This is the old, Boomer view of the way in which outlook aligns with politics. But it isn't pessimistic to realize that human beings are flawed and that, eventually, the length of time and the number of people, and therefore opportunities for error and sin, will lead to corruption in human society.

The conservative believes that we should acknowledge this fact of life and build our society with reference to it because, ultimately, he is optimistic that people will choose rightly, given the chance, and that, in so doing, they will come to greater reward than any liberal activist or libertarian capitalist could ever promise.

Poor as a Middle-Class European

Donald Sensing recently linked to a Bill Hobbs post quoting as follows from a Heritage Foundation report on poverty:

Forty-six percent of all poor households actually own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

Seventy-six percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars.

Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

Seventy-three percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a third have an automatic dishwasher.

And the report goes on to describe a level of poverty that isn't exactly characterized by a dearth of nutrition. There are, of course, families that need help, and we ought to jump at the chance to help them. However, it's worth remembering, when people (especially lawyers promoting their books) raise the specter of poverty as a political cudgel, that those who fall within the demographic range within our borders still have very much for which to be thankful.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:13 PM
Poverty & Wealth

Being Aware of the Goal Posts

A National Review editorial offers an important reminder for supporters of traditional marriage:

If the amendment must be scaled back, however, the first and second parts of it [preserving the word "marriage" and barring benefits premised on non-marital sexual relationships] are each more expendable than the third [blocking decisive court action on the matter]. It would be better, that is, to leave state legislatures free to create civil unions, any type of civil union, and even gay marriage at their own discretion — while banning judges from imposing either. It is not as though the public at large is clamoring for gay marriage in any state. If the public comes to do so of its own accord, and not under the tutelage of judges, then traditional marriage will be dead, and past the power of constitutions to save. The present danger is that the courts will push the country in a dangerous direction in which it would not otherwise go. It is that danger that a constitutional amendment should address.

The uniqueness of marriage for the type of relationship that it covers and the word itself are important to protect. Of overriding importance, however, is ensuring that the public is able to protect them. If the people of the United States choose to institute gay marriage within our democratic, representative, and federalist system, then those who do not must focus their efforts elsewhere than the law.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:58 PM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

A Revolutionary World of Conservatives

These two paragraphs by Alaa, of the Mesopotamian, are destined to be quoted across the Internet, so let me jump in now so that you can say you heard it here second:

The entire region will succumb and fall into the basket like a ripe fruit once the dust settles and the benefits begin to materialize and they will, have no doubt. The main thing is that this neo-imperialism is quite different from the old. Rather than aiming at subjugating and enslaving people it aims at freeing and raising their standard so that they may be eligible to join the family of civilized people. The tables are indeed turned (eloquent Lisa); almost every meaning is reversed. We should not be afraid of names. Occupation is liberation; Imperialism is benevolent; Resistance is sabotage and directed against the people and their livelihood and has no clear objective and no future; The Right is revolutionary and the Left is reactionary; The Conservatives of yesterday are the optimists who believe in the ability of eastern people for freedom and democracy and the Liberals and Leftists of yesterday are pessimistic and skeptical and even racist about it; and we could go on and on citing this remarkable reversal of things.

The USA and Allies have two choices with not third to them: ignominious retreat and ensuing isolationism leaving the world at the mercy of the forces of darkness and reaction; or glorious triumph that would indeed inaugurate the American century of enlightenment and hope, and free the long suffering peoples of the "twilight zone" and bring enormous benefits both cultural and economic to everybody. The choice is yours, Oh, democratic people of America and the West.

Of course, the choice is not solely ours; it rests with everybody in their own capacity. Missing that point leads Alaa astray in one area of his thinking:

Secondly, if you study the history of human civilization in general and carefully ponder, you will discover, that it has always been about this flux and reflux of transnational movement of forces and ideas and the ever-existing tendency towards multinational empires. Indeed the individual small national state is a relatively modern invention and seems to be at odds with the very logic and movement of history; it is an unstable concept and events seem to prove this all the time, look at the development of the European Union for example. Throughout history, long periods of stability were only achieved under large empires, notwithstanding their shortcomings – The Ancient Empires, the Greeks, the Romans, the Moslems, the Ottomans, the British Empire etc. etc.

What jars in this paragraph, when placed side by side with the other two (which actually end his piece), is the appeal to "the very logic and movement of history" within the very same piece that declares the reversal of various social realities that we thought we understood. Being the optimistic conservative that I am, I don't think the trend is toward internationalism at all. To be sure, history makes it look that way, but what Alaa takes to be an independent "progressive" trend, I think is merely a byproduct of the expansion of our entire species across the planet.

Furthermore, the formation of the E.U. proves neither the instability of limited nation states nor an innate tendency among people. The E.U. is forming not because Europe lacks stability, but because the development of strong, parallel nation states has made it all too stable — too comfortable, too complacent. The people of Europe (as I understand), to the extent that they care to express an opinion, do not support the moves of their leaders in this respect.

Yet, their leaders are counting on apathy and a sheaf of rhetorical and ideological tricks picked up over the past couple centuries to perpetuate, for their own benefit, the real constant throughout history: those with power will seek to expand that power. They once accomplished it through conquering other leaders. Now their tactics have shifted to the more insidious, if peaceful, tactic of internationalist hypnosis.

So, while the "American Empire" will surely begin as a boon to the world, if those whose nations we improve persist in thinking in terms of "empire" — and its modern costume, "internationalism" — and if we, in our vanity, allow them to persuade us to regress, then we will find that an emperor is an emperor is an emperor. The truth is that numerous sets of independent nation states make for a very stable world politic. Consolidated power is easily swayed; dispersed power will balance itself.

Excepting the misapplication of the lessons of history, his closing sentence implies that Alaa understands that the only thing that can undermine the expanding stability of a system of independent, democratic nation states is the rust of complacency and detachment among the general public. We in the West must remember this. The people of Iraq must learn it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:36 PM
International Affairs

Passive: The Criminal's Voice

I'm not an active-voice absolutist, and editors who are miss something in the subtleties of expression that our language allows. Sometimes the thing being acted upon is, in fact, the subject of the sentence. In the following exchange, my grade-school-age nephew brings into stark focus the utility of the distinction between active voice and passive voice.

My daughter has a toy that is a sort of cross between an ATM and a cash register, including one drawer that pops open at the pressing of a "Withdraw" button and another that requires a plastic key. When I entered the living room a little while ago, my nephew was playing with the toy, and the key was in two pieces on the floor beside him.

"Did you break the key?" I asked.

"It was broken a few minutes ago," he replied.

"So it was just lying there and split into two?"

"I was trying to open the drawer, and the key broke."

Well, at least he attributed an action to himself, even if he and the key continued to occupy separate clauses.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:01 PM | Comments (2)

The Pen That Shoots Off (And the Gun That Doesn't)

Jay Nordlinger points out an instance of the all-too-common practice of journalists — even for news wires — shooting off at the pen, so to speak, by inserting commentary where it has no business being:

A Reuters report out of Washington yesterday began, "Looking to draw more Hispanics behind his re-election bid, President Bush on Wednesday will propose a temporary worker program to help millions of immigrants work legally in the United States, officials said."

Notice that the very first words of this news report are commentary: "Looking to draw more Hispanics behind his re-election bid . . ." That is sheer speculation, or analysis, if you like. It may be perfectly correct. But it is the lead in a news item.

The next sentence begins, "Facing a possibly close election next November, Bush is reviving an issue put on hold . . ."

More commentary — in the news story of a wire service! Journalism is becoming badly degraded, when we can hardly tell the difference between straight newsies and opinionists (like me). There should be a great, great, great gulf between Reuters and Impromptus. But there is much less of one than there should be.

The news and information market falls naturally into three subdivisions: straight news, straight commentary, and analysis, which will inevitably have a tinge of opinion. There's overlap, of course; discerning relevant facts requires some analysis, while commentary that is devoid of facts is useless. However, because analysis is interesting to a broader section of people, business considerations are pushing straight news toward it. And because heavy reliance on facts makes commentary easier — at least with respect to a semblance of value and credibility — writers drift that way, as well.

The scenario that I would consider most valuable would be a spectrum of clearly defined and identifiable work. As Mr. Nordlinger notes, however, the straight news end of that spectrum is sparsely populated, indeed, when wire reports pass off analysis as fact, probably without the reporters' even being aware of it. In such a market, my advice to readers is to gather variegated analysis in which the direction of opinion is clear and open, which is to say, that is toward the commentary end.

Of course, to many of us, the direction of opinion is clear. As Jay rhetorically asks, "And does this commentary-within-reporting ever slant the conservative way?" Unfortunately, it is hardly open, which adds layers of disagreement and barriers to the decisions that we in the public must make.

I just wanted to point out, for your future use, something that Mr. Nordlinger put very well, while explaining how slimy Wes Clark really is:

But preemptive action is in conflict with a smoking gun. The whole idea — as Clark once grasped and articulated — is that you strike before your enemy's gun goes off.

That's sure to be a useful quip to have in your arsenal. Mr. Nordlinger is a master of commentary.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:06 AM
News Media

Stumping Upon a Star

I hope proponents of gay marriage blush a little when they lift up Britney Spears as exhibit W. I mean, come on. But if somebody like Deroy Murdock is willing to put the argument together and offer it in all seriousness, I suppose I'm willing to listen.

Social conservatives are working overtime to argue that gay marriage would imperil straight matrimony. They say that if Jack and Joe were united, till death do them part, they would jeopardize husbands and wives, from sea to shining sea. ...

It would be far easier to take these claims seriously if gay-marriage critics spent as much energy denouncing irresponsible heterosexuals whose behavior undermines traditional marriage. Among prominent Americans, such misdeeds are increasingly ubiquitous.

As evidence, Murdock submits 1) Britney Spears's 55-hour marriage, 2) David Letterman's out-of-wedlock child, and 3) Jerry Seinfeld's home-wrecking mojo. I suppose it would take the argument a bit more seriously than it deserves to point out that to collect these three together, Murdock had to go all the way back to 1998 for number 3. Once again, I say: come on now. Would those who stump for gay marriage be willing to hold up Britney, David, and Jerry's peers as the representative sample for their cause?

John Derbyshire gives this quick response on his way to commentary on Britney more generally:

The short answer is that if a customary social institution is trashed and trivialized by irresponsible buffoons, we ought to exert more control over it — to tighten access, not loosen it.

There is, I think, something more basic to the difference between Spears and same sex marriage. Nobody seriously believes that the pop star entered into anything other than a legal marriage. She got a license, but it might as well have been a phony one. She demeaned Nevada's marriage law more than she demeaned the institution of marriage.

In the case of gay marriage, especially if imposed nationally by the courts, it is the very definition of marriage that will be rocked. Such an assault challenges the idea of what marriage is. Those SSM advocates who cite Britney's ceremony with a straight face must argue that the weekend prank counts, not just as a legal marriage, but as what the rest of us would consider marriage to be. Perhaps one reason that prominent social conservatives haven't been all over the talk shows attacking Britney for this is because they would look silly. For one thing, what Britney represents more generally has attracted much conservative denunciation. Derb, whose tone is properly (in my opinion) light throughout his piece, calls her "an instrument of Satan."

But the sheer brevity of Mr. and Mrs. Spears's "marriage" and the tabloid quality of its characters push it clearly across the line, far removed from Marriage, into limelight high jinks. A central objection to gay marriage, on the other hand, is the very fact that it will be Marriage. The issue's social component is the equation of gay and straight relationships on every front, not just legal contracts. Yet, reduction of the institution to legal contracts so as to push it through the courts is one of the ways in which gay marriage will harm it.

I feel comfortable suggesting that there isn't a sane person in the country who would react with indignant outrage were I to suggest that Britney Spears's marriage was not a real marriage and was, in fact, an abomination. What, do you suppose, would be the reaction were I to say the same thing about gay marriages in a country in which such a thing existed?

Which brings us back to my amazement that serious and intelligent people are using gossip industry fare to make sincere social arguments about a very important matter. Social conservatives who do the same have been mocked as laughable prigs for decades. Funny how the rules — and the roles — change.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:17 AM | Comments (3)
Marriage & Family

January 9, 2004

Welcome to the New Home of Dust in the Light!

Design Notes
Well, this is it! Although the production of this page went relatively smoothly, I know missing something is inevitable, so please tell me if you come across anything that doesn't look or work right. Even if you don't find anything that's wrong, I welcome any feedback, particularly suggestions for improvement.

I should also point out that I've tried to address some possible issues by creating a second, slightly different layout. If this present design is too dark and/or if the page loads too slowly for your tastes, just click on the left side, under "Page Style," where it says "Turn Light On." You should only have to do it once for all pages and for multiple visits, but the function is a little bit buggy if you start clicking the corresponding switch in the comment boxes.

Address Matters
I also want to mention that the official address for Dust in the Light is now:


If you have this page bookmarked, or if you have been so kind as to link to me, I'd appreciate it greatly if you'd update your links, mostly for statistical purposes.

Now and Soon
Speaking of links, I will be adding a blogroll, as time allows, and I'll also be adding links to all of the months of blogging that I did on the other page. The final week of entries is still available here, although without the frame, and without the ability to comment.

Thanks for reading!

Okay. I've darkened the text and lightened both the "wall" and stained-glass's reflection on it. I've also enlarged the text all around and brought it in a little on the right. Does that help some?

If it doesn't help enough, as I noted above, you can click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column. If you do so, that will be the way the page opens up for you to start with (until you clear your cookies).