March 31, 2004

Fiddling While Rwanda Burns

It's difficult to know what to say about this:

US president Bill Clinton's administration knew Rwanda was being engulfed by genocide in April 1994 but buried the information to justify its inaction, classified documents made available for the first time reveal.

Senior officials privately used the word genocide within 16 days of the start of the killings, but chose not to do so publicly because the president had already decided not to intervene. ...

It took Hutu death squads three months from April 6 to murder about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus and at each stage accurate, detailed reports were reaching Washington policymakers.

It certainly merits mulling.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:54 PM | Comments (4)
International Affairs

The Mogadishu Strategy Can't Be Allowed to Work

The pictures of those Fallujahideen savages in Iraq evoked such an emotion that holding comment seemed prudent. (For one thing, I've the presence of mind to note that, by "savages," I mean to indicate only the specific people involved.) How we should react officially is complicated. Above all, we cannot retreat. However, we don't want to respond such that deprivations push fence-sitters and otherwise malleable Iraqis toward the scumbags.

Dan Darling offers a reasonable suggestion:

Might I suggest that Fallujah be cordoned off immediately, strict curfews imposed, and house-to-house searches instituted after 24 hour weapons amnesty, after which time anyone found to be possessing such weapons be promptly arrested. Then announce that any planned improvements or reconstruction efforts to the town will be indefinitely suspended and those resources redirected to communities whose populations are more supportive of the coalition's efforts. Offer a $2,000 reward for the perpetrators and make it quite clear to the general populace that the only thing they're going to get is food until they cough up the perpetrators.

He goes on to suggest hanging the perpetrators from the same bridge as they hung the American citizens. That, I'd say, goes a bit far. We want to present a clear difference in choices between ourselves and the return of the Ba'athists. But it might present some worthwhile symbolism to hang something there... a sign, an effigy of Saddam, or something.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:44 PM
Middle East

Information a Day Late

Just yesterday, I had a discussion about international high-tech job outsourcing, and this finding would have been extremely helpful:

According to the Study, U.S. spending for offshore outsourcing of computer software and services is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of almost 26%, increasing from approximately $10 billion in 2003 to $31 billion in 2008. During the same period, total savings from the use of offshore resources will grow from $6.7 billion to $20.9 billion. Using offshore resources lowers costs and boosts productivity. As a result, inflation is lower, interest rates are lower, and economic activity is higher. The increased economic activity creates a wide range of new jobs, both in IT and other industries. While there are some dislocations that affect both industries and regions, the overall economy adjusts so that offshore IT outsourcing actually creates new jobs. Over 90,000 net new jobs were created in the U.S. through 2003. The number of net new jobs is projected to grow by 317,000 in 2008. The impact on U.S. jobs does vary by industry sector, with the major beneficiaries for the next five years being construction, transportation and utilities, education and health services, wholesale trade, and financial services.
Posted by Justin Katz at 10:36 PM

Worker Retention Insurance

I can't believe I've never seen this point made or thought to make it:

Yes, free flow of labor and capital are both important. ... But the major problem we have in the US is that there is no free flow of labor because health insurance is tied to the job. If health insurance were sheared off from employment, so many people would strike out on their own, establishing new businesses, and the economy would be rejuvenated.

I've been only temporarily employed for a few years now (not counting freelancing and odd jobs), and for a while I was a few hours per week under the minimum to gain health insurance benefits. Looking around, I discovered that there isn't really any area of life other than the workplace through which to secure it. Perhaps there's some aspect to the entire system that I haven't noticed, but I still don't understand why any large group (a Church, say) couldn't combine to negotiate health benefits for members.

At any rate, now that I'm working enough hours to gain the benefit, I can absolutely attest that it adds some unquantifiable degree of disincentive to risk leaving. (That's not to say that doing so is an immediate desire of mine, but one continually thinks about options.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:33 PM | Comments (1)

But Rove's a Bad Guy

Philip Terzian reacts to coverage of the storming of Karl Rove's home, which most bloggers apparently thought too typical to note with much outrage. What's notable is that Terzian pointed his finger by means of a mainstream paper, the Providence Journal:

The Washington Post treated the incident as mildly comical, although one has to wonder what the tone would be if a crowd descended on the home of a Post editor, threatening violence and frightening his children. ...

... I am tempted to apply the reliable Reagan-Bush Test. Imagine if the mob had represented not a left-wing "community improvement" coalition, but the Young Republicans, or an anti-abortion organization, or Rush Limbaugh's enthusiasts, and had surrounded the home of, say, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, or Harold Ickes, or Sen. Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.), screaming obscenities and pounding on windows, threatening violence.

Would that be treated as a light-hearted lesson in the perils of politics, or a symptom of the ugliness now rampant in public discourse?

It is precisely in coverage such as that of this incident that the media's bias-driven storyline is most evident. Rove is a bad guy in their world — not only a political operative who knows the game, but a Republican political operative who knows the game. It would be an outrage were those whom Terzian lists the subjects of the same "activism" because they're the Good Guys. Even if they're crooked or mean or what have you, their intentions are good (according to this way of thinking).

You know, it seems to me that there's an inherent admission in this discrepancy that conservatives are the mature adults. It's as if, deep down, media-style liberals know that they're acting out emotionally on unsupportable convictions. We treat children and adults with the same sort of distinction between maturity and fragility, and John Hawkins highlights how apt the analogy really is:

So you have busloads of kooks encircling Karl Rove's house, yelling, & banging on the windows. His kids are quite understandably terrified and then after a furious Rove finally meets with these lunatics, their leader Palicios is crying and trembling like she's the victim. Poor her! Karl Rove yelled at her for bringing a mob to tresspass on his property and terrify his children over some bill that probably 500 people outside of the loons who were protesting know or care about.
Posted by Justin Katz at 8:10 PM | Comments (4)
News Media

Hey, Man, You're Just a Bigot; Ain't No Thang.

It's increasingly clear that those who argue for and against same-sex marriage really do agree about what its proponents are trying to do. They just say it as if it ought to lead to different conclusions.

This applies to various rhetorical offshoots of the debate, too. So, when opponents of SSM complain that proponents fling about loaded words like "bigot" to make themselves seem correct by definition, those who do so, such as Barry Deutsch, just agree and declare that they really don't mean anything hostile or unfair by it:

One area of miscommunication in the marriage equality debate is about words like "bigot" and "homophobe." Marriage equality opponents, quite understandably, don't like being called bigots and homophobes. They might genuinely have nothing against lesbians and gays; some of them have good friends who are lesbian or gay, and some of them are lesbian or gay themselves.

The problem here, I think, stems from two different definitions of "bigotry." Marriage equality opponents think "bigot," in this context, means "someone who hates lesbians and gays."

Speaking for myself, that's only one possible meaning of "bigot" or "homophobe." Another meaning, which is how I tend to use those words in the context of the marriage equality debate, is "someone who favors an unequal legal status for lesbians and gays." And by that latter definition, it makes perfect sense to describe those who oppose marriage equality as homophobes and bigots. ...

If the stigma bothers them that much, they can avoid it by changing their minds and favoring equality between gays and straights.

Well, that's prima facie moronic bullshit. By "moronic," I mean "not adequately reasoned," and by "bullshit," I mean "something that is incorrect." If Deutsch wishes to cease being a bullshitting moron, he just has to admit that words have meanings and connotations that expand beyond his own personal usage. And if he sincerely wishes to debate public policy, rather than ram his preferred solution through by means of name calling, he need only acknowledge that "bigot" requires unreasoning obstinacy and "prejudice," in this context, requires blanket hostility.

Such people are free to argue according to whatever presumptional and definitional universes they wish to inhabit, but it's simple semantic truth that, by describing all people who come to a given conclusion using words that suggest motivation, they are proving themselves to be the bigots.

(via Marriage Debate Blog)

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:07 PM | Comments (14)
Marriage & Family

You're Messing with Me, Right, Mr. Sullivan?

I don't believe that Andrew Sullivan has any real sense of this blog. He's surely come across its name, and mine, and he may have read a post or two over the years. Today, however, he's written something that almost seems a direct wink in my direction. What it means that this is most definitely not the case is actually a bit more saddening than the fact of my limited reach.

Toward the end of a post on March 1, I predicted that Sullivan would make the following "outrageous argument":

A lot of the initial gutsy moves required to kick off the War on Terror have already been made. Once in office, Kerry wouldn't pull back on that progress, and what we need now is a President who will refocus international cooperation toward the group effort of the more-subtle work that lays ahead

On March 19, I wondered whether he had already come close enough. Today, I'm glad that the judges never returned a ruling; Sullivan offers the "strongest argument" for Kerry:

we have already gained as much as we can for the time being with hard power and war; he won't pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan; he won't be able to duck a serious response to another terror attack; but he might help ease some of the hatred of the United States that this president has - undeservedly, in my view, but still undeniably - ratcheted to unseen levels.

Rationalization? I'd say so.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:48 PM | Comments (2)

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:49 AM

Psalm 127

Among my favorite psalms:

A song of ascents. Of Solomon. Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build. Unless the LORD guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch.
It is vain for you to rise early and put off your rest at night, To eat bread earned by hard toil-- all this God gives to his beloved in sleep.
Children too are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb, a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth.
Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate.
Posted by Justin Katz at 6:45 AM

March 30, 2004

Slapping the Judges' Hands

Michael Williams informs readers of a pair of identical bills making their way through Congress with two central themes:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, the Supreme Court shall not have jurisdiction to review, by appeal, writ of certiorari, or otherwise, any matter to the extent that relief is sought against an element of Federal, State, or local government, or against an officer of Federal, State, or local government (whether or not acting in official personal capacity), by reason of that element's or officer's acknowledgement of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government. ...

In interpreting and applying the Constitution of the United States, a court of the United States may not rely upon any constitution, law, administrative rule, Executive order, directive, policy, judicial decision, or any other action of any foreign state or international organization or agency, other than the constitutional law and English common law.

"The Constitution Restoration Act of 2004" also includes text about impeachment. The teeth inserted by that language's inclusion mean that the legislature, if this passes, would be taking an actual stand rather than essentially petitioning its judicial betters to behave.

Perhaps it is the strength of the move, combined with potential for increased ease for subsequent measures of the same sort, that makes Michael qualify his support as "tentative" and suggest a sunset provision for the restriction. The prudence of such specifics is open to debate, but the degree to which a sunset might undermine the purpose of the step is a necessary consideration against the perceived need to insert a date for automatic cessation. The law can change according to future circumstances, and if any government branch is going to be too powerful, it's best that it be the legislature.

Subsequently, Michael makes a point that could be seen as arguing for the "permanence" of a sunsetless act:

I don't know how effective such a law would be because I'm not confident that judges' rulings are always honestly tied to the explanations they give. Judges could still rule based on these un-American factors but simply stop saying so and cloak their reasoning behind more acceptable justifications. Still, it might make their jobs more difficult.

Through such legalistic maneuvering, the judiciary could force both other branches to combine efforts to restrain it, if the courts so desire, with the executive finding it necessary to publicly declare a refusal to enforce a particular ruling. A sunset might merely delay the showdown. In contrast, perhaps the best way to avoid such a turn of events would be through various smaller measures that amount to hand-slaps (in their judiciary-facing provisions), such as the Constitution Restoration Act and the Federal Marriage Amendment.

If nothing is done, however, it just might be that the currently unthinkable judicial coup would arise quickly with the support of a global central government. Even in the initial efforts of the legislature, we see the reflection of this potential struggle. Note that both themes of the act have, essentially, to do with sovereignty: protecting officials who proclaim that belonging to God and restricting judges who wish to chip away at that of the United States of America.

"One nation under God" doesn't seem like such a superfluous verbiage to the Pledge in this context, does it?

Just a note on a stratagem of which James Heflin, who was quoted for the WorldNetDaily report to which Michael links, is surely just an early practitioner. Writes Heflin:

The restricting of Supreme Court jurisdiction is a strange maneuver, but one which the hazy language of the relevant part of the Constitution may allow.

The first step in disregarding pieces of the Constitution that one finds disagreeable, rather than working to amend them, is to portray them as "hazy," almost accidental words that somehow slipped into the crucial founding legal document. Here's the offending sentence for the debate at hand, from Article III:

In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.

I can only presume that what makes this language hazy to Heflin is that it doesn't offer any guidance as to what those "exceptions" and "regulations" can be. The simple answer, if that is his objection, is that they can be whatever the legislature decides they can be within the limits of the rest of the Constitution. As I said, if any government branch is going to be too powerful, it's best that it be the legislature.

Mr. Heflin has (I think) replied in the comments section, and I realized that I was remiss in not seeking out and linking to his piece.

His first reply, here, is that "the many opinions of the legal community [he] read about that passage were anything but unified." I'm neither a legal scholar nor a journalist, but having read and written about similar matters with fair regularity, I can say that I've yet to come across legislative language that doesn't generate fundamentally conflicting opinions among the legal community. Almost invariably, those opinions happen to coincide with the preferred policy of the speaker.

In this case, Heflin suggests that "the Constitution 'Restoration' Act might well open the door for abuse of Article VI, which disallows religious tests for office." And yes, somebody, somewhere, is almost certain to put forward the proposition that proper "acknowledgement" of the Deity requires each employee to profess it. This, however, ignores the difference between acknowledging something and taking further action based on that acknowledgment. Note that the Act does not forbid the Court from hearing cases that seek relief by reason of an element's or officer's refusal of acknowledgement of God, something for which the Constitution makes specific provision.

Ultimately, though, this gets at what could be seen as the genius of our system. It admits human nature and seeks to ensure that it is channeled and checked where it presents worries for the community. In this case, as far as I know, the courts themselves will decide what constitutes "acknowledgment," tempered by the risk of impeachment. If Congress wishes to broaden the word, it will either have to pass additional language or impeach judges who overstep its desired boundary. Both of these actions, not being immediately procedural, will take place in public view, where the representatives are accountable.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:06 PM | Comments (10)

All the (Good) News That's Fit to Sweep

Patrick Sweeney notes a couple of articles, about thwarted terror attacks, that suggest two points. Patrick notes one:

The media wing of the Democratic party will bury these stories as it reminds people that the other side in the war on terror has not surrendered.

The terrorists will not always be caught before they launch an attack. We are still vulnerable.

Somewhat counterintuitively, the second point is that instances of prevention indicate success. There are more than enough examples of similar (relatively) small-scale victories for the press and opinion leaders to tell a wholly different story than the one with which they are bombarding the people of the West. (That story, by the way, is also known as "the truth.")

The joint realities suggested by the preempted attacks are not, actually, counterintuitive at all; the requirement to fight is inseparable from the ability to win. It ought to be universally troubling that so many among the cultural and informational elite are willing to diminish each of these so as to diminish the other. And of course, whispering about battles won while shouting about those lost is apt to color the public's overall impression.

Here's a prediction premised on a big, shudder-inspiring IF: If Kerry wins in November, look for Terrorists Thwarted stories — and even less significant successes — to climb toward and perhaps beyond their rightful place in the media kaleidoscope.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:11 PM
International Affairs

Our Man Behind the Tassled Curtain

Mike Adams's Townhall columns are often simultaneously disturbing and refreshing in the way in which they offer a conservative's inside view of academia. In the current column, he reacts to having been chided for making some of his fellow professors "uncomfortable" by discussing his political views:

When it first hit me that while in the office I could no longer talk about gay rights, feminism, religion, Darwinism, affirmative action, or any issue I discuss in my column, I was outraged. In fact, I got so mad that I raised my voice before storming out of my superior’s office. I never thought that the right of each university employee to feel comfortable at all times would ever actually be enforced against me here in the workplace (a.k.a., the public university).

But after I thought about it for a while, my anger turned to elation. Surely, the power to trump the First Amendment rights of others in response to "discomfort" is available to all employees, not just a select few. Since that must be the case (because our public university is committed to equality), I decided to make a list of every situation I had encountered at UNC-Wilmington where I felt "uncomfortable."

Even as he exposes the vapid laziness that the tenure culture can engender, Adams makes a case for it. The overarching threat of an ideological homogeneity can squelch the will to stand in opposition to it enough without the added cudgel of possible unemployment.

One grimace-worthy response is to actually pursue with all seriousness the return of like for like that Adams humorously feigns. Generally, I'm an idealist on such things, believing that the tool snatched from those who abused it can be a too-tempting possession. Glenn Reynolds, however, makes a good point regarding the leveraging of "hostile environment" legislation to protect the very group that was meant to be restrained by it (i.e., white, male Christians):

I don't approve of such things, but there's no better way to put an end to this asinine speech-suppressing body of law than to start enforcing it evenhandledly.

The danger is still too great, I'd say, that we'll discover that the craven gutterswumps who pushed for the legislation in the first place have long since transferred their devotion from the intention to the mechanism and are perfectly happy to leave the laws in place.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:45 PM | Comments (2)

The Flipping Principle

Lane Core has come across yet another flip-flop from the Democrat who would be President:

And that is what Kerry himself did in Miami this very month: he tried to pass off an earlier, preliminary vote as if it had been the final vote. Moreover, he did it again — quite baldly and very clumsily — in West Virginia a few days later:
Mr. Kerry added, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," referring to an amendment he supported that would have rescinded some tax cuts to finance the war.

According to the judgement of Lt. John Kerry in 1971, Sen. John Kerry's attempts at trickery in 2004 mean the senator is not acting as the representative of the people.

Of course, we are all inclined to lighten ideals — particularly behavioral ideals — when our own actions conflict with them. The important points of discernment, therefore, are the way in which we trumpet the ideals as a means of diminishing others who do not follow them and the way in which we react when caught in violation ourselves. Kerry flunks in both respects, in ways that suggest that he's an opportunist and a demagogue.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:00 PM | Comments (1)

Songs You Should Know 03/30/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "A Look at Us" by me.

"A Look at Us" Justin Katz, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:52 AM

Some Laughs Before Bedtime

Some light visual political humor seemed just the thing, this late Monday night.

Jeff Miller offers excerpts from Richard Clarke's next book. When the book comes out, Mr. Clarke might do well to keep an eye out for Donald Rumsfeld.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:32 AM

Spontaneous Planned Reactions

Diogenes reacts to a homosexual Catholic journalist who spontaneously disrupted a mass that he had gone out of his way to attend:

[Chuck] Colbert, who has degrees from Notre Dame University and, more recently, the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, frequently writes news stories for the National Catholic Reporter. Several reports on the clergy abuse crisis in the Boston area have appeared in the NCR under his byline. Well, does the Rosenthal Rule apply here? He might still pen opinion-essays as an advocate, but are we supposed to pretend that Colbert -- who plants himself in a parish he doesn't belong to, who claims he couldn't "sit there and take it" when the video he went out of his way to see is shown, who then stages a bit of calculated agit-prop to further the cause of gay rights -- is a neutral and objective observer of the situation?

I'll admit that the video is a bit over the top in its use of imagery; in fact, it's almost funny at times. But it's hardly "misinformation," as Colbert called it. It simply makes the case as starkly as it can in a few minutes.

A larger story, however, considering that the video hasn't exactly been shown in parishes around Massachusetts, let alone around the country, is the media-event character of Colbert's action. As Diogenes notes, the story hit the AP wire just before 4:00 p.m. on the same day that Colbert attended a 9:00 a.m. Mass. (That's what the story says, but Diogenes found that the church's Masses are at 7:30 and 9:30.) Considering the additional research and quote gathering, that's quite a turnaround time.

To suggestions that the "sit there and take it" line is curious considering that it wasn't his parish, Colbert says that he's free to visit any church and "wanted to see how [the video] was presented." That's curious, too, considering that it seems Colbert might have been aware that the video was online, which would suggest that he'd already seen it. The whole thing seems pretty well organized, to me — right up to the major-media coverage.

Anybody still believe that civil marriage will be the stopping point for many in this movement?

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:27 AM | Comments (2)
News Media

March 29, 2004

Take Your Time Andrew

Andrew Sullivan, back from his break, has responded to Kathryn Jean Lopez's suggestion that he's in the market for rationalizations to back for Kerry for President:

I'm mystified by this remark. It has always seemed to me that a political writer is not necessarily partisan. Some of us are actually trying to figure out who's the better candidate for the next four years and haven't made our minds up already. This time in the last election cycle, I was for McCain before I was for Gore. It took till the fall for me to realize where Gore was headed and narrowly opted for W. And one of the unique joys of a blog like this is that a writer can actually think out loud in real time together with the readers. Is that a crime? Am I supposed to stop thinking at all? Now, no one need wonder for more than a few nano-seconds whom National Review will endorse this fall. That's fine. But it's equally fine for others to take a more independent approach. There's a difference between "rationalizations" and "reasons."

Notwithstanding Sullivan's quick recourse to the lingo of victimization and recrimination, nobody has suggested that he isn't free to argue and think out loud whatever he wishes. Lopez was merely alluding to the impression — shared, I might add — that he would like some way around the obvious priority that must be given to the War on Terror.

When one can almost visibly watch a writer struggle between candidates who respectively appeal to his reason and emotion, it is fair to suggest that rhetorical justifications to go with the latter are indicative of rationalization.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:25 PM | Comments (1)

Dr. Frankenstein's Amoeba

A natural first reaction to news that scientists "are finally ready to try their hand at creating life" is to declare the endeavor dangerous and immoral. That, I think, has more to do with the scientists' use of language that makes what they're doing sound more interesting than it really is and the media's tendency to couch things in terms of controversy.

It seems that for the foreseeable future, by "life," we're still talking very basic organisms. One would be somewhat less fearful, I imagine, if scientists announced that a new technology coming out of the botany field had developed a plant from which a self-healing fabric could be made. And even that sort of advance remains somewhat distant. The leap to "live" products would still merit extremely close scrutiny, but from a practical point of view, a large swath of the innovations would hardly be notably organic. This, however, is worth a nervous laugh:

"It's certainly true that we are tinkering with something very powerful here," said artificial-life researcher Steen Rasmussen of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

"But there's no difference between what we do here and what humans have always done when we invented fire, transistors and ways to split the atom," he said. "The more powerful technology you unleash, the more careful you have to be."

"No difference" must be a counter-intuitive technical term, because I can think of plenty of differences between fire and nuclear technology, and presenting "life" technology as the next stage in that trend makes me think that perhaps all such research ought to be conducted on Mars.

ADDENDUM (for comic book geeks):
Putting the peril in "apparel." One memory that comes to mind whenever I hear about the apparel applications for these superadvanced new technologies is from the Marvel Comics Secret Wars. In that 1984 series, Spiderman's costume is destroyed, and an alien machine gives him new threads that can do all sorts of fancy tricks, like transforming appearance and responding to his mental commands. As we all know, that particular costume didn't turn out very well...

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:07 PM

The Do-Over Amendment Adds a Layer of Complexity

When the Hatch marriage amendment first hit the Net, I suggested that, whereas the FMA would be an undeniable rebuke to courts and preserve the definition of marriage until such time as a large majority of Americans wish to change it, the Hatch version seemed more likely to inspire new lengths of parsing from the judge's bench. Maggie Gallagher makes a similar point, today:

By creating a complicated debate over federalism, rather than a simple and clear debate over the meaning of marriage, the Hatch language will provide multiple "hatches" for political officials who either secretly support or don't care about gay marriage to escape the political consequences of their views.

Legally, the Hatch amendment's effects are complex and unclear. Politically, its effect is all too clear: By splitting the opposition to same-sex marriage into camps, the Hatch proposal is the opposite of mature leadership. It is a monkey wrench thrown into a serious, difficult, but absolutely critical effort to restore not only the proper balance of the courts, but a common, shared understanding of what marriage is, and how much it matters to this generation and to generations to come.

Which may be why Sen. Hatch made it clear last week that he endorses the original FMA.

This may be one of those moments in history at which two critical matters coalesce such that they can only be adequately addressed together. There's still plenty of time and reason for optimism to stick with the FMA. I suspect the picture will look quite different this summer, and having the Hatch language out there as a "compromise" will make the debate that much more difficult.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:26 PM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

Academics Discovering Benefits of Organized Religion

The historical storyline that American schools and culture taught many Gen Xers was the Zinnesque one that history is one long example of oppressors (usually white men) using traditional organizations to suppress everybody else. Thus, organized religion was wholly iniquitous, with very little by way of benefit for participants; marriage was a lopsided relationship not unlike servitude for all women — even if they didn't know it to be true. The happy side effect worldview, for academics, is that they can discover the reality of a social dynamic from the early 1900s as if recovering long-lost documents from prehistory.

My fellow Aquidneck Islander, URI history professor Evelyn Sterne has written a book along these lines with respect to the Catholic Church in Rhode Island:

"We think of the Catholic church as a conservative institution and in many ways it was; it was against birth control for women and against an attempt in the 1920s to pass an Equal Rights Amendment," says Sterne.

"On the other hand, the church provided an institution where women were encouraged to become active in public life," said Sterne. "For many women the church was the only institution it was acceptable for women to belong to. Women were seen as society's moral guardians, a natural extension of the role they played at home.

The religious vision of equality that makes Sterne's "on the other hand" misplaced is just different (better, I'd say) than the flat one with which feminists have squashed our culture. The Church's sociological positions — on everything from birth control to labor unions — don't issue forth from an animus against women, but rather a sustained effort to work toward a society that acknowledges and strengthens that which makes us fully human — fully woman and fully man.

I should note that I don't intend my general scorn for academics to taint my reaction to Sterne; we ought to applaud her willingness to challenge intellectual presumptions. However, this manifestation of those presumptions is worth a wry smile:

"Church wasn't just a place to worship," said Sterne. "For women, who were seen as the moral guardians of society, church was an acceptable place to go to get outside the stresses of family life and meet with other women. Women pushed the church to get involved in public life."

Now, I'm confident that the role of women in the Church has been a crucial part of maintaining and guiding the effort, but wasn't it... well... Christ who pushed the Church to get involved in public life?

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:45 PM | Comments (2)

March 28, 2004

Resting to Go Forward

It's been awhile, I believe, since the last time I went a whole weekend without a single post. In part, the lapse was a result of being busy combining with a new schedule that actually works rest into my week.

But it wasn't just me, this weekend. Whether everybody's just burnt out from all the Clarke nonsense, or whether we've all taken an anticipatory breath before something big happens (preferably good), the Internet's been relatively quiet. Up here in the Northeast, longing for spring is surely playing a role.

Anyway, beyond habitualizing myself into behavior appropriate to the realization that my life is as it is and as it will be for the foreseeable future, I've been edging along projects that will enable me to put the whole Timshel thing on autopilot until I get some sort of breakthrough — working, in the meantime, in whatever job helps pay the bills. This weekend, incidentally, our debt dipped below a long-anticipated line. It isn't significantly less massive, but it's nice to watch the numbers tick away over the years.

If you'd like to help us out, or if you'd like to help maintain my drive (particularly for blogging), or even (hey why not?) if you'd just like to read more of my work, please consider picking up a book:

Or two:

I sign all books by me, with some sort of personal message. Just imagine the dollar amount when your children or grandchildren bring the book(s) to Antique Roadshow toward the end of the century! No matter the amount, their reactions could hardly be more excited than mine whenever somebody thinks enough of my work to pay for it (even at my supremely reasonable prices).

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:17 PM
Sales & Fundraising

March 26, 2004

Take a Moment This Weekend

I had to come across excerpts in a few places before I actually made time to read David Gelernter's piece about the intellectualization of the elite. It's too good to excerpt. If you haven't read it, yet, make time to do so.

I'm cognizant that Gelernter's message hits me at an opportune time, just now, but even adjusting for that, I found the essay downright inspiring.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:59 PM | Comments (1)

Stunning the Host

Today's Day by Day cartoon reacts to Eric Alterman's appearance on Dennis Miller's show. I have to agree with Sheila Lennon that this wasn't Miller's shining moment. However, given even the beginning of a grumpy mood, I'm not sure I'd have been able to muster the will to argue with Alterman, who has clearly taken the precaution of dismissing the strongest arguments of the other side out of hand.

This is what Alterman is talking about where the online video picks up, and where Miller begins to lose interest:

[Bush] certainly does mislead the country. There's absolutely no regard for truth one way or another... It's sort of an existential question about whether or not you want to call it a lie.

Alterman is toward the top of his heap, and the distilled, for-TV litany — what the New York Observer's Joe Hagan called (on March 24) "laying out his arguments on autopilot" — is a structure of myriad little pieces all twisted out of shape to fit a preordained pattern. There's no denying that Miller was way off his game, and he should have pressed for specifics until something came up that he could address on the facts. However, one can understand his reaction to a guy whose argument, it seems, exists on another plane of reality.

Alterman's one-line description of his book, What Liberal Media, got laughs, for crying out loud. Definitely not a guest for whom one can afford to be underprepared, because there's almost no middle ground from which to wing it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:54 PM | Comments (1)
News Media

But That's Entirely Distinct from Our Careers as Journalists

Lane Core notes some big names of media who helped Senator Kerry to become sufficiently liberal to win them back from Howard Dean's thrall:

In an effort to galvanize the message Kerry wants to deliver in the time remaining, he convened a powerful roster of journalists and columnists in the New York City apartment of Al Franken last Thursday [Dec. 4, 2003]. The gathering could not properly be called a meeting or a luncheon. It was a trial. The journalists served as prosecuting attorneys, jury and judge.

Among the most fascinating aspects of modern political culture is the degree to which we're supposed to pretend that the obvious is not true. Concurrent with an increase of space between the Republicans and the Democrats in government (and a shifting the Republicans to the political right), it is crucial that the Big Media liberals be toppled, as well.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:19 AM | Comments (1)
News Media

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Granda," by Christine L. Mullen.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:51 AM

Precedents Made of Sand

In early February, Yale Professor Gabriel Rosenberg wrote in a comment to this post about same-sex marriage in Massachusetts:

I suspect that the court will find a rational basis for banning consanguineal and affinal marriages that has nothing to do with genetic offspring. For one thing, the affinal relations banned in Mass (but not in most other states) have no common bloodline so genetic concerns cannot be the sole basis.

He went on to write two posts differentiating SSM from polygamy and incest. As I suggested in my response, he made some valuable points — which advocates for traditional marriage may invoke a bit further down the slippery slope — but they were judgments with no compelling argument for why courts would care to agree with them.

In support of Prof. Rosenberg's point, one could note that the relevant statute in Massachusetts law includes stepparents and the like along with biological family members as barred from marriage. Furthermore, in the 2000 case Commonwealth v. Smith, the Supreme Judicial Court addressed the matter in the context of a father who had engaged in sodomitic sex with his daughter and whose lawyer argued that it had not been incest because there was no chance of conception. Although it found in his favor on semantic grounds, the court reasoned (internal citations removed):

Limiting "sexual intercourse" to penile-vaginal penetration would be appropriate if the sole purpose of the incest prohibition were the prevention of genetic or biological abnormalities in the offspring of incestuous unions. However, the plain language of the incest statute indicates that its drafters sought to advance purposes different from, and more compelling than, eugenics. For the statute does not define the crime of incest exclusively in terms of sexual intercourse between consanguineous relations, but also criminalizes the intermarriage of persons so related. Moreover, the "[p]ersons within the degrees of consanguinity" to whom the statute's prohibitions of intermarriage and sexual intercourse apply are not limited to blood relations, but include also certain affinal kin as well as stepparents. The Legislature's purpose in criminalizing incestuous conduct must thus extend beyond the prevention of genetic defects, as this goal would clearly not be advanced by criminalizing marriage itself, without more, between blood relations, and still less by prohibiting coitus between affinal kin who do not share a common bloodline. Indeed, the scope of the incest statute, as it relates to both conduct and persons, strongly suggests that its framers valued and sought to promote the sanctity and integrity of familial relationships, as well as to protect children within the family from sexual impositions by their elders.

So, the court didn't even go so far as to find it necessary to judge whether the legislature had a "rational basis" for its decree; it just determined that legislative intent was to include relationships other than by blood in the incest statute — but not to include a variety of behavior, as indicated by its narrow reading of "sexual intercourse." To leave no doubt that the second judgment of its intent was absolutely incorrect, the legislature subsequently expanded the incest statute to explicitly include the whole collection of sexual acts; it left the first judgment, about what relations were included, alone.

Well, on Monday — not quite four years after Smith — the SJC offered this chuckle-inspiring line, about the paragraph I've just quoted, in Commonwealth v. Dawud Rahim:

In rejecting this argument, we stated, without analysis or explanation, that the prohibitions in [the incest statute] extended to "affinal" relationships, thus indicating that the purpose of the incest prohibition is broader than simply eugenics.

Although it is currently immaterial, due to the intervening legislation, Rahim did have that penile-vaginal intercourse. This time around, however, it is not incest because it was with his stepdaughter. The court dismisses its earlier statements as dicta (or excess verbiage) that needn't be considered binding. Furthermore, the court argues that the legislature has used "consanguinity" and "affinity" as distinct terms, elsewhere, so the entire range of banned marital relationships is not covered by the relevant language in the incest statute, which reads as follows:

Persons within degrees of consanguinity within which marriages are prohibited or declared by law to be incestuous and void...

Gone is the endeavor to understand the general intent of the statute — the values it seeks to preserve and the harms it seeks to prevent — replaced, now, with explication of specific linguistic intent. Whatever their justification, the thinking now goes, the legislature knew that it was not criminalizing affinal incest with this statute, and that's what counts. Of course, as the three (of seven) judges standing in dissent remind us:

Two years after the Smith decision, the Legislature rewrote the incest statute to broaden the sexual conduct prohibited to include unnatural sexual intercourse. The amendment was in direct response to the Smith decision. No change was made in the definition of incest contained in the statute. It is obvious from this that the Legislature accepted the definition stated in the Smith case, and expressed agreement with the language therein explaining the purpose of the statute.

That being merely a dissent, it is not necessarily a crime, for the time being, for a stepparent to have consensual sex with his or her spouse's sixteen-year-old child. Perhaps some enterprising prosecuter will charge such a parent under the still-extant adultery law, but one can only imagine that the SJC would make short work of that statute, too.

More disturbing is that it's impossible to know what the court will rule next, in a post Lawrence v. Texas world, about non-coital or sterile sex between even biological family members now that it has contradicted its own recent judgment that the crime of incest is not essentially a matter of the existence of a sexualized parent-child relationship.

Worse yet, contrary to assertions throughout Rahim that marriage is a distinct matter, the precedent that courts around the country are busy building is that the right to have sex with another person is the same as the right to marry that person. Lawrence (the U.S. Supreme Court case making sodomy a right) is mentioned frequently in Goodridge, which legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, including as the first citation supporting this comment:

Whether and whom to marry, how to express sexual intimacy, and whether and how to establish a family--these are among the most basic of every individual's liberty and due process rights

Perhaps the Massachusetts legislature would do well to reintroduce its statutes prohibiting marriage to relatives as a constitutional amendment.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:12 AM | Comments (4)
Marriage & Family

March 25, 2004

The Atheist Fundamentalists Attempt a Coup

Jonah Goldberg has shared with Corner readers an email from a professor who explains his opposition to the inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance thus:

The beauty of our country is that it evokes great loyalty precisely because it doesn't demand it. The Pledge is a pointless and anti-American exercise. The fact is, the intention of the fundies is to try to force their God on the rest of us (and why shouldn't they? wouldn't you, if you felt you had access to the ultimate truth?) and we have to fight it where we can. How exactly would it be a 'slap in the face' to take God out of the thing?

While there's a degree of truth to the professor's explanation of America's "beauty," it's a slender abstraction of precisely the sort that intellectuals are so inclined to inflate to the point of hot-air entirety. For most Americans, the "beauty" of the United States of America — what evokes undemanded loyalty — is that we can work to change its laws according to our beliefs about what would make it a better country. Note the professor's parenthetical suggestion that he understands this to be true.

To mention, in non-coercive ways, a God who does not exist is simply silly. To refuse to acknowledge, in any capacity, a God who exists (as the vast majority of Americans believe He does) would be beyond silly, into a realm of enforced, disrespectful dementia. To insist, as Michael Newdow is arguing before the Supreme Court, that the U.S. must do the latter, and that no amount of advocacy and consensus building will be sufficient to change it, is indeed to slap Americans who disagree in the face. Worse, it is to erase exactly that which makes our nation so much more than an aristocracy with pro forma rituals of empty democracy. And not demanding devotion does not of itself result in its being offered... as any atheist should know.

This professor is — knowingly or not — engaging in exactly the strategy for which I faulted a talk radio caller yesterday: he is attempting to substitute, ipso facto, America as he would like it to be for America as it is. Frankly, I think Goldberg had it right in the post that elicited the professor's email:

I'm sorry but this country may have been established to protect individual rights, but it wasn't founded to cater to the feelings of every individual. Newdow is unconcerned by the fact that if he got his way he'd be slapping, literally, hundreds of millions of Americans in the face. He thinks that's fair because of his ego and because his capacity for abstraction affords him the ability to shove his head up his own butt and mistake the darkness for a temple of reason.
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:48 AM | Comments (1)

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "from Dishonorable Intentions," by Anne Dubose Joslin.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:59 AM

March 24, 2004

The Libertarian Fantasy Government

While running a couple of errands, a little while ago, I heard a caller on the radio arguing one of those points that is so dumb it takes a bit of intelligence to find it plausible. In a nutshell, he declared that morality is not, properly speaking, part of the American system of government. Everything is based on laws derived from individual rights.

In some ways, this represents the first lap around the track for those who have rejected the notion of a government based on higher principles of a more religious nature. Essentially, all he's done is to re-label morality as individual rights, without crediting morality as the basis for rights. He's appealing to the same concept of objective, transcendent truth that he thought to leave behind at the starting line, but he's added a layer of obscuring rationalization. At some point, he'll come across somebody's explanation of why this is so or something will trip up his rhetorical structure, and he'll be off again for the next lap.

For one example of his case, the caller tried to make a distinction between the religious Commandment "thou shalt not kill" and laws governing murder. The former is a moral declaration having to do with the sanctity of the individual life, in his formulation, while the latter is an assertion of the legal right of a person not to be killed for no reason. But last I heard, the most accurate translation of that Commandment actually is "thou shalt not murder," and indeed, all religions growing from the Old Testament recognize some form or other of legitimate infliction of death. Moreover, the concept of "no reason" requires a subjective measure and an appeal to morality.

A second example to which the caller made recourse was that judges rule based on the law rather than morality. If only that were true! Even accepted "objective" law leaves room for judgment on such matters as whether discrimination is "invidious." More importantly, judges who do handle the law objectively do so simply because that's their prescribed function within our government system. What do such people think the legislature is for?

At best, folks who take this caller's view are describing their ideal government based on their own moral principles, rather than the U.S. government as it is actually constructed. To the extent that this ideal is both legitimate and feasible, it is as a limited ideal for government within a society that has assigned power to areas of life and culture that more appropriately and effectively dabble in morality. This construction, as I see it, is the nation that our Founding Fathers sought to create, and we've managed to mangle it so horribly in part because we've slipped into legalisms and rhetorical illusions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:13 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

More Dreams of the Path Not Taken

The President and his supporters are finding themselves required to address an ever-shifting field of what-ifs — as there has been no shortage of pundits to note. Clifford May makes a great point in this vein:

By contrast, what could President Bush have done between January and September of 2001? By that point, the terrorists had made their plans and were living in the U.S. Even if President Bush had launched a unilateral, preemptive attack against the Taliban and al Qaeda, the 9/11 suicide terrorists might have proceeded to fulfill their missions. Indeed, some would have said that 9/11 was in reprisal for the assaults on al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Moreover, the entire anti-preemption brigade, from journalists to Jesuits, would have swung into action, just as they did when it came to Iraq. In fact, the Taliban had the additional advantage that it didn't have a globally recognized history of border-state invasion and internal WMD attacks, and their culture was sufficiently foreign to cloak its tyranny. (Pious-looking robes are much more conducive to a palatable international image than a military uniform is.)

Of course, we now know that one coal-shoveler for the what-if flames, Richard Clarke, preempted his current assault by making contradictory claims in the past. I can't be alone in my complete astonishment that somebody would publish a book, tour the national media, and testify to Congress as Clarke has done in full knowledge of potential landmines that he himself set years ago. It brings to mind something from a post by Demosophia Scott to which I linked yesterday:

As someone with a fairly good grasp of the situation recently observed, after noting that both Lieberman and Biden had disavowed Clarke's allegations as false and devoid of fact: "Wow, these guys seem like suicide bombers. They destroy their own reputation in an attempt to be part of the angry left."
Posted by Justin Katz at 3:05 PM

The Government's Like a Family... Only Richer

Donald Hawthorne, a former member of the East Greenwich School Committee, writes, in today's Providence Journal, that the education wing of the Rhode Island government has plenty of fat that it can trim. This way of putting the issue ought to be intellectually accessible to any citizen:

The real debate should be about why state aid increased by $158 million, or 33 percent -- nearly twice the rate of increase in taxpayers' personal incomes. You can thank outrageous demands by public employees and the spineless responses by politicians and bureaucrats for such irresponsible increases.

Let's put these large numbers in the context of a family budget. Suppose your income was $45,000 a year. A 33-percent increase means your salary grew to $60,000. Few families saw that kind of increase during the last five years.

After receiving that huge salary increase, you are now being asked to take a 1.25-percent reduction. That means finding a way to live on $59,250 in the next year. Families make such adjustments all the time to live within their means. Government should be able to do so, too.

Surely some bureaucrats, lobbyists, and politicians consider translating government spending into real-person terms to be contrary to the health of the state — in one way of looking at health. For my part, I think this state's government, in particular, has been indulging in gourmet ten-course meals and late-night Big Macs for quite a bit longer than is advisable.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:22 PM | Comments (1)

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:55 AM

March 23, 2004

Sharing the Load

Among the most significant benefits of the Internet, generally, and the blogosphere, specifically, is the broad distribution of interests, knowledge, abilities, and (importantly) schedules. The whole Richard Clarke thing brings that home. Simply put, I don't have the energy to jump into this one — he says one thing, somebody else contradicts him, the media picks his version, et cetera. Not the least, my reaction results from a strong suspicion that Clarke will fade away with neither side of the fight having gained or lost any believers — the only people who will remember Clarke come November. When Clarke's faded to chat-room status, the Democrats and the media will find another someone or something through which to cloud the waters once again.

But fear not. If it is for Clarke info that you lack, you needn't look hard to find it, so there's no need to catalogue sources here. However, there are a few items worth checking out for outside-the-mainstream information. First, Dan Darling notes a disappearing Saddam–al Qaeda connection:

... Clarke played a key role in the Clinton administration's decision to launch a cruise missile attack on the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. That article, if true, puts Clarke's comments about a war in Iraq detracting from the larger war against al-Qaeda in an entirely different context.

As any number of media reports indicate from the time period in question, those US officials who ordered the cruise missile attack on the al-Shifa plant did so because they believed that bin Laden was producing precursors for VX there with Iraqi assistance. It is worth noting that the basis for this conclusion even found its way into the November 4, 1998 US indictment of both bin Laden and his military commander Mohammed Atef, stating that bin Laden had formed a non-aggression pact with Iraq and had agreed to work with the Iraqi government with regard to weapons development.

For his part, Scott of Demosophia parses Clarke's political tale to form a picture of the forces that might have really been at play:

In other words he was given the task of challenging his own prejudgments, and what he apparently did in lieu of fulfilling that assignment was to go out and compile what he considered evidence that there was no link, a rather petulant response to an administration that was seeking to comprehend (or perhaps even catch up to) a rather inscrutible enemy. In other words he refused to do what was asked of him, not to "manufacture evidence" but to look for evidence he didn't think was there. This borders on insubordination. He clearly thought he ought to have been employed creating a "grand strategy," not doing this lowly gumshoe work. His methodological ineptitude prevented him from seeing that this is a standard way to test an hypothesis, and is really rather straightforward scientific method.

Meanwhile, John Cole spots something in the 60 Minutes transcript that illustrates how dishonest spin shifts the administration's reasonable behavior into some weird fictionesque obsession with Saddam Hussein:

A failure to attempt to identify any role played by Iraq in the 9/11 attacks by Bush and his administration would have been foolish and irresponsible. Once again, the fierce partisans, ideological blinders on and focussed directly ahead at the 2004 elections, are attacking the administration for doingexactly the right thing- investigating all options.

Before you get confused and start to think that perhaps they were trying to rush to war with Iraq post 9/11, as the hucksters would like for you to believe, remember the timeframe. When this memo was written, 18 September 2001, the one in which Clarke has been caught in an out and out lie, it was already pretty well decided that Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan were the target. We know that the choice of action was already decided from the numerous write-ups, most easily accessible of which is this excerpt from the Sept. 18th 2001 portion of the lengthy Washington Post Series titled 10 Days in September.

I'm a relatively new watcher of the political game, so I can only ask: has it always been like this? Have political operatives always been brazenly willing to reformulate recent history?

Some physicists suggest that, in the Many Worlds Interpretation, there are realities in which history really is inconsistent, in which monuments fade into existence, for example, so that the present has a record of a past that never was. That's the feeling with which the political wrangling of the past three years has left me.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:29 PM

Bias Becomes Boring

Perhaps it's indicative of apathy, perhaps of a belief that it my limited voice would have no effect, or perhaps I was just busy that day, but I never got around to posting about a shamefully biased report by long-time Providence Journal reporter Karen Lee Ziner. The piece was about a rally for a bill that would define marriage as between a man and a woman in Rhode Island, and a letter from Mark Gordon, executive director of Fidelity Forum, puts my feelings well:

What is disturbing about Ziner's journalism is that she deliberately sought out the most egregious sentiment possible and then proceeded to feature it as the lead in her story. In so doing she cast the entire event in the shadow of D'Ovidio's assertion, painting all of the marchers -- and, by extension, anyone who agrees with their position -- as hateful, intolerant bigots.

Ziner has been writing long enough to understand that her piece would achieve precisely the effect she intended. Her story represents the deliberate and malicious injection of a reporter's own biases -- in this case a pro-gay marriage, anti-Catholic agenda -- into the news.

I suggest that if Karen Lee Ziner wants to become an opinion columnist, she should begin her apprenticeship somewhere other than the news pages of The Providence Journal. By the same token, if the editors of The Journal have a point to make they should be plain about it rather than hiding behind the feigned objectivity of reportage.

Regarding the Projo's advocacy, that's been obvious for about as long as the issue of same-sex marriage has been in the news. As for Ziner's piece, my thought was that I should begin "covering" such events, because one simply can't trust a journalist who reports on a rally attended by over 100 people and kicks off the top-most article on the front page of the Rhode Island section thus:

Liliana D'Ovidio believes that God allowed The Station nightclub fire "because there are homosexuals in the state."

"He withdraws his blessing," D'Ovidio explained at a rally against same-sex marriage, held at the State House Rotunda yesterday.

A member of Catholics for Life, D'Ovidio held a sign reminding people that "God set fire from the heavens to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah," two supposedly wicked cities described in the book of Genesis.

One reason I didn't mention the piece was that I couldn't tell, from Ziner's phrasing, whether D'Ovidio was just an attendee or a speaker. Researching her on the Net (although I didn't bookmark the pages), I discovered that she's a seventy-something widow who is very active in pro-life events. At this particular event, she was just an attendee. My guess: her sign attracted Ziner's attention, and either pointed questions or mangled context gave the reporter enough to frame her story as she did.

And that framing did have an effect. The state representative who proposed the bill and organized the rally, Victor G. Moffitt, issued an apology, and D'Ovidio has clarified (apparently to Ziner, and not on any front pages, as far as I can tell); even her sign gets a different description in the follow up article:

Liliana D'Ovidio, the woman who made the remarks to a Providence Journal reporter, carried a sign at the rally with a phone number for Courage, a 12-step program for gay Roman Catholics who try to abstain from same-sex relationships because they believe them to be immoral. D'Ovidio said Courage helps homosexuals be "cured of their tendencies."

Yesterday, D'Ovidio said her quote about the Station fire was taken out of context.

"It is not because of homosexuals that people are punished," D'Ovidio said. "For one thing, there are some persons with homosexual tendencies who live virtuous, celibate lives."

D'Ovidio continued, "God cannot bless a country and its people that is the greatest exporter of pornography, allows over 60,000 pornographic sites on the Internet available to children, and kills 4,500 babies a day through abortions -- with over 100 a week of these in Rhode Island. Unfortunately, bad things happen to good people because of all of our sins."

Frankly, I could see something very similar to that statement resulting in the objectionable paraphrase, which makes me wonder why Ziner wouldn't offer the full original quotation in the follow up piece. Why, for that matter, do journalists so rarely seem inclined to explain themselves? They just roll on, with the very same woman whose reportage is at issue reporting the reactions to it. Clearly, editorializing or not, Ziner is as much an actor in this story as D'Ovidio.

Although it's only incidentally related, a story about some vandalism in Johnston, Rhode Island, to which Jeff Miller directed my attention, seems to fit as an addendum to this post. As the Projo reports in a Digital Bulletin:

The face of the statue, depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd with a lamb over his shoulder, was painted black. Paint was also sprayed over a carved inscription on the statue's stone pedestal that says, "Pray for an end to abortion." The words "Anti-choice Nazis" were painted on top of a masonry garden box surrounding the statue.

As one might expect, the incident sparked that famous Catholic hatred:

"The parishoners are very concerned. They're saddened," said Rev. Douglas Spina, pastor. "It gives us the opportunity to pray for the people who would do this kind of thing."
Posted by Justin Katz at 6:10 PM
News Media

Amendments Around the Net

Just a note for folks coming here from the Corner: if you find this page design difficult to read, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

Maggie Gallagher has penned today's SSM must-reading:

The very ideas that are being used to promote single-sex marriage are a dagger pointed at the heart of the marriage culture. Marriage, these people are saying, is not a public, social norm, it is an individual civil right, a benefit-dispensing mechanism. Every small town or county can decide for itself what marriage means, with no damage to anything important in our common culture.

The fragmenting of America's marriage culture is going on before our eyes, even as the most stubbornly blind advocates of single-sex marriage continue to insist gay marriage poses no threat. As Bob Herbert wrote in the New York Times, "Those of you who are already married, tell the truth: [Gay marriage] won't make your marriage any weaker, will it?"

She covers all the bases, from the likely shift of a successful same-sex marriage movement toward forcing religious organizations into compliance, to the erroneous declaration that all precedent leaves marriage laws to the states. She also argues against the potential Hatch amendment, which would concentrate marriage amendment efforts on the procedural matter of excluding courts, while leaving state legislatures to do whatever they wish. It is to this portion of Gallagher's piece to which Ramesh Ponnuru responds (read up from the link).

The decisive factor of disagreement is whether the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would actually define marriage, has a chance of passing. Everybody else in the debate is more qualified than I am to judge that. For my part, I continue to think that it would have been a better move all around to withhold whispers of an alternative amendment until this summer — a time at which public support for amendment is trending to cross into "overwhelming majority" territory and at which states such as New Mexico and New York will be taking at least the first steps toward importing Massachusetts same-sex marriages.

Whatever the politics of the situation, Gallagher makes a suggestion in passing that seems to be in line with worries about the Hatch amendment that I share:

There is, however, something wrong with leaving marriage to the states. It won't protect defense-of-marriage laws from being overturned by a Supreme Court already signaling its interest in affirming same-sex marriage as a civil right. And in states that adopt same-sex marriage as a civil right, it won't protect Christian and other traditional religious organizations from persecution in the public square if they teach the sanctity of marriage.

To the first half of that paragraph, Ponnuru responds:

State defense of marriage laws typically have two components: They define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and they deny recognition to same-sex marriages contracted elsewhere. Under the Hatch language, the Supreme Court has to defer to the state legislatures on the definition of marriage (sentence one) and cannot use any provision of the Constitution to compel a change in that definition (sentence two). Nor can the Supreme Court use the Constitution to compel recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages, since that would require that benefits be granted in violation of sentence two.

Gallagher seems to be referring to a possibility that I've noted. In short, even as they are blocked from mandating same-sex marriages, federal and/or state courts would have ample room to find pretext to strike down laws that explicitly forbid it. Here's the Hatch amendment, once again:

Marriage and its benefits in each state shall be defined by the legislature or the people thereof. Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to require that marriage or its benefits be extended to any union other than that of a man and a woman.

Ponnuru has argued that this would still forbid anti-miscegenation laws because 1) the first sentence doesn't limit federal courts, and 2) the legislatures would not be "free to ignore other parts of the Constitution." In other words, despite the first sentence, the state legislature cannot define marriage as a union of two people of the same race, because the second sentence only limits the federal judiciary inasmuch as it cannot find that marriage must be "extended" beyond opposite-sex boundaries.

This opens an important crack in Ponnuru's response to Gallagher about what each sentence does. Most obviously, the word "extended" could be construed as allowing the Supreme Court to find that the rights can't be "restricted" to opposite-sex couples. Such reasoning might seem foolish, but as I noted in my earlier post, the Nebraska marriage amendment is already coming under attack on due process grounds — grounds that a U.S. District court thought strong enough to allow the case to go forward. And without further legislation, the courts would decide what the amendment restricts the courts from doing.

If they judge themselves only narrowly restricted, the Hatch amendment would protect the marriage precedent as passed along from common law and as inferable from various statutes and rulings, but courts might bestow the right of activists to perpetually lobby for marriage rights free of explicit discrimination in the law.


Posted by Justin Katz at 2:08 PM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

Songs You Should Know 03/23/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "She" by You.

"She" You, Alternative Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:10 AM

March 22, 2004

Children Don't Grow on Trees

Something right at the beginning of an article about the San Jose Mercury News's statistical analysis of gay couples in California raises an eyebrow (emphasis added):

A Norman Rockwell painting they're not. But many of California's same-sex households reflect a more traditional lifestyle than is often recognized in the national debate over gay marriage, according to a San Jose Mercury News analysis of census data.

Children from diaper age to high schoolers reside in nearly a third of the state's gay and lesbian households, which also tend to be headed by partners who are better educated and slightly more affluent than married Californians.

More than half of same-sex couples own their own home. And though they can't legally marry, as many as a third have tied the knot before.

As with many of these statistical analyses, tracking down the source data would require some research, and I'm not going to devote the time to the effort. However, I do wonder what, specifically, counted as residing in a household.

Crowley and Rinaldi are among 29 percent of the state's same-sex households that have children under 18 at home, a relatively high proportion considering that more than half the couples are gay men who cannot bear children and face bigger hurdles adopting or gaining custody of children from previous marriages.

It's odd that the influence of custody practices is allowed to pass out of the report so quickly, particularly since it's likely that many of the children in question are from previous marriages:

Like Crowley and Rinaldi, lesbians are more likely to have children living with them, 37 percent statewide, than are gay men, 23 percent. ...

The number of gays and lesbians who have been married before is difficult to pin down. The 2000 census found that 35 percent of same-sex partners in California had once been married, but demographers say that estimate is inaccurate because of a flaw in the U.S. Census Bureau's calculation.

This "more traditional lifestyle" seems largely to be preceded by divorce, with mothers — subsequently lesbians — having the larger share of custody. I'd be curious to see what percentage of single divorced people have children in the household. Yes, the "faces" that the journalist puts on these numbers are more varied than the comparison implies (with adoption and lesbian IVF represented), but it's a Media Reader 101 lesson that one can't take representative profiles as representative.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:05 PM
Marriage & Family

The Patchwork Family

Unforeseen difficulties are already starting to pop up with nothing more than state government attempts to address hypothetical same-sex marriages from other states:

"Business must have the right, within existing federal law, to negotiate wages and benefits with employees. The state of Georgia should not limit business practices and make our state different than almost any other state in spelling out the limitations of employee benefits. This also applies to the beneficiaries of employees.

"The drafters of SR 595 may not have intended to regulate business, but the language contained in the second part of this bill could be interpreted as denying employees the right to name whomever they choose to benefit from employers' medical, insurance or other personnel practices."

A patchwork marriage solution will not work, not the least because neither side will want it to.

(via Marriage Debate)

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:41 PM
Marriage & Family

The Indoctrination Library

Don't miss Jeff Miller's recent copywriting stint for Slippery Slope Publishing:

Investigative reporting for children uncovers the real reason why Mother Hubbard had nothing in her cupboard. Children will learn the reasons why low cost housing is not available and some people are forced to live in a shoe!
Posted by Justin Katz at 8:34 PM

Then Where'd It Come From?

Craig Henry has taken a look at his pre-war assessment of the argument for war, and he writes something that strikes a chord with me:

The case for war did not argue that Saddam's WMDs were an "imminent threat" or that he was involved in the 9-11 attacks. Instead, it argued that he was trying to get WMDs, that containment/sanctions/deterrence were beset with problems of their own, and that waiting was worse than acting. Nothing i've read in the past year refutes that assessment.

I don't think I ever got around to writing a similar post, so my arguments and proof of what I thought the arguments to be are scattered over months of posts here and comments elsewhere. However, I remember people arguing against the war by saying that the threat wasn't imminent, and I remember responding that the central argument for war at that time was that we could never know when it was imminent. In fact, as I recall, a paleocon commenter on Mark Shea's blog tried to phrase the argument in terms of stockpiles, and I replied that, although that would certainly make the war even more immediately necessary, it wasn't what made it necessary to begin with.

I'm aware that some will just hold a mirror up to this comment to reflect it back to me. However, I have to say that it's one thing to read long-ago history revised, but another thing altogether to live through the metamorphosis. It's not this issue alone that frustrates credulity thus.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:29 PM
Middle East

Where "Far Left" Comes Around

Something that James Lileks wrote in today's Bleat sounded familiar:

These people marched to protest the premature bestowal of freedom by exterior forces. Better the Iraqi people live under the boot for 20 years, and rise up and get slaughtered and rise up again and slaughter those who killed their kin, then have Bush push the FF button and get it over with now. Better they suffer for the right reasons than live better for the wrong ones.

I don't intend a personal assault by pointing this out, but the similarity between the group Lileks is describing and the following quotation from a conservative blogger leads to too important an area of thought to ignore. Here's Steve from Absit Invidia:

Regime change in Iraq was the responsibility of the Iraqi people. God knows their relentless bombing of coalition and civilian targets proves that there was no shortage of explosives and willing 'martyrs' in the Arab world to get the job done.

So the question is: "Why didn't they?"

Even putting aside the matter of whether the "relentless bombing" is the work of Iraqis, Ba'athist holdovers, or border-crossing terrorists, one might be tempted to suggest that either way — whether taking the Lileks vision of perpetual revolution or the Absit Invidia implication of a complicit public — Iraq would have been, at the very least, a "breeding ground for terrorists." But again, regarding interpretation and understanding of facts, we're all in different choirs singing to ourselves in soundproofed rooms at this point. We do well, nonetheless, to watch whose key we begin to sing in.

As just about every rightward blogger has noted, LGF has pictures of the folks Lileks is talking about.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:18 PM | Comments (2)

Disagreeing Back to Back

Sometimes it seems as if it's more difficult to resolve disagreements when they are with folks with whom one shares a majority of premises. It's as if trying to bring disagreement into line with agreement makes misunderstanding inevitable. This may be the problem arising in an exchange between fellow Rhode Island conservative blogger Marc Comtois and myself. He's updated his post in the exchange, and it is obvious that I haven't adequately stated my point about the degree to which having a single-income has become a privilege.

For one thing, it wasn't my intention to "amplify" my thoughts in the entry to which his update is a response, but to clarify them. (I apologize if I came across as hostile.) I was addressing neither the "toys" that require some families to maintain two incomes, nor the age at which couples marry. As a matter of fact, I agree completely with the point that Marc is making, that giving children a stay-at-home parent is worth material sacrifice; I'm just making a different one.

For both my own household and many of those with which I've personal experience, putting off children while developing "a little of a nest egg" would mean putting them off indefinitely. In this discussion, the nest egg is what provides the leeway for one parent to stay home, and the class of couples who have suffered most from this area of social experimentation are those for whom two incomes are necessary even without toys, new cars, and expansive wardrobes.

Without question, such families have always existed. However, I'd suggest that the two-income standard has raised the class level at which a married couple is free of the burden. Expanding on this, I expressed my belief that — in broad, general terms — it isn't outlandish to suggest that the class of women who most insistently sought the career option is now the same class of women with the option to stay home. They can "have it all," in other words, only if they earn enough to be able to afford it. Those who cannot do so wind up forced to settle for what that they didn't necessarily want to begin with.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:01 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family


Sheila Lennon has emailed to object that I wasn't sufficiently clear that certain statements in the preamble of a post responding to something that she had written were based on inferences. I've modified the language and added an addendum to address her valid concerns.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:44 PM
Bloggers Blogging

March 21, 2004

Culture War from the Inside Out

On the very same day that a Seattle-area United Methodist church steps onto what may prove to be the path to internal discord that the U.S. Episcopal Church has blazed, the Washington Post profiles another congregation of the same Church across the country in Maryland in reaction to this finding:

Late last year, a commission convened by Dartmouth Medical School, among others, studied years of research on kids, including brain-imaging studies, and concluded that young people who are religious are better off in significant ways than their secular peers. They are less likely than nonbelievers to smoke and drink and more likely to eat well; less likely to commit crimes and more likely to wear seat belts; less likely to be depressed and more likely to be satisfied with their families and school.

The article, which I found via Amy Welborn's blog, is well worth reading, despite its length, but something odd creeps in at the bottom of the third html page (of four):

Some girls in the study group don't challenge the Bible or church teachings. Kimbrey, however, is a questioner, and her questions are taken seriously, she says. One discussion she remembers centered on the ordination of gay clergy. Wendy Brubaker, her Bible group sponsor, said gays shouldn't be ordained but Kimbrey argued that "all sins are equal in God's sight." She isn't convinced that homosexuality is a sin, but if it is, she argued, "you can't judge a person just by the sins you see." The church unknowingly ordains ministers who commit abuse and other acts condemned by the Bible. Why should homosexuals be excluded?

The next page picks up:

"I won the argument," she says proudly.

Ah, pride! According to the telling of Post writer Laura Sessions Stepp, Kimbrey really does seem to be a fantastic kid, but two questions come to mind. Did none of her Bible-study peers think to suggest that the problem lies in the degree to which this particular sin is worn as an impregnable, unimpeachable identity? One suspects that open abusers would be somewhat less welcome than even open and active homosexuals.

The second question is why, in a piece about the benefits of religion, Ms. Stepp devotes so much (unbalanced) time applauding a girl who refutes it on this particular issue. To ask this question is to answer it, and the answer carries through to the last individual profile of the piece, a twelve-year-old girl who gets the final word:

Wicca, a form of pagan nature worship, could be the answer, she says. Because "in Wicca, you have a goddess and a god. God will still be there for me."

Thus, the preadolescent sage assists la journaliste sophistiquée in assuring the reader that — while the formula currently eludes the experts — the benefits of religion may yet be distilled away from organizations that insist on tradition, dogma, and stuff.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:02 PM | Comments (7)

The Path Not Taken: Opportunity for Endless Dreaming

There may not be another pundit whom I've wanted to like more and wound up liking less than Jim Pinkerton. Don't know what it is — maybe because there were a few months in 2002 during which I watched Fox News Watch regularly and saw him as the decidedly unslick conservative counter to the previous, very smarmy liberal commentator.

But then came the war in Iraq, and some underlying ideological distinction brought Pinkerton to a separate conclusion from those who supported it, and all subsequent events have reinforced both sides in their beliefs. At this point, there's almost too much distance in basic view of the world to attempt much bridging; we're all just choirs singing to ourselves in separate rooms, with time coating the walls with soundproofing.

This, for example, is in tones that I can barely comprehend:

The lesson of Madrid was clear enough. Those Spanish troops currently hunkering down in Iraq, dodging snipers, could have been used instead to secure "soft targets" on the homefront, guarding Spain's borders and transport system.

Does Pinkerton really believe that the Spanish government — before March 11 — saw the options as between working with the United States in Iraq and strolling along train cars looking for backpacks? Frankly — although given his political affiliation, I'm more willing to leave open the possibility that I'm missing something crucial in his thinking — Pinkerton's implication that Aznar's transfer of a handful of troops to Iraq left a foreseeable security gap through which the terrorists snuck strikes me as either dumb or despicable.

Steve, of Absit Invidia, on which I found the link to this piece, says that Pinkerton is "what conservatives used to be." A curious suggestion, that, considering the hopeful view that Pinkerton seems to have of Spanish Socialists:

Here's a prediction: Even as he honors his campaign promise to withdraw his country's troops from Iraq, Zapatero will take obvious and commonsensical measures to improve Spain's homeland security. That is, he will tighten up on border enforcement, scrutinize aliens more closely and improve security around public places. And he will even work closely with allies in "Old Europe."

On the last point, Pinkerton is no doubt correct. However, we can only hope that the people of Spain don't find the flavor of socialistic "homeland security" to be disagreeable. Pinkerton seems awfully willing to expect what he sees as conservative policies from that particular political party. Then again, I can't help but have visions of socialists past upon reading this suggestion:

Indeed, Americans might wish to study Spain's alternative approach to national defense. Voters here might wonder why it's a good idea to have 130,000 American troops in Iraq - while our own borders are sparsely monitored and our own rail system is wide open to terror bombing.

Can you imagine the reaction were President Bush to order troops to "guard" commuter rails? I suspect those scare quotes would become part of the dictionary spelling of the word. And what other soft targets ought the President to fortify with U.S. military personnel? Malls? Mainstreets? For far too many people, including conservatives, it seems that the answer is retrospective: wherever an attack happens to occur, that's where the troops should have been. (Unless the terrorists actually kill them, in which case the soldiers shouldn't have been there to begin with.)

As I said, there's too much distance between worldviews, at this point, to build bridges. When Pinkerton asks whether "the invasion of Iraq really made the United States safer," I give an unhesitant "yes." Even putting that aside, however, it ought to be clear that our options are not, and never were, the same as Spain's. We are the target on the hill, as indicated by September 11 and all of the attacks that preceded it. Were we to pull ourselves into defensive mode, the strategy would quickly become permanent, and increasingly difficult to maintain.

In this, Pinkerton has the luxury of those whose suggestion represents the path not taken: an endless opportunity for unrealistic speculation.

In keeping with the idea of diverged worlds among conservatives, I find my head shaking in bewilderment when, after quoting a report about the most recently coronated media star, former White House staffer Richard Clarke, Absit Invidia Steve writes (emphasis in original):

In a matter of seconds the folks at National Review will be firing up their word processors to label Mr. Clarke an appeaser and they'll, doubtless, call him soft on terrorism - so take a quick look at his record. ... Yeah, this guy has traitor written all over him.

I realize that Steve is using NR emblematically, here, but his sense of its M.O. is entirely incompatible with mine. In fact, what NR did was to quote "an insider" offering a much more detailed version of Clarke's record. (In this post and the one above it.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:25 PM | Comments (4)
International Affairs

March 20, 2004

The Generational View, the Lifeline View, and Now the Inside View

Oscar Jr. has an interesting analysis of the supposed generation of same-sex marriage supporters that is currently working its way through higher education. Taking note of my previous post on the issue, Oscar suggests that support for same-sex marriage is inversely proportional to having been married. With marriage rates falling, support for same-sex marriage increases accordingly:

If my theory is correct, then the increased support for same-sex marriage that actually has occurred (as opposed to that expected to occur due to a hypothesized "generational shift" in the future) may be due to the fact that fewer people are getting married these days.

This is certainly a factor, and Oscar is correct to glean that I would include marriage as part of the life experience that makes people more conservative as they get older. However, there are a couple of additional considerations that I would suggest. For one thing, he uses "never been married" data, while currently married — and especially, currently happily married — would be more helpful. It certainly has seemed to me that many of same-sex marriage's strongest supporters have been divorced (or would like to be).

That difference might help to alleviate my second concern. As Oscar's chart shows, experience with having been married slopes gradually according to age, and even more so now than in 1970, according to his data. The lack of a gradual slope in either direction on the question of same-sex marriage was the essential reason that I sought a further dynamic.

Data that would be really helpful to Oscar's analysis would be poll results on some previous marital change, such as divorce or contraception rights. All of the same variables would still come into play, but it would offer another example of marriage's correlation to certain opinions about marriage. And maybe some previous pollster would have had the foresight to gather information about respondents' marital status.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:38 PM
Marriage & Family

Please, My Brotha, May I Play?

Rev. Sensing takes a look at a sports writer who penned the following:

''The audience at ESPN is presumably a sports-savvy audience which means that in terms of basketball they know the code, ethics and culture of basketball, which is, in case anyone is new to the game like some of these idiots that apparently have responded in a negative fashion, the code is it's a black man's game and the white man is privileged to be allowed to step on the court,'' Ryan said. ''That is known by both blacks and whites."

At least Ryan didn't insult Condoleezza Rice.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:09 PM | Comments (1)

Babies' Fate

To a workaholic, charts are like shots to a drunk.

After my previous post, I thought to take a look at trends in the United States and Northern European nations with respect to childbirth, illegitimacy, and abortion for 1970 to 2000. Live birth and abortion statistics, I took from a source that I've found to be reliable. (It consistently matches up with other data that I find.) Statistics for U.S. births out of wedlock, I took from a CDC PDF. Similar statistics for the European countries, I took from charts in a report (PDF) from a statistics organization in the Netherlands. The most significant quirks of my methodology were that I estimated the European out-of-wedlock percentages from line graphs and that I didn't incorporate miscarriages in my total conception data, but neither of these factors is of much importance for my purposes, here.

The United States has well over twenty times the conceptions of any of the other countries, except for the United Kingdom, than which the U.S. has about six times the conceptions. Overall, the detrimental numbers are waning; abortions are down to late-'70s levels in raw-number terms and early-'70s levels in percentage terms; out-of-wedlock births are still higher than they've ever been, but they are leveling off. There are still too many of each, of course:

In the Netherlands (which I looked at in detail only because it came up in the previous post), births within marriage are being squeezed by abortions and out-of-wedlock births, both of which combined to actually increase the number of conceptions and births, even as births within marriage continue to decrease:

Those numbers made me wonder what the percentages looked like for each category — sort of a rating of the odds faced by conceived children who aren't miscarried. The ugly truth is that, as of 2000, a child conceived in the United States only had a 50% chance of being born within wedlock; for some hopeful news, however, it's also true that abortions have lowered to 25%, while out-of-wedlock births have been leveling off to the same percentage. Children conceived in the Netherlands still had the best chances in 2000 (although there were many fewer of them), with a 66% in-marriage rate, and abortions only crossed the 10% line in the mid-'90s; however, the illegitimacy rate has almost reached the U.S. level.

The Scandinavian picture is more worrying. In Sweden, a baby is 10 percentage points less likely to be born into a marriage than out of one, and almost just as likely to be aborted, a rate that has surpassed that of the United States. While Norway is only slightly better than Sweden, Denmark actually showed signs of improvement in the late-'90s, although my sense (check the comments) is that those gains have turned around in the '00s.

Here's the comparative picture for conceptions. Note that the U.S. is actually 20x the number shown here, and the U.K. is 5x the number shown. Apart from the U.S., the Netherlands was the only country to have seen an increase in the past decade or so, and as I already noted, those are entirely accounted for in the abortion and (more) out-of-wedlock numbers:

Next are the rates of births into marriage. In this context, the Netherlands' percentage seems a little less impressive, while the U.S. looks a little more hopeful (to me, anyway, but I'm biased):

Context paints an even more striking picture around the respective illegitimacy rates:

The abortion statistics, on the other hand, don't reveal much of note when viewed this way, except maybe for the United Kingdom — and not in a good way:

The improvements on the part of Denmark in these last few charts raise an important consideration: the significance of the actual number of births. An improvement of 4.6 percentage points in in-marriage births from 1990 to 2000 in that country only amounts to a difference of 3,628 babies, considering the low overall birth rate. For some perspective, although only 2% of the population is currently Muslim, that amounts to 107,688 people. (Another 3% are Roman Catholic or some Protestant denomination than the majority Evangelical Lutheran.)

I haven't derived any specifically applicable conclusions from this data, but once the bug bit, I had to sort the numbers out. I'm sure they'll come in useful in the future (for me, anyway). And if anybody feels like fact-checking me, I more than welcome correction.

While I've got all the files together and the system down, I thought it might prove useful to run the numbers for the United Kingdom, too. Here's the baby odds figure. The other data has been added to the aggregate charts above.

I've also put together the baby odds figure for France. However, since the graphs above are getting crowded, and since the latest available information for France is from 1998 (which you should remember if you follow that link), I haven't included the country elsewhere. (Note also that the data for France includes abortions performed out of the country. No such data was available for several of the other nations, and where it was available, as in the U.S., it was statistically negligible. However, it did make a little bit of a difference in the '70s for France.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:33 PM | Comments (3)
Marriage & Family

Confidence in Media Balance

I'm sure that next Wednesday's KidsPost section of the Washington Post will address the social and theological arguments of those who support traditional family structures, with one article presenting a sympathetic profile of a child living in one and another article explaining the (actual) history and foundations of marriage from Adam and Eve on. Something along those lines would certainly fortify the paper's reputation for complete objectivity, as a counterweight to last Wednesday's KidsPost, which Chris Fields describes thus:

The page contained two articles on the subject by Fern Shen: "Defining Marriage" and "What's Best for Kids?"

"Defining Marriage" offered a look at the life of a 10-year-old boy, Justin McGuire, who, along with his infant half-sister, is being raised by his mother and her lesbian partner. In it Shen labels the mother's partner as "Justin's other mother" and writes that though Justin lives with his "two mothers" he also sees his father on the weekends. Shen notes that "Justin says it doesn't feel like a big deal, being in this kind of household." ...

The author subsequently notes in "What's Best for Kids?" which religions are offering such teaching: "Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews, traditional Muslims and some Protestants." She does not, however, mention any religions that teach marriage to be between anything other than a man and a woman. Shen mentions that some ministers and rabbis are performing ceremonies for homosexuals, but fails to concede that that does not mean that Christianity (Catholicism or Protestantism) and Judaism consider gay marriage permissible.

I encourage you to read both Fields's piece and the two that he's addressing. Interestingly, at no point does anybody address whether men and women — mommies and daddies — are different from each other in ways that even children (especially children) can understand. Shen quotes Maggie Gallagher as saying that "children do best in a stable household with both of their biological parents," but that's a little abstract for kids to understand without any examples of why that is. Also interestingly, nobody mentions that only men and women can have children of their own. (Of course, that unfortunate actuality is probably only a fact of life because the current stork, who holds a lifetime appointment, as I understand, is a bigot, too.)

And just as soon as that edition of the Washington Post hits the racks, I'm sure that the librarian at Rachel Freeman Elementary School, in Wilmington North Carolina, will stock a children's book about a prince who casts off his royal lifestyle to become a humble Christian missionary.

Stern Nijland, co-author of King and King, a book that Freeman Elementary already carries, suggests that her tale of events leading up to two princes' wedding-day kiss is just "a funny story, nothing more." In fact:

Nijland says it's the uproar, not the book, that's doing the damage. "I think it is sad for a little girl to know of now harm and she just wants to read nice books," Nijland said in her broken English. "It is sad she is learning this so early... taboos."

In her fairy tale country of the Netherlands, "this kind of thing is normal." Of course, increasingly normal there, as well, are out-of-wedlock births, which have swung up a classic increase curve from about 5% of all births to 25% from 1980 to 2000 (PDF). Meanwhile, the much larger and demographically diverse United States has less than doubled over the same period, from around 18% to around 33% (PDF), in a curve that has been leveling off after a 10% jump during the '80s.

We're not all roses and regalia, over here, either — that's for sure. But I think we do well to avoid emulating the land of double kingships and discarded taboos.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:40 PM | Comments (2)
News Media

Studio Matters Notes & Commentary

Maureen Mullarkey's latest Notes & Commentary essay is "Three Approaches to Nature," reviewing Wendy Mark at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, the drawings of Rosemarie Beck and Paul Resika, and Andrea Morganstern at Kimberly Venardos.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:30 AM
Visual Art

March 19, 2004

Give Me Liberty, and Give Them Death

My fellow Rhode Island conservative Carroll Andrew Morse builds an interesting piece about the Spanish election on top of Ben Franklin's declaration, "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."

If other parts of the free world are willing to follow the Spanish example, then the election day following March 11 may be remembered as the day when the free citizenry of the world declared Benjamin Franklin's famous warning to be obsolete. March 11 may be remembered as the day when it became acceptable to trade tangible liberty for a promise of security.

If we still accept the wisdom of Franklin's warning, and we still accept that trading away your own freedom for security is bad, then trading away someone else's freedom for your own security is worse. Not only do you give away liberty that is not yours to give, but you begin the process of giving away your own

My suspicion is that the Socialists will be only too happy to help that process along.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:54 PM | Comments (1)
International Affairs

Mommy Is a Personal Topic

Marc Comtois has tweaked my post about the type of women who can afford to be stay-at-home moms. I'm not entirely sure what accounts for the difference in our opinions, except perhaps our ages and personal experience. Reacting to my breakdown by class, Marc writes:

The trend is for younger mothers, despite their education level, to choose staying at home. This is probably a result of holding onto the ideal of one parent working/one parent at home, which results from either the fact that that is the type of home the GenX mothers grew up in or its the type of home they wish they grew up in. With this ideal in the back of their mind, I'm guessing that most worked for about a decade, made some money, met the right man and then wanted to start a family.

These women proved that they could make it in the career world, but some realized it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. ...

The first thing that differs from my experience as one who is about to be a twenty-nine-year-old father of two is the notion that thirtysomething women who have been working for a decade are "younger mothers." Younger than whom? Younger than their own mothers, to be sure, but in a country in which the average age for first-childbirth is 25, these new moms are about a decade behind the curve.

The second, and more to-the-point, thing that differs from my experience is the number of options that newly three-person families actually have. It hardly disproves my contention about privilege to suggest that the women in question have already "proved that they could make it in the career world." And if they've done so, what type of "right man" were they likely to meet? It is the women who either haven't yet become, don't want to be, or aren't capable of being careerists who have been hurt by this wide-scale social experiment. Worse, the men whom they tend to marry are much more likely to be bums like me.

At the lower end of this spectrum, both in age and in income, the choice to stay home or not isn't a matter of fulfillment of an ideal — which is to say that it really isn't much of a choice. Childcare can eat up almost all of one spouse's income, so the choice is between poor while abandoning the kids all day and poor while staying home. At the next level, the extra income is just too necessary to give up.

Again, this is a thorny issue, and there are no easy or universally applicable answers. The fact remains, however, that the impetus for sweeping social change has come at the behest (I almost said "whim") of a class with the resources to keep its fallout in the range of choice.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:43 PM
Marriage & Family

St. Joseph on Modern Sociology

One will often hear, as if it stands as its own evidence, that "the only reason" people hold a particular opinion is because of religion — "it's in the Bible." I hereby resolve no longer to allow such an objection to pass without demanding an explanation of what that means to the person making it.

A basic endeavor of religion — and a basic tenet of Christian understanding of God — is to make universally comprehensible what is incomprehensible. This has tiers, of course, from the actually incomprehensible to that which requires centuries of research to understand. Not everybody has the time, interest, and surplus gray matter to trace statistics and follow sociological theories; paradoxically, everybody can understand what sociologists don't yet believe themselves able to admit that they know. Why shouldn't the simply understood distillation of millennia of religious thinking be admissible?

This came to mind — perhaps somewhat obliquely — upon reading David Morrison's post about St. Joseph:

But St. Joseph maybe among the Saints I most want to pull off his place beside innumerable altars and bring down into the pews. Not, heaven forfend, because I want to besmirch him in any way at all, but because we need him more actively with us, as an advisor, as an example, as a encourager, as a disciplinary voice. Because if there is a crisis that in the American family today, and this might to families across the first world, that stands head and shoulders over all the others (and the others are pressing as well) it is the crisis over men not knowing, understanding or working to be Dads.

Despite fashionable assertions to the contrary during the past few decades, the importance of fathers is beginning to find its way into research conclusions as if it's a new idea. But there it is: right in that old, all-too-dismissible Book. Do children need a father? Well, even the Son of God needed a dad to teach him how to be fully human.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:55 PM

The Mommy Class War

My wife and I are about to have our second child, and we would prefer if Mom were able to stay home with the two girls, but we are rapidly losing our belief that I could possibly earn enough to make that possible. It's probably not surprising, therefore, that a cultural trend that Rich Lowry describes represents a sort of bittersweet improvement, from my point of view. Women, as it turns out, are beginning to see staying at home as an increasingly acceptable life decision. However:

According to Time, it has mostly been well-educated white women over 30 who have accounted for the drop in working moms. Twenty-two percent of women with graduate or professional degrees are at home with their kids. One in three women with M.B.A.s is not working full time, in contrast with just one in 20 men. These women have the resources to eschew a paycheck.

Although I would never tar women with the sins of their mothers, so to speak, it doesn't seem presumptuous to suggest that this is the same class of women who pushed their peers out into the workplace to begin with. One consequence of that push was to create economic and cultural pressure making two-income households just about a necessity. Now, that same class of women is sufficiently wealthy to return to the lifestyle that is no longer an option for many others.

Look, everybody ought to have as a full a range of options as individually possible, and we can't do otherwise than take the world as we find it. If my wife and I desire a one-income family, then we'll just have to work for it, and to make some tradeoffs. In our case, we're starting off in a better position to accomplish that than most of our fellow citizens, and we've got other support — such as a large, nearby family — on which to lean if need be.

The point is that modern Western society has developed a tendency to leap into fundamental change on the flimsiest of promises that everything will work out just fine. It takes a few decades to begin to understand (and to be able to admit) the damage, and perhaps some decades more of reform will return a reasonable equilibrium. But in the meantime, families move through the meatier part of their lives gradually fixing what ought to have been only gradually dismantled.

Lowry offers a good suggestion about where to begin with the rehabilitation:

Public policy needs to make it easier for families to choose whether to have mom, or dad, stay home, rather than forcing both parents into the work force. High taxes do just that. About half of married couples with children in the mid-1950s paid no federal income tax, thanks to a generous $3,000 personal exemption. If this exemption had kept up with inflation, it would be $10,000 today.

Although the steadily increasing child tax credit (now $1,000 per child) has eased the burden on families, more tax relief will make it still easier for them. Meanwhile, the tax code's dependent-care tax credit, which is only available for parents who go to licensed day-care providers, could be broadened to include parents who provide their own child care. The tax code could make it easier for moms and dads to maintain home offices as they search for creative ways to spend more time with their children while still working.

There's only so much the government can do, however, and half the country is still intent on rolling down the hill.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:54 PM | Comments (4)
Marriage & Family

One Way, Turn Back, or Go Around

Boyd Garrett comments on pessimism about the fate of marriage and (if I may extrapolate) our culture:

Marriage has been severely damaged over the past several decades, but the optimist in me refuses to believe that this is a one-way trip. The current state of marriage cries out for us to rescue it, not abandon it.

There is certainly reason to be optimistic no matter the outcome, inasmuch as the best can be made of any circumstance and positive progress can always be pursued. To be sure, my faith is such that I believe the "rescue" to be the purpose, no matter the immediate success of the attempt. But still...

We have to adjust for our historical point of perspective. The United States, for example, will cease to exist as currently constituted. The social forces pushing from inside and out will necessitate such a change, no matter how unforeseeable the specifics may be.

Moreover, those social forces never reverse along the same path. The question, then, becomes whether the circuitous necessity will loop outside of our culture as we know it. It's too early to tell, at this time, but we can nonetheless suggest — optimistically — that such principles as those crystallized in traditional marriage seem to have a way of coming around again.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:25 PM | Comments (6)

Maybe He's Better on Paper

Listening to a short clip of John Kerry on the radio yesterday, I had exactly the reaction that Lileks describes in this paragraph:

I heard four speeches this week — one by Carville before some firefighters, screaming like cat that had been dipped in turpentine; one from Kerry about something or other (it's hard to stick with it; he sounds like a 45 RPM record played at 33 1/, and you keep making revolving-hand motions in the hopes you can somehow, like a butterfly that flutters its wings in Brazil and causes typhoons in Tahiti, cause him to pick up the pace a little); one from Dick Cheney, and one from Bush. Cheney's speech was tailor-made for his speaking style, which consists of pressing the point of the sword into the opponant's arguments and slowly pushing the entire blade in with steady force. Bush's speech had many thick sheets of boilerplate, but it had economy and optimism.

Let's hope the outcome in November allows us to avoid four-hour State of the Union speeches!

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:03 PM | Comments (2)

Let's Ask the Judges

On March 1, I predicted that Andrew Sullivan would — sooner than later — argue something similar to this:

A lot of the initial gutsy moves required to kick off the War on Terror have already been made. Once in office, Kerry wouldn't pull back on that progress, and what we need now is a President who will refocus international cooperation toward the group effort of the more-subtle work that lays ahead.

Today, he comes close enough that I have to ask the judges if it gets me on the scoreboard:

Here's a question worth asking: whatever John Kerry's record, could he afford in office to be weak on terror? Wouldn't he be obliged to continue Bush's policies in Iraq and Afghanistan and even, as he has already promised, actually increase troop levels in those countries? I don't think it's out of the question. ...

Although I hope Poland stays the course in Iraq, I do think [its President] has a point [about WMD concerns]. and he's not the only one. A considerable number of Americans - including many in the pro-war camp - believe this administration has not been forthright enough about the reasons for the intelligence failure.

Perhaps he's not there, just yet, but Sullivan is certainly close, and certainly on the right trajectory.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:25 PM

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from A Whispering Through the Branches," by me.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:16 AM

Diary Entry, 3/19/04: Still Snowing!

Woke up to more snow falling. It looked like it had just started, making me wonder if it's somehow my doing. (One would think that having a country CD in the alarm clock would have the opposite effect on the weather.)

Oh well. The snow's nice, I guess; it's certainly better than rain while walking the dog. And the winter did, after all, get to a late start, this time around the seasons. Perhaps it's only the forshadowing of spring that we got the last few weeks that makes the snow seem like regression.

Sorta like a writing career.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:14 AM
Diary & Confession

March 18, 2004

The Burden of Profit

Tom R comments to this post about Mel's mills:

(1) Gibson makes The Passion and doesn't care if he loses his shirt on it (no pun intended) ==> Gibson is a religious nutter.

(2) Gibson makes The Passion and makes millions ==> Gibson is a cynical exploiter of religious devotion for his own profit.

(2-A) Gibson makes The Passion and makes millions, which he is publicly seen to give away to charitable causes ==> Gibson is an ostentatious publicity-hound, who's violating Jesus' command not to perform your good works in public for the admiration of men.

(2-B) Gibson makes The Passion and makes millions, which he is not publicly seen to give away to charitable causes ==> Gibson is a cynical exploiter of religious devotion for his own profit.

He can't win, whatever he does. Other, of course, than making a film depicting Jesus as an "Episcopalian social worker with progressive views".

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:19 PM | Comments (2)

On Top of the Terrorists

It's worth mentioning that Dan Darling has been following War on Terrorism–related events well.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:14 PM
Bloggers Blogging

Pushed into a Corner

Since Kathryn Jean Lopez has been kind enough to send some new folks here, I thought to note that, if you find that this page design makes for difficult reading, just click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

Some Cornerites have fallen for a trick that shows why Andrew Sullivan was a master debater back in his prep school days. As Sullivan tells it:

I'm mystified by NRO's Corner discussion of my alleged objection to federalism - or my fair-weather federalism, as it were. But both paleocon, Kathryn Lopez, and Jonah Goldberg, conflate two entirely separate issues. I am horrified that the commissioners of Rhea County Tennessee don't just want to ban gay marriage - as is their right - but actually want to ban the existence of gay people from their county. Now it strikes me that even the writers at National Review would draw the line at the physical expulsion of a group of people for simply being who they are.

First things first. The Rhea County commissioners are apparently fools and, yes, bigots, and it seems to me that conservatives' "silence" on the matter is probably due mostly to the realization that just about everybody in the country will realize that the commissioners' recent action was kooky or, to be charitable, symbolic. Let's be cognizant of what we're talking about here:

Rhea County commissioners unanimously voted to ask state lawmakers to introduce legislation amending Tennessee's criminal code so the county can charge homosexuals with crimes against nature.

"We need to keep them out of here," said Commissioner J.C. Fugate, who introduced the motion.

County Attorney Gary Fritts also was asked by Fugate to find the best way to enact a local law banning homosexuals from living in Rhea County.

The unanimous measure was to send a request to the state government to pass a constitutional amendment that would subsequently allow a further measure that sounds like a sodomy law, which would be void under federal law anyway. This is less comparable to mayors' handing out marriage licenses with which to start lawsuits than to school boards' passing resolutions condemning the Patriot Act.

One of the commissioners went further, it is true, and made it known publicly that he's in the market for a loophole through which to kick gays out of the county altogether. Disgusting, yes, but also nutty — and nothing but talk. Moreover, it's talk among local politicians in an area of the country that has become famous for being overruled in its cultural decisions by federal courts — from the Scopes Monkey Trials in 1925 to a 2002 ruling that the public school can't offer a Bible studies course taught by Christians.

That, however, isn't where Sullivan's trickery comes in. Rather, the objectionable statement is that Lopez and Goldberg "conflate two entirely separate issues." As a baseline, it's relevant that any conservative knows that neither Sullivan nor the AP can be taken at their word on homosexuality vs. fundamentalist issues without further research, and most will adjust for spin when reading them. Against that background, the always-overworked Lopez wrote explicitly about sodomy vs. same-sex marriage. Goldberg is even less objectionable. He specifically noted which among Sullivan's comments he was addressing: those calling Virginia's attempts to ban civil recognition of gay unions "pogroms." Goldberg writes:

If there were actual pogroms against gays in this country, obviously I would be against them. Moreover, I wouldn't argue that federalism protects the "right" of local communities to commit violence against homosexuals.

So how do we get from Goldberg's insisting that marriage laws are best kept distinct from the word "pogrom" to Sullivan's accusation that Goldberg isn't "worried" about a county that "has endorsed the elimination of gay citizens"? Well, let's take a look at the Sullivan post that started the fight, up to the sentence that mentions pogroms:

THE G.O.P.'S ANTI-GAY CRUSADE: The far right strikes again in Tennessee:
Rhea County commissioners unanimously voted to ask state lawmakers to introduce legislation amending Tennessee's criminal code so the county can charge homosexuals with crimes against nature. "We need to keep them out of here," said Commissioner J.C. Fugate, who introduced the motion. County Attorney Gary Fritts also was asked by Fugate to find the best way to enact a local law banning homosexuals from living in Rhea County.

Don't hold your breath for any establishment fundamentalists to rebuke them. So much attention has been paid to the handful of places that have advanced gay civil rights in the last few months that the tidal wave of anti-gay legislation being proposed and passed across the nation - pioneered by Republicans - barely merits notice. One state - just one - has moved toward establishing equality in marriage for gays. Thirty-eight have banned it outright. A few have re-written their constitutions to ensure inequality for gay citizens. Virginia, to take one example, is in the midst of a full-scale anti-gay legislative pogrom - banning gay marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships and attempting to revivify the sodomy laws.

From there, Sullivan moves to the Bush administration's "pure animus." Now, I may be "gob-smackingly obtuse," as Sullivan suggests of Goldberg, but it looks to me as if it was Mr. Andrew Sullivan who "conflate[d] two entirely separate issues." To keep the rhetoric nice 'n' hot, Sullivan then posted his Email of the Day, which begins thus:

Good Lord, Andrew -- if you would get your head out of the Republican Party's ass for five minutes, you'd be able to see that the reason that paleoconservatives don't differentiate between between the Tennessee proposal to ride the gays out of town and the President's opposition to gay marriage is that they don't feel it is a substantive distinction.

In short, Sullivan is now tarring the Cornerites with the ridiculous equivalence that he, himself, introduced to the issue. This is what supporters of traditional marriage and conservatives more generally are having to contend with in this debate. Rational discussion has become impossible, and the only hope is to convince enough people in the gray middle that they simply can't trust the rhetoric coming from the other side.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:07 PM | Comments (19)

The Premise Must Stand

The Providence Journal's connection to the blog world, Sheila Lennon, who is syndicated on Web sites around the country, didn't give any indication that she noticed that Rev. Donald Sensing is a relatively popular blogger when she addressed his piece on Opinion Journal, even though there's a link in his byline blurb. Perhaps partly because she didn't explore Sensing's work, she didn't notice that her assumptions about his view of civil same-sex marriage were incorrect. Apparently believing that he was tracing support for a federal marriage amendment back to a previous battle that cultural conservatives lost by way of the judiciary when the Supreme Court (see addendum below), in Griswold v. Connecticut, granted the right to contraception, she dusts off her side of the argument about the Pill.

In doing so, Lennon reminds us that the major divide in our country reaches down to individuals' fundamental beliefs. Thus, she apparently sees Sensing as striving toward his opposite vision of reality by bringing up the long-settled matter at all. As with so much from the Left, in these times, downsides to the preferred conclusion are forbidden to be seriously entertained, particularly if they are broad and cumulative.

Nobody with even a modicum of compassion will deny that the burden of childbirth and (preferably) rearing is a heavy consequence for a few moments of pleasure, and almost anybody will admit at least some sympathy for a young woman's wish that something had interfered before the situation had shot to the next level of sticky morality. But what if, as the years go on, taking measures to avoid that "unfair" consequence contributed to ever-increasing corruption of society, affecting more and more people, damaging lives from shore to shore? Well, best not to think about that; best, instead, to hack away at the arguments on which such an idea might rest (even if the ax that chips one point actually hammers in an even stronger one).

To this end, when Rev. Sensing writes that the "impulse toward premarital chastity for women was always the fear of bearing a child alone," Lennon responds:

No, the fear was of becoming pregnant instead of going to the prom or going to college, and of incurring parental wrath. Bearing a child never inevitably implied raising a child. Many went away to "maternity homes" and gave up the child for adoption, or their mothers raised these children as their own "change of life" babies. Others sought -- or were forced into -- illegal back-alley abortions, sometimes with tragic results.

This litany of worries represents a valid argument on behalf of the Pill, as far as it goes. However, Rev. Sensing was arguing that the drug "removed this fear." It is the emotional barrier to premarital sex that he is describing, and it hardly serves to disprove him that Lennon can name additional bricks that were once part of it. Apparently not realizing this, Lennon shifts her grip to swing at Sensing's assertion that "women have also sadly discovered that they can't reliably gain men's sexual and emotional commitment to them by giving them sex before marriage":

You can't gain love by blackmail, then or now. Withholding sex to force men into marriage is hardly a path to "sexual and emotional commitment" either.The Pill permitted both sexual expression and family planning.

Well, to be sure, access to sex is not the most firm foundation on which to build a marriage, of itself, but that hardly refutes the suggestion that granting such access beforehand is any better. It certainly removes that mutual mystery, excitement, and pleasure from the independent entity — the marriage — formed at the altar. I shudder to consider what Ms. Lennon's view of men is that she believes them so enslaved by the prospect of fleeting orgasms that they would enter into lifelong commitments with a particular woman purely on that basis.

However, to the extent that regular sex does act as a motivator (and that extent may be considerable), one would think that even Lennon would concede that withholding it has some utility toward ensuring that the relationship has other reasons for being than "sexual expression," in or out of marriage. This differing perspective carries into the matter of infidelity. Lennon apparently agrees that any relationship built on sex alone will be susceptible to cheating, only she prefers to emphasize spousal affairs, and she is, let's remember, concentrating on the wonders of the Pill. To Sensing's suggestion that the ideal of marriage "ensures that her kids are his kids," Lennon writes:

Mr. Sensing, before the Pill there were plenty of children sired by "milkmen" and brought up by unknowing cuckolds as their own. Unless they were dead ringers for friends of the family, sometimes no one was the wiser.

How much better off we are, therefore, now that cuckolds need never know! (Unless, of course, the "milkmen" are carrying diseases along with their deliveries.) Of course, we're human, and marriage will never be absolutely perfect — or its ideals perfectly followed — and any children born of extramarital affairs are "plenty." But is increased ability to get away with such sex really likely to have a strengthening effect on marriage? Moreover, aren't "milkmen" all the more likely when couples don't even get married?

This is a precise example of the degree to which some in our society don't realize just how much proposed changes rely upon the very foundation that the changes will corrode. It is as if Ms. Lennon sees the Western idea of marriage as some obvious ideal written into human nature. To the contrary, civil marriage is a mechanism to encourage relationships toward an ideal — to battle, as it is Sensing's objective to explain, individual urges that can be damaging not only to individuals, but to their families and society as a whole. If marriage, as an institution, can only be expected to endure when "the people in them are committed to each other" already, why does society need to encourage it?

Lennon writes that the "societal strictures that the Pill loosened were artificial to begin with," but a similar argument can be made about any "stricture" meant to dampen the echo of the animal in us. Tolerance of difference — particularly when it comes to speech? Not a natural inclination. Leaders' stepping down when their time is up? Artificial. A system of laws? Only necessary because people will tend to break "natural" rules if unenforced.

It is exactly because the Pill made it possible to argue that the opposite-sex requirement for civil marriage is artificial (by removing the natural consequence of sex) that it is relevant to the current debate. As Sensing writes, "When society decided... that society would no longer decide the legitimacy of sexual relations between particular men and women, weddings became basically symbolic rather than substantive." Following the threads of each side of this debate, it is striking to note just how closely they agree about the specifics, differing only in emotional reaction to them — in whether they are harmful or beneficial (or at least neutral).

So, for example, Lennon's comment about enduring marriages' resulting from personal commitment, not social strictures, is presented as if in opposition to Sensing's quip that, "Men and women today who have successful, enduring marriages till death do them part do so in spite of society, not because of it." Where Sensing writes:

Sex, childbearing and marriage now have no necessary connection to one another, because the biological connection between sex and childbearing is controllable. The fundamental basis for marriage has thus been technologically obviated.

Lennon writes:

Of all the reasons gay people may wish to marry -- be they romantic, economic or wanting to be part of a historic movement -- the Pill seems least relevant of all: Gays need not even take it.

My suspicion is that folks who argue this issue in Ms. Lennon's way understand, almost instinctively, that if they allow themselves to agree with the specifics, they'll have to address the principles behind the argument. And if they have to address those principles, they'll have to make judgments. And if they are forced to judge between their preference and a well substantiated analysis following decades-old trends, they will have to consider the piled up consequences of fundamental change. Consequences like shredded lives and an ever sinking sense of propriety as the very society that such people value so personally has its supports torn out one by one.

Ms. Lennon has emailed to object that the first paragraph of this post is insufficiently clear that I inferred that she wasn't aware of Sensing's blog from fact that she doesn't mention it (although it would seem inherently relevant on a mainstream media blog with a heavy emphasis on online work and culture). The inference was bolstered — if incorrectly — by the fact that she brings up "mess[ing] with the Constitution" over gay marriage without noting that Sensing's view, presented at the end of his Opinion Journal piece and explained on his blog, conflicts with those who support an amendment. Not wanting that insufficient qualification to free those who disagree with me from addressing the rest of the post, I'm perfectly happy to add language to clarify this matter, and I have done so.

She also says that I "made up" the bit about her "believing that he was tracing support for a federal marriage amendment back to a previous battle." I've added an "apparently" here, too, but it might be useful for me to provide the comments that make it so:

Of all the reasons gay people may wish to marry -- be they romantic, economic or wanting to be part of a historic movement -- the Pill seems least relevant of all: Gays need not even take it. ...

Polls show most Americans share Mr. Sensing's opposition to extending marriage to gay people. I don't have a dog in this fight, but I don't think we should mess with the Constitution over it. And I don't think we should blame it on science. The societal strictures that the Pill loosened were artificial to begin with, and, as a woman, I experienced both sides of this as more than a theoretical argument. ...

[The pre-Pill era is] not a time I'd hold in a golden haze as the good old days.

Ms. Lennon has been cordial and helpful in the past, with the Redwood Review, so it is worth stressing that my intentions with this entry were limited to the topic at hand and opinions thereon. However, if I were to understate the degree to which I disagree with the arguments and beliefs of people in the Rhode Island media, I would hardly ever speak above more than a whisper.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:03 PM | Comments (3)

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:55 AM

Requiring an Adjective Before "Warblogger"

Craig Henry has clarified the intended objects of the earlier post to which I objected:

... Too many warbloggers betray a deep-seated imperial impulse. ... They demand a rigid ideological conformity from our partners in the war against terror.

Today they praise Poland as a brave and steadfast ally. A week from now they could just as easily condemn it as a nation of anti-Semitic religious fanatics and collaborators in the Holocaust. All it will take is a headline in the New York Times to set them off. The idea of not spouting off never occurs to them.

I can agree with that. The Spanish elections certainly merit worries, and even judgments and predictions — as long as those reactions don't cross over into impossible certitude and do convey the sense that future markers exist that will be allowed to bear on the judgment. I think, too, some of Craig's reaction to some bloggers has to do with their behavior on other issues, as well. As Jonah Goldberg said today about Howard Stern:

... it seems that when he's forced to choose between winning the war on terror and having a more hospitable climate for dirty jokes, he'll choose the latter.
Posted by Justin Katz at 12:10 AM
International Affairs

March 17, 2004

Clarity and Confusion in Rhode Island

Reading through some new letters on the Editorial/Opinion page of Good Five Cent Cigar, it occurred to me how clearly and undeniably students taking the conservative side tower over their opponents. I'm biased, of course, but even doing my best to judge objectively, the difference is clear on everything from spelling to rhetorical structure. I wonder what thoughts the imbalance sends skittering across the minds of the liberal English professors.

Of course, the disparity is, in large part, attributable to those academic role models. Conservatives in a New England college will find themselves battling not just their peers, but also the professors themselves. They've had to hone their thinking as well as to learn to go above and beyond the necessary so as to render impossible the lowered grades that ideology might otherwise summon.

It's surely too untenable a state of affairs to seek to make permanent, but it seems to me that the best arrangement for conservatives and (therefore) the country would be a sort of split culture. If conservatives could hone their ideas in the hostile cauldron of a liberal educational system, further sharpening both wit and understanding on an opposing media establishment, yet secure decisive control of the government through the majority approval of citizens, our system might very well find the sum of its potential.

In practice, the liberals have overplayed their natural role as intellectual foils, however, and they can't help, therefore, but poison the instinctive conservatism of the rational beings known as citizens. When a worldview is so thoroughly promoted — even in direct contradiction to reality — it can hardly help but corrupt the order of the society, particularly when that worldview has captured both the sources of information and the mechanisms for implementing law.

There are plenty of liberal majorities in a new poll of Rhode Islanders, but a few points are striking, both in the survey results and in the near certainty that the opinions expressed will be thwarted. Even in this ultraliberal state, 67% of respondents opposed legalizing marriage for homosexuals. 43% favor some sort of civil unions, but the point is that a bill currently under consideration that would define marriage should be unobjectionable to a majority of citizens. Of course, by the time the state's single paper gets done spinning and respinning it, seeking to paint its supporters as extremely as possible, and its opponents (those who support same-sex marriage) as domestically as possible, the opposite statute, also making its way through the government, which only 31% of citizens ostensibly support, is probably more likely to pass.

There's an even more likely scenario for the imposition of same-sex marriage that relates to another poll question. Here's the question:

Currently judges in Rhode Island are appointed for life. In other states, judges are elected, appointed for specific terms, or reappointed every few years with a review and public input process. When it comes to judges in Rhode Island, which of the following is closest to your point of view?

Only 10% of respondents would like to keep the appointed-for-life rule. 60% think judges ought to face reappointment "every few years." Think a bill will even be proposed to accomplish such a change? Another surprise that'll be allowed to fade into online archives is that 64% of Rhode Islanders actually favor the death penalty "in some circumstances" (eerily, the same percentage who believe assisted suicide should be legal). And an unrelated, much less grim, surprise is that 67% believe that "all [school] subjects [should] be taught in English."

Suffice to say that the issues break out such that the state really ought to be more balanced than it is, politically. Both confirmation of this and some vague direction for an explanation are supplied by two questions having to do with self-characterization. 50% of respondents called themselves "Independent," rather than Democrat or Republican, and 59% insisted that they were "somewhere in between" liberal and conservative.

So, what gives? Well, I'd say that media's phrasing of issues and events helps to bolster the impression that conservatives and Republicans are too mean and nasty for voters to let go of the safe territory of "unaffiliated," even if they are more often correct than their opponents. The independents end up voting Democrat. Perhaps the dreadfully garbled images of the parties and factions leave voters with no confidence to do otherwise than follow deep-seated self-image — something formed young (at college, say) that often requires the triumph of right over "cool" to reform it.

And it doesn't help that the professors don't endeavor to make their sympathetic students feel more compelled to substantiate their opinions, more likely to seek input from wherever it can be found and to form complete pictures — more like, in a word, conservatives.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:55 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:14 AM

It's a Smaller World These Days

As much as I'd like to move beyond what has recently seemed a continuing series of disagreements with people whom I'd prefer to agree with, some counter-assessments of the Spanish election compel me to respond. Craig Henry writes of the common declaration that Spain capitulated to terrorism:

I thought warbloggers were in favor of democracy. But it turns out that they only like elections when their side wins. They seem to confuse allies with satellites.

Now, there's some room to believe that Craig is addressing a more stringent position than the most common of this genre, but that's not an explicit aspect of his post. Therefore, it doesn't seem superfluous to mention that a basic truth of human nature is that people will "only like elections when their side wins," and I haven't heard anybody suggest that the outgoing party ought to stage a coup for the good of the War on Terror, nor that the U.S. government ought to install a puppet regime.

The Spanish voters did what they did, and a fair number of Americans believe it to have been a mistake. If terrorism sweeps Europe (and perhaps the States), particularly just before elections, then those Americans will have been correct. If that turn of events doesn't occur — fan-tastic.

Something to which Craig links, however, is a little more cumbersome to address. Joe Carter finds in reactions to the Madrid attack proof of a theory (italics in original, here and below):

After more than 900 days after 9/11 we still refuse to accept the idea that al Qaeda is living out a fantasy idealogy. Instead we search endlessly for the objective, for the meaning behind the act of terror. If none can be found, then we are forced to create them.

Sincerely, I don't intend the offense that is possible to take at this suggestion, but "fantasy ideology" has the ring of those hypotheses that please because they package an esoteric, contrarian view in a buzz phrase that, in this case, absolves the speaker of the need for contemplation. "How comprehend his face, when face he has none?" Ishmael asked about the whale. Terrorism has a face. As Dan Darling points out in a superb analysis of the Spanish attacks, it has purpose by definition. Both purpose and perpetrator may be psychotic, but the acts are directed. Yet Carter writes:

As children of the Enlightenment we simply can't fathom how such acts of terror could be committed without a rational basis, without a reason. And as the offspring of the Judeo-Christian heritage our culture cannot comprehend why our enemies would want to destroy us, completely annihilate us, simply because we are their enemy. Because of our cultural myopia we continue our attempts to see the terrorists not as they are but in terms that make sense to us. Even when we know we are dealing with Cortez we look for Quetzalcoatl.

The Cortez/Aztec reference derives from an essay by Lee Harris, according to whom Montezuma reacted to Cortez as he did because the Aztec leader had no experience through which to comprehend the European. The comparison begins to erode immediately: The privileged among al Qaeda and its discreet supporters studied in the West. Some are international businessmen, and even some of the operatives, as we know, have spent years in the countries that they seek to terrorize. For our part, the West has been dealing with the Middle East and Muslims for centuries. Yes, there are distinctions; yes, there are dramatic differences in worldview. Nonetheless, there is a degree of mutual understanding that goes infinitely beyond the arrival of a strange race from the midst of an endless expanse of unexplored ocean.

By way of evidence, Harris notes the video of bin Laden discussing September 11:

Nowhere is this more tellingly illustrated than on the videotape of Osama bin Laden discussing the attack. The tape makes clear that the final collapse of the World Trade Center was not part of the original terrorist scheme, which apparently assumed that the twin towers would not lose their structural integrity. But this fact gave to the event — in terms of al Qaeda's fantasy ideology — an even greater poignancy: Precisely because it had not been part of the original calculation, it was therefore to be understood as a manifestation of divine intervention. The 19 hijackers did not bring down the towers — God did.

That wasn't the impression that I got from that tape, at all. Rather, while there had been some disagreement about the probable damage of the attack, the complete collapse of the buildings was somewhat of a surprise, and al Qaeda attributed it (at least for propaganda purposes) to the will of Allah. I hate to dilute this particular atrocity, but the evocation of Allah in that video seemed to me of the same sort as comments made about any event seen in religious context that goes better than expected.

The distinction between Harris's phrasing and mine may seem subtle, but it opens and important window. Al Qaeda doesn't rely on a "fantasy ideology" as the core component of its attacks. It didn't fill the Shoe Bomber's sneakers with blessed sand. So, drawing the line for purposive intention between coordination and political timing is entirely arbitrary.

Terrorists launder money. They traffic in counterfeit identities. They arrange training and safehouses and codewords and meetings. They team up, plan, and execute their attacks with some degree of precision. Where, in this, does "fantasy ideology" fit in as an organizing (or disorganizing) principle? If Spanish authorities had come across one of the Madrid terrorists in the process of constructing his bomb, they would have rightly concluded that he wasn't just mixing random components based on magical thinking. Whatever the motivation, there is no reason to believe that the timing of the attacks was chance, and there is a growing litany of reasons to believe the opposite.

The evidence — even that of ideological substance — suggests that the elections were a consideration. Moreover, even if Spain's involvment in Iraq was minimal and largely symbolic, and even if the socialists keep up the larger fight against terrorism, the Spanish voters certainly stoked any fantasies about their country that the Islamists might have kept smoldering these many eras.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:10 AM | Comments (4)
International Affairs

March 16, 2004

Not Getting the Obvious Conflict

Perhaps you, too, will find it difficult to believe that Political Science Professor Jacob Levy really doesn't understand why the San Francisco Chronicle has decided not to assign same-sex marriage stories to a pair of lesbians who were recently "married" in that city's spate of activism-driven ceremonies. Here's Levy:

I get the Chronicle's intuition, of course: the reporters now have a personal stake in whether the SF marriages are eventually upheld as legal. But one doesn't prohibit all married reporters from reporting on every legal fight over the meaning, benefits, and incidents of marriage. Married reporters cover the debate over the marriage penalty, arguments about divorce law, and so on. Having a stake in the legal consequences of one's marriage hasn't ever been a disqualification from reporting on marriage.

It's almost enough to leave one speechless. Luckily, the Chronicle's executive editor, Phil Bronstein, offered the explanation that Levy requires in the very same letter to which the professor is reacting (emphasis added):

It is that notion alone - being personally involved in such a specific way in the story one is covering - that drove our decision that Rachel and Liz should no longer cover same-sex marriage. Specifically, we believe that the central issue and defining moment of the same-sex marriage story is same-sex marriage, while it may or may not be a central and defining issue in, say, the tenure of Newsom as mayor, or in the gay and lesbian civil rights movement.

Comparing this to having a stake in the marriage penalty is beclouding to say the least, both in the directness of involvement and in the emotional force behind the issue. I almost feel like a dupe for stating something that seems so obvious, but participating in controversial weddings and then covering them is not the same as being married and covering discrete issues that affect every married couple.

However, I will concede that Levy is just attempting to flip the pillar already laid on its side by media bias. He goes on:

Moreover, the reporters also would have had a stake in the outcome of the story had they not gotten married but simply intended to once the legal situation was resolved.

That, folks, almost brings Levy around to being right. By getting married, all the lesbian reporters have done is to crack open the curtain of journalistic pretensions toward objectivity. And by acting as though their "marriages" have no more specific import than the average heterosexual marriage, all Levy has done is to highlight just how massive an illusion the public is being asked to believe.

Jacob Levy has punfully taken note of this post. In response to his confirmation that his is a sincere question, as well as to questions put forward in the comment section, here, I thought it worth expanding on what I find so obvious.

Those marriages — of themselves — represent the controversy that makes the story newsworthy. Engaging in them, at this time, is akin to signing a petition for the legalization of same-sex marriage, or marching to show advocacy.

In a comment to this post, Jenny engages in a game that a sufficiently creative person could pursue for days on end. (Here's my submission: "Could an Earthling cover debates about efforts to track and destroy potential-impact comets?") With the possible exception of a hypothetical reporter in the midst of a divorce covering divorce law debates, Jenny's questions are suitably contrived to serve her rhetorical purposes. However, there are certainly circumstances in which a reporter's interest in any issue can become sufficiently direct as to merit reassignment of its coverage.

A paper is certainly free to allow anybody to cover anything. And frankly, I adjust for the very bias at issue as a matter of course in my own reading. As Levy notes, these reporters were just as likely to be biased before the marriage as after. The solution that I would prefer is the dropping of the objectivity curtain altogether; it's practically so attenuated as to be translucent, anyway, particularly for the SSM issue.

Nonetheless, as I wrote in the multiblog miniblog "Into the Ether" (see my sidebar), I admit that there is a measure of unfairness in the San Francisco Chronicle's decision. After all, I haven't heard of a single instance in which a mainstream media outlet has removed one of its fundamentalist Christian reporters from the gay marriage story.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:14 PM | Comments (3)
News Media

As the Cases Align

I'm not entirely sure why so much of the legal argument surrounding same-sex marriage has focused on the Full Faith and Credit clause. It probably has to do with the fact that, before last year, it was the most plausible mechanism to push SSM through the courts. However, as Matthew Franck explains, it's no longer even the most probable route:

All the ammunition the Court needs is contained in just three cases: Loving, Romer, and last year's Lawrence v. Texas, a due process case in which Justice Kennedy wrote of the Court's heightened solicitude for "personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education." The Massachusetts high court, in its recent Goodridge decision, took the Court's hint (as Justice Scalia virtually predicted), and held that the state constitution's equality clause condemned heterosexual-only marriage as "irrational," and necessitated, after Lawrence, the full recognition of gay marriage.

Now do a quick head count. Surely Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer would all see the analogy of a gay-marriage case to Loving. They cannot be trusted to notice that "sexuality" and race are hardly in comparable categories of human attributes, and that only one of them has any connection to the historic purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment. American society's legal abandonment of marriage as we have always known it depends on the vote of Justice Kennedy and/or Justice O'Connor. I wouldn't bet against either of them joining the four just mentioned. After all, they were in the majorities in Romer and Lawrence, and Kennedy wrote the incompetent, overreaching opinions in both cases. Don't listen to the "expert" law professors who babble on about full faith and credit as though that were the only constitutional issue in the gay-marriage debate. Watch out for Loving II.

The bottom line: the only way to spring out of this legal mousetrap is to pass a Constitutional amendment. Thereafter, SSM advocates can continue to bring their case to the American people, and if demographic destiny proves to be as it is widely stated to be, the amendment can be overturned by popular vote down the road. Hopefully, too, being thus rebuked, the judicial oligarchy may consider it beneficial to lay low for awhile; perhaps the action will even mark a turning point for judicial activism, as judges who would like to legislate realize that they will have to be more subtle lest they provoke further amendments.

If, on the other hand, no amendment is passed, the courts will nationalize gay marriage (against the loud protests of federalism-touting SSM supporters, I'm sure). That will either spark more-drastic action by the other branches of government or serve as a test case for the next level of sweeping judicial activism — judicial rule.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:26 PM
Marriage & Family

Liberals for Lunacy

The picture accompanying this Boston Herald article about Hillary Clinton's opinion of Kerry's Republican-hating comments is precious enough, but check out this meaningful typo before it goes away:

The New York senator said Kerry is now in the crosshairs of the sane "vast, right-wing conspiracy'' that came after her husband, and urged Kerry to "counterpunch.''

(via the Corner)

For the record, I still can't tell if the typo is what Kathryn Jean Lopez meant when she wrote, "HRC still gives us a lot more credit than we deserve." I don't think so, but I could be wrong.

Well, this doesn't really clear up the question. (It doesn't link to me, either.)

Songs You Should Know 03/16/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Needy" by Dan Lipton. As always, I cannot recommend the CD from which this song comes, Life in Pictures, enough — if you like musically intelligent, slightly quirky pop/rock music. To find out more, read my review, click Dan's name, or give "Needy" a listen.

"Needy" Dan Lipton, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:41 AM

Intellectual Diversity on SSM

Finally, a professor has stepped forward in the letters section of the URI student paper to treat both sides as if there is an actual argument to be had. Unfortunately, Biomedical Sciences Professor Alvin Swonger declares his view as aligned with that of John Kerry, and when he addresses the letter from our on-campus-hero Marcus Ross, some problematic thinking appears that, at the very least, makes it a bit presumptuous to call the argument that he would deflate "false":

False argument # 1 (Ross's principle argument): Heterosexual couples provide better parenting skills because women and men have had different life experiences, which can then be brought to bear in addressing the various needs of sons and daughters. This argument falls apart for two reasons. The issue of marriage is not the same as the issue of parenting. Gay marriages could exist without the right of adoption of children. Second, if having both a male and a female parenting is necessary for childbearing, then society would also need to ban single parent families. Two parents of the same sex would at least provide a wider variety of resources to children than one parent.

Firstly, Marcus and those who agree with him believe that gay marriage is detrimental in part because it implies that there is no link between marriage and parenting. Same-sex marriages cannot exist sans adoption rights without diluting the cultural idea of marriage (which is something that Swonger subsequently suggests that he understands). Secondly, single-parent families do not represent a necessarily permanent state; the damage done to the child's well-being through the lack of one parent would only be exacerbated by tearing him or her away from the other one; and in most cases, children of single-parent families do have a second parent, he or she just lives elsewhere. (That's detrimental in itself, but it is relevant to certain arguments in this line.)

At least Swonger's critical thinking skill's are sufficiently developed to weigh opposing arguments. This is in stark contrast to the inane sarcasm of Chris Ferdinandi, whose letter would have been absolutely unthinkable to publish in a college paper if it handled a different group than conservatives (or Christians) so callously:

WANTED: A few good Conservatives! Are you pissed off that "the Gays" are threatening your sacred institution of marriage, jeopardizing the status quo? Do you despise reform, awareness and activism, as they take away power and privileged from the few and redistribute it to the many? If so, you may be interested in conservatism! ...

If you're a Nazi who loves to wear patriot clothing, then a rewarding career as a conservative might be perfect for you.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:36 AM
Marriage & Family

March 15, 2004

Did the Producers Read to the End of the Series?

Toward the very end of The Last Battle, the final book in C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, some dwarves are in an allegorical representation of Purgatory. They are physically in Heaven, but they can only sense the dark interior of the shed that they were in when the world ended. Victor Morton worries that Hollywood may have a similar affliction when it comes to working with Christian material:

The article ends with reference to the planned movie of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, a Christian allegory by maybe the 20th Century's most-beloved Christian author, in which a key member of team pontificates thusly:
Mark Johnson, one of its producers, said the film would not be a Christian project per se. "We are intent on not making this into a Christian movie," he said. "But it will be seen by many loyal readers as a very Christian movie."

Even before THE PASSION, it's was hard to see the point of making LION as anything *other* than a Christian movie? But afterward? Is Hollywood's very being invested in *not* getting it when it comes to Christian audiences.

One simple observation to make in the run-up to The Passion's release was that Christian backchannels are increasingly well developed. One can already sense that Christians will approach Hollywood's rendition of the Narnian tales with some trepidation. Prediction: crowds will be light for the opening week. If those who watch the movie, hoping beyond hope, emerge with thumbs down, it'll flop. Thumbs up — hit.

The very neat Web site for the Chronicles of Narnia suggests that the entire series is intended for release as movies. If the first fails, I can only hope that the sting is sufficiently bad to discourage defilement of the other books.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:30 PM

Debating the Do-Over Amendment

In an email exchange, Ramesh Ponnuru has assured me that I'm incorrect to believe that the Hatch marriage amendment, while blocking courts from construing same-sex marriage into existence, would leave open the possibility for federal, or even state, courts to strike down laws that explicitly forbid it. But thin pretext is the order of the day, in the world of black robes, and there are plenty of linguistic slots through which that pretext can slip.

To be sure, I can understand why those who would preserve traditional marriage are so quickly willing to compromise, what with theologically and politically conservative ministers placing stones on the bandwagon. Still, as I wrote to Ponnuru, I think there's time and reason to hold off on switching vehicles:

If I were strategizing for the pols, I'd have suggested withholding the Hatch compromise from public view until a state or two were actually forced to recognize another state's marriage. Stanley Kurtz seems to think New Mexico would fall pretty quickly; New York would, too. That'd be a major talking point, particularly since the polls have been going about 1% each direction (for and against) each month simply on the basis of possibility, at which rate the majority would switch hands this summer.

Today, Kurtz argued that, not only will the Hatch amendment ultimately fail even if enacted, but the federalist reservations that inspired its creation are erroneous. Kurtz doesn't say whether he would consider something (Hatch) to be better than nothing (an impassable FMA), but I think he'd agree with me both that it is and that it isn't yet necessary.

For my part, if we're going to abandon the original Federal Marriage Amendment, which I still don't believe we should do, I'm rather inclined to take the posture that my fellow Rhode Islander Saleh Shahid expressed in a letter to the Providence Journal, about the marriage fight in Massachusetts:

When a court orders an executive office to issue gay marriage licenses, or orders a legislature to raise taxes, or orders the secretary of state of New Jersey or Florida to violate their own election laws, there should be only one response: "Make me." The power of police and of pardons both lie in the executive branch. The only intrinsic power judges have over other branches is to ignore laws that appear in their courts (judicial review).

And when a judge abuses power by decreeing Solomonic sentences far beyond precedent or statute (e.g. The court hereby orders you to stop smoking on Wednesdays, to pet a cat every day, or to memorize Terms of Endearment), then legislators must act immediately to remove that judge from his throne.

Most importantly, legislators must realize that constitutional amendments will neither grow them a backbone, nor substitute for one.

Think we could pass a Get a Spine and Act Like Coequal Branches Amendment?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:12 PM
Marriage & Family

An Outpost of la Guerra de la Cultura

Apart from congratulations (strictly) for the achievement, there isn't much to say about Rev. Donald Sensing's Opinion Journal piece. It's largely a restructuring (with additions) of some posts on his blog, to some of which I responded extensively in the comment sections. Still, his conclusion is irksome for a few reasons (emphasis in original):

I believe that this state of affairs is contrary to the will of God. But traditionalists, especially Christian traditionalists (in whose ranks I include myself) need to get a clue about what has really been going on and face the fact that same-sex marriage, if it comes about, will not cause the degeneration of the institution of marriage; it is the result of it.

The first issue is that — while I stress my respect for Rev. Sensing — his conclusion is banal. What serious social conservatives and Christian traditionalists don't start from this conclusion? It's so obvious that restating it as if it's new gives advocates of same-sex marriage an excuse to cite it as clear evidence that their opponents are wrong, even though not a single one of their opponents would disagree with the premise.

The second problem is that Rev. Sensing needs "to get a clue about" what this step in marriage's collapse actually entails, and frankly, I continue to be disheartened and amazed that he puts this statement forward as an argument for surrender:

Sex, childbearing and marriage now have no necessary connection to one another, because the biological connection between sex and childbearing is controllable.

Sensing's central point is that sex has been disconnected from childbearing and, therefore, disconnected from marriage, and in that, he's correct. He's correct, too, in his suggestion that there's no necessary link... if necessity is defined as some abstract, the-world-starts-now academic theory. But the truth of the matter is that childbearing is still connected with marriage, and that this connection is necessary to bolster.

A third problem — a big one — comes with Sensing's opening:

Opponents of legalized same-sex marriage say they're trying to protect a beleaguered institution, but they're a little late. The walls of traditional marriage were breached 40 years ago; what we are witnessing now is the storming of the last bastion.

To allow him his metaphor, it's dangerously optimistic to think that the enemy will be satisfied with its newfound territory. Marriage itself isn't the last bastion of traditional morality, and the high, well-fortified ground that the institution of marriage provides will be auspicious territory from which to stage attacks across the civil border into rights of association and speech and even of religion itself. As I wrote in a post entitled "Constructing the Christian Ghetto," in which I responded to Rev. Sensing's earlier suggestion that civil and religious marriage ought to be separated:

Homosexuals are not simply seeking legal rights that, for the most part, they can already secure through other means. They will chase down withheld approbation wherever it remains. In this, they are perhaps representative of secularists more generally. Moral and religious absolutes are strong and true banners when carried forward into cultural conflict, but they make for irresistible flags to capture when safeguarded like treasure within sectarian walls.

Those who believe that they have no use for traditional morality must see the likely outcome, if only deep down in unstated comprehension. How else could one explain the fact that Andrew Sullivan calls "bleeding obvious" the same piece that Glenn Reynolds calls "fascinating"? The only thing that's fascinating — in a morbid way, from my perspective — is that the capitulation is being suggested almost before the battle has begun in earnest, and by a conservative minister.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:47 PM | Comments (4)
Marriage & Family

One Giant Leap Backwards for Spain

Spain's new socialist leaders are promising to do all of the foolish things that one can expect socialists to do. You know what sorts of things I'm talking about. Appeasing terrorists to avoid making any difficult decisions:

"I have said clearly in recent months that, unless there is a change in that the United Nations take control and the occupiers give up political control, the Spanish troops will come back, and the limit for their presence there is June 30," Zapatero told a news conference.

Hey, it's only people who use commuter trains who will find themselves at risk. Terrorists would have a tougher time getting a backpack bomb into a limo. Similarly, the socialists are content to trade sovereignty inauspiciously for a place at the spa with the big(ger) boys:

As well as reversing Spain's stance on Iraq, Zapatero said he would make Spain's relations with its European Union partners a priority.

Spain and Poland have argued with Germany and France over a proposed new EU voting system that Madrid and Warsaw fear would lessen their influence in the bloc. The argument has stalled negotiations on a new EU constitution.

"Spain will get back in touch with Europe - Spain will be more pro-European than ever," Zapatero said.

A leading Spanish socialist in the European parliament, Enrique Baron Crespo, said the new government would "no longer block" talks on the EU constitution.

After all, if the Spanish government foresees no circumstances in which it could possibly find national interest overbalancing international patty cake, what need has its nation of leverage? The people can go on doing what the people do, whatever that is — working and such.

One thing Mr. Zapatero wasn't so bold as to pronounce was his plan for fighting domestic terrorism by plucking civil liberties one by one. Perhaps the socialists will surprise — perhaps not.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:51 PM
International Affairs

Cut Off from Hope

Because it's such a personal matter, discussions about homosexuality often impose varying presumptions, depending on context. For one, I've never come across a gay activist who won't admit that sexuality is fluid for some people — that some people are "waverers." Relatedly, even if they hold out hope that homosexuality can be genetically determined, they'll usually concede that for some people it's environmentally determined. Yet, it is somehow unconscionable for these waverers to seek help to steady the waver on firmly heterosexual ground, and it is dark bigotry for an organization to offer such help.

This perspective seeps out into the sympathetic mainstream press. Just consider the menacing imagery of Jennifer Levitz's description of a Courage meeting in the Providence Journal:

Rain fell on a recent night as the monthly meeting of Courage began in the rectory next to St. Charles Borromeo, a grand, church in the shadow of the Cranston Street armory in Providence. ...

At St. Charles, a loud, angry-sounding prayer could be heard through the closed door of the room where Courage was meeting.

This segment of the topic separates quickly to fundamental worldview, and I've little interest in exploring the psychology of either side. However, this is the context into which the Catholic Medical Association's statement "Homosexuality and Hope" enters, and it's must-reading for anybody who takes an interest in the debate, whether one expects to agree or disagree with what the CMA has to say. (The bottom two-thirds of the html page are footnotes, so don't be discouraged by the slow-moving scrollbar.)

My developing suspicion, with respect to the origins of the orientation, is that it's largely environmental. However, inborn traits may affect that environment in undetectably subtle ways. For example, if it is true that lesbians' blinking response to noises is significantly closer to the male range than the female, it may be that parents and siblings picked up on this trait and reacted to it, either as obviously as encouraging sports activity or as vaguely as instinctive reactions to behavior or accidents.

According to the CMA, "treatment for unwanted same-sex attractions show that it is as successful as treatment for similar psychological problems: about 30% experience a freedom from symptoms and another 30% experience improvement." Nobody should have a problem with unhappy homosexuals' choosing their own path in this direction, and we who believe that the fullness of life can only be experienced through faithful devotion to a religion that precludes homosexuality's normalization ought to encourage those open to chastity to seek it.

This is not to say that we don't often react to homosexuality with an emphasis that goes beyond what is merited or helpful, and the CMA makes an important point that both sides of the debate have a tendency to forget, for this particular sin, from within Church doctrine:

There are certainly circumstances, such as psychological disorders and traumatic experiences, which can, at times, render this chastity more difficult and there are conditions which can seriously diminish an individual's responsibility for lapses in chastity. These circumstances and conditions, however, do not negate free will or eliminate the power of grace. While many men and women who experience same-sex attractions say that their sexual desire for those of their own sex was experienced as a "given" this in no way implies a genetic predetermination or an unchangeable condition. Some surrendered to same-sex attractions because they were told that they were born with this inclination and that it was impossible to change the pattern of one's sexual attraction. Such persons may feel it is futile and hopeless to resist same-sex desires and embrace a "gay identity". These same persons may then feel oppressed by the fact that society and religion, in particular the Catholic Church, do not accept the expression of these desires in homosexual acts. (emphasis added, internal citations removed)

All in all, it's a rough balance to hold, and the especial difficulty faced by those for whom it is life, rather than rhetoric, rightly earns an explicit call within Church teaching to accept homosexuals "with respect, compassion, and sensitivity." This, of course, has its reciprocal demand that gay Christians make effort to live up to the very same teachings.

C.S. Lewis was right, in my view, to declare sins of the body to be of less import than sins of the mind and spirit. Unfortunately, the former have a way of transforming into the latter, as we seek to justify them. Rephrasing the italicized phrase from the CMA to echo Lewis's theology, God understands our individual burdens and our shared humanity. But that doesn't mean that tripping ought to be rephrased as grace. Seeking to justify giving ourselves over to temptation is the starting point for ever-expanding corruption. A lapse becomes a routine, then disruption of the routine becomes a problem requiring remedy.

It's not an area of thought that would be pleasantly explored or discussed (and I have not done so extensively), but one can see this pattern borne out in the creation of Viagra. And as with many sexual matters, this ripple laps most powerfully among homosexuals:

Charles, who asked that his last name not be published, suffered from impotence during the months he spent addicted to crystal meth, and he took Viagra to compensate, he says.

The combination turned him into a veritable sex machine.

"That's part of what allowed me to be able to just concentrate on having sex with people," Charles says. "With the crystal I could stay up for three or four days and have sex with 30 to 40 guys easily."

Although I lack an inside view, one can certainly say that Charles represents an extreme, just as the two men whom I've known who bragged that, for one week at some point in their lives, they slept with a different woman each day are not representative of straight men. Still, it's a spectrum, and cutting it off too far toward the permissive end will push the extreme out. It is for this reason that we must push it back.

(Thanks to Lane Core for pointing out the CMA document.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:49 PM

A New Morning

It's strange how much different time becomes on the other side of college. For a child, the distance from Thanksgiving to Christmas is almost too much to bear. For a teenager, a whole year is a forever for which to wait for something. After college, a year can slip by almost unnoticed. Perhaps, to some degree, it has to do with the breadth of the goals that we set.

I bring this up because I decided, over the weekend, to regiment my days a bit more strictly. I've been slipping into an amorphous schedule that has been too conducive to procrastination. It wasn't until I smelled the air of 6:00 a.m., with dog on leash, that I realized just how long I've been gradually losing control. It was nice to see the sun so low, again, representing, it seemed, the new day that dawns in about three months:

I've got three months to get as far as possible toward fully supporting my family and procuring a house that is more than a way station. And even if my minimal goals cannot be met in that time, I've got to stop living in preparation for proximate success that never seems to come, even as years slip by.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:07 AM | Comments (1)
Diary & Confession

March 14, 2004

Unanimity About Same-Sex Marriage

Phil Lawler asks and answers a couple of questions arising from the "compromise" amendment in Massachusetts:

So you ask yourself: How did a majority of legislators support a measure that has no public backing? The answer to that one is easy: They're gutless, and they thought by temporizing they could dodge the issue entirely.

But then comes a second question: Why didn't the media notice, until days after the vote, that this proposed amendment is a dud? Then you realize: The media can't grasp why some people defend marriage and the family. It's all foreign territory to the reporters; they don't know the people and they don't know the terrain.

Another thing that this failure of understanding leads the media — and, consequently, many who argue the matter — to miss is that opponents of same-sex marriage are largely correct in their assessment of its supporters. It's just that the supporters rephrase the proof in terms of unreasonable discrimination. Consider:

In Vermont, the only state that currently grants civil unions, all state rights apply to same-sex couples, as they would under the Massachusetts proposal.

But because the federal government does not recognize civil unions, the couples lack a multitude of marriage benefits and responsibilities as stipulated in federal laws on everything from Social Security to immigration.

Exactly. They want actual marriage so that the federal government won't be able to differentiate, no matter what the majority of citizens says. The Massachusetts activists had their eye on this ball when they walked into court:

"The federal rights from marriage vary hugely," said Karen Loewy, a staff attorney with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. "They're all bread-and-butter issues that affect everyday life."

Loewy is one of five Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders lawyers who represented the plaintiffs in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case that resulted in the court's ruling last November that same-sex couples have the right to marry in the state.

Goodridge wasn't meant to be about Massachusetts law. It's a wedge to get at federal law.

Not only does civil-union legislation deny same-sex couples federal marriage rights, it eliminates any possibility of seeking those rights, said Loewy, the GLAD lawyer.

At the federal level, she said, "everything's framed in terms of marriage." Because civil unions are not marriages, couples in civil unions have no legal recourse.

Precisely. If civil unions catch on, gay advocates will be left having to argue on the federal stage that civil unions ought to be treated as marriage. If marriage arises within a single state, the less visible path through the judiciary becomes available:

Currently, even if states allowed same-sex marriages, those marriages would not be recognized by the federal government. As a result of the Defense of Marriage Act, passed during the Clinton administration, federal law defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and gives states the right to ignore marriage licenses that other states issue to gay couples.

Here again, proponents of a federal marriage amendment are correct in their assessment of the other side; it's gunning for DOMA:

But those laws could change after gay marriages begin. Advocates on both sides of the debate say the Defense of Marriage Act probably would not hold up to a legal challenge.

Loewy said she believes married gay couples would eventually challenge and most likely defeat the federal marriage law, but added that she couldn't predict how long it would take. Massachusetts Rep. Philip Travis, D-Rehoboth, the author of one of three constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage that legislators defeated last month, also said "DOMA will fold."

Federalism, it is clear, is generally only held up as an ideal for the purpose of derailing social conservatives' counter-measures:

Almost four years [after entering into a civil union], [Sherry] Corbin, a spokeswoman for the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, wants her state to allow same-sex marriage. Her civil union, she said, is "worth absolutely nothing outside of Vermont." ...

Also, while marriage licenses in every state are virtually identical, because states other than Vermont lack civil-union mechanisms, the definition of "civil union" is hardly universal, said McCoy, the Vermont Public Health Statistics chief. He said Vermont could even decide not to recognize Massachusetts civil unions.

Haven't SSM advocates been touting the ability of one state to "decide not to recognize" marriage from another state? Yes, but it's still the case that, when it comes right down to it, each state's being able to decide for itself is a problem, not an opportunity for societal evolution, and the answer isn't to persuade the people of each state. The goal, after all, isn't really civil recognition and equal benefits under the law:

Another problem with civil unions, Loewy said, is that they don't receive the social acceptance of marriage. ...

Corbin said her civil union doesn't allow her to connect with the other married women in her family. The union, she said, doesn't carry the emotional weight of marriage.

They want for marriage laws to change opinions, not the other way around, which would be more appropriate — and more feasible. They want the government to grant something that it manifestly cannot, and that means that subsequent steps will have to be taken to knock over social, as opposed to civil, barriers to the intended cultural illusion that there's no difference between the marriages — no difference between men and women and the ways they interact. First, however, the window of time during which the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court has ensured that its dictated law would stand will enable claims that opponents of same-sex marriage were wrong in their fears:

Corbin, however, predicts that civil unions will never become a problem for Massachusetts. By the time the state is in a real position to ban gay marriage and create civil unions, she said, gay marriage will no longer be an issue.

Married gay couples will need only one year to convince the state that they pose no danger to the institution of marriage, she said.

"People are going to see that the sky isn't falling," she said.

Nobody has suggested that the social effects of same-sex marriage will be measurable within a year. Here again, though, opponents and proponents of the change agree, in that the public doesn't want to think about this issue and will be quick to wipe its collective brow and accept the status quo, whatever it is. I've said all along — and I continue to believe — that opposition to same-sex marriage will tend to increase with consideration, but that requires, well, consideration.

Forcing such broad social thinking is the central benefit of our slow, representative, legislative, federal system for the creation of laws. The judiciary is just too quick to ensure that detrimental emphases, or even wholly bad ideas, are weeded out from the worldviews of both sides.

And if same-sex marriages are so sure to win the approval of the people, why force them through the courts?

There are, of course, individuals who don't align with the "Them," even though they take the same side in this struggle. However, a movement can't (and shouldn't) act against individuals, but only against another movement. Those individuals can fight to become representative, but before they can be taken as such, they actually have to be representative.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:55 PM
Marriage & Family

Wrong, but Not Surprised,
or Islamic Terrorists Help Socialists

Well, it looks like I made the mistake, yesterday, of thinking that a majority of Spaniards would think similarly to a majority of Americans. In a victory that was unexpected before the terrorist attacks, the Socialists have reclaimed Spain. I can't help but feel that this is the first lost battle in the War on Terror, which will, by its nature, be fought most profoundly in other spheres than the battlefield.

The plain truth is that many in Europe are either on the other side or just don't understand what's going on. This is evidence of the latter:

Some voters were angry at outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, accusing him of making Spain a target for Islamic extremists because of his support for the Iraq war, despite the opposition of most Spaniards.

Whether the people who hold them will admit it, such opinions are tacit admissions that Iraq was, indeed, a front in the War on Terror, a matter that is further confirmed by additional evidence that the attacks were related to al Qaeda. While I do see the cowardly affront in Spain and the war in Iraq as related, however, I don't think the attack last week is properly seen as a response and a consequence of Spain's involvement in that war, per se:

Authorities have been tracking Islamic extremist activity in Spain since the mid-1990s and say it was an important staging ground, along with Germany, for the Sept. 11 attacks.

It's worth saying again: those who voted against the Popular Party are either on the other side or just don't get it. Spain can't hide behind appeasement; it's a beachhead into Europe, formerly Muslim land. And the economic damage that the socialists are sure to do will weaken its defenses almost as much as its probable backpedaling in the War.

Worse, though. The Spanish majority has now made itself proof that terrorism can work in Europe. It's become a widely held opinion that September 11 was a huge mistake on bin Laden's part. March 11 is now a counter-mark. Americans will strike back, but Europeans might not.

All of this throws some variables into the air. It may be that al Qaeda will decide that terrorism on our shores is performed at a cost, while terrorism across the Atlantic pays a dividend. (Italy doesn't have a major upcoming election, does it?) On the other hand, perhaps they'll test the Madrid strategy's effect on our upcoming election. Not doing so would be wiser, but one can't count on the wisdom of these scumbags.

If they do attack us again, we who support the War on Terror will have to remind our fellow Americans loudly, clearly, and often that even the foolish claim that the war in Iraq sparked response doesn't apply to us.

They struck first.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:57 PM | Comments (4)
International Affairs

March 13, 2004

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "An Existential Wish," by Gary Bolstridge.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:14 PM

The ETA of Terrorism's Defeat

Growing up in the '80s, I was always vaguely aware of a thing called "terrorism" but had no sense of the specifics and limited understanding of the geography. The PLO and the IRA were little more than letters associated with terrorism, and I've wondered if that vague, but formative, awareness has had an effect on my generation's ability to understand the War on Terror as broader than just a war against al Qaeda.

So, even if the Madrid bombings had been perpetrated by another acronym for terrorism, the ETA, as the United Nations Security Council was suspiciously quick to declare, it wouldn't have made a difference to my ability to see the attacks as part of the War on Terror. As it happens, it looks likely that the connection is more direct, but it makes little difference. Violent out-groups in a world with global communication surely have a huge incentive to form loose pacts, at least, and people understand that. If they do, this seems but so much spin:

Debate on who is behind the attacks could sway voters in Sunday's election.

If ETA is deemed responsible, that could boost support for Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's hand-picked candidate to succeed him as prime minister. Both have supported a crackdown on ETA, ruling out talks and backing a ban on ETA's political wing, Batasuna.

However, if Thursday's bombings are seen by voters as the work of al-Qaida, that could draw their attention to Aznar's vastly unpopular decision to endorse the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and deploy Spanish troops there.

If voters link this attack to the war in Iraq — which they should in any case — the progression of thought seems most likely to lead to the conclusion that Aznar was admirably forward thinking. There's no room for hiding, and only harm can come from equivocation. Only forceful response and the resolve to follow through, despite the disruption of comfort, will end terrorism — whether it's global or local. Mr. Aznar showed that he understood that and sent a clear message that his country wouldn't appease terror.

Suppose I'm wrong in my initial judgment, and there is absolutely no link between al Qaeda and the ETA. The local terrorists seemed awfully quick to deny involvement, didn't they? Perhaps they realize that it's a different world, now, and, more specifically, theirs is a different country.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:08 PM | Comments (1)
International Affairs

Local News at National Expense

Readers outside of Rhode Island might not be but so interested to hear that the old Jamestown bridge is finally coming down:

The State Planning Council voted unanimously yesterday to move ahead with demolition, and authorized spending to cover the increase in costs from $13.5 million to $20 million.

There is, however, a national angle to this story, by way of a Republican who long ago lost my vote to return to Washington for the next term:

U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who secured $5 million in federal funds this year to raze the bridge, and the North Kingstown and Jamestown Town Councils sent letters to the planning council supporting demolition. ...

Federal money will cover 80 percent of the cost; the rest will come from the state. (The $20-million project includes about $300,000 to move the island's emergency water line from the old bridge, Capaldi said.)

By my calculations, one could argue that the demolition will wind up costing Americans hundreds of billions of dollars:

ANOTHER NICE thing about McConnell: From his seat on the Appropriations Committee, he finds bacon for his friends to bring home. He called Chafee on Nov. 17 to say he had $5 million in a billfor the demolition of the abandoned Jamestown Bridge.

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

Mr. Bush was on the way to winning his Medicare bill, and Chafee had been with the Republicans when it counted.

Chafee walked off the Senate floor into the tile-inlaid hallway that points to the Capitol steps. Half a dozen reporters closed in for the senator's explanation.

"I did not sell my vote," Chafee volunteered.

But would Chafee's help for the party win him tangible dividends from a grateful leadership? Would there be more local pork where the Jamestown Bridge demolition money came from?

"You bet," said McConnell. "You bet. We very much appreciated that vote," he said.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:41 AM

Ms. Pearson Goes to Washington

Rhode Island's most renowned daughter, Ashley Pearson of State of the Union fame, is off to Washington for the weekend. Perhaps partly in contrast with the web of connections mentioned two posts ago, I love this story:

But just as she wrote her now-famous letter to President Bush for idealistic reasons, Ashley thinks she might like to join the military when she's old enough: "to help the troops and to save the country," she says. When she gets out of the service, she'd like to be a veterinarian. ...

The family is flying coach, but the Ritz-Carlton is putting them up, free of charge. The hotel management wouldn't dream of letting anyone pay for the room, once they heard Ashley Pearson was going to stay there. ...

Tomorrow afternoon, it's back home. The entire trip will last just about 48 hours.

The family would have stayed longer, but Tom Pearson is changing jobs and couldn't get time off from work. No matter, though -- "We'll go back," says Natalie Pearson.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:23 AM | Comments (2)

The Wrath of the ACLU

Richard Lowry writes about the ongoing assault of the Boy Scouts:

Who knew that an institution pulled straight from a Norman Rockwell painting would become "controversial," the contemporary euphemism for "under assault by the Left," and therefore likely to be abandoned by the gutless and easily cowed everywhere? The Supreme Court just declined to hear a Boy Scout appeal of a Connecticut decision to single them out for exclusion from a list of 900 charities that were part of a state-worker voluntary-donation plan. This might endanger 150-something similar donation plans around the country. Meanwhile, United Way chapters are being pressured to stop donating to the Scouts, and roughly 60 have knuckled under.

As Lowry points out, the litigation mainly hurts the people most removed from the controversy and most in need of the benefits that the Boy Scouts can offer. They are the broken eggs in the quest for a religion-free public square:

The Scouts attackers are not seeking "neutrality" in how the government regards religion. They want to whip any organization with a serious commitment to morality out of the public arena, enshrining what Justice Arthur Goldberg once called "a brooding and pervasive devotion to the secular."

Children who are at the same time reverent, brave, and thrifty are, of course, the absolute worst kind.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:16 AM

Pay No Attention to the Employer Behind the Curtain

Yeah, I know it's everywhere, but I just had to note the outrageous political spin going on in the media regarding Susan Lindauer, the spy (or whatever) for Iraq. For one thing, I've been getting the impression that everybody's connected to everybody, in some way, in the government/media axis.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:09 AM
News Media

March 12, 2004

A Quick Note on Passion Dough

Jonah Goldberg's been under fire all day for wondering what Gibson will do, and ought to do, with all of the money that he makes from The Passion of the Christ (read up from the link). Frankly, I think I agree with Jonah more than I disagree with him, and I think a lot of the people arguing with him would, too, if they thought about it.

The problem may be that Jonah has jumped on the matter so soon after the movie's release, as well as right on the heels of all sorts of accusations about Gibson's opinions and motivations. A year from now, if Gibson is still sitting on his pile of cash, questions would be much more appropriate.

However, Jonah just said something that illustrates a difference of perspective that might have sparked his earlier overstatements:

Acoustic guitar philosophers swear up and down they aren't in it for the money. They say they're in it for "the music" or "for their fans" and they often mock conventional business men for their "greed." But, it turns out, the second the possibility that more of their fans could get more of their music, they freak out at the thought they might lose their royalty checks.

As a proverbial "starving artist" who doesn't believe himself to be "in it for the money," I've given this suggestion quite a bit of thought. It's particularly relevant at this time, because I'm struggling just to dig out of debt and support a family, and all of my artistic projects have had to go on hold. I'm obviously a big believer in the ability of free music (or whatever) to kick off a career, but that's at the level of non-success where a day-job still pays the bills. If an artist is just getting by on his art, a musician's being undermined by shareware or a sculptor's undermining himself by mass producing his work would, in fact, affect his ability to pursue his art.

Gibson's obviously well beyond this stage, but I think something of the principle carries through. Suppose he held on to this money to ensure that he can live whatever he considers a reasonable lifestyle while making movies that represent a considerably greater risk. We can quibble over that lifestyle, and over whether there's enough money for some to be better spent. However, he's certainly got room to argue a need to hold on to a certain amount for the time being.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:02 PM | Comments (11)

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:32 PM

Mathematical Revelation

After a bit of discussion about The Passion of the Christ, the Passion of Christ, and Christianity, Scott of Demosophia writes:

I suppose I could say I've taken this about as far as I can short of some sort of revelation that's based on my particular "Rosetta Stone." Even there, though, I'd be concerned about what the cultists call "magical thinking" if the insight didn't synch up to a deeper, but objective, truth. In other words if the faith that leads me to this deeper truth also necessitates that I conclude 2+2=5 I'd get a kick out of it, but probably wouldn't change my mind about anything. I'd just figure the universe is a little... odd.

I'd suggest that it doesn't necessitate "magical thinking" to believe that 2+2 could equal 5 — just a little depth to the terms. The belief system would require only a tradition of symbolic language and/or a faith in some unseen, perhaps unknowable, realm of perspective. Christianity offers just such a belief system, one in which marriage makes 1+1=1 and the Trinity makes 1+1+1=1. For Catholics, belief that 1+1=1 is also represented in transubstantiation of the Eucharist, with one aspect being accident (the bread) and the other being substance (the Body).

The particular abstraction of 2+2=5 is arbitrary and similar to the "omnipotence gotcha" about squaring circles and making 1+1=72 that I solved here. In some ways, 2+2=5 is more difficult, but here's an attempt at answering abstraction with abstraction. Suppose by 1 we mean a single arch, and that addition joins them thus:

With this procedure, we would add 2 and 2 as follows:

It's true that we've got four arches; however, those four arches are supported by five columns. As I argued in part five of my "theory of everything" series, in a religious context, these sorts of contradictions can be seen as algorithms. To solve the one at hand, you need a whole lot more information than is included in the statement "2+2=5": you need to define the labels for the left side, the labels for the right side, and the process for solving it.

In a basic view, this could be seen as a sort of code. Imagine scripture said that "the cup of God lies where two added upon two equals five." In searching for the Grail, you are led to the Colosseum. Given some defined starting point, perhaps the cup would be somewhere in or around the far support of the fourth arch.

Less novelesque, it could be a statement of some sort of property of God or of nature. Not long ago, I saw a TV special about the far reaches of physics that told of an experiment seeking to collide two particals in such a way as to cause the disappearance of a gravitron (or something like that; I'm fuzzy on the details). In a similar vein, suppose two joined particles collide with another such pair and cause the appearance of some sort of fifth particle.

The point isn't that one must believe every bit of religious dogma simply because a moderate degree of imagination could come up with possible solutions. The point is that it doesn't invalidate a belief system that it requires one to leave open the possibility that a seeming contradiction isn't, ultimately, a contradiction.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:24 PM | Comments (1)


Andrew Sullivan's been busy twirling reality, and I've fallen behind in noting it. But note it I must, so I'll try to do so quickly.

First up is Sullivan's analysis of a Washington Post poll on gay marriage. He acknowledges that one "can make too much of these polls," but seems to take that as permission, not a caveate. While it is true that:

Nevertheless, it's clear that a majority opposes the extreme step of amending the constitution to prevent any state anywhere from enacting civil marriage rights for gay couples.

Sullivan stretches the truth with the final two words here:

When people realize that the Full Faith and Credit Clause does not affect civil marriage, I think their opposition will grow some more.

Sullivan also says that "opposition to the amendment has firmed up." Here's the raw data. Although support for the amendment is down a little from February, that's because it leapt up that month. Depending on the wording, 44% or 43% supported the amendment, up from 38% in January, while 53% or 54% oppose, down from 58% in January. Of course, the Post helped out, in this regard, by leaving the results of its September survey off the list. At that time, support was at 36%, while opposition was as high as 60%. The trend isn't of increasing opposition to the amendment.

The big news, for Sullivan, is that support for civil unions is growing. Again, though, the Post helped him to spin, writing:

About half the country -- 51 percent -- favors allowing gay couples to form civil unions with the same basic legal rights as married couples, up 6 percentage points in less than a month.

But here's the question (italics added):

On another subject, do you think homosexual couples SHOULD or SHOULD NOT be allowed to form legally recognized civil unions, giving them the legal rights of married couples in areas such as health insurance, inheritance and pension coverage?

Depending on my mood and attention, I might have answered "should" to that question, and I certainly wouldn't have thought myself to be rubber stamping "the same basic legal rights as married couples."

At that same link above, Sullivan begins what has proven to be a budding campaign to attack the Catholic Church for "hypocrisy" in allowing a relatively small number of annulments while still having the gall to oppose gay marriage. As he subsequently discovered, that small number is 10%, or about one-fifth the number of marriages ending in civil divorce. Interestingly, eight of that 10% comes from within the United States. Of course, it is disheartening that so many marriages do end thus; the same is true of the leap from 300 to 60,000 U.S. annulments per year since the 1960s. This, however, is foolishness:

I wonder if Kurtz will write an essay blaming the Catholic church for the decline in marriage in America, as he has blamed gays for it in Scandinavia. This one institution has presided over an exponential increase in de facto divorces in the U.S. in the last forty years. And getting an annulment really isn't that hard: 90 percent of applications for annulments are granted. Maybe Kerry didn't need any extra influence at all! It's the Catholic church that has opened the door wide to the decline of religious marriage in America. So where's National Review on this one? 60,000 Catholic annulments for straights a year, and NRO devotes all its energies to gays?

Remember when Sullivan attacked Kurtz, saying his analysis would be "laughed out of a freshman social science class"? Well, at the very least Sullivan isn't inclined to hold himself to a higher standard. Of course, one could still respond that he's simply cited yet another reason that traditional marriage requires firming, not loosening, and one could point to the fact that he doesn't actually mind annulments. Much more interesting, however, is the vindictive direction in which Sullivan is willing to take this. The Church is going to deny him its stamp of approval on his love life? Well then, how about he stokes another scandal?

MEMO TO THE BOSTON GLOBE: Those guys won deserved kudos for their coverage of the Boston arch-diocese's treatment of child abuse charges. How about looking into the annulment issue?

Elsewhere, Sullivan has the cheek to quote C.S. Lewis to back his cause. From Mere Christianity:

Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one; the other is the quite different question -- how far Christians, if they are voters or members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for everyone. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.

That's the entirety of Lewis's handling of the matter in this book, essentially as an aside, and Sullivan mightn't like Lewis so much were he to flip back a few pages and see homosexuality denounced as "unnatural" and "perversity." More to the point, however, Sullivan appears to have overlooked this passage in a previous chapter:

The second thing to get clear is that Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme for applying 'Do as you would be done by' to a particular society at a particular moment. It could not have. It is meant for all men at all times and the particular programme which suited one place or time would not suit another.

So the paragraph that Sullivan promotes as "an extraordinary contrast to the current religious right" emphasizes nothing so much as the danger of his own program. Every statement about "marriage" — in law, in theology, in whatever — ever made in Western society before very recent years presupposed that it meant a man and a woman. One cannot simply assume that Lewis wouldn't have changed his policy preference had civil marriage come to mean something other than marriage. After all:

Everyone knows that the sexual appetite, like our other appetites, grows by indulgence. Starving men may think much about food, but so do gluttons; the gorged, as well as the famished, like titillations.

... You find very few people who want to eat things that really are not food or to do other things with food instead of eating it. In other words, perversions of the food appetite are rare. But perversions of the sex instinct are numerous, hard to cure, and frightful.

It's interesting that Lewis picked that particular appetite for an analogy, considering that Sullivan found a way to direct reports about American obesity directly to his bitterness:

Of course, I would take this view because I'm libertarian on these kinds of issues. But I am a little perplexed by the silence of the religious right. I mean, isn't gluttony a deadly sin? Shouldn't fat people be shamed, denounced, or loved and saved? This affects far, far more people than, er, well, you know where I'm going here. How many sermons have you heard inveighing against extra fries? Just asking.

Actually, I think I've heard multiple mentions from the pulpit of the sin of gluttony and its relevance to modern obesity. That, as it happens, is multiple more sermons than I've heard "inveighing" against homosexuals. Although, I admit that I haven't heard so much as a whisper that I oughtn't marry a chocolate cake.

Now that we've come back around, as always happens with this issue, to things being what they are not, we close with an anecdote that Sullivan has passed along from one of his friends:

We emphasized to the clerk and her manager that Amy and I don't live together, we don't love each other, we don't plan to have kids together, and we're going to go on living and sleeping with our same-sex partners after we get married. So could we still get a marriage license?

"Sure," the license-department manager said, "If you've got $54, you can have a marriage license." ... It's not the marriage license I'd like to have, of course. But, still, let me count my blessings: I have a 10-year relationship (but not the marriage license), a house (but not the marriage license), a kid (but not the marriage license), and my boyfriend's credit-card bills (but not the marriage license). I don't know what a guy has to do around here to get the marriage license. But I guess it's some consolation that I can get a meaningless one anytime I like, just so long as I bring along a woman I don't love and my $54.

It's a cute and clever trick in order to illustrate a point of view, and tricks and raw emotion are the two central weapons of the movement. But tricks could be concocted to suggest that anything is unjust. After all, one could bring a cat to the town clerk and request a dog license. The cat might be many years old. It might share the living space. The person might pay its vet bills. None of this, however, transforms that person into a dog owner.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:56 AM | Comments (9)

March 11, 2004

The Do-Over Amendment

Apparently, even state constitutional amendments aren't safe from federal judicial veto:

The lawsuit's plaintiffs -American Civil Liberties Union Nebraska, Citizens for Equal Protection, and Nebraska Advocates for Justice and Equality - say they are not seeking legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Nebraska.

They claim the amendment violates due process rights because it undermines people's ability to lobby legislators on gay rights issues.

Signed into law by Gov. Mike Johanns in December 2000, the amendment defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It also barred state and local government from giving legal recognition to any type of same-sex relationship. ...

Those supporters [of the amendment] suffered a setback last year in the court battle over the amendment.

U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bataillon of Omaha in November rejected the state's argument that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to bring the suit.

The judge also said the amendment appeared to go beyond its stated purpose.

"If the purpose, as offered by the (state of Nebraska), is merely to maintain the common law definition of marriage, there would be no need to prohibit all forms of government protection or to preclude domestic partnerships and civil unions," Bataillon wrote.

Should a judge's concept of "the purpose" overrule the plain language of a law? Here's the text of Nebraska's marriage amendment:

Only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in Nebraska . The uniting of two persons of the same sex in a civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar same-sex relationship shall not be valid or recognized in Nebraska.

Newly converted devotees of federalism argue that the gay marriage issue should be decided state by state. Assuming actual conviction, for this crowd, the "decisions" could be made by either the state legislatures or their corresponding judiciaries. Unfortunately, the moderate position on the other side (either based on ideology or a sense of urgency) seems to be forming into essentially the same thing, only cutting the courts out of the in-state process of defining marriage, hopefully including all-but-name-marriages in the form of civil unions. The "Hatch amendment" is currently being floated as doing just that:

Civil marriage and its benefits shall be defined in each state by the legislature or the citizens thereof. Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to require that marriage or its benefits be extended to any union other than that of a man and a woman.

The "and its benefits" phrase is a likely addition to a previously revealed first sentence, according to Ramesh Ponnuru. Leaving aside my worries about judicial creativity, this latest version, which Ponnuru supports, would indeed bar judicially created in-state civil unions.

However, the federalism playing field would be left uneven. Under this compromise, such amendments as the one looking likely in Massachusetts, which creates civil unions, or ones that create gay marriage outright would almost definitely stand. On the other hand, an amendment such as that passed by 70% of citizens in Nebraska would face continual challenge in federal court.

In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest that any laws or amendments that seek to confine marriage and/or its benefits to the man-woman construction would come under this federal attack. Federal courts may not be able to construe extension as required, but they'll still be able to construe explicit exclusion as unconstitutional. Ponnuru suggests as much when defending the Hatch amendment against the charge that it creates the possibility of an anti-miscegenation resurgence (emphasis added):

So the question would be: Does the vesting of the power to define marriage with state legislatures in the first sentence bar the federal courts from reviewing the marriage laws for racial discrimination? There are two reasons for thinking that it does not. First, the existence of the second sentence suggests that the first sentence does not limit the federal courts at all. Second, Supreme Court precedent in other cases where the Constitution vests a power with state legislatures does not suggest that those legislatures are free to ignore other parts of the Constitution.

That's what's at issue in Nebraska, and it means that state legislatures (and citizen initiatives) could be limited, if they choose to do any defining, to moving toward gay marriage. Advocates for traditional marriage would be chained to their own goalpost, while advocates for gay marriage would have the full run of the law-creating field.

But as I've suggested, that's not all. I may have been reaching, previously, to suggest that courts could declare themselves as included in "citizens thereof," but law professor Eugene Volokh notes that courts might leverage judicial review in order to include themselves in the legislative process. That would leave even state courts, if not able to require gay marriage, at least authorized to strike down anything that moved to solidify its exclusion. The ability to do that, in turn, would highlight a matter that Ponnuru left unexplored (emphasis added):

What I don't see is what the great harm would be — especially from the perspective of opponents of same-sex marriage — if one state recognized a same-sex couple as married and another state did not. Sure, there would be some thorny legal issues involved. But courts settle conflict-of-law disputes all the time. What we should not want is the settlement of such disputes becoming a pretext for the judicial export of same-sex marriage from one state to the others. The Hatch amendment would block that from happening.

Considering that a New York judge has already begun the process of importing Vermont civil unions on the basis of the state's handling of common-law marriages, I'm not sure what makes Ramesh so confident on this point. Even if courts don't limit "defining marriage" to the internal procedure for issuing marriage licenses, the only way to ensure removal of the pretext of which he warns would be if state legislatures pass laws defining homosexuals out of marriage and civil unions. And such laws would remain vulnerable.

So, imagine a best-case scenario in which the Hatch amendment passes in its latest language. A plausible outcome is one in which state and/or federal courts limit legislatures and citizens to creating definitions ever-closer to gay marriage. As such definitions come into being, courts may still force recognition of out-of-state gay marriages, requiring gay couples only to cross state borders for the ceremonies and increasing pressure to pass laws to remedy what would surely be seen as a foolish requirement.

Such an outcome is by no means certain, but here's the additional catch: if events move in that direction, how likely is it that another federal amendment could be passed?

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:57 PM
Marriage & Family

Catching Up with the Issue

Today was going to be the day that I finally caught up. It didn't quite work out that way. However, I don't want to let some items having to do with gay marriage go unlinked, so I'm throwing them all into one post.

First up is another great summary column, this time by Thomas Sowell, offering some of the intellectual clarity that can temporarily slip away as one attempts to wrestle specific components to the ground through debate.

Homosexuals were on their strongest ground when they said that what happens between "consenting adults" in private is none of the government's business. But now gay activists are taking the opposite view, that it is government's business -- and that government has an obligation to give its approval.

Sowell's conclusion is particularly important to remember, and particularly quickly left out of much of the debate:

Centuries of experience in trying to cope with the asymmetries of marriage have built up a large body of laws and practices geared to that particular legal relationship. To then transfer all of that to another relationship that was not contemplated when these laws were passed is to make rhetoric more important than reality.

The Boston Globe, meanwhile, reports "the other side" on the social science debate over the effects of same-sex parenting:

Patterson said that, while each study can be criticized, taken as a whole the studies point to a scientifically valid conclusion: Being raised by gay or lesbian parents does not make a child substantially different from his or her peers.

"In the long run, it is not the results obtained from any one specific sample, but the accumulation of findings from many different samples that will be most meaningful," Patterson wrote in one study. She added in a recent interview: "The point is that the studies yield the same results over and over."

It is precisely that consistency that piqued the interest of sociologist Judith Stacey of New York University. To Stacey, it didn't make sense that children raised in somewhat different circumstances would be exactly the same -- findings of "no difference, no difference, no difference, just seemed so implausible," she said. So, she began looking carefully at the existing studies.

In 2001, Stacey and her colleague, Timothy Biblarz, then both at the University of Southern California, published a review of the social science research, stating that not only had researchers actually found some intriguing differences but that they had lowballed them for fear of how the findings would be used.

This has been the way such research has gone from the very beginning. In Andrew Sullivan's Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con (which is admirably balanced, particularly given the source and his work subsequent to the book's release in 1997), several "no difference" studies were summarized and followed with a refutation by Philip Belcastro. Belcastro faulted methodological factors, but he also noted that a "disturbing revelation was that some of the published works had to disregard their own results in order to conclude the homosexuals were fit parents." From the three studies that met at least minimal internal validity, Belcastro highlighted some underplayed findings. Here's a sample drawing from them all:

  • Lesbians' daughters were more likely to choose male activities than daughters of heterosexual mothers.
  • Lesbians' sons were more likely to have a strong preference for female activities than heterosexual mothers' sons.
  • Lesbian mothers were less likely to encourage their sons and more likely to encourage their daughters in sex-role behavior than heterosexual mothers.
  • Lesbian children were more likely to draw the family as involved in separate activities than children of heterosexual mothers.
  • Paul (1986) surveyed adult offspring of gay and bisexual households and reported 23.5 percent of the subjects homosexual.

It's true that times were different back then, but gay activist Kate Kendell, one of the witnesses for the first gay marriage in San Francisco, mentioned recent research, in 2001, "that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are somewhat more likely to have a greater fluidity in their sexual expression and may in fact be more likely to identity as lesbian or gay." Of course, proponents of gay marriage — who tend to be anti-judgmentalists, anyway — will simply dismiss such concerns as not really indicative of harm, just difference. Well, those who think this way, and those who don't, won't likely change their minds; however, it behooves we who oppose gay marriage to remember that "no evidence" means no evidence of anything that gay marriage proponents care about.

On a related note, Elizabeth Marquardt argues that children will actively seek to hide some of the sorts of things that will more universally be seen as "harm":

Here's the problem, from an investigative point of view: Children love their parents, and children notice when their parents are vulnerable. In my own study of children of divorce they are much more likely to say they felt protective of their mothers, especially, than children of intact families are. Many other studies confirm this. They tried to hide their own feelings from their mother in order to protect her. I can only imagine that children of gays and lesbians feel even more protective of their parents who are stigmatized by society. Moreover, children themselves are vulnerable. They need their parents' love, attention, and affection. It takes a very secure child to make what sounds like significant criticisms of choices his or her parents have made (such as saying "Yes, I wish I had a mom") when he or she is not even a teenager yet, especially when the parents are sitting right there for the interview.

Another type of underplayed "evidence," it has seemed to me, is that homosexuals generally, and those who support their cause, have been keeping mum about any doubts that they might have about gays and marriage. The Marriage Debate blog quotes from the New York Times fashion section, which is hardly the first place for the matter to leak through the informational movement, so to speak:

Many gay men and lesbians--in fact most of the ones I know--are not jumping to jump the broom. They like their status as couples living between the lines, free of all the societal expectations that marriage brings. But since they don't want to feed politicians using gay marriage as an election issue, they are largely mum.

"It's very hard to speak freely right now," said Judith Butler, a gender theorist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "But many gay people are uncomfortable with all this, because they feel their sense of an alternative movement is dying. Sexual politics was supposed to be about finding alternatives to marriage."...

That's not to say that there isn't a reason to fight for a basic civil right. But ask around. You'll find more than a few gays questioning an institution that mixes property rights with love, church with state. Some also complain that a legal and legislative process that should take time to evolve has become a media circus. They even wonder if they will be forced to marry to receive domestic partnership benefits from their employers. And of course, given the present divorce rate, many feel that most civil unions are more civilized than marriages.

Note that "mixes church with state" objection, which represents a whole other aspect of the gay marriage battle to watch. The idea of separating civil marriage from religious marriage has hit the Senate:

Sen. Mark Dayton said Wednesday that marriage should be redefined as a religious ceremony, allowing for a civil "marital contracts'' for both gay and heterosexual couples.

"The Bible said, 'Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's,'" Dayton said in a conference call with reporters.

"Under the separation of Church and state, federal and state governments should leave marriage to God and to the religions of this country,'' he said, "and separate out the civil aspects of what is now termed marriage as a different term, whether it's legal union or marital contract.''

It's hardly even arguable, anymore, that the movement that would bring gay marriage is likely to dilute civil marriage out of existence, one way or another. From the religious perspective, as I've written before, either the movement will seek to force churches and synagogs to perform the ceremonies, or they will seek to make religious ceremonies irrelevant in the civil sphere.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:52 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

The Joke's on the Audience

The end of the first season of Last Comic Standing was stunning. The winner, Dat Phan, just was not funny — certainly not as funny as many of the other comics. So, I can't say I'm surprised that Drew Carey, who was one of the pro judges for this season, has had cause to blow the whistle:

After comparing notes, the judges realized that their favorite contestant, who had also gotten a standing ovation from the audience, wasn't among the finalists. Meanwhile, a contestant who had, according to Carey, flopped during the competition, moved into the final round.

"Brett [Butler] walked out and Anthony [Clark] ripped his mike off in disgust," Carey told Variety. "No one could believe it. As far as I knew, we'd be judges to see who would go into the house. Turns out we're not." The Hollywood Reporter quoted Carey saying the talent contest "was crooked and dishonest."

"It was like somebody at NBC cast the show ahead of the event in Vegas. And they had 1,100 in the audience [for the semifinals competition] who saw how blatantly it was cast. If this happened on Survivor or any other reality TV show, it would be a major scandal."

Carey told the Los Angeles Times that an openly gay comic named Ant was apparently chosen because his sexual orientation made him a better fit than Carey's preferred wisecracker, Dan Naturman.

According to Carey, when he protested, the network pointed out that "a brief disclaimer, which runs among the end credits of the show, leaves the final decision on all matters, including voting and casting, up to producers." Personally, I'm not inclined to believe the network's statement:

Now that the 10 participants have been selected, the program will begin. As was the case last season, during the show, the comic elimination decisions will now be made by audiences who watch the comics perform, without any input from NBC, NBC Studios or anyone else associated with the program.

I don't think I'll be watching this season — not the least because the show's producers obviously have very little respect for their viewers, apparently counting on their memories' being short. This is from the "Weekly Recap" of the first episode last season:

ANT, an outspoken gay comic from New Hampshire, stirred the first controversy of the evening. Joe Rogan told him that he was using old jokes and that in fact one of his jokes was actually from a movie. Mo'Nique defended ANT, saying that the comic had technique and timing regardless. This started a ruckus that ended with Buddy Hackett yelling obscenities across the table at Joe!

I wonder how many other comics are getting a second shot. Last time around, ANT was moderately funny, but I remember thinking it odd how much off-stage camera time he was getting. I also remember thinking his material was a bit limited in scope, and I wasn't alone:

ANT exuded his trademark energy while performing mostly gay jokes. Afterwards, John Witherspoon advised ANT to broaden his routine to not just focus on the gay stuff.

Welcome to the "Quiz Show" of comedy. It's one thing to taint casting decisions; it's another to do so and lie that it's reality TV. Then again, what could be more real than the mainstream media lying?

You know, it seems to me that every time I read about Drew Carey, he gives me cause to think, "No wonder I like this guy!":

"I thought the whole thing stunk, and I'm mad they had my name associated with it," he said. "I've got a certain amount of integrity in this business and I'm not going to be compromised. You can't use me and my reputation. Do it with someone else's reputation."
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:17 AM | Comments (4)

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:50 AM

Technical Stuff

It's worth addressing, here, two matters from the comment section:

  1. If you don't like the black around the edges of the screen in this design, simply click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column. That'll change various design elements so as to make the page more readable.

  2. Blockquotes aren't a special feature of any particular blogging software; they require only a basic HTML tag. "<blockquote>This is a blockquote.</blockquote>" would render as:

    This is a blockquote.
Posted by Justin Katz at 10:40 AM | Comments (1)
Site-Related Announcements

March 10, 2004

More Rhode Island Passion

Fellow Rhode Island blogger Marc Comtois brings his historian's eye to The Passion of the Christ. (Although, rightly I think, he made a conscious decision not to be persnickety.) Marc makes good points about the portrayal of Satan, anti-Semitism, and the effects of the film, but I think he hits on something particularly important here:

The torture scene was tough. Was it necessary for Gibson to go that far? I have mixed feelings, though I have theories as to why he did. Could it be that in today's culture, so inured to scenes of violence, that Gibson felt he had to raise the bar to convey the degree of savagery to a contemporary audience? Could the over-the-top torture and pain be simply there to make us wonder how any man could endure it, only to realize that Jesus was more than man? I'm not really sure. I don't know if I'll ever be sure, but it is what it is. I can understand why people would not agree with Gibson's approach on this, though ascribing nefarious or perverted motives to him is to go way too far.

It's under-noted that Gibson does, in fact, cut away from the scourging, but despite the breaks, it remains in the background, and I think it's important that audiences experience the duration. As Marc writes, moderns are "inured to scenes of violence"... at least in video. That's an important distinction; we get our violence in short fight scenes and clips that jump from violence to non-violence. Even when it is portrayed in "real time," the nature of modern violence is different. A gun fight involves a whole lot of noise, but the blood and gore comes in a flash.

People complain that "no human could have survived that beating," but what do we civilized folk know about the level of trauma required to manually inflict death in that way? It's interesting to note, from the infamous New Yorker piece about the movie, that in 1986, the AMA suggested that the scourging "probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock." However, in the context of cinematic violence, Gibson wasn't so much raising the bar, I don't think, as giving us a more realistic sense. I recall in one of the Lethal Weapon movies, Gibson's character underwent debilitating torture (most of it unshown) only to bounce back, kill his torturer, and effect a Houdini-like escape. Such recoveries (with perfect hair) are so common in film that we hardly notice the lapse in realism.

That, to me, is the justification for making the torture scene "tough." We're used to "experiencing" extended violence in paraphrases. Somehow, it seems of a kind with David Brooks's column defending, if not The Passion, then its contrast to "easygoing narcissism":

The flap over Gibson's movie reminds us that religion can be a dangerous thing. It can be coarsened into gore and bloodshed and used to foment hatred. But we're not living in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Our general problem is not that we're too dogmatic. Our more common problems come from the other end of the continuum. Americans in the 21st century are more likely to be divorced from any sense of a creedal order, ignorant of the moral traditions that have come down to us through the ages and detached from the sense that we all owe obligations to a higher authority.

The first two sentences of that paragraph almost have a double meaning. (Is Gibson doing the coarsening or depicting an instance of it?) The point, however, is that we are dealing with something quite different — more real — than what Rod Dreher calls "Our Lord in Dockers." Dockers aren't for venturing into the mire. A theological Polo shirt (if you'll indulge me in a bit of hamminess) offers excuse for reluctance to be the one to reach up and help take a bloody Christ off the cross.

Going a bit far, perhaps, when he says that the "Islamists hadn't counted on the courage and selflessness of Gibson's faith," Michael Moriarty hits on an interesting ambiguity:

In 33 A.D., the world's population was hardly what it is now. Today, six billion souls live on planet Earth. Obviously the weight of that cross and the depth of Christ's vocation have increased exponentially. I take no fault in Gibson's pointing this out. Those numbers, coupled with the breathtaking insensitivity and indifference to Christ's message that even the free world has shown, justify the film's shock value, to my mind.

To one who is entirely oriented around politics, this would be almost incomprehensible. How could a "metaphysical bomb" like The Passion be an appropriate remedy for the global root-cause of American indifference? But the bifurcation is an illusion. Compassion has too often meant writing checks, not soiling hands. Who wants to hand over her hand-washed scarf merely to offer a seemingly insignificant respite from persecution and to wipe away the blood and dirt on a human face for scarcely a glimpse of the Christ within?

It shouldn't be a surprise, really, that Christians leave this movie, which William F. Buckley calls "the most prolonged human torture ever seen on the screen," wanting to help others and to lead better lives. Just for a moment to be looked upon as Jesus looked upon Simon of Cirene.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:49 PM | Comments (5)

Songs You Should Know 03/09/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Sabbath Prayer" by Mozaik. The band calls its sound "psychedelic jewgrass," and one needn't listen long to understand the reason for the unique category. If you're in the mood for something different, give "Sabbath Prayer" a listen, and maybe even pick up a copy of Beyond Words from Confidence Place.

"Sabbath Prayer," Mozaik, Psychedelic Jewgrass
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Beyond Words

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:44 PM

Condoms Ineffective Against STDs

Given the New York Times's (and everybody else's) spin of a recent study of teenagers who had taken abstinence pledges, the title to this post seemed appropriate in opposition:

Among teenagers who pledged not to have sex before marriage, a majority did not live up to their vows, according to a national study reported here on Tuesday. The teenagers also developed sexually transmitted diseases at about the same rate as adolescents who had not made such pledges. ...

... [Dr. Peter Bearman] said, "After they break their pledge, the gates are open, and they catch up," having more partners in a shorter time.

Lack of condom use was an important factor in the higher-than-expected rates of sexually transmitted diseases among the pledgers, the study found. Only 40 percent reported having used condoms in the most recent year of the study, compared with 60 percent of the teenagers who had not pledged.

The storyline is that the young'ns may intend to wait, but they don't pay attention in sex-ed, and then they rush through the gates without protection and "catch up." So, if these kids "developed sexually transmitted diseases at about the same rate," it would seem that the condoms don't do much good... statistically speaking. Of course, there are problems with this analysis.

For one thing, in the paragraph just before the condom statistics, we learn that at "age 23, half the teenagers who had made virginity pledges were married, compared with 25 percent of those who had not pledged." So, as I read this, the number of pledgers who failed to use condoms during the previous year was only 10% higher than the number of them who had married by age 23. The corresponding disparity for non-pledgers was 15%. There are important gaps in information — How many had married after age 23? How many were divorced already? How many had been married during that year? How many were celibate during that year? — but assuming some legitimate comparison between the marriage numbers and the condom numbers, it would seem that the conclusion that abstinence pledges mean less condom usage is dubious.

Moreover, that's using the Times's numbers, which aren't accurately labeled. Reuters reports that the 40% is actually only males, and the 47% of pledging females who had used condoms brings the average to 43.5%, or 6.5% fewer than the number who had not married by 23. Reuters throws in another interesting twist. While female condom use was higher than male among pledgers, the opposite was true among non-pledgers. Only 55% of girls who hadn't pledged abstinence had used a condom in the past year. That brings the non-pledge average to 57%, or 18% fewer than the presumable unwed population. Keep in mind that the condom data appears to be for at least a single usage, not regular usage.

And that doesn't take into consideration that non-pledgers have been having sex with more partners for longer. From the Times:

But a pledge to refrain from premarital sex, the researchers found, did tend to delay the start of sexual intercourse by 18 months. The adolescents who took virginity pledges also married earlier and had fewer sexual partners than the other teenagers surveyed

A single pledge! The study tells us nothing about the other sexual education to which the respondents might have been exposed. The Associated Press offers further perspective by giving readers the actual data on the only factor for which the two groups were "statistically similar":

It found that the STD rates for whites who pledged virginity was 2.8 percent compared with 3.5 percent for those who didn't pledge.

For blacks, it was 18.1 percent and 20.3 percent. For Hispanics, it was 6.7 percent and 8.6 percent.

Bearman said the differences were not statistically significant. Overall rates combining all races wouldn't be valid, he said.

It may not be "statistically significant," but the recorded reduction of STD rates was 20% for whites, 11% for blacks, and 22% for Hispanics. It must be admitted that some of that reduction has to do with the fact that the 88% of pledgers who had premarital sex corresponded with 99% of non-pledgers. But hey, a reduction's a reduction even if it's largely attributable only to, umm, actual abstinence.

Obviously, it's very difficult to discern general patterns without access to demographic breakdowns. Also obviously, a one-time pledge is not an adequate abstinence program. I'll even call it obvious that such programs oughtn't be entirely silent about condoms and certainly should include information about diseases.

Nonetheless, it's a flashing indicator of the bias of the media that this data is being spun as it is. It's also peculiar that Dr. Bearman appears inclined to accentuate the almost-negative. Back in the closing days of the Clinton presidency, he had quite a different approach. From a CNN report titled "Teen virginity pledges surprisingly effective, study says":

"We didn't expect to see any effect from these pledges, but it was just the opposite," said Dr. Peter Bearman ...

"The average delay among pledgers is 18 months," Bearman told The Associated Press. "That is significant. And that is a pure pledge effect." ...

"A typical argument against our findings would be that the kind of kids who pledge are those who would not have sex anyway," Bearman said in a statement. But although that was true to some extent, the data proved "confidently that the delay we saw was real."

Note the word "delay," which indicates that lapses had occurred. What a difference a few cases of the clap can make.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:06 PM | Comments (1)

A Pinnacle Is the Tip of Equivalent Sides

Although not as predictable as researchers' conclusion that (funding for) more research is necessary, it seems at least very common that a scientist will tend to see her particular area of research as the single-greatest endeavor known to human beings. I've seen this most when scientists argue about such matters between themselves, but when somebody with a B.A. enters the room, they'll all agree that their way of thinking makes his studies appear as little but a glorified hobby.

Well, we're born, and we die, alackaday; it's all hobbies in between, from a certain perspective.

From another perspective, it's all profit, and in replying to my previous post, Michael Williams, although obviously not taking it to be the end-all-be-all, suggests that a "higher percentage of people who earn science degrees will go on to use those degrees to greater profit than will those who earn humanities degrees." Not so, says Eli Lehrer:

Finances may also influence students’ paths of study. And science students, it is true, do earn higher wages right after graduation, something which might be important to those with large student loan debts. Still, wages tend to equalize after a few years.

If Michael means that those with science will go on to use the specific skills that were the tangible commodities accompanying their degrees, I'd suggest that the same is probably true of those who go to trade school. The humanities don't bear their full fruits directly on the vine.

But seeing as standing on the shoulders of giants is rarely as lucrative as reselling their wares, I think Michael would agree with me that this isn't an adequate measure of "success." What of academic success? Michael writes:

Since we're mostly relying on anecdotal data, I know no one who has earned a degree in a scientific field who could not have obtained an equivalent degree in the humanities, should he have so desired. I know plenty of people with humanities degrees who couldn't possibly have earned a scientific degree.

Well, it is likely relevant to note that Michael is a Ph.D. candidate in a scientific field, putting him among a particular segment of people who have earned degrees in a scientific field. More to the point, however, his statement simply doesn't contravene the argument that people desirous of an intellectual challenge are currently being shuffled into the sciences. This disparity is exacerbated by the well-rounded nature of the humanities, which rightly attracts those who aren't seeking particular careers, and who, in search of general knowledge, would indeed be ill suited to technical studies. As my Grolier Encyclopedia CD-ROM explains in the entry on "the humanities":

The traditional purpose of education in the humanities was to instill qualities that were thought essential to citizenship and participation in public affairs. The ancient Greek notion of enkyklios paideia—meaning "general education"—influenced the Roman ideal of humanitas, the qualities that distinguish humanity from other animals.

In a sense, then, the giants of the humanities are those most steeped in humanitas. Often, their expression of this quality will be tacit or inherently embedded in the incidental language of a particular discipline. Often they will be able to apply it to a science in ways that scientists would never have considered. Michael writes of "the underlying philosophy" of the humanities and of the sciences, but the only unifying philosophy of the former is the search for Truth, and the latter is defined by process, not philosophy.

It mightn't be surprising that a Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science would declare that particular discipline to be "the pinnacle of both science and the humanities." To the extent that Michael's claim is accurate, I respond only that a pinnacle of multiple sides is definitionally equal parts of each. However, the extended quotation, by Marvin Minsky, that he cites as evidence suggests that Michael is switching from "the philosophy of the humanities" to the distinct discipline within the humanities called Philosophy.

It may well be that Computer Science will replace Philosophy to the extent that Philosophy addressed logic and the structure of knowledge. However, Minsky's mention of an operating system is interesting. What value would your computer have to you if it were nothing but an operating system? And what value hast a network without users?

This applies only in a limited way to Michael, but what worries me is modern society's willingness to see science as a philosophy of itself, an arbiter of morality, and to insist not only that it is an important contribution to humanity, but that other pursuits are hardly worth improving upon — or even pursuing, really, except as hobbies — by comparison.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:22 AM | Comments (1)

March 9, 2004

Science Is for People of Middling Intelligence

I don't really mean the title of this post, but I needed a sufficient rib for the Trackback section of this indulgence in science-guy hauteur by Michael Williams.

Michael takes from an Eli Lehrer piece comparing the broad fields of humanities and science that "bright students can succeed in any field, and tend to move towards those that are more profitable." It may have to do with my being a humanities fella, but I took Lehrer's central point to be something quite different. Here's Lehrer:

Starting in high school, the best American students can look forward to a rich and challenging science curriculum supported by significant opportunities for research, paid summer jobs, and prestige.

High school students in the humanities can look forward to little of this. Even in the most privileged secondary schools the study of the humanities is of far poorer quality than the science instruction available at "second-rate" high schools. A close look at the curricula pursued by some of the country's best high-school students shows the great pressure they face to forsake the humanities for the sciences. ...

None of this is to say that the prep schools teach poorly, just that the upper-level syllabi I looked at usually required less reading than college courses—roughly 100 pages a week as compared with more than 200 at the college level. And even the best students cannot be sure that they will read Shakespeare and Milton when they are in high school. No wonder teachers see some of the best humanities students slip away. "The students who do the best in our courses also tend to do well in just about everything else," explains Steve McKibbon, who teaches English at the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut. ...

But despite this all-too-common lack of academic seriousness, at least some evidence exists that the humanities are more "brainy" than the sciences. Study after study has shown that scores on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test correlate more closely with I.Q. than do scores on the math sections. "The verbal parts of the tests are more oriented towards the things that people have to do in life. They aren't coachable in the way that the math sections might be," says Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Lehrer's suggestion is that the humanities aren't treated with the same degree of academic rigor, and this factor, along with the appreciation that corresponds to greater rigor, push particularly bright students toward the sciences. It isn't that, as Michael concludes, "there are fewer people who can succeed in the sciences than who can succeed in the humanities." To the extent that Lehrer's analysis supports claims either way, the opposite would seem to be the case: fewer people can succeed in the humanities, but those people can also succeed in the sciences, so they go where the rewards seem to be.

Keeping within this narrow range of trends, a cause and effect of the draining of real, substantive talent from the humanities has been its politicization, and an effect of that has been the increasing acceptability of mediocrity, even vacuity, as long as it returns the correct echo. Michael doesn't see why Lehrer would advocate policies that would remedy the problem — which leads to the larger topic about the extent to which deficiencies in the humanities have harmed our society. By the same token, however, he also doesn't see that the difference in standards for success between the two fields doesn't indicate a higher ceiling for the sciences, but rather an artificially low ladder for the humanities.

One would think that a man of the sciences would have striven to ensure that he was comparing like to like. That a substantial portion of the population can string words into sentences doesn't mean that the same proportion has a notable aptitude in the humanities. That's the basic skill — a bit like arithmetic. The lesson isn't that the humanities are easier; it's that we're dropping the ball in encouraging students past that basic level.

Michael makes another Nobel to AmLit 101 comparison with respect to research:

Of course, assisting in research is more problematic for students in the humanities. "I can’t really send an undergraduate to the library to read an article because he might get something totally different out of it than I would," says Carol Kaske, an English professor at Cornell. "We can’t do undergraduate research the same way they can in the sciences."

Going to the library to read an article isn't real research. Real research is what you do after you know all the background information. Real research is the process of discovering or creating something new. Real research is standing on the shoulders of giants, not just looking around for giants. Going to the library (or the internet) can be part of it, but I get the feeling that what passes for research in most humanities departments is wholly different from scientific research.

Michael's comparing "standing on the shoulders of giants" with bringing a cow to the market for mom. Lifetime achievement with the low-level research that an undergraduate might do for a professor. To be sure, Prof. Kaske is pointing, in the included extract from Lehrer's piece, to an inherent difference between the areas of study, but it's structural, not qualitative. As Michael admits, reading material "can be part of" scientific research, but similarly, it isn't the sum total of research in the humanities.

An academic in the sciences could assign an undergraduate to go through an article and highlight any instances of a word, for example. Or he could instruct the student to write down the results of a particular experiment described in a text. The same level of research in the humanities isn't so defined. For a lengthy paper about Moby Dick, I read through a collection of Herman Melville's personal letters. Had I an assistant, I might have been tempted to hand him the tome with the instructions to write down any mentions of the novel, but then I would have missed those statements of Melville's that were much more relevant thematically — offhand characterizations of spiritual feelings, for example — because they weren't relevant explicitly.

Now, Michael might say that, even if he didn't make the connection clear, my larger Moby Dick project was what he meant by "just looking around for giants." Science, properly speaking, isn't researching the biographies of other scientists, and the full expression of science isn't the analysis of other scientists' experimental methods. Here again, however, he's comparing incorrect degrees of research that correspond only because our society has so hobbled the humanities.

Scientists, too, must look around for giants and feel around for their shoulders before they can pull themselves up to those lofty heights. The great composers studied the works of their predecessors so that they could express their own unique musical conclusions on the most firm foundation. Just so, those who master a discipline within the humanities can advance knowledge either by moving through the lines of forerunners' work or by tying those lines together in ways that haven't yet been tried.

Given their nature, the humanities involve more, and often more subtle, reading. They require broader understanding. They deal in variables that resist compartmentalization. Moreover, the conclusions reached thereby will often advance or supercede more-technical knowledge, either by suggesting new approaches or discerning dangers of advancing too far in a particular direction. It is here that society ought to find its greatest motivation for spreading out its best and brightest across the intellectual landscape.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:39 PM

But Keep Those Trains on Time

Lileks ends his current Bleat with a must-quote passage (the internal quotation, in italics, is John Kerry):

When I was in the region in early 2002, I saw first hand the devastating impact of this ongoing conflict on the daily lives of both Palestinians and Israelis. In Ramallah, for example, Palestinian women, traveling on foot, were forced to stand in long lines at check points with their children tugging at their sleeves and their arms loaded with groceries or other basic needs. And while they were struggling to get through the day, Israelis were also living in fear of another terrorist attack – not sure whether to get on a bus or go to a restaurant.

I'll give him credit for the order in which he presents these seemingly equal inconveniences. But note how the first example is described with sympathetic human details — children, tugging at sleeves! — but the fear of getting nails shot through your vitals on a bus is described in an abstract, generic fashion.

The speech was made on October 17, two weeks after a suicide bomber in Haifa killed 21 people in an Arab-Jewish owned restaurant; three kids and a baby were among the dead, and the wounded numbered 60.

It seems the inclination toward equivalence, here, arguably relates to the liberal view of life and government's role in it. Watch out grocery-store clerks!

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:03 PM
Middle East

We Want the Dog to Bark

Mark Steyn makes a great point about the internal battles over the Iraqi constitution:

In Iraq, an interim constitution was signed yesterday. It's not perfect, though it's a good deal less imperfect than the European constitution and for the Middle East it's a remarkable document. But it's amazing to me the way the western media interpret disagreements as a bad sign. Wouldn't it be a worse sign if there were no disagreements? If Bush just faxed over the final draft and everyone signed it? The haggling and the stalemates and the trade-offs are the healthy sign.

Of course, I trust that the Western media would have made much the same argument as Steyn if there hadn't been any disagreements. When the preordained conclusion is that a project is doomed to failure, one will always manage to find evidence, because there's always reason that it could fail. The trick is in the whether.

A similar matter is the place of Islam. Undoubtedly, we've good reason to keep an eye on the independent judiciary that will settle disputes about whether laws contradict Islam, but new nations will always require compromises that could lead to hostilities.

Our Constitution, after all, allowed for slavery.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:53 PM

March 8, 2004

Another Mayor Who Would Be King and an Amendment That Would Be Overthrown

Here's another item for the "forcing gay marriage to cross borders" file:

Six same-sex couples filed a lawsuit Monday seeking the right to get married after they were refused marriage licenses by a sympathetic public official, as [Seattle] mayor [Greg Nickels] ordered the city to recognize the marriages of gay city employees who tie the knot elsewhere.

But that's not all:

He also proposed an ordinance to extend protections for gay married couples throughout the city.

Nickels also said he'll ask the City Council to protect gay married couples throughout the city from discrimination in employment, housing or the use of parks or other city facilities. If the council approves the ordinance, it also would require contractors doing business with the city to recognize gay marriages among their own employees.

Mayor Nickels is giving us all a sneak preview of the next steps. (And who comes after private businesses?) Although some on both sides might think the legitimacy of the mayor's actions honestly debatable, there's a pretty significant problem:

State lawmakers passed a "Defense of Marriage Act" in 1998, making Washington one of 38 states defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Gov. Gary Locke vetoed the law, but lawmakers overrode the veto.

The bottom line is that the elite class has decided that it wants this cutting-edge social policy and will push it through any means possible — whether that possibility is a matter of law or of raw power. That's what makes this so thorough a manifestation of the culture war. If the public finds a way, through the legitimate exercise of legal and Constitutional processes, to rebuff even this narrow representative movement of a larger coup, a major step will have been taken back toward civil sanity. If not, the opposite will be true.

As if to add an exclamation point to the tacit statement of how much effort will be expended pushing gay marriage, the Providence Journal today ran an AP report on the topic in its business section. The article is about the inconveniences of establishing full legal ties without marriage. Conspicuously absent from the 950-word piece is any perspective on how many couples this problem affects.

Of course, it wouldn't be a culture war if one side were entirely silenced, and Jeff Jacoby leveraged his column in the Boston Globe to uphold the right side. After offering some historical perspective on the "lunch counter" civil rights claims, Jacoby writes:

The marriage radicals, on the other hand, seek to restore nothing. They have not been deprived of the right to marry -- only of the right to insist that a single-sex union is a "marriage." They cloak their demands in the language of civil rights because it sounds so much better than the truth: They don't want to accept or reject marriage on the same terms that it is available to everyone else. They want it on entirely new terms. They want it to be given a meaning it has never before had, and they prefer that it be done undemocratically -- by judicial fiat, for example, or by mayors flouting the law. Whatever else that may be, it isn't civil rights. But dare to speak against it, and you are no better than Bull Connor.

I, for one, am heartened to have Jacoby pulling for traditional marriage. Unfortunately, I'm disheartened by the work that lays ahead of us, even among our own ranks. Following the National Review editorial that I addressed on Saturday, John Hawkins throws his support behind the Orrin Hatch marriage amendment as a fallback, on the assumption that it certainly could be passed. I'm not so sure about that, nor am I enthusiastic about this amendment's being out there as an alternative.

Unlike the folks over at NR, I don't think Hatch's amendment holds the line more strongly than tweezers where a monkey wrench is needed. I see nothing in it to fulfill its promise that state judiciaries will be out of the gay marriage business, nor am I optimistic that the Supreme Court would find it sufficiently clear as to discourage clever maneuvers to undermine it. Moreover, with the Hatch amendment out there as a false compromise, citizens and legislators who are on the fence will have less incentive to really consider the issue and discover why the FMA as proposed is so necessary.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:04 PM
Marriage & Family

Passion and the Pardon-Me Paragraph

A pattern is beginning to form whereby, in relation to The Passion of the Christ, a person with whom I generally disagree about the movie capture's my sympathy, only insert something, while looking for an example, that raises my eyebrows.

Amy Welborn notes a follow-up column by Michael Coren. As you may recall, on the basis of his review of the movie, I suggested that Coren seemed of the "Metrosexual Jesus" crowd. Well, reading the current column, which details some of the reaction that he received, I almost felt a pang of guilt about characterizing a portion of his review as nearly "obscene." Almost, that is, until I got to this paragraph:

I've often had these concerns about the American South, with its enormous number of supposed believers. I've wondered why, if this is the case, the southern states were not, for example, hotbeds of protest against the arms trade, against an often aggressive and immoral foreign policy, against the death penalty for people who are often poor or mentally ill, against the cutting of welfare payments to single mothers who can barely survive.

Perhaps some of the meaner notes were sent to him by folks in the South, although it's a bit jarring for a column lamenting the loss of Christian high road to throw out generalized aspersions. Nonetheless, that mush of political principles seems to weigh down a piece about personal Christian behavior. Thus does Coren confirm the suspicions of at least this one of his detractors.

Something similar arises with Gertrude Himmelfarb's blind review in the Washington Post. By blind, I mean that she hasn't seen the movie. Check out this strange use of quotation marks:

I hasten to say that I have not "personally" seen that film (rather like not having "personally" read a good many books that I have the illusion of having read from a multitude of reviews).

Shouldn't the marks be around "seen"? Typographical quirks aside, Himmelfarb did get my thoughts churning about the proper etiquette of religious folks in public, until...

How would we (Gibson and all the rest of us) feel if a Hollywood producer (a Hollywood so notoriously populated by Jews) made a film, in the same "over the edge" spirit vaunted by Gibson, dramatizing another historical event -- the auto-da-fé in Spain in February 1481, for example, in which six men and six women conversos (Jewish converts to Christianity) were tortured and burned alive at the stake, while richly robed prelates triumphally presided over the scene? Such a film, taking its cue from Gibson, might utilize all the devices of violence, sadism and malignity that he has deployed so skillfully, here as in his other films. It might be even more credible, and therefore emotionally powerful, than his because the contemporary as well as scholarly sources are more reliable. The effect would be to make of the auto-da-fé a defining experience in the relations of Jews and Christians.

Or, another thought-experiment: a film of the First Crusade produced by a Muslim. The venerable 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica describes, in relatively sober terms, the month-long siege culminating in the capture of Jerusalem: "The slaughter was terrible; the blood of the conquered ran down the streets, until men splashed in blood as they rode. At nightfall, sobbing for excess of joy, the crusaders came to the Sepulchre from their treading of the winepress, and put their blood-stained hands together in prayer. So, on that day of July, the First Crusade came to an end." An "over the edge" depiction of this scene would surely be as riveting, bloody and unforgettable as the scene of the Crucifixion, or of the auto da fé or, for that matter, of all too many episodes in our all too bloody history.

Not only wasn't I aware that the Post pays so poorly that writers must use 93-year-old encyclopedias, but I also wasn't aware that the auto-de-fé and First Crusade have much by way of "spiritual meaning" for Jews and Muslims, respectively — certainly not as much as the Passion has for Christians. This has been pointed out, already, in the Corner (read up from here). One emailer asked Ramesh Ponnuru, "how would the critics of [The Passion] respond to these films?" He appears to be talking about a comparable movie about Southern plantation brutality, but it applies as well to Himmelfarb's original "thought experiments."

And we may soon find out the answer to his question, with the release of Ridley Scott's $135 million, 20th Century Fox release of Kingdom of Heaven — all of the big-name, sympathetic stars of which seem to be on the Muslim side. (Orlando Bloom is a Muslim blacksmith-turned-warrior seeking to win a princess's heart while defending Jerusalem against the Crusaders.) Moreover, the film has already come under attack from British historians:

Mr. Riley-Smith added: "Guy of Lusignan lost the Battle of Hattin against Saladin, yes, but he wasn't any badder or better than anyone else. There was never a confraternity of Muslims, Jews and Christians. That is utter nonsense."

Jonathan Philips, a lecturer in history at London University and author of "The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople," agreed that the film relied on an outdated portrayal of the Crusades and could not be described as "a history lesson."

The italics are mine; perhaps this movie will be sufficiently to Himmelfarb's theological and historical tastes that she'll make an effort to "personally" view it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:50 PM | Comments (1)

On and Off

Miserable night of two-year-old ear-infection protests, when I had stayed up too late trying to chip away at the stressors. Miserable morning with the mild-snowstorm crawl of traffic, no parking spaces, no quarters for the meter at the pediatrician's, one long scream during the entire visit, then home and a half-hour battle with medicine and eardrops.

Besides that, I haven't felt "on" for the past few days of blogging. Apologies to anybody whom I've trampled in rebutting or whom I've inadequately defended.

I will be probably be posting today, perhaps after a few (dozen) ounces of coffee. Early to bed, though.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:30 PM
Diary & Confession

March 7, 2004

Sunday Sullivanalia (With a Frum Bonus)

Michael Williams highlighted this part of Sullivan's comments from my previous Sullivanalia post:

[Mel Gibson] believes that all non-Catholics are going to hell, another heresy.

In an update to his post, Michael beat me to clarifying this point because, in looking into it, I decided to devote a little time to straightening the matter out entirely. As I suspected, the truth actually does much more to illustrates Sullivan's defamatory strategy than to mitigate it. As I noted at the time, he first posted on the relevant Gibson quotation last Monday:

GIBSON ON NON-CATHOLICS: They're all going to hell. That includes all those evangelicals who are flocking to his movie and even his wife.

The internal link goes to an Arizona Republic blurb from February 12, which makes reference to a Gibson interview with the Australian Herald Sun. I can't find that interview online. However, the Arizona Republic piece is actually an abbreviated version of a blurb on MSNBC from February 10. Here are all of the direct quotations:

Gibson was interviewed by the Herald Sun in Australia, and the reporter asked the star if Protestants are denied eternal salvation. "There is no salvation for those outside the Church," Gibson replied. "I believe it."

He elaborated: "Put it this way. My wife is a saint. She's a much better person than I am. Honestly. She's, like, Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it's just not fair if she doesn't make it, she's better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it."

Gibson also said in the interview that he was nearly suicidal before he made his controversial film. "I got to a very desperate place. Very desperate. Kind of jump-out-of-a-window kind of desperate," he said in the interview. "And I didn't want to hang around here, but I didn't want to check out. The other side was kind of scary. And I don't like heights, anyway. But when you get to that point where you don't want to live, and you don't want to die, it's a desperate, horrible place to be. And I just hit my knees. And I had to use 'The Passion of the Christ' to heal my wounds."

The second statement isn't directly relevant. It does, however, enable us to conclude, with a high degree of certainty, that the Herald Sun interview, whatever it claimed to be, recycled material from Peter Boyer's piece on Gibson in the September 15 New Yorker. Both quotations are verbatim.

You might recall that Boyer's essay was most noted for a comment that Gibson made therein about New York Times columnist Frank Rich: "I want his intestines on a stick. . . . I want to kill his dog." That ought to give some indication of Gibson's state of mind. During the interview period, Gibson had come under attack from major papers on both coasts, and an ad hoc council of Christians, Jews, and academics had recently submitted to him a sort of list of editorial demands presuming to censor certain aspects The Passion of the Christ. Gibson made the statement that found its way into the Herald Sun while flying cross-country:

We talked of the nature of Gibson's faith, and I asked him about an aspect of Vatican II which has not been much discussed in the debate over his film. One of the council's most significant acts was its Decree on Ecumenism, which declared that all Christians, even those outside the Catholic Church, "have the right to be called Christian; the children of the Catholic Church accept them as brothers." This effectively overturned the Catholic notion that the only true course to salvation was through the Catholic Church.

I told Gibson that I am a Protestant, and asked whether his pre-Vatican II world view disqualified me from eternal salvation. He paused. "There is no salvation for those outside the Church," he said. "I believe it." He explained, "Put it this way. My wife is a saint. She's a much better person than I am. Honestly. She's, like, Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it's just not fair if she doesn't make it, she's better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it."

With that, Gibson excused himself, and headed toward the galley of the plane, where an attendant had laid out supper. I glanced up at the video monitor at the front of the cabin, showing our progress on the journey to Washington. We were forty-five thousand feet over the high plains of Colorado, heading toward Kansas, according to the monitor, which displayed the name of the town shimmering faintly below us. It was a place called Last Chance.

Those who take Christianity seriously enough to debate it will likely know that this very topic can be the subject of lengthy discussion — as can many matters having to do with faith. Here, as his very last comment to a reporter before he heads off for dinner, Gibson offers a first premise. Among the wrinkles that would be ironed out over the course of discussion is precisely the difference between not achieving salvation and, as has been subsequently presumed of the statement, "going to hell."

Gibson clarified some in his interview with Diane Sawyer. Although the summary of that interview that ABC provides doesn't include the exchange, I've confirmed it in enough places to believe that this is accurate:

Diane: When we talked with Gibson and his actors, we wondered, does his traditionalist view bar the door to heaven for Jews, Protestants, Muslims?

Mel: That's not the case at all. Absolutely not. It is possible for people who are not even Christian to get into the kingdom of heaven. It's just easier. I have to say that because that's what I believe.

Diane: You have a non-stop ticket.

Mel: Well, yeah. I'm saying it's an easier ride where I am because it's like...I have to believe that.

The bottom line is that Mel Gibson isn't, and doesn't claim to be, more than a very active layman. This, as it happens, is a pretty intricate and weighty matter, and it appears that he's still working out the specifics — as is the entirety of Christendom. Since most of the evidence lies in postmortem events, the vagueness of "It's just easier" is understandable. (To give just a quick idea of two difficult aspects that come into play: one is whether a particular person's incorrect faith is something for which he or she is culpable; another is, essentially, the idea of Purgatory and what that might entail.)

So, to trace back to the present: Gibson made a quick remark about a sincerely debatable theological question that he later clarified (although not comprehensively). The Herald Sun picked up those comments, and either that paper or MSNBC added the "going to hell" layer. On this slim basis, Andrew Sullivan accuses Gibson of heresy, adding this single statement to his litany as if Gibson laid out his view in a theological press release.

I hesitate to include David Frum in this post, because I hold him in higher esteem than I do Sullivan. But it fits, so here it is. You can read Frum's thoughts on Gibson's interview with Peggy Noonan for yourself, but of the above-mentioned interview with Diane Sawyer, Frum writes:

Gibson used equally stilted language when asked a similar question by Diane Sawyer on ABC: "Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenceless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do; absolutely. It was an atrocity of monumental proportion." Here again, Gibson seems to bypass the issues of (1) the numbers killed; (2) whether those people were deliberately murdered; and (3) whether that murder proceeded from Nazi ideology.

The internal link is to a piece that is more about Gibson's father. I'm not sure why Frum didn't look for the Sawyer interview itself, but even ABC's summary extends the quotation. Here's the full exchange:

Gibson: You know, do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do. Absolutely. It was an atrocity of monumental proportion.

Sawyer: Are you looking into the face of a particular kind of evil with the Holocaust?

Gibson: Of course. You're looking- yes...

Sawyer: ...What is the particular evil there?

Gibson: ...what's the particular evil? I mean, why do you need me to tell you? It's like, it's obvious. They're killed because of who and what they are. Is that not evil enough?...

He doesn't recite the boilerplate statement that Frum desires, but Gibson does suggest deliberate killing proceeding from an ethnic ideology. He also comes pretty close to the "don't be absurd" that Frum would have preferred in the Noonan interview.

Frum subsequently posted a number of readers' notes suggesting that he made too much of Gibson's remarks. (Although I only skimmed them, I didn't see any that mention the extended quotation above.) Frum confirms that he's got no special knowledge of Gibson's view, but he still laments that he "can't help wondering why [Gibson] isn't making it easier" for him to offer his stamp of confident approval.

Look, this is a sticky, emotional area, and I've no reason to stick my neck out for Gibson, with whom I surely don't agree on everything. Is he speaking as he does for no reason other than to avoid slamming his father? I don't know. But I will admit that, between Frum, Krauthammer, Sullivan, and the various complaints that I've read about this movie — including the would-be, self-appointed, stolen-script censors, I'm a little... well... disconcerted by the degree to which people who don't believe in their message or import feel at liberty to dictate an interpretation of the Gospels.

There's a line that can be crossed — that has too often been crossed with blithe strides during the past several decades — and can result in unhealthy polarization. Gibson has been on the receiving end of attacks that did cross that line, and I can't say I'm inclined to judge him harshly if his language in these instances indicated a desire not to legitimate expansion of the evidentiary markers of what Frum calls the "primordial anti-semitism" of some on the cultural right.

I thought it would be clear in my presentation above, but just in case it is not, here's my assessment of Mel Gibson's take on the salvation of non-Catholics based on the limited information available. For preliminary context, I think this is a tough theological question, with a degree of inevitable ambiguity. I don't think Gibson has given it adequate consideration to have a comprehensive "position," and he doesn't seem particularly comfortable discussing it.

With the statement in the New Yorker, I think that, at a stressful time, on his way out the door for dinner, Gibson tried to offer a more profound statement than he was prepared to make. Whether or not he had devoted further thought in between, with the Sawyer interview, I think he was clarifying his bottom line conclusion, which had been obscured by his too-quick declaration while flying over Colorado.

Overall, he doesn't seem to be the greatest analytical speaker, and my main purpose above was to highlight the utter lack of basis for claiming that he thinks everybody who doesn't share his exact religion is going to Hell.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:29 PM | Comments (13)

March 6, 2004

An Inadequate Plan B

Civil marriage shall be defined in each state by the legislature or the citizens thereof. Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to require that marriage or its benefits be extended to any union other than that of a man and a woman.

This, according to a National Review editorial, is the text of a proposed alternative amendment from Senator Orrin Hatch. Although I've disagreed with particular arguments from NR before, this is the first statement that I can recall to which I've reacted, "Huh?":

This amendment would not only clearly allow civil unions to be enacted by legislatures; it would even allow legislatures to enact full-fledged same-sex marriage. But it would bar federal or state courts from imposing either.

I see nothing in that text to so much as increase the difficulty faced by a state judiciary that wishes to demand civil unions. To the contrary, it seems to me that the inclusion of the words "or its benefits" in the second sentence implies that in-state benefits aren't protected by the first sentence. However marriage is defined, in other words, the courts could find that the state must grant equivalent benefits to homosexual couples.

Worse yet, if the courts see themselves as acting on behalf of the "the citizens thereof" — and they are, after all, civil servants, defenders of individual rights against the tyranny of the majority — then this amendment wouldn't stop them from redefining marriage; they'd merely be doing their duty on behalf of the citizens. Barring that, they would only have to be sufficiently creative to find a way to argue that the state's constitution and/or previous laws of the legislature or citizenry "defined" gays into marriage by requiring equal treatment, or whatever pretext would have been used to grant gay marriage to begin with.

Elsewhere, the editorial touts "the additional advantage of being clear and understandable to the layman." The legal class, however, has built an entire industry around the practice of making layman-comprehensible terms and concepts mean their opposite. Is it really "extending" the benefits of marriage, for example, to find that the Constitution requires us to believe them inherently granted by the law?

I understand the desire to find language with broader appeal, and I realize that something is better than nothing (if nothing looks to be the likely outcome). This proposed amendment, however, reads to me like an invitation for judges to expand their penchant for parsing, not to pull it back.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:49 PM | Comments (3)
Marriage & Family


Let's go back to Thursday for a moment, and Andrew Sullivan's summary of his view about civil disobedience. There's something similar, here, to my objections about the civil rights lingo cooption. As I've complained before, to compare the San Francisco marriages to staying seated at a segregated lunch counter is grossly to misrepresent the two events; the mayor, in this case, is serving the lunches. Similarly, is it really "civil disobedience" when civil officers lead the charge?

This matter comes together in more nettlesome ways when Sullivan writes:

Where such civil marriages can legitimately take place under the law (as appears to be the case in Oregon), there's no problem.

Yet, as Michael Williams points out, administrators in Oregon have been behaving in ways that put the legitimacy of their action in a murky light, to say the least. Mark from Outdoors Pro explains:

During the press conference this morning, Commissioner Serena Cruz seemed almost giddy about this. It's obvious how this entire thing came about. These four commissioners decided that they wanted to "legalize" gay marriage, so they instructed their lawyer to come up with a legal argument, however flimsy, to justify it. In the process, they completely avoided any possibility for contrary arguments to arise until after they'd started issuing licenses, making it more difficult to "undo" their actions.

The commissioners' "closed-door meetings" weren't just closed to the public. Also locked out (not informed, to be more precise) was the only male commissioner — also the only one opposed to gay marriage. Moreover, the three-day waiting period was waived.

Bringing it back to Sullivan, all of this points to something that I've been saying lately: he — and I think he's representative of his side — uses words differently than most everybody else. When he says states should address whether to accept out-of-state gay marriages with "democratic deliberation," he means that the courts decide. As he explains today, democracy applies in that the people of a state have the ability to pass laws to preempt the courts' (or the attorney generals') decisions:

Nothing is being forced on New York State. If New Yorkers wanted to pass a law, like 38 other states, that would refuse to recognize Massachusetts' marriages, they could easily do so. But they haven't. State autonomy means that states not only can refuse to recognize another state's marriages, but that they can agree to recognize them as well. Liberal states might well decide to recognize Massachusetts' marriages. That's not a violation of the principle I laid out at all. [David] Frum doesn't seem to have the faintest grasp of the legal principles involved here.

That last sentence is pretty bold. Sullivan must be aware — and his careful language these past fifteen years attests that he is — that when most people hear the phrase "let the states decide," they imagine the voters, or at least the legislatures, doing the deciding. The word "decide" tends to carry an active connotation. Keep an eye out for this sort of thing when discussing gay marriage. Not surprisingly, given the central issue of dispute, words don't always mean what you think they mean.

(I also want to note the gall that it took for Sullivan to complain that Frum "refuses to answer my simple question." Reading disputes that others have had with him will show that this is a frequent complaint of Sullivan's opponents.)

Keeping with Sullivan's aggressiveness, yesterday, responding to Krauthammer's review of The Passion (my take on that here), it seems to me that Sullivan gets darn near libel:

Gibson doesn't recognize the authority of the current Pope; he doesn't recognize the current mass - the central ritual of Catholics across the world. People are mistaken in believing that he merely prefers the Latin mass; he doesn't. He favors the Tridentine mass, a relic. He believes that all non-Catholics are going to hell, another heresy. He is clearly and palpably anti-Semitic. His movie is an act of aggression against Jews, and, as such, is an act of aggression against Catholicism and the current Pope's heroic efforts to confront the shameful history of the Church with regard to the Jewish people.

While it's great to see that, in addition to his newfound dislike of pornography, Sullivan has renewed his affection for the Pope, I wonder from where Sullivan's getting his information. He hasn't, as far as I've seen, presented any of it, and certain points are, last I heard, more applicable to Gibson Sr. than to his famous son. Somehow, too, I'm sure that others (perhaps among my readers?) more familiar with Gibson and the Tridentine mass will find more Sullivanesque distortion going on in that passage. For my part, I'm left only able to marvel at this:

He doesn't mention that young Jewish children actually turn into demons at one point in the movie, a device that only students of medieval anti-Semitism would notice. In fact, one reason that today's viewers do not notice the hatred of Jews in the movie is because, mercifuly, they are not familiar with the medieval tropes that signal evil and that Gibson trafficks in. Gibson knows.

Mel Gibson — anti-Semitic mastermind! Of course, one could note that the children torment Judas, and if we assume that the city is entirely Jewish, it would have been a bit odd for non-Jewish children to be playing in the streets. (I read, somewhere else, the point that Jerusalem was a crossroads, making it a presumption that only Jews would have been among the crowd.) More stunning, however, is Sullivan's admission that "only students of medieval anti-Semitism" would notice it. It seems to me that 1) a person could find any artistic device used for objectionable purposes throughout history, and 2) that it was an odd strategy of Gibson's to hide messages in his movies that only his enemies would spot. Ah but Western Christians and Jews aren't the target market of Gibson's propaganda, according to Sullivan's fevered mind:

And he knows how his movie will play in those parts of the world where anti-Semitic tropes are still recognized.

The sheer brilliance of Mel Gibson is clear. He made a movie about the crucifixion of Christ, complete with heavy reference to the theology of the Eucharist, so that Muslims and Euro-secularists would see it and get all riled up at the Jews. It isn't even vague attempts to further domestic bigotry of which Sullivan is accusing Gibson (which would be a serious enough accusation). He's imagining an intricate and well-researched plan to spark violence in other parts of the world.

Is this part of the world included, I wonder?

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:44 PM | Comments (3)

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from Twice Sorry," by Barbara Moore.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:17 PM

Some Diversity on Gay Marriage

Delving, as I do, into the depths of every tributary to the gay marriage debate, it is always refreshing to come across pieces that summarize the debate in the space of a single column, as does Rod Dreher:

If you want to see what happens when marriage loses its ability to bind community behavior, look at the inner cities. In the suburbs, the 1970s divorce revolution damaged a generation of children in ways sociologists are just beginning to understand. And now comes the most radical attempt yet to disestablish traditional marriage as normative.

Happily, attitudes toward gays and lesbians have changed for the better and still are evolving. But now, 60 percent of Americans oppose gay marriage, and they are right to wonder if we should be so quick to tear down this ancient edifice without asking why it was put up.

But the demolishers don't care to ask. Gay activists and sympathetic jurists have forced the question onto the national agenda through aggressive legal maneuvering. State litigation makes it almost certain that the Supreme Court will be asked to nationalize gay marriage. Recent rulings have laid clear jurisprudential groundwork for it.

A huge number of people out there just need to be awoken to the realities of this issue. Another huge number require explanation that, yes, there are legitimate reasons to take the stance that you suspect is correct. It's also refreshing that Rod is out there in the mainstream press at all.

If much of the media is ideologically sympathetic to the views that Brent Bozell examines with respect to The Passion of the Christ, it is beyond important to infiltrate the medium with people who don't, as it happens, believe that True Christianity is dissenting Christianity. (A bit like "true patriotism," that.) That way, folks like Rod can stand in prescient contrast when events unfold as Bozell describes:

The residents of Gypsum, Colorado were in for a surprise the other day. Someone hit the wrong button in the county’s communications center, triggering an automatic broadcast over four radio stations warning residents to evacuate immediately on account of the tsunami headed their way. That’s an interesting weather development for this landlocked community, 6,334 feet above sea level.

It’s not often screaming alarms are so demonstrably false, and the wise course of action at times like this is simply to turn them off and publicly recognize the error.

So why, then, won’t the false-alarm-clanging critics leave “The Passion of the Christ” alone? After all the trashing of the film (and its creator), and all those warning bells about potential anti-Semitic violence, what’s happened? Only this: the movie’s $150 million take after only one week makes this one of the most successful films in the history of Hollywood. And the anti-Semitic backlash? Zero. Zilch.

The Washington Times is valuable in that respect, as well. It's no surprise, for example, that a story about blacks' becoming fed up with elite homosexuals' glomming their history appeared in that paper:

Black Americans have been liberal on many social issues, "but not this one," according to Star Parker, a California-based conservative leader.

The homosexual "marriage" issue "is where we get off the bus," she said.

Several black pastors are gathering today in San Francisco for the first of several rallies to denounce same-sex "marriage." Others are planning rallies in Boston on March 11, when Massachusetts lawmakers reconvene to consider an amendment upholding traditional marriage.

As I noted a while back, the Gay Power comments of the "married" couple that won The Amazing Race last season were emblematically jarring, particularly considering the many other significant qualities that they shared with the previous winners, many of which can be seen by simply comparing their pictures.

Given all of the diversity of opinion on this matter, as well as the intellectually stimulating questions that arise from the redrawing of lines that the battle has caused, it mightn't be presumptuous to suggest that American universities would do their students a good turn by bringing some speakers to campus to highlight them. After all, when 44 out of 45 student senators at the University of Rhode Island vote to endorse gay marriage laws and oppose the FMA, red flags ought to go up in campus diversity offices and the teachers' lounges of departments that claim to value critical thinking.

(By the way, should anybody so desire, I'll make myself available as a rhetorical target a speaker on this matter. No school is too big; no fee is too big.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:07 PM
Marriage & Family

Doing a Split on the Apex

Prof. Rosenberg has responded to my thoughts of a few posts ago. First, just to clarify, I don't "have a problem" with anything that he has written in the sense that phrase can be seen to have. ("Hey, you gotta problem?") Second, it seems a large part of the disagreement has to do with what the disagreement is. He writes:

The question over interracial marriage was whether race can be used as a basis to deny marital recognition. The question over same-sex marriage is whether sex can be used.

Those aren't the relevant questions to this particular discussion, at least as I've assessed it. The question is whether the irrelevance of race to marriage somehow leads into the debate about whether sex is irrelevant, as well. Rosenberg's are good, interesting, and important questions, but they are not the questions that Volokh was answering. Of more concern to my argument is that skipping this connection skips my essential point: the racial comparison is raised mainly as another immutable, readily identifiable attribute that once presented barriers to marriage.

However, society's acceptance of interracial couples isn't significantly relevant to the debate over same-sex couples. Similarly, I suggested, faith is not either. Therefore, it sidesteps my point and Volokh's for Rosenberg to write, "We no longer use race as a basis to deny recognition, and the argument is that similarly we should no longer use sex." We're saying that the "similarly" does not apply.

Moving to the occupational segment of the discussion, I have to admit to being a little disconcerted by this:

My argument, though, was the government should be hesitant to use gender at all. If they do decide to use it they must justify that use as vitally necessary. If we simply allowed the government to use gender whenver the majority thought it was relevant we would be back in a time when women were not allowed into certain professions.

I note, in passing, that I truly don't see that as the argument presented in his previous post. The scale by which the government discerns gender distinctions justifiable didn't come up at all. Rather, the argument was that equality should be measured from the individual's perspective (which, if one so desired, could bring the discussion back to incest and polygamy). Letting that slide, for now, what I find disconcerting in this quotation are the related points that the government can, in the right circumstances, differentiate by gender and that the majority oughtn't decide when those circumstances have been achieved. If it doesn't fall to the majority to decide such things, then to whom?

That was the point of my painter analogy. I'll side with Prof. Rosenberg in having a problem "with the government telling the painter he has to hire a man for his model" — if we're understanding the painter as a private entity. The metaphor, however, is for private versus public employment. It is our project. We hire the painter. It is up to us all, therefore, to decide what sort of Adam we want painted.

When it comes to civil recognition of marriage, the public is commissioning a relationship, as it were, and the public has a right to decide what the project is meant to accomplish and what factors are relevant to that goal. In the metaphor, as originally used to address Prof. Rosenberg's previous argument, he was suggesting that the model — the individual — ought to be the judge of his or her own relevancy. Rosenberg would have had every right to be "livid if [he] had been denied a marriage license becuase the state didn't think [his] wife was right for [him]," but when he sought that license, he had selected a mate and approached the desk with a person within the parameters that society has set: over the age of consent, singular, and of the opposite sex.

Further, the professor elides a central piece of the argument when he asks, "So why should the government have wanted me to marry a woman?" It wasn't, given the context of our current debate, that the government wanted him to marry a woman. (That's another part of the total issue — the stability/mutual care aspect — that is best left out of this thread for now.) It was more that, since his relationship was with a woman, the government wanted them to get married. The government, as it happens, still gives homosexuals "a lot of leeway" in deciding with whom to form extended relationships. For a variety of reasons, it just doesn't equate those relationships with marriage.

I want to comment, in a separated way, on something that is probably inadvertent on Professor Rosenberg's part, but relevant nonetheless, particularly in light of his comment about the majority:

They would have allowed me to marry an axe murderer, a child abuser, an idiot, a person on their deathbed, etc.

It has long seemed to me that intellectuals go much too far in presuming the importance of their intelligence. An axe murderer, a child abuser, and an idiot? How about a rapist, a child beater, and a cerebral relativist? If you ask me, certain family lines would do well, for the mental health of progeny, to leaven their brainpower.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:01 AM | Comments (30)
Marriage & Family

March 5, 2004

Friday on the Blog

Memo to self: Don't get dragged into comment arguments that you know won't go anywhere on a Friday afternoon.

Note to y'all: You'll notice about halfway down the sidebar there is now something called "Into the Ether." It's an experiment in which Michael Williams invited me to participate — essentially, a syndicated miniblog, running on various bloggers' pages. My initial intention is to use it for brief thoughts that don't require a whole lot by way of thought (per-entry length is pretty limited, and there's no html), but maybe some good debates'll break out.

While I'm at note-making, I thought I'd remind everybody that, if you find this page difficult to read, you can click "Turn Light On" at the top of the sidebar to change it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:33 PM
Site-Related Announcements

The Hatred of Jews

Ramesh Ponnuru makes some points with which I agree, but I think he had the same problem I do. It's hard for a Christian — wishing to be respectful — to know what to say about Charles Krauthammer's take on The Passion of the Christ. This, for example, takes exactly the opposite message from my assessment:

The most subtle, and most revolting, of these has to my knowledge not been commented upon. In Gibson's movie, Satan appears four times. Not one of these appearances occurs in the four Gospels. They are pure invention. Twice, this sinister, hooded, androgynous embodiment of evil is found . . . where? Moving among the crowd of Jews. Gibson's camera follows close up, documentary style, as Satan glides among them, his face popping up among theirs -- merging with, indeed, defining the murderous Jewish crowd. After all, a perfect match: Satan's own people.

If somebody asked what Satan's presence in the crowd might mean, I would think it quite obvious to suggest that it was an indication that he was acting through the crowd. That it was his presence in the world that riled them up and led them astray. That's basic Christian theology; God loves all people, and while we are culpable for our own sins, it is more the culpability of falling to Satan than originating evil. In fact, although I didn't make a mental note of it, I'm pretty sure that this very presence of Satan struck me as a deliberate attempt to divert blame from the Jews. I thought it much more a direct association when he appeared at the scourging with that baby-thing that looked (to me, anyway) like it had the same face as the head Roman torturer.

Consider what Krauthammer is insisting, however. At what point, I'm compelled to ask, does a Jewish man's concern about anti-Semitism begin to indicate that he, in fact, is anti-Christian in the same deplorable, selective, hateful way? I mean, look at this, particularly coming from a famed "neoconservative" (a group among whom I tend to count myself):

Muslims have their story: God's revelation to the final prophet. Jews have their story: the covenant between man and God at Sinai.

Christians have their story too: the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Why is this story different from other stories? Because it is not a family affair of coreligionists.

Christianity is alone among the monotheistic religions in having a "religious story" that "involves other people"? What religious texts has Krauthammer been reading? I'm more inclined to argue than to claim offense, but that, one can objectively say, is extremely offensive. Not the least because it's wrong. Christ came from among the Jews to form a new covenant with them, and to open up the "family affair" to everybody, regardless of ethnicity. In that context, this expands on Krauthammer's erroneous claim:

Because of that peculiarity, the crucifixion is not just a story; it is a story with its own story -- a history of centuries of relentless, and at times savage, persecution of Jews in Christian lands. This history is what moved Vatican II, in a noble act of theological reflection, to decree in 1965 that the Passion of Christ should henceforth be understood with great care so as to unteach the lesson that had been taught for almost two millennia: that the Jews were Christ killers.

The early history of Christianity was of persecution. Very early on, and throughout Gibson's movie, all Christians are Jews — ethnically and religiously. Worse, Krauthammer is essentially calling Christianity, right down to its core, an illegitimately hostile religion, which was only corrected by clarification in the 1960s.

In its way, that's a legitimate claim, from a certain perspective. But making such a broad assertion in one of the nation's major newspapers seems to me much more of an "act of interreligious aggression" than Gibson's movie. If there's any interreligious friction arising from the release of this movie, excuse me if I can't come around to seeing it as originating with Christians.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:13 PM | Comments (4)

Here Comes the Attack

Well, I had pretty much decided just to be a little sad about and pray for the soul of Marc Paige, who wrote to the Providence Journal with the all-too-easy (and all-too-foolish) linkage of the Pope's statement about protecting marriage and the abuse scandal. I was still content to leave it alone even when, upon looking for more info about what the Pope said, I discovered that Mr. Paige is a GLAD board member, Jewish, an HIV positive AIDS activist ("The reality is that three-quarters of high school students have sex by the time they graduate,'' Paige said. "They need to know how to protect themselves."), a prolific letter writer, and apparently a resident of Fort Lauderdale, to boot. But that's all to be expected.

What inspired me to write this post was a tangentially related piece titled "Inapproriate mingling of religion and justice system in Rhode Island," by RI Superior Court Judge Stephen Fortunato. It's all pretty standard nonsense:

This is dangerous territory into which the attorney general and the chief justice intrude as they breach the "hedge or wall" that Roger Williams said must separate church and state. The pronouncement that one needs a religious faith and that without it one is "dead" is a theological opinion, not a legal one. Liberty of conscience permits anyone to hold any faith they wish, but judicial officers should not proclaim their views from a church pulpit provided to them solely because they hold public office. Does anyone believe that if Frank J. Williams and Patrick C. Lynch were private citizens who did not hold important statewide appointed and elective offices, they would be invited to speak on matters of faith to any congregation?

Standard, that is, until one comes to this non sequitur of a paragraph:

However, one can fairly inquire as to what Judeo-Christian principles justified the theft of land from Native Americans, allowed slavery and later Jim Crow, denied the vote to women, permitted child labor and justified the locking up of Japanese-Americans for no reason other than the color of their skin and the land of their ancestors. More currently, what Judeo Christian principles allow the incarceration of human beings without charge, without trial and without counsel. What Judeo-Christian principles support laws that let some people accumulate vast fortunes, while others work for substandard wages?

This is a man who parses the law for a living? He was arguing against the notion that "the Founding Fathers huddled over the Bible or other religious tracts in designing our government," so I'm not sure what one is supposed to take from this paragraph. As a matter of the language, it looks like he's arguing that the fact that all of those things were justified means that our society isn't Judeo-Christian in nature. Somehow, I think he means to imply the opposite... although that would imply that our society is Judeo-Christian, and worse off for being so. Or is he arguing that it isn't, but would have been better off if it were? Or is he just throwing in a bunch of bogeymen so he can shout "Ha!," stamp his foot, and then leave the room thinking he's won?

Whatever the case, once again, we've got a representative of the elite class flattening our actual intellectual history and assuming that it therefore matches his attenuated ideology. Our foundation clearly makes use of a struggling balance between reason and faith, which is why we've done so much to end longstanding oppressive practices that Fortunato seems inclined to attribute to one side only.

What a shame that the good judge's point is that civic figures oughtn't exercise their freedom of speech when it comes to religion.

Marc Comtois explicitly makes a point that I only implied regarding Fortunato's historical tangent:

Fortunato accuses Judeo-Christian principles of falling short in many areas when, in fact, the opposite is true. The abolitionist movement was firmly rooted in New England churches and eventually brought an end to slavery. Need I remind Fortunato that Dr. Martin Luther King was a Reverend? I'm not going to attempt to counter all of Fortunato's attacks, but all of the examples cited by Fortunato have been addressed, one way or another with varying degrees of success, in an attempt to correct past misdeeds. Americans have a conscience, this conscience isn't a result of some rationally and humanistically moral "immaculate conception." Rather, it is based on the Judeo-Christian beliefs of our country's founding generations, the same beliefs that Fortunato chooses to belittle and downplay.

There's so much work for Rhode Island conservatives (a small group that includes myself and Marc) to do.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:43 PM | Comments (1)
The Church

All You Need to Know in November

Victor Davis Hanson offers a typically excellent piece reminding readers of the amazing successes that President Bush has had in the arena that overshadows all the others for the next election. He also predicts some likely changes in that arena should Kerry win:

More likely, if President Bush loses, the war against terror will return, as promised, to the status of a police matter — subpoenas and court trials the more appropriate response to the mass murder of 3,000 at the "crime scene" of the crater in New York. Europe will be assured that our troops will stay while we apologize for the usual litany of purported unilateral sins. North Korea will get more blackmail cash, while pampered South Korean leftists resume their "sunshine" mirage. Iraq will be turned over to the U.N. as we abruptly leave, and could dissolve into something like the Balkans between 1991 and 1998. Iran and Syria will let out a big sigh of relief — as American diplomats once more sit out on the tarmac in vain hopes of an "audience" with despots. The Saudis will smile that smile. Arafat will be assured that he is now once again a legitimate interlocutor. And strangest of all, the American Left will feel that the United States has just barely begun to return to its "moral" bearings — even as its laxity and relativism encourage some pretty immoral things to come.

Do you ever wonder if the tyrants — both dictatorial and bureaucratic — of the world sit around come a Friday afternoon, kick back with a martini and cigar, and just shake their heads at our system? I mean, from Kim Jong Il's perspective, how incredible must this representative democracy be: just as we're succeeding in reshaping the world in ways beneficial for us and for... well, just about everybody except the Kim Jong Ils, we might kick out the guy who's leading the charge.

I'm not saying, certainly, that our system should be changed. It's just interesting, in very many ways, to see it in that different light.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:06 PM

What Marriage Essentially Isn't

The problem with defending a definition is that those on offense have a nigh unlimited number of examples of what the thing isn't and qualities that might be shared nonetheless. Imagine somebody insists that her cat is a dog. Once the initial incredulity that she's serious has been overcome, how does one argue the point? It's too small; poodles are small. Too feline; well, fish aren't feline, are they dogs?

I'm starting to get a bit of this sense (though, of course, less ridiculously) with the gay marriage debate. Consider a post by Gabriel Rosenberg:

[Eugene Volokh] first distinguishes between race and sex by noting that race is only skin deep while there are deep biological and social differences between men and women. ... That still doesn't answer whether one should be able to use these differences as a basis to refuse to recognize one's marriage. For example, consider the case of religious faith. One's religion can certainly affect one's parenting style. Would Professor Volokh think it was legitimate for society to set up same-faith couples as the preferred, most legally and socially sanctioned mode and refuse to recognize interfaith marriages?

Let's get our bearings; Volokh is responding to the common argument that the gay marriage debate ought to follow on the miscegenation debate. Rosenberg changes the question, so of course Volokh "still doesn't answer" an argument he wasn't trying to answer. More to my point, Rosenberg changes the question in such a way as to make exactly opposite assumptions about the issue at hand.

Interracial marriage is brought up in this debate — apart from the fact that it went the way that SSM advocates want their cause to go — because race and orientation/gender are presumed to be immutable, just the way people are. Religion, in contrast, is ultimately an option, at least in that it can be changed over time. So to which does homosexuality compare? If it's ultimately a choice, then there's no basis to claim a civil-rights violation, because gays have the ability to marry a person of the opposite sex.

Moreover, if the civil-rights claim is thus muted, and if balancing parental gender is considered to be important for society's purpose for marriage, then there's no basis to claim a right to gay marriage, let alone sufficient basis to push it through the judiciary. The fact of the matter is that we do impinge upon some religions' teachings for the purpose of marriage by, among other things, restricting the number and insisting on civil equality between spouses for matters from finances to divorce.

If, on the other hand, homosexuality is immutable, then it is much more accurate to make distinctions on its basis than it would be to do so on the basis of, say, employment. Distinctions by gender can be implemented without requiring excessive infringement on a couple's privacy and can maintain the simple clarity that makes the institution so effective a social force.

But the essential point, on Volokh's end, is that one is free to argue on behalf of gay marriage — indeed, he supports it — but miscegenation isn't adequate precedent. Following on that point, I'd argue the same (though disagreeing with the preferred policy outcome) with respect to religion: the example doesn't bring anything of utility to the argument. It isn't a test of whether SSM advocates can pull their opponents off a path; it's a requirement that the advocates stay on it. Those two arguments run off the path. Find another.

To that end, Rosenberg switches the perspective: "'equal' should be viewed in terms of the person seeking equality and not as group judgments is quite important when it comes to sex discrimination." He uses the example of occupation:

To the person being denied the opportunity the two paths (lawyer and childrearer) may not be equal. This is not to say that one is better than the other, but the two are different and one shouldn't be denied such an opportunity simply because of his or her sex. This is true no matter the biological or deeply-rooted social differences between the sexes. I find it hard to reconcile the belief that it's unacceptable to dictate one's professional opportunities based on sex with the view that it's somehow all right to dictate one's most intimate choice of spouse on this basis.

This, it seems to me, abandons the question that Rosenberg sought to impose upon Volokh: is gender relevant to the occupation in question? In looking to hire a model to pose as Adam for a nude painting, it would be legitimate to disqualify women. Legitimacy wouldn't even come into question if the job were such that it required something that only a male or female body could do or produce. (I leave examples up to the reader, here... for obvious reasons.) I submit that being of opposite gender from one's partner is similarly intrinsic to the position of "spouse."

One can go further with Rosenberg's second argument, however, because the government isn't any longer in the business of determining intimacy. Gay couples are just as free to enter into committed relationships as women are free to seek private employment as models of Adam. Perhaps Prof. Rosenberg's intended meaning would be such that the Evely Adam would be adequate; for my rendition, she wouldn't be. Alternately, perhaps he has the resources to waste auditioning women for a role they could never fill; I do not. In the public sphere, however, the decision belongs to us all.

One can argue the merits of the two aesthetic approaches, but I'm sure the professor would agree that it is far from invidious discrimination to exclude women from the auditions for that particular role, particularly when they are free to take the complementary one.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:55 AM | Comments (26)
Marriage & Family


I'm always suspicious when a large block of text begins with the phrase "I am moved beyond words." The post that this curious admission begins is ostensibly meant to encourage gay marriage activists to been unmistakable in their respect for the law... except where some sort of loophole can be found, or where those doing the disrespecting don't skip town afterwards, or when those breaking the law promise to switch to other methods when they are unequivocally told that, yes, the law means what it says.

Also remarkable is the admission (which shouldn't be surprising to anybody paying attention) that Sullivan believes that New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is fully authorized such that his "momentous ruling" that Mass. marriages will be legitimate in New York is an example of when "a state decides to recognize civil marriages for gays performed in another state." Says Sullivan:

We need patience now as well as anger, calm as well as determination. Above all, we must respect the law itself. It is the fabric of our democracy. If we trivialize or violate its importance, civil rights are meaningless. For gay people and for everyone.

Trivialize the fabric of our democracy? Perish the thought!

Meanwhile, he's also just posted a piece written for the Sunday Times of London, which does exactly as I expected: relates The Passion of the Christ to his quest for gay marriage. After peddling that "wedge issue" nonsense — nonsense, particularly, because he casts it as if the President picked homosexuals as the unimportant group of the season to attack for political gain — Mel makes his entrance:

Into this pleasant atmosphere came Mel Gibson, with a film about the Passion of Jesus. In most circumstances, this kind of movie would be primarily a cultural event. But this time, it was deeply politicized. The film was shown in advance to select groups of religious right intellectuals, theologians and activists - as well as to very conservative Catholics. (A similar group of conservative Catholics were granted a presidential audience days before he unveiled the amendment to ban gay marriage.)

America, Sullivan tells the Brits, is really two countries:

One side looks at a movie and sees love; the other side looks and sees hate. Gays and evangelicals; Jews and Catholics; urbanites and heartlanders; blacks and whites.

And the issue that runs exactly at the middle line? You guessed it. (The black/white clause is tacked on inexplicably, so I can only imagine that Sullivan is playing to prejudices about American racism.) And the man responsible for this polarization? Why, George W. Bush.

Was it confusion, then, that left Sullivan speechless? I thought civil disobedience was "how change happens," used to "dramatize current oppression." Guess accepting the consequences means complaining that the other side doesn't just roll over.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:30 AM

March 4, 2004

Controversy and the Fairy Tale

Craig Henry highlights another indication of that non-existent bias that seeps into the media as a result of like-mindedness:


That seems to be the required adjective for any story about "The Passion of the Christ". Further, stories about the movie always include opponents.

In contrast, stories about the end of "Sex and the City" were generally celebratory. Producers did not feel compelled to interview people who found the series pernicious, unrealistic or biased.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:47 PM
News Media

Whispers of Hints of the Future

Now, I know nothing about Lithuania's apparent lowering of the age at which boys can consent to gay sex, so I'm not going to do more than note the story. However, commenter Alicia on Jeff Miller's blog asks a question that may echo well into the future:

haven't we been predicting this and getting laughed off?
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:44 PM

Letting the Slip Slip

We all know it to be true, but it really is eye-opening — scandalous, even — to note the dearth of breadth and depth to the thinking on topical matters on college campuses. I sent a much-shortened version of my post defending URI's seemingly lone opponent of same-sex marriage, Marcus Ross, to the student paper, and they've apparently opted not to publish it. Instead, they've printed a steady flow of missives from the other side, including an editorial.

Frankly, I would have hoped (if I weren't so jaded) that a professor might have leapt in to offer at least support for Ross's intelligent argument, if only for its intelligence, not its substance. Instead, we get Ph.D. wielding "lecturers" like Donna Bickford, who is so brazen in her arrogance that she lets slip her entire ulterior agenda. (Let's put aside the truly bizarre notion that the President's measured and delayed support for an amendment is indicative of "enthusiastic willingness.")

Despite Ross' mockery of the argument "it isn't fair," the President's actions directly and blatantly contradict the ideals of our supposedly democratic and egalitarian country. These ideals rely on notions of basic fairness.

So a movement to prevent imposition of new public policy through the judiciary by leveraging a very difficult legislative procedure contradicts democracy? And why is it that those who throw about words such as "egalitarian" are the same people who seem inclined to flatten our nation's much-richer intellectual foundation in such a way as to assert the superiority of the elite? We expect such things from Women's Studies professors, of course. Unfortunately, we also expect such hateful comments as this:

All of our children need a wide variety of role models - both male and female, and of all ages. Heterosexual marriage is not the only, or necessarily the best, way to achieve this. In fact, a shockingly high percentage of child abuse is enacted on our children by heterosexual male family members (fathers, uncles, grandfathers, brothers). The "unique perspective that males have," which Ross is so eager to celebrate, is one that many children might willingly relinquish.

Talk about creating a hostile environment! Even stilted language such as "enacted on our children" can't disguise the disgust. (I wonder what word she had in there before she hit the thesaurus button and inserted "enacted.") Why, one might ask, would such a woman support families that put two of that evil gender in the same household? The answer, as Doc Bickford is only too happy to explain, is that she's not a fan of keeping marriage around, anyway:

The real inequality here is that our society is willing to confer benefits on those who marry and deny them to the rest of us. This implies that somehow those of us who have the ability to choose to marry, and do so, are more worthy and more valuable than those of us who don't. There is a long list of benefits and privileges, at both the state and federal level, which are automatically given to married couples. I object to this linking of benefits with marriage. However, as long as we live in a society that does attach benefits and full citizenship to marriage, we cannot deny gay and lesbian couples this basic and fundamental civil right.

This is who gets in the door — well, farther in the door — along with gay marriage as currently promoted. Gay marriage, it is quite clear, isn't just a slippery slope; it's the apex at which multiple slippery slopes meet. How perfect, then, that final sentence! What other "fundamental civil right" do activists believe ought to be abolished?

(By the way, if anybody in the Rhode Island government reads this, may I have back whatever portion of my tax dollars went to pay for the lectures of Ms. Bickford? I'd hate to think that my hard-earned money, and that of every other man in the state, is funding the inculcation of our iniquity.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:39 PM
Marriage & Family

Trapped in a Serpent's Body

I'm starting to get the feeling that N.Z. Bear has something against me. I've been trying to update my entry in his blog ecosystem — by online form and by email — since I switched to a subdomain, but to no avail.

So, I'm stuck at Slithering Reptile (#2341). When I switched the blog to a subdomain, I was hovering at the level of Flappy Bird (#1697), and my readership has at least tripled since then.

So, if you're friendly with him, perhaps offer a kind word on my behalf — to transform me to my true state (whatever that may be). (No kiss required.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:31 PM
Bloggers Blogging

The Drawing of Sides

Michael Novak has a long, but interesting, piece on NRO about capturing the Catholic vote:

Bottom line: A political campaign that can blow through the blizzard of Catholic votes and drive some 3 to 10 percent of them in its direction, and away from the place they fell last time, can harvest a great many of the richest electoral votes available anywhere.

In a completely different vein, John Derbyshire examines another group of people:

If you tracked back through the life history of the average young white-shoe lawyer, you would not find military or National Guard or police service; you would not find stints of work in a logging camp, or on snowplow crews, or on construction sites or Atlantic fishing vessels. These are the pampered darlings of our educational meritocracy. George Orwell described the English boys' boarding-school education of his time as "five years in a lukewarm bath of snobbery." Here, in the sputterings of these whining brats, you see the end result of 20 years' immersion in a lukewarm bath of political correctness — a process that leaves one so exquisitely sensitive, one's skin bruises at a touch.

Which brings us to the Culture War thought for the day, Psalm 73:4-9:

They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.

Mark Steyn wipes up another bit of this crowd's spittle:

SO, WHEN metropolitan columnists say Mel's movie makes you want to go Jew-bashing, they're really engaging in a bit of displaced Christian-bashing.

Ever since 9/11, there's been a lame trope beloved of the smart set: Yes, these Muslim fundamentalists may be pretty extreme, but let's not frget all our Christian fundamentalists – the "home-grown Talibans," as The New York Times's Frank Rich called them, in the course of demanding that John Ashcroft, the attorney-general, round them up.

Two years on, if this thesis is going to hold up, these Christians really need to get off their fundamentalist butts and start killing more people.

Meanwhile, Citizen Smash has a vision of the future of the next attack:

A FEDERAL APPEALS COURT today ruled today that state recognition of clergy-officiated marriages is unconstitutional.

In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, said the use of religious officials to perform a civil function violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which requires a separation of church and state.

Not to worry, though. A Calvin & Hobbes site with a comprehensive database of the strips provides wisdom for those who would find it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:21 PM | Comments (1)

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:54 PM

Building the Marriage Trap

Stanley Kurtz notes that, even where the direct actions of gay marriage advocates are rebuffed, the crowbar is pushed in a bit more:

Essentially, Spitzer held that out-of-state same-sex marriages should (and will) be recognized in New York — not because the full-faith-and-credit clause requires it, but on grounds of equal protection and due process. Given the federal constitution's provisions of equal protection and due process, given similar provisions in every state constitution, and given the precedent of Lawrence, such an analysis is entirely unsurprising. Above all, Spitzer's opinion shows how weak the "public-policy exception" will be as a barrier to cross state recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages.

Kurtz mentions that case in which one member of a gay NY couple who had procured a Vermont civil union was a victim of a hit-and-run spree and later died in the hospital's care. As has become typical of all rulings involving homosexuals, lately, the judge didn't just find some very narrow loophole through which to slip the specific case. He threw open the door through which Spitzer is now striding.

I wrote about that case at the end of January. It might (might) be going too far to see an orchestrated campaign behind the various events across the country over the past few months, but it can't be denied how quickly the cause is moving. Marriage in Massachusetts; Vermont civil unions in New York; mayoral rebellion. If gay marriage arrives as a direct, unobstructed result of this push, it will not only arrive in the worst conceivable way for our culture, and the gay subculture, but it will also have torn a gaping hole in the law on its way.

Whether you're for or against gay marriage as a cultural decision, in considering your position, you simply don't have the liberty of forgetting that They are going to push it through. The clarity of precedent required to ensure measured implementation simply does not exist. The brazenness of this movement is simply stunning, increasingly so, and the only way to tame it is a Constitutional amendment.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:48 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

March 3, 2004


I've actually been a bit surprised that further Gibson smears have not been forthcoming. (Are there just not that many available?) But today's Daily Dish is interesting in that somebody appears to have pulled Andrew Sullivan aside to inform him that he's beginning to come across as a guy gone off the deep end. For one thing, he's remembered the War on Terror and the danger of putting John Kerry in charge of it, leaving him to offer such weird ambivalences as this:

No one should support [Kerry] for the highest office in the land until he proves he understands our enemy; and demonstrates that he will get up every day in the Oval Office to see how he can take the fight to the Islamists. I don't see that fire right now. In fact, I don't even see a flicker. It's a deal-breaker for me. (Just as attacking civil rights and playing politics with the Constitution is a deal-breaker as far as Bush is concerned.)

So, with a choice between two broken deals, who gets the vote? Stay tuned, I guess. Or maybe not. Later in the day, Sullivan picked out a few tidbits of information and palmed it off as decisive proof that the gay marriage issue will play to the Democrats' benefit, something that he portrays as a good thing:

Even the vice-president cannot manage to explicitly endorse such graffiti on the founding document of this country. What the religious right amendment is doing is splitting the Republican coalition and uniting the Democrats. What the religious right did to destroy the Republican party in a state like California, they are now trying to do across the country as a whole. They are not only on the wrong side of history; and on the wrong side of morality; they are putting the Republican party on the losing side of politics. They must and will be stopped.

(The red letters are my addition. I'll be applying Meme Markers, henceforth, when appropriate in these Sullivanalia posts.)

Comfort is everywhere, apparently. An email from a college student convinced Sullivan that the "the gay issue is basically over for the younger generation":

They take the presence of openly gay people for granted; it seems obvious that gays should have the right to marry. That's another reason why this constitutional amendment is so toxic an idea. Within a few years, it will seem absurd that we even thought about it.

One might wonder how young folks' being evenly split equates to the issue's being "basically over" for them. One might also wonder why, since Sullivan is so confident that the Republicans and their evil amendment are doomed to failure, he's seemed so frightened of the possibility that they'll succeed. But for my part, I'm satisfied in noting that anybody who isn't certain about the FMA, but who wants society to have more time to think about gay marriage and to decide the matter through popular will, apparently has nothing to lose by supporting the FMA. When those youngsters start voting, they'll just repeal the thing. Right, Andrew?

Sullivan also parses Cheney's expression of support for the President vis-à-vis gay marriage, and makes this oddly familiar statement:

But that's what the religious right demands: that parents reject their own gay children by writing discrimination against them into the Constitution itself.

Now, where have I heard something like that before? Oh yeah. (And recently.)

For the antidote to Sullivan's attempts to brainwash his readers into believing that gay marriage is a done deal, see Stanley Kurtz's piece today.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:17 PM | Comments (1)

View from the Core Scorecard

Hey, whaddaya know? Lane Core looks to have rightly assessed the intended tack of the New York Times's coverage of conservatives. It's a little less:

Note how the male conservative approaches the issue in his characteristic dance of religious faith and economic bravado, while the rest of the pack lingers behind, tails down and ears perked.

And a little bit more:

Hey, you conservatives really don't get along, do you? Why, you know what that President Bush guy said about you?

Studio Matters Notes & Commentary

Maureen Mullarkey's latest Notes & Commentary essay is "An Exhibition and a Movie," reviewing Rosemarie Beck's show at the New York Studio School and Osama. Maureen, by the way, has just begun writing a regular art column for the New York Sun.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:11 PM | Comments (1)
Visual Art

When the Obvious Isn't

Amy Welborn quotes from two reviews of The Passion of the Christ. You can follow the link(s) for that topic, but what caught my eye was an example that Peter Nixon uses in such a way as to indicate that he believes the suggested answer to be obvious:

It's one thing not to turn away from the reality of Jesus' suffering. It's another for the camera to appear to take sadistic and voyeuristic delight in that suffering. Is our understanding of the moral and physical evil of human torture really enhanced by a graphic depiction of it? Would a film depicting a concentration camp victim choking to death on gas and then having his skin removed by Nazi doctors really tell us a truth about the Holocaust that we don't already know?

Well... yes! Experience is a central determinant of perspective, and that includes the experience of watching a film. The truth "that we don't already know" is what it means, what it feels like. The question is whether, for a particular horror, that perspective is of sufficient value (and sufficiently lacking) to merit proximity to first-hand experience.

So, take the Holocaust: do we need such a film? Some do. Those Euro-elites who joke about that "shitty little country" of Israel could use a little taste of where their cocktail party quips can lead. When I was a teenager, my mother clipped an article in the paper describing, vividly, the effect on the human body of a seatbelt-less collision. It certainly drove home how little discomfort a seatbelt represents, comparatively. It also drove home that I wasn't immortal.

Does our society, generally speaking, need an unfogged view of the Passion? You betcha.

(For the record, in no way did the word "delight," sadistic or otherwise, come to my mind during the scourging scene.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:58 PM | Comments (1)

Culture War Thought for the Day

Psalm 59:7-8:

Each evening they return, growling like dogs, prowling the city
Their mouths pour out insult; sharp words are on their lips. They say: "Who is there to hear?"
Posted by Justin Katz at 5:57 PM

Precedent of Convenience

Something's been bugging me about what Jonathan Adler wrote in the Corner yesterday:

For years the Supreme Court has held, correctly in my view, that generally applicable laws that infringe on religious practice are nonetheless valid. If, as the California Supreme Court maintains, Catholic Charities does not fit into the statute's narrowly drawn exemption for relgious institutions, I do not see why it should be unconstitutional to impose the same requirement on Catholic Charities that is imposed on every employer in the state. In other words, conservatives should direct their outrage at the California legislature, not the California courts.

Now, that's a defensible position, and one of the reasons I've held my tongue is that I can't recall anything, specifically, that Adler has written about gay marriage and the courts. My sense is that he leans toward favoring gay marriage, or at least favoring individual states' right to have it, although he'll also stand up for states' right not to. That's a whole 'nother discussion, but poking around a bit, I came across a post of his that makes a point about federalism that relates to my unease in the present case:

Federalism is not about simply letting the states do what they want -- indeed, it's not about "states' rights." Rather, it is about the proper division of authority between the federal and state governments.

In other words, federalism is about balance, and the entire governmental system ought to be brought into play when determining issues that lie along the dividing line. The same principle, it seems to me, applies to the Catholic Charities ruling, only involving the balance between legislature and judiciary. Absolutely, we shouldn't allow the legislatures' practice of pushing their controversies out to the courts to go unnoticed, but that doesn't mean that the courts oughtn't take heat.

Is judging constitutionality in their purview or not? If so, and if the judiciary is supposed to be ideologically neutral, then it's more than fair — perhaps more pressing than voting out errant legislators — to raise a fuss when their judgments all seem to go in one cultural direction, whether striking down laws or upholding them.

In this case, David Bernstein is right (as is Richard Garnett):

It is hardly consistent with either the free-exercise clause or the American tradition of the separation of church and state for the government to be determining which parts of the Catholic Church are sufficiently "religious" to deserve exemption from antidiscrimination laws. As Brown put it, the government has no business "pars[ing] a bona fide religious organization into 'secular' and religious' components solely to impose burdens on the secular potion."

Particularly considering that the headlines of the day involve the court and not the legislature, it isn't enough for Adler and others simply to redirect attention toward the latter. They must address why the court was correct in its own capacity of determining constitutionality.

Approaching from the other angle, that of the Church, Patrick Sweeney notes how all the little steps that religious organizations have taken have slowly moved them toward their current vulnerability:

Catholic Charities in order to take Caesar's coin had to drop any evangelization of the Faith—and thereby become "secular."

That may have been the right call, at the time, both in terms of charity and evangelization, but it may be that we've leaned with too much confidence on the First Amendment's religious provisions. They're being sawed out from under us. What to do is a tough call.

On one hand, as Patrick suggests, it might be best, in this specific case, to reassert the religious nature of the organization, even if that means dissolving it and restarting another that makes fewer secular concessions for hiring, management, funding, and evangelization. On the other hand, it just feels wrong to cease good works as an essentially political consideration. But what is the purpose, ultimately, of those works? And doesn't the subversion of that purpose, at some point, tilt the moral scales away from the material service?

It's probably best left as a case-by-case judgment, at this point. Too sweeping a strategy might have the effect of ghettoizing religion. Hopefully, however, we can buy enough time to turn things around on other fronts.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:56 PM

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:05 PM

Fronts: by Land, by Sea, by Air, by Bench

As you're likely aware, yesterday's must reading was a column by Dennis Prager:

America is engaged in two wars for the survival of its civilization. The war over same-sex marriage and the war against Islamic totalitarianism are actually two fronts in the same war -- a war for the preservation of the unique American creation known as Judeo-Christian civilization.

One enemy is religious extremism. The other is secular extremism.

One enemy is led from abroad. The other is directed from home.

The first war is against the Islamic attempt to crush whoever stands in the way of the spread of violent Islamic theocracies, such as al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Iranian mullahs and Hamas. The other war is against the secular nihilism that manifests itself in much of Western Europe, in parts of America such as San Francisco and in many of our universities.

Jonah Goldberg objects (and scroll up from the link for more):

... he glosses over the point which should supercede all others: "secular nihilists" -- or whatever you want to call them -- aren't murdering people. They aren't blowing up buildings, hijacking planes or shooting at our soldiers either. To date, no gay dudes have been caught on international flights trying to ignite their shoes.

In short, Prager equates a metaphorical war with a literal one and not once does he distinguish between the two. Moreover these are by no means "the same war." And to say so is to practice precisely the sort of moral equivalence we complain about when it comes from the left.

Perhaps it would have been prudent of Prager to include a line like: "One seeks to kill, the other to litigate," or something. Nonetheless, I think Goldberg overdraws his point in a way that highlights a perennial issue in short-essay writing. How much does a writer have to clarify distinctions?

Prager's clear that these are "two fronts," and surely, he can count on his specific audience to realize the different ways in which the battles are being fought. At any rate, there's certainly a distinction to be read in the difference between "crushing" and "manifesting," as the two foes are said to do. Moreover, Goldberg assertion that they "are by no means 'the same war'" glides over the fact that Prager immediately thereafter specified what war he meant.

Goldberg's reaction is entirely justifiable, and calls to arms like Prager's can certainly go too far (and very often do, particularly on the Left). However, in this case, I think audience, language, context, et al. keep Prager well within bounds.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:54 PM | Comments (1)

Songs You Should Know 03/02/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Filling in the Blanks" by Joe Parillo and Christine Harrington. This whimsical piece from a cross-genre jazzy classical album seemed a great way to start up the practice of picking a weekly song, after over a month's lapse.

"Filling in the Blanks" Joe Parillo, Jazz
Stream (HiFi)
from Sand Box

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:31 PM

In Love with Misery

A person of conservative persuasion might be inclined to see such misery among them as proof that liberals know they're losing:

I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. We're all depressed, impotent, socially awkward, afraid of and allergic to everything. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing the jobs that are breaking their balls and corroding their souls; they can't afford to lose the health insurance that pays for their anti-depressants, Viagra, and weekly visits to the therapist. A dollar will buy you a double cheeseburger, a cup of crappy convenience store coffee, and a pull of the slot machine at one of the million senior citizens centers masquerading as gambling casinos. Banks are run by brazen pimps and usurious mob-men. Shopkeepers peddle bulk generic sudafed and white gas and Doritos to pasty, meth-addled punks. There's no one anywhere that seems to know what to do with us. We know the air is unfit to breathe, our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us about Botox surgery, inspirational octogenarian dog groomers, and various and interchangeable hoods, hustlers, and whores, as if this is exactly the country the founding fathers imagined.

But even my political memory is long enough to know that this is just the way liberals see the world. I, myself, was once a kinda-sorta liberal of this tincture. An interesting question: is the misery a result of the ideology, or the other way around? It's probably a cycle that can be entered from either direction. From one direction, the ideology of saving everybody (in a worldly sense) is bound to become bitter when people refuse (or are just too darn ignorant to realize how brilliant one's plan is). From the other, dislike of people and general reality convinces a person that control must be imposed upon society from "experts" who know what they're doing.

This is Pop Politics 101 stuff, of course, and probably an indication that my brain needs to chew some bubblegum for a while. But anyway, it presents an opportunity to revel in how incredibly happy I am to have slipped into a faith-driven worldview in which things are good by definition and adversity is a mechanism through which an even better reality can be reached — regardless of worldly success or failure.

March 2, 2004

Spin and Cluelessness about The Passion

The AP's David Germain seems to have just taken a media bias seminar. The Passion is "grisly," "a personal vision offered up without the slightest concession to mainstream tastes or box-office commerce." It's really quite remarkable. Apparently, not a single religious figure with the same "personal vision" would go on record. (Maybe they were all out watching the movie again.)

The Big News, of course, is that The Passion had the biggest Wednesday opening of any movie — ever. That means, in other words, that the carpers have to find a way to explain it away and prevent it from catching on:

Because "The Passion" was a personal quest by Gibson, Hollywood observers doubt big studios will jump on the bandwagon with their own religious sagas.

"I hate to underestimate Hollywood's ability to imitate, but I kind of think that these executives realize that there is a unique alignment of the stars with this picture," said Kim Masters, an entertainment correspondent for National Public Radio. "I think Mel could easily decide to do more of these, and he would be guaranteed a certain return. But not necessarily on this level."

Personally, I hope they're right about Hollywood demurring. This wasn't a media/controversy fluke; this is an unserved market. The controversy was mostly important, I think, in the degree to which it alerted this market that there was finally something available for it.

What the "experts" are missing — choosing not to see — is that this film isn't just a dirty-masses saga; it isn't just a vessel for an ingenious marketing ploy; it's a cultural event. In addition to making a compelling movie, Gibson has given us religious folk a great big megaphone with which to reaffirm our existence. That includes pre-movie buzz. It includes first-weekend viewing. And it includes multiple visits to the theater — with friends and family — in part, at least, to make a statement.

If an entirely new and distinct industry arises, so much the better. Hollywood will imitate it eventually, anyway.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:37 PM | Comments (2)

It's a Small Rhode Island for Conservatives

Hey, look at that. Ocean State Blogger Marc Comtois is in the Providence Journal today. When I spotted his letter in my Projo perusal this morning, I wondered how many conservatives direct their isolation-driven frustration toward blogging. (All of them should.)

There are only so many slots on the letters page, after all.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:52 PM
Bloggers Blogging

Somebody Save Mr. Sullivan

My jaw dropped when I read this on Sullivan's blog today (read carefully):

Flag-burning, fag-burning. Anything for a few votes. And what's really amazing is how cynically these alleged conservatives use the Constitution itself for their partisan ends. One word: sickening.

Well, at least he got the one word right. What he felt inclined to ignore was that the Washington Post article stuck in its mention of a flag-burning amendment almost as an afterthought and on the basis of undescribed comments from "aides in both parties."

You know, I can't wait for this gay marriage thing to go away just so I can stop reading Andrew Sullivan again.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:25 PM | Comments (2)
Bloggers Blogging

Not to Worry

I'm here, I'm here. I've just been trying to edit a 4,300-word first draft of something down to 3,100 words. It's finally accomplished. (The title doesn't count, does it?)

I need to work out and clear the words from my head. I'll be back.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:10 PM
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March 1, 2004

Safire Confuses Religions

How out of touch with pop culture is William Safire? This out of touch:

Because the director's wallowing in gore finds an excuse in a religious purpose — to show how horribly Jesus suffered for humanity's sins — the bar against film violence has been radically lowered. Movie mayhem, long resisted by parents, has found its loophole; others in Hollywood will now find ways to top Gibson's blockbuster, to cater to voyeurs of violence and thereby to make bloodshed banal.

Of course, The Passion of the Christ is violent and will be more violent than any movie ever seen by many of the people who go to see it, specifically. (Not the least because many of them haven't gone to the movies in thirty years.) But Safire's not making a narrow point. The Passion will "make bloodshed banal" in Hollywood? Is he joking? This nonsense is getting unbelievable. Is this the strategy, now? To blame The Passion for an uptick in cinematic violence that predated it by decades and within which it actually represents a step back, and a step toward lessened gratuity?

Apart from that, I'm more than a little unnerved by the eagerness with which the comme il faut concludes that lust for revenge is the proper emotional response to violence. Here's Safire, speaking on behalf of an entire movie-going crowd:

What are the dramatic purposes of this depiction of cruelty and pain? First, shock; the audience I sat in gasped at the first tearing of flesh. Next, pity at the sight of prolonged suffering. And finally, outrage: who was responsible for this cruel humiliation? What villain deserves to be punished?

Memo to Jews: Forget the backwoods; avoid uptown Manhattan after showings of this movie.

Hand in hand with the reckless disregard for marriage laws and government processes, we now have the elite professing a puritan's shock at violence in movies, even as they show a puritan's predilection for retribution. Well, if they're going to start imputing anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial to Mel Gibson, allow me to do some imputing of my own.

I foresee a potential unintended consequence to these attacks on Gibson. It seems to me that any Christians so poorly versed in their faith as to react to this movie by seeking revenge against Jews will not, in fact, understand the history and the "dangerous" interpretations of some lines in Matthew. Until Safire learns 'em, that is. He even throws in an out-of-context, irrelevant-to-his-topic Matthew 10:34. It reads like he intends nothing so much as equivalence with certain lines in the Koran. But put this line in context, and it doesn't need, as Safire says, to be "reinterpreted... to mean that inner peace comes only after moral struggle":

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-- a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Family members everywhere are quaking at the day that makes it into a movie. In the meantime, Safire gives us another reason to tremble:

At a moment when a wave of anti-Semitic violence is sweeping Europe and the Middle East, is religion well served by updating the Jew-baiting passion plays of Oberammergau on DVD?

That line's a bit hard to take with sealed lips. The secular elitists of Europe are finding anti-Semitism all the rage. Meanwhile, their dilution of Western religion in their countries has left a void that radical Muslims are only too happy to fill, and the elite's secular dogma of diversity has left the door wide open. And a traditionalist Christian movie will be to blame for violence against Jews?

How convenient for secular elites. Still making wise fools of themselves in order to blame Christ for their own failings.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:21 PM | Comments (1)

Dust in the Light Scorecard

Jonah Goldberg in November 2003:

But no one's taking my advice. So, we have the FMA barreling down the tracks. The FMA would ban gay marriage "or the legal incidents thereof" - which many take to mean civil unions as well - in all 50 states for all time.

Jonah Goldberg today:

Before you answer that an amendment is more permanent, let me pre-emptively say: Not so fast. Amendments can be, and have been, repealed or superceded.

Me in between:

Another echo of Sullivan in Goldberg's latest column is that the marriage amendment would ban gay marriage "for all time." That's not true, and what makes it all the more jarring in this instance is that Goldberg immediately thereafter calls the FMA "a replay of Prohibition." The thing is: I went to a liquor store just yesterday and bought a case of beer. So much for "amendments are forever"! In the case of Prohibition, forever lasted just under fifteen years, at which time the twenty-first amendment repealed it.

He still hasn't, apparently, bought my argument about why he should actively support the amendment, but I'm truly glad to see that his view has come around sufficiently that we on the FMA side are now benefitting from his knack for insight:

Meanwhile, I'm hardly convinced that decades of activist jurisprudence could be rolled back -- and I'm certainly not persuaded that it could be done more quickly than the repeal of a Constitutional amendment. For example, tell me exactly what could be done under our regime to reverse the Supreme Court's banning of sodomy laws under Lawrence.
Posted by Justin Katz at 6:30 PM
Bloggers Blogging

Then Don't Have One

We've all heard from the liberally minded such constructions as, "If you don't like the show, don't watch it." The latest iteration is: "If you don't like gay marriage, then don't have one." Somehow, though, it doesn't apply to workers and their choice of employment:

Versions of the law considered in Monday's ruling have been adopted in 20 states after lawmakers concluded private employee prescription plans without contraceptive benefits discriminated against women. ...

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists viewed the dispute as a health issue, arguing that contraception gives families a chance to plan for a pregnancy, making for healthier mothers and babies.

Gee, no conflict of interest in that group's advocacy! But this is only the tip of this particular cultural iceberg. (This ought to have a familiar ring.) Once women have a right to contraception, then there's no reason that it should not be included in health plans that include drug benefits. And once that's decided, advocacy switches to ensuring that such matters as an employer's right to form its own morality or religious conviction doesn't stand in the way of the right to consequence-free sex. Take a gander at this marvel of judicial prudence in California:

The Supreme Court ruled that the charity is not a religious employer because it offers such secular services as counseling, low-income housing and immigration services to the public without directly preaching about Catholic values.

The charity in question? Catholic Charities. The next step, it seems more than obvious, is to argue that employees of a church, say, who aren't employed for the direct purpose of spreading its message deserve this "right" as well.

Civil rights groups, health care companies and Catholic organizations filed extensive position papers with the court. Most wrangled over the rights of a religion to practice what it preaches and the newly acquired rights of thousands of women employed by church-affiliated groups to be insured for contraceptives.

This is just a preview of things to come. As Jay Nordlinger put it today, "Those who want [gay marriage], want it very, very badly; and the majority who oppose it, don't do so with sufficient vehemence." For the majority of those on defense (which is to say, for the majority) it's a creeping imposition.

The other day Rod Dreher decried the liberal elite's apparent decision that it has a right to unilaterally implement "social revolution." What it's starting to feel like to me is the closing of a trap. Ensure ideologically driven jurists, fill the news media with a monolithic view, elect some mayors and other officials who are not only sympathetic to homosexuals but willing to participate in their cause, and there you go: (just about) plausibly deniable tyranny.

All of the various issues, the disparate concerns, really are starting to coalesce. From the first link above:

Justice Janice Rogers Brown dissented, writing that the Legislature's definition of a "religious employer" is too limiting if excludes faith-based nonprofit groups like Catholic Charities.

"Here we are dealing with an intentional, purposeful intrusion into a religious organization's expression of it religious tenets and sense of mission," Brown wrote. "The government is no accidentally or incidentally interfering with religious practice; it is doing so willfully by making a judgment about what is or is not a religion."

President Bush in October nominated Brown to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, but her appointment has been opposed by Democrats in the U.S. Senate who view the black jurist as a conservative judicial activist who would limit abortion rights and corporate liability and oppose affirmative action.

The Left simply can't allow the advancement of judges who will actually follow the law. First, they discover a right to privacy, then to sodomy, then to redefined marriage. Once homosexuals' registered relationships are called "marriage" or considered the equivalent thereof, employers who offer benefits to spouses will be illegally discriminating if they attempt to exercise their rights of free association and expression. Perhaps some states will pass laws offering exemptions for religious organizations, but that'll never stand, especially if the "right" to gay marriage comes at the behest of the courts — or as constitutional amendments creating civil unions.

I apologize to any readers who think I'm dipping into paranoia here, but Maggie Gallagher is exactly right in her concerns about a civil-union-granting compromise amendment in Massachusetts:

Far from reversing Goodridge, constitutionalizing civil unions will ultimately hand over to a court deeply hostile to marriage control over the legal expression of its meaning in the public square. Expect most of the negative consequences of gay marriage to issue from it immediately: Public schools will be forced to teach in sex-ed, home-economics classes, and abstinence education that same-sex unions are the legal equivalent of marriage; religious organizations will be forced to either treat same-sex unions as marriages or get out of the public square.

In fact, the consequences of constitutionally affirming civil unions are likely to be even more destructive than simply letting Goodridge stand. Affirming gay relationships becomes not a legislative proposal to address a social need, nor a mere expression of formal equality, but a substantive governing, constitutional principle: It will be open season on the Catholic Church and other religious groups and organizations that sustain a different vision of human sexual ethics. Hate-speech codes, yanking of broadcasting licenses, and termination of the tax-exempt status of traditional organizations — just a few of the legal threats looming. Far-fetched? In Europe and Canada it is already happening.

Honestly and truly, it tears me up that this struggle causes such extreme and personal pain for those on the other side. But I just don't know if there are any defensible borders after marriage. Sure, there will be the subsequent incremental skirmishes, but even as we fight for rights much more fundamental than the privilege of filing joint tax returns, the village will be set alight. For example, the ACLU will continue its crusade for adulterers rights.

I'll let you into my confidence: one of the effects that The Passion of the Christ had on me was to take away some of the fear that's been seeping into my conception of the culture war. In some ways, practicing our faith has been too simple — so easy that, for many, it's atrophied into an appurtenance. That doesn't mean, however, that we lock our doors and wait for the knock to come. Just as arguing on behalf of traditional marriage renews devotion to it for ourselves, so too does struggling for its protection in the public sphere renew our understanding of our faded worldview.

I'm rambling a bit, but here's the bottom line to which I've somehow stumbled: it is right that we struggle for this, although even in defeat we've no reason to despair. Most importantly, we should remember that our struggle isn't to vanquish the enemy, but to conquer its soldiers within our own walls and offer them sanctuary.

And hopefully they'll respect the terms we set for their health insurance.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:22 PM | Comments (1)

And Now... The Predictable Smear Campaign

Admit it. You knew it was coming. It's just too much his M.O. for Sullivan to have resisted daily dishing dirt on the man who poked his house-of-cards theology.

First, he took a break from his day off to recycle old controversies:

The man who allegedly only put as much violence in his movie as occurred in the Gospels was also asked how he would greet Frank Rich, one of his more prominent critics. Gibson replied, "I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick ... I want to kill his dog." This is the man now hailed as the savior of America's evangelical Christians. I don't know whether to laugh or to cry.

Today, he's dug up an out of context comment as a means to split that inimical Religious Right:

GIBSON ON NON-CATHOLICS: They're all going to hell. That includes all those evangelicals who are flocking to his movie and even his wife.

So now, between the President, the Church, the Republicans, John Derbyshire, supporters of the FMA, and Mel Gibson, one would do well to put on waders before visiting

And it continues:

NOTICING EVIL: David Frum parses Mel Gibson's verbal non-committal on whether the Holocaust really took place as we know it did. Bill Safire is unnerved as well. Gradually, conservatives are cottoning on to the real agenda behind "The Passion of the Christ."

Oooo. The Real Agenda! I'm thinking this deserves status as a daily feature, here on Dust in the Light. Especially since Sullivan has apparently decided to actively work for the President's ouster:

Neither Bush nor Kerry wants to help. They're both cowards (although Kerry seems to have a better grip on fiscal reality than Bush does). So gridlock is the best option. The combination of Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress was great for the country's fiscal standing. Independents and anyone under 40 concerned with the deficit don't need a Perot. They just need to vote for Kerry and hope the GOP retains control of at least one half of Congress.

Looks like Sullivan intends to vote for the one who will further the gay marriage cause and make excuses why that actually, really, surely, I'm-not-kiddingly will be better for the country. See, Kerry will split the government, which will be good for the deficit. Really!

Maybe in addition to a Sully Smear Watch, we should have a cross-blog contest for outrageous arguments that he might make to nullify his previous Bush-supporting positions. Here's my first entry:

A lot of the initial gutsy moves required to kick off the War on Terror have already been made. Once in office, Kerry wouldn't pull back on that progress, and what we need now is a President who will refocus international cooperation toward the group effort of the more-subtle work that lays ahead.

Start the clock.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:10 PM | Comments (7)
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A Quick Thought on Jesus

I've been thinking about the ways in which Mel Gibson sought to make Jesus into a hero, which points to a theological matter that is all too easy to forget: He was human. Because we consider Him to have been God, it is easy for Christians to see Him as sort of going through the motions. We let an idea that is clearly mistaken according to the Gospels seep in — that Christ could see the big plan in its entirety.

Actually, it may overstate the case to say the idea is "clearly mistaken"; there are degrees to which that's a valid debate, but it does have the adverse effect of dehumanizing Jesus. So, when He stomps on the snake at the beginning of The Passion of the Christ, I was inclined to forgive the cinematic cliché as an attempt to remind us that Jesus, the man, was indeed human, with doubts and fears to overcome, and thus capable of being heroic, of giving us that "go get 'em" feeling.

However, this point gets caught up in non-Christians' misunderstanding of believers' reaction to the movie. If we take Christ as a hero — the captain of our theological team — then seeing him beaten so badly might prick our protective instincts or, worse, our lust for revenge. But that's not really what Christ is to a Christian. He's God! How could we possibly feel like big brothers to Him? Our theology (or most branches of it that I know anything about) emphasizes thanking Him, making requests of Him, begging for His forgiveness.

I just realized that, at no point in the movie, did it occur to me that the apostles should try to save Jesus amid the confusion of his march to Calvary. When the soldiers (I think it was them) mocked Him, saying, "Come down off of your cross," one knows that legions' coming over the hill to save Him would have been doing grave harm. It would be wholly foreign, then, for us to leave the movie theater declaring, "You can't do that to my messiah!"

Just had to mention that thought.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:29 AM | Comments (1)