April 30, 2004

And then There's the News Department

Was Jennifer Levitz able to find no one to offer a contrasting view for her Providence Journal article, "Doubts about the war hit home"? It wouldn't even have had to be somebody local; after all, she devoted 208 words to Virginia anti-war protester Larry Syverson.

It wouldn't be appropriate to fault grieving or just worried families for their sentiments, and Levitz only quotes some of those in the article regarding other people's reactions. But there's a growing storyline in the mainstream press:

The doubts about the Bush administration's steering of the war in Iraq are rising, according to experts who study public opinion, as April ends with the highest number of U.S. casualties in a month. Tomorrow marks one year since President Bush stood on an aircraft carrier and declared the mission accomplished. ...

People in the United States are making up their minds on how they view the war in Iraq, she said yesterday in an interview. ...

Americans are comparing those wartime sights with what they are hearing from the administration -- that the electricity is back in Iraq, and schools are open, and that only small parts of the country are unstable. ...

[Kathleen Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania] said that when the public starts asking itself these questions, "you have the potential" for an attitude shift.

A little research would show that the media has been proclaiming shifts in attitudes and doubts about the war all along, but frankly, the whole thing is too nauseating to investigate in depth. Levitz's entire piece offers not a single statement from anybody — family or "expert," local or national — declaring pride and the understanding that the job must be finished.

By way of contrast, in John Mulligan's "Historians, soldiers hesitant to call Iraq another Vietnam," we get this:

WHEN CRITICS of the war look at these problems, they see shades of Vietnam: a misplaced American confidence in its economic and military might and a refusal to take into account the cultural and political realities of a foreign country.

Further, the war's critics find echoes of Vietnam in the Bush administration's changing emphasis in its rationale for war. Before the invasion, Mr. Bush and his team stressed the "gathering" threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and links to international terrorism.

Since the post-invasion failure to turn up evidence of such weapons, Mr. Bush has stressed the promise that Iraq holds "to change the world and make America more secure" by becoming a beacon of democracy.

"WE'RE FACING a quagmire in Iraq, just as we faced a quagmire in Vietnam," Kennedy said in a television interview after his April 5 speech. "We didn't understand what we were getting ourselves into in Vietnam. We didn't understand what we were doing in Iraq. We had misrepresentations about what we were able to do militarily in Vietnam. I think we are finding that out in Iraq as well. . . .

Suggestions that Iraq and Vietnam don't equate get a "but still"; statements that Americans are anxious about war (as well they should be) get unwavering reinforcement. We can only hope that Americans don't allow the media's assessment to be self-fulfilling spin. Every loss is lamentable. Every casualty is deserving of prayers and tears. But we cannot afford to forget that each one saves unknowable masses in the future... if we hold strong.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:01 PM | Comments (2)
News Media

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Battles & Wars," by Zona Douthit.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:17 AM

Never Know Who's out There

Again and again, I've run into the palpable lack of alternative media in Rhode Island, and the periodic emails that I get from area conservatives expressing isolation confirm that venues don't exist for them to coordinate and encourage each other. I realize the likelihood that folks in the national conservative establishment may be inclined to write off Rhode Island as a lost cause, but I really don't think it would take much by way of effort and funds to begin to rectify this problem. (And I can't help but see the potentialof significance, at least, to the fact that the President chose a Rhode Island girl's letter for his SOTU and that the teacher of the year was a Rhode Islander.)

So, with the understanding that bloggers can't really know who's in their audience, I thought I'd post a little feeler to see if anybody's got any ideas about how to find support for an incipient movement — foundations to contact and such. As it happens, my circumstances and skill set lend themselves to the task at hand, and a little push might go a long way.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:16 AM

April 29, 2004

Not on the Cost-Benefit Sheet

Back in September, I mentioned the U.K. youth trend of "sex texters" — kids sending text messages to arrange rendezvous. One might think that mobile phone companies would prefer to disassociate themselves from stories with titles like "Huge rise in sex diseases." To the contrary, Marty McKeever notes that at least one such company seems to have decided that the profits will be greater taking the opposite tack:

In scenes reminiscent of Meg Ryan faking an orgasm in When Harry Met Sally, Christina [Aguilera] arches her back and screams. She was paid a reported $1million for four hours' work. The singer simulates sex in the ad for Virgin Mobile which is so risque it won't be shown in America.

Marty puts the increasing... ahem... textual behavior in context of larger trends in England, such as gang activity, particularly involving sexual assault. Perhaps I'm overtired, but I can't help but think that limitless text messaging is a great way to pass along limericks:

In Britain, the phone comp'ny, Virgin
Will shrug off the crimes it is urgin'
To just make a buck
It'll teach kids to huck
And turn clueless par'nts into sturgeon
Posted by Justin Katz at 10:29 PM

The Undercurrent of the Nation

The editorial pages are easily the best part of the Providence Journal — often presenting a refreshing bit of ideological balance to the rest of the paper. From a generalized, external view, much of the credit for this seems to belong to Robert Whitcomb, who ended a recent column with this sentiment:

But then, you see remarkably few people reading both The Nation and The National Review. Too anxiety-provoking. We want the soothing voices of the amen chorus.

The number of true loners is low in politics and political commentary. We need a lot more of them.

A penchant for balanced reading may be an occupational benefit for an opinion-page editor, but Whitcomb comes a bit too close to that sort of equivalence that presumes each side must be inherently wrong, as evidenced by the disagreement of the other. Are tax cuts good policy or not? Is embryonic stem-cell research moral or not? Yes or no?

Of course, particulars exist that require hammering, both for individual issues and broad platforms. However, the fact that large batches of issues seem to break according to a handful of underlying worldviews does not mean that any two worldviews are equally valid. Preferring the bulk of one's reading to be analysis from people who share a certain number of one's premises is not prima facie indication of anxiety-aversion or unoriginality. Political labels can be seen as a useful shorthand for some of those premises, not necessarily as a substitute for actual consideration. For a conservative, reading The Nation is to find one's self constantly arguing first principles, whereas reading National Review allows a depth of exploration enabled by the ability to take fundamental points for granted.

In this context, it's interesting that the Projo should publish, three days after Mr. Whitcomb's lament of the middleman, a piece by Jerry Landay that would not be out of place in The Nation:

THE FEDERAL ELECTION Commission is considering a proposal -- pushed aggressively by the Bush re-election campaign -- that would curb spending on federal elections by a handful of Democratic advocacy organizations. They are referred to as "527" groups, under the Internal Revenue Service provisions granting them tax exemptions. Republicans accuse the groups, including America Coming Together and MoveOn, of being little more than a shadow arm of the Democratic Party.

Yet Republican agitprop groups, also tax-exempt, have been politically active for years. This little-known political machine is in fact unparalleled in American political history, and it augments the official Bush campaign. It contains some 350 right-wing activist organizations, highly coordinated, adeptly led and well funded, by private foundations, corporations and individuals.

Landay provides a perfect example of the reason that my reading of "the other side" generally occurs within a preexisting investigation. His claims are founded in layer upon layer of intricately tilted and selectively tinted background, liberally peppered with unsubstantiated, unexplained fear-mongering like: "Reinforced by this unofficial apparatus, the Republicans dominating the three branches of the federal government thwart constitutional checks and balances."

With every last clause in the piece, one will agree or disagree, and to explain disagreement requires ever-expanding subtlety and research. Consider Landay's reference to 350 organizations. To answer his claim, one would have to figure out to what, exactly, he's referring. Does he include every single organization that supports some arguably conservative policy? Those he does name certainly aren't explicitly Republican. More specifically, he does nothing but assert that "Bush campaigns to empower the ideological agenda of the apparatus, and the apparatus, in turn, campaigns for Bush."

It is odd that Landay, as one whom Google shows to be unusually interested in this topic, shows no indication that he's aware of the disenchantment with the administration among its conservative base. Except for the tax cuts and the war, the "cohort" has had many reasons for disappointment in a President so ostensibly beholden to them. William F. Buckley phrased the matter well last July:

What happened to President Bush? He is, incidentally, everywhere criticized abroad, and, now, by Democratic presidential candidates, as autocratic, domineering. How to account for his passivity in most matters of legislative, to say nothing of judicial, consequence? He fought hard for his tax bill and, of course, for his nominees to the courts of appeal. But on most other matters, it is as if he did not exist. The Supreme Court has pronounced itself arbiter of all serious questions having to do with states' rights. The president was manifestly pleased that the Court took over the whole affirmative-action problem, and he confessed himself "pleased" that the Court acknowledged the utility and the pleasures of diversity.

Amazingly, Landay cites an organization concerned with ending affirmative action as among the organizations with a sort of Bush quid pro quo. More broadly, he defines the "ideological platform" of the "affiliated organizations" as one that the President has done precious little to further. And even were the President more concerned with "the care and feeding of American conservatives," as WFB puts it, Landay glosses over the fact that every such organization he mention is ideological and issue-oriented, not specifically political.

For all his claims against their activities, these groups are doing exactly what our Constitution was designed to encourage. They are exercising rights of free association, free speech, and freedom to petition the government to shape policies that they believe to be important. Landay makes dark insinuations about a "shadow government," but in a democracy, that's exactly what the people are supposed to be, and 350 organizations spanning decades and espousing the beliefs of at least one-half of Americans represent a lot of people.

So what of the comparison to the "527" groups? Well, take a look at the home pages of the two that Landay mentions: MoveOn and ACT. This statement from ACT summarizes what you'll see (emphasis added):

America Coming Together-we are the foot soldiers of the progressive movement. We are dedicated to defeating George W. Bush, electing progressives at all levels of government, and mobilizing millions of people to register and vote around the critical issues facing our country.

After taking a moment to ponder what it might mean, exactly, to "vote around issues," take a look at the home page of the Heritage Foundation, which Landay calls "the senior component of the [conservative] apparatus." Policy suggestions. Analysis. Research. All of the other groups have much the same, and although I may have missed it, I didn't see a single streaming-video anti-Kerry ad.

To splash some big numbers in his column, Landay cites the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the goal of which (based on a quick review of its Web site) appears to be to battle conservative organizations and promote progressive non-profits. Apparently, dominating "state, local and national politics" and tilting "American governance, economics, education, media and law rightward" isn't all that expensive, relatively:

NCRP finds that $253 million flowed between 1999 and 2001 alone to these 350 organizations, from 79 private grant-making organizations.

The Heritage Foundation, the senior component of the apparatus, was the lead recipient, at $25 million.

So, the Cabal of 350 split $84 million among themselves annually, for an average of $240,000 each. That's a little less than MoveOn.org raised in five days of 1999, a year in which it raised at least $13 million. In just the first quarter of this year, MoveOn raised almost $7 million, all of it apparently going toward political activism — in contrast to the broader activities of such groups as the Heritage Foundation. According to CNN, in a piece from January 2004:

In November, billionaire philanthropist George Soros and his business partner, Peter Lewis, pledged a $5 million matching grant -- a dollar for every two raised by MoveOn members -- to create a $15 million advertising campaign to defeat President Bush.

Turning back to Landay and those conservative groups funded by scheming plutocrats, we find more numbers from a liberal activist:

Rob Stein, a Washington researcher who lectures on this apparatus, estimates that since 1972 a total of $2.5 billion to $3 billion has flowed to its leading 43 affiliates. He terms these "the cohort, an incubator of right-wing ideological policies that constitute the Bush administration's agenda."

Get out the calculators. Accepting the high end of that surely-not-conservative range, the average one among the Band of 43 saw annual money "flow" of $2 million. In the world of big-money politics, that's just about enough to fund some research and publish some analysis that nobody need be compelled to heed. And indeed, it isn't activism per se, but rhetoric, that Stein mentions in the next paragraph:

The cohort, he says, is "a potent, never-ending source of intellectual content, laying down the slogans, myths, and buzz words" -- such as the myth of the liberal media -- "that have helped shift public opinion rightward."

So there you have it. This "shadow government" consists essentially of Americans thinking, writing, and speaking about the direction that they'd like our nation to go. For Landay, conservatives' simply having the audacity to make their presence known is "counterrevolutionary and anti-constitutional" in such a way as to "thwart constitutional checks and balances."

Stein's ridiculous characterization of the liberal media as a "myth" serves to remind us of that the multibillion-dollar industry's activities. One can argue that the mainstream media as well as universities and lawyers' groups are only aligned with the Democrats as a matter of policy preference, but that's the exact same coordination on which Landay builds his argument against conservative groups. I'd like to see a tally of the funds going toward liberal research, rhetoric, and activism over the last 30 years. Writing out the total, alone, would take up a few newspaper column inches.

As I said toward the beginning of this post, rebutting these columns from those on the other side is a time-consuming business. There are myriad facets, as well as interwoven threads of self-interest and unacknowledged connections. Especially when dealing with somebody of Mr. Landay's experience... and inside view:

Jerry M. Landay, of Bristol, a former CBS-News correspondent, is an occasional contributor.

Watch out for those "myths," Mr. Whitcomb. They may be fairytales.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:14 PM | Comments (1)

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Hogmaney (New Year's Eve)," by Christine L. Mullen.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:11 AM

A Warning to the New Blogger

I wound up scrapping an entire post last night when I realized that I was too tired to coherently say anything more profound than "read this." This blogging thing isn't as carefree and overeasy as some might assume, at least once an audience begins to form.

For one thing, people's willingness to devote time to one's work imparts a certain degree of responsibility to be worthy of their attention. For another, the traffic stats are addictive. I've said before that blogging was the Internet app. that finally snagged me in a way that none of the other time-drains have been able to do. In large part, it's the feeling of virtual success.

There is real hope and promise in writing online, however. It just takes effort — as does any endeavor, online or off.

Anyway, thank you for feeding my addiction. I'll try to remain worthy.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:07 AM | Comments (3)
Bloggers Blogging

April 28, 2004

Videocameras for Life

Matt Abbott passes along a description of a scene from the abortion march that makes one think digital video cameras might be a valuable tool in the struggle to overturn Roe v. Wade:

The best way I can explain what I witnessed at today's so-called March for Women's Lives is to reference the movie, The Exorcist. When the possessed child, Regan, is confronted by priests who have come to expel the evil spirit from her, she reacts in shockingly vulgar, profane ways.

That is how thousands of 'pro-choice' demonstrators reacted to the presence of a lone priest blessing and praying for them along the March route.

One form of possession appears arise through callous self-righteousness in defense of evil.

(via Jeff Miller)

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:57 PM | Comments (1)

Naw. No News Here.

Let's see. WMDs? Check. Terrorists? Check. Afghanistan? Check. Iraq? Check. Coverage? Well...

At least one of the al-Qaida plotters arrested in Jordan earlier this month as part of a weapons of mass destruction plot that Jordanian officials say could have killed 80,000 people revealed on Monday that he was trained in Iraq before the U.S. invaded in March 2003.

In a confession broadcast on Jordanian television, the unnamed WMD conspirator revealed: "In Iraq, I started training in explosives and poisons. I gave my complete obedience to [Abu Musab al] Zarqawi," the al-Qaida WMD specialist whose base of operations was in Iraq.

Excerpts from the WMD conspirator's confession broadcast by ABC's "Nightline" late Monday show that the WMD plot was planned and trained for in Iraq more than a year before the U.S. invasion, with the terror suspect admitting, "After the fall of Afghanistan, I met Zarqawi again in Iraq."

I guess the papers had to leave room for that poll.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:49 PM
Middle East

Investigating the Strange Creatures of the Left

Bill of INDC Journal offers some absolutely hilarious photo-rich coverage of a protest of some sort in Washington:

I could barely contain my glee as I drew upon the swarm. This was no minor gathering of a select few common moonbats, rather a cornucopia of various genera, species and subspecies. I had struck scientific gold, and was assaulted by a whirling mix of color ...

... sound ...

... and smell, as I plunged head-first into their midst!

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:37 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

Typical in Approach, Anyway

Something that the 29-year-old teacher daughter in the family profiled for the Washington Post's example of Blue Staters says is indeed typical, and therefore merits mention:

But later, after church, out for breakfast, the three of them talk about how deeply they disagree, not only with what the priest said but with what Pope John Paul II said the day before, that same-sex unions "degrade" what marriage is supposed to be.

"I don't believe he would have said that," Maryanne says, referring not to the priest or the pope but to Jesus.

"They were 12 men hanging around together," Heather says, thinking of the disciples and a statistic she saw as she prepared to be a teacher. "Hmm. It's 10 percent of any class. Do the math."

It ought to be remembered that this is one statement drawn from a longer conversation, probably without summarization's being the only reason for its publication. Still, within Maryanne's limited point, exaggerated numbers (or at least the highest that anybody serious has been willing to put forward), provided, no doubt, by the education establishment, are applied in a way that not only offers nothing by way of insight into the historical figures in question, but presumes the speaker's view. It takes as an unstated given that the only reason to oppose SSM is a lack of familiarity and the resulting bigotry.

Even if a homosexual likely exists in any group of 10 (rather than any group of 35), assuming that the orientation necessarily dictated a position on same-sex marriage is ludicrous. For one thing, if Christ is God, then He knows homosexuals personally no matter how rare they are. For another, the disciples' conception of sexuality would have been much different, given their historical placement. For yet another, they certainly weren't interested in the pursuit of self-fulfillment in this world.

But most of all, Ms. Maryanne grants, without giving indication that she's aware of doing so, the underlying argument of SSM advocates: that the institution of marriage is less a family structure than an acknowledgement of emotional connection and sexual intimacy. The question is what Jesus would have suggested marriage should be — how its public practice would have fit within His larger teachings.

That's certainly a matter of legitimate debate. But Maryanne's explication (as presented) doesn't address it, nor does she argue what we should believe marriage should be and why. Instead, she uses a dubious statistical claim to dismiss the statements of her Church; that is the basis for her dissent from it in the second most prominent newspaper in the United States.

Thus do many liberals respond to the basic question at hand — What is marriage? — by declaring, "It is what I believe it to be, and you're a bigot if you disagree."

In the comments section to this post, Jeremiah Lewis responds well to a line above that I didn't take the extra time to hone, but should have. Noting my mention of the disciples' interest in "the pursuit of self-fulfillment in this world," Jeremiah writes:

Their limited understanding of Jesus' mission led to disagreements as to how they should act with each other. Their squabbling over who would sit at the right and left of Jesus seems more like an argument about who was more important/worthy on earth - it was this very earthly fulfillment that they were after for which Jesus rebuked them.

I agree with this, and I shouldn't have come so close to denying the human impulses of the disciples; those very foibles constitute a large component of Christian theology. The mud through which I attempted to wade too swiftly was between the personal perspective of the individual disciples and their relevance to statements that Jesus would or would not have made. Maybe I just tripped on the difficulty of imagining one of the 12, having dropped everything to follow the Son of God, arguing that he ought to be able to procure the Social Security benefits of a homosexual spouse.

Looking up the passage to which Jeremiah refers (I think) — almost identical in Matthew and Mark — I note that it was well chosen, based on the specific relevance of Jesus' answer to a modern debate weighing individual desire and liberty against a social institution. From Mark:

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Useless Stereotype Comparisons

By now, most people who will read them have taken in the Washington Post comparison of a Red State household and a Blue State household. The parallels are, to put it mildly, problematic.

Rich Tucker, to whom Lane Core links, notes that the media elite "sees liberals as normal people, and conservatives as some strange species from somewhere 'out there'":

This seems like a whitewash. If the paper could find a "typical" red state voter who fit all the stereotypical traits, it ought to have been able to find a "typical" blue stater who did, as well. Maybe a limousine liberal from the Upper East Side ("How could George W. Bush have been elected? Nobody I know voted for him!") Or an anti-war activist who marches for every cause that comes down the pike (there must have been at least one such liberal here in D.C. for the pro-abortion rally this past weekend...)

Instead, as Michael Graham puts it, the liberal piece introduces "a straight, white, blue-collar, never-divorced Catholic couple with two happy, straight adult children... and who don't even drink." I forget who said it, but this brings to mind a comment about Al Gore, that despite his paean to families "joined at the heart," he has a traditional family and, presumably, understands that it provides the optimal structure for raising children and pursuing real happiness as an adult.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the two Wapo pieces is the difference in underlying narrative: journalist David Finkel first accompanies Red Stater Britton Stein through his morning Internet rounds for the conservative talk of the day. We hear a story about the parents' playing a practical joke on their children. Then, we head off to church and hear about community and being "like-minded people." For the closing scene, Finkel follows the Red State father out of the house, leaving the family behind, to go out drinking at Hooters with buddies. (That's the photo accompanying the story online.) Finkel ticks off the rounds, and the suspicous reader can only imagine him, sitting in that bar, anticipating the material to come. Oh well. The dads stopped at four, still articulate, if a little uncareful with their tales about planned-community life.

The Blue State family is introduced — in contrast to the preceding story — as a family: "the Harrison family." The online picture? "Tom and Maryanne Harrison and their daughter, Heather, walk from church to Sunday breakfast in their San Francisco neighborhood." We get anecdotes of handing out dollars to homeless children and realizing — gosh darn it — it just isn't enough: "beyond that one man were dozens of homeless people in the neighborhood, thousands in the city, millions in the country." A job so big, only a big government can accomplish it.

We find out that the empathetic man of the house learned tolerance listening to the stories of fellow participants in a month-long detox program. (Conservatives might suggest that only for a liberal could the lesson of a struggle with alcoholism be the importance of striving for "tolerance toward whatever a person wants to do, even if he wouldn't necessarily do it himself.") For this article, we find out that — believe it or not — the wife has a life and biography as well, one of compassionate activism. The daughter is preparing to be married; the son proposes to a woman during the period of his family's interviews with Finkel.

Apart from these differences of presentation, one could argue endlessly about whether the two families are truly typical of the groups that they are meant to represent. Personally, I find the problem to be that the Harrisons are typical, while the Steins are emblematic. Finkel could easily have found more-emblematic liberals; he could also have found more-typical conservatives. Finkel could have provided more individual and family background for the Steins, and he could have spent more time discussing the environment of the Harrisons. Beyond the problems of San Francisco, is it any less the case that they live among "like-minded people"? If not, how then are they comparably typical?

Because of this imbalance, and because it was such a sure bet, I wasn't going to comment on the series... until I saw Sheila Lennon's take on the Steins:

This town sounds to me like the past, a past I wanted desperately to explore beyond, in the '60s ...

Britton Stein, the father of the family and main subject of the piece, is a churchgoing, Drudge-reading, junk-food eating, Fox News watcher.

During the fourth round of beers at Hooter's, he and his friends get to the core of Sugar Land...

This could be Thornton Wilder, writing in 1938. It could be Our Town.

I'm awfully glad it's not mine.

In conformity, they hope to find safety. To me, it sounds like condo hell, living by the rules of the crankiest co-owner.

I want the wild sprouts, the signs of life. I want copper-colored roses and unapproved plants. Spring's dandelions turn my lawn to a field of yellow, with the purple tops of bugleweed following suit. After they're gone, we mow.

I've got news for Ms. Lennon: even here in her home state of Rhode Island — which is pushing out everybody but the rich and the poor — there is "condo hell." Just try to put the wrong-colored shed in my brother-in-law's neighborhood. Similarly, there are, no doubt, Drudge readers who don't keep a meticulous lawn. Even ignoring her presumptions about the relationship between neighborhoods and the politics of the people who inhabit them, I find it worth a chuckle that Lennon includes the following, casually, within her ode to the free-spirited block:

On trash night in my neighborhood, on the curb you can see what everyone's tossing out, and an informal recycling program swings into action.

What is entailed in the garbage inspection and "informal recycling program," I don't know, but such details would have certainly helped Finkel, had he wished to offer a balanced comparison, to offset this:

"The first time I put my trash out, I put it by the curb, and my neighbor came out and said, 'We don't curb our trash here in Sugar Land.' " Lannom says, laughing. "I had some cinch bugs in my front yard or something, my neighbor says, 'Craig, I want to talk to you about your brown patch.' "

"It's so predictable here," Stein says.

Sides of a coin.

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:03 AM

More Rain

At a certain point, one moves into the frame of mind that long stretches of enspiriting weather are inconceivable. That life is mostly clouds and rain, with brief interludes of blue skies merely for contrast and temporary respite.

That's not the case, of course. Summer comes. Somehow.

For a while, some distant hue has been lingering in the direction from which the weather comes. It's been difficult to tell whether it's blue or the darker gray of inclement weather. More and more, though, it's looking like a break in the clouds, rather than a deepening of them.

It was blue. The sun is shining — as it always is beyond the clouds.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:00 AM
Diary & Confession

April 27, 2004

When the Fingers Won't Type, It's Time for Bed

Well, my early-morning promise that the blog would be full o' posts today worked out to be more like "full o' post." Sorry 'bout that. It isn't spin (entirely) to explain that I made the call, this morning, to give the Scandinavian marriage numbers time that I might otherwise have devoted to less-comprehensive posts.

By the way, I've a few emails and blog comments on my To Do list for tomorrow, so if you haven't heard from me, you may yet. If late tomorrow hasn't brought response, don't be shy about clearing your virtual throat, so to speak.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:28 PM
Site-Related Announcements

Notes on the Marriage Debate

For three full weeks, I've held on to Andrew Sullivan's "fisking" of Shelby Steele. To be honest, I had intended to let it slide, at first — not knowing much about Mr. Steele, and believing that the form and style of fisking plays to Sullivan's weaknesses, not his strengths. Fisking his efforts, in turn, is more work than it seems worth. So, rather than reread the thing and offer a polished rebuttal, I thought I'd just (essentially) post the notes that I made a few weeks ago in response to the piece and some related entries on his blog.

If one reads broadly from Sullivan's marriage library, a tacit underscore becomes apparent that seems to hold for many other advocates for SSM: he wants marriage just to be another choice. Homosexuals can live the free, libertine lifestyle, or they can marry. No stigma or objective preference is intended to attach to either. However, for the broader society, marriage is meant to create expectation.

The nature of straight relationships is such that the wilder, multifarious practices that even the "conservative" Sullivan has been known to laud would be detrimental to society. Heterosexuals simply cannot afford to make marriage just another option. A strong cultural expectation of marriage is most important for those whose behavior makes marriage preferable even though it mightn't be what they would choose in a void. A couple whose members thoroughly commit to each other purely as a matter of choice — considering that commitment to be absolutely binding (as Sullivan believes all marriages should be) — are in no need of a public institution, or at least the "spouses" need it less. To get to the point, marriage isn't meant to be a choice, strictly speaking, because those who would choose it don't require incentive, and the real benefit of marriage isn't the perks, but the familial structure for children.

Sullivan flips the emphasis, saying that some straight marriages are childless, so homosexuals' natural childlessness isn't a factor. But he's wrong to disconnect marriage from procreation in such a way. Even leaving aside that the connection still exists in fact, it must continue to exist in principle. Both marriage and procreation may not be individually connected with sex, but it is crucial that they remain connected with each other.

This statement is sure to elicit guffaws from SSM supporters, but marriage is less about whether two heterosexuals do procreate than that, barring relatively uncommon problems, they can. Much has been made of the truism that birth control has disconnected sex from childbirth. However, in terms relative to choices of lifestyle, even birth control does not open the promiscuous "choice" that marriage is meant to foreclose. Most forms of contraception require some degree of control over the circumstances of the sex. With multiple partners, particularly for men, it becomes exponentially more difficult to ensure effectiveness.

Even so, Sullivan might argue, marriage is ultimately about family, and "marriage discrimination" drives wedges into families. It has been my reading experience that Sullivan usually means this to refer to the homosexual adults and their parents and siblings. Most dramatic, in this line, is his periodic reference to figures who oppose same-sex marriage, but who have gay sons and daughters:

When "pro-family" types talk about wedge issues, they don't often concede that one of their wedges is to split families apart. And part of the point of civil marriage for gays is to bring families back together.

It's truly dissonant for a self-proclaimed libertarian to be pushing the concept that government action can confer legitimacy on offsprings' lifestyles in the eyes of their parents — particularly when this is an area in which the libertarian view would actually be correct. To the extent that families' wounds related to homosexuality aren't healed, a marriage ceremony that comes "close enough" to meeting the parents' thwarted visions of their children's futures will be of limited value. Legal accoutrements will be of even less. On the other end, families not currently divided over the issue will not find themselves more not divided because of a government stamp.

Beyond all the policy judgments made at a distance, I wonder if Sullivan, sitting at his computer, staring aimlessly out the window, ever meditates on why parents would work against the immediate interests of their own children. Yeah, there are certain to be instances of parents' lashing out and/or harboring some unspoken hope that preventing the institutional normalization of gay relationships will push their children back toward more-normal lives. But couldn't it be, just maybe, that they believe — also or instead — that the issue is important enough to merit resisting the pull of personal accord?

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:13 PM
Marriage & Family

Another Old Lie Comes to the Surface

Kathryn Jean Lopez spent some time observing the tone and temper of the latest pro-abortion rally:

Though the "pro-choice" caricature of a pro-lifer is of a hater — killers of abortionists, oppressors of women — that elitist conventional wisdom (which was very much part of the march on Sunday) ought to be reconsidered. One close look at what went on both on and around the Mall this weekend would be a healthy baby step in that direction.

To be sure, I frequent circles and sources of information that would highlight such things, but it has seemed that even the staunchly pro-life are a bit astonished at the rhetoric of the other side. The "March for Women's Lives" seems to have been only the latest example of what being on the unanticipatedly pressured side of a cultural turn can do to fundamentally untenable worldview. "Those !@#$ haters must die for their lack of compassion!" This must seep out into the culture and help to shape the views of those not devoted to either side.

Some of the statements are bizarre on their surface and increasingly disturbing with the unraveling of each layer of subtext. Do "Menapausal Women Nostalgic for Choice" lament that they can no longer become pregnant because it removes the privilege of killing the resulting children? Was it a condition of Maxine Waters's birth that she be condemned to walking the Earth preaching that others not make the Devil's deal of parenthood?

Patrick Sweeney has a picture of a sign — apparently not excessive by comparison — drawing on the jaw-droppingly unengageable fanaticism of the "anti-war" protests. "Mr. Bush Had Your Mother Chose Abortion More Than 800 American Soldiers And Over 10,000 Iraqi Civilians Would Be Alive Today! Abortion Saves Lives." Patrick makes an astute comment:

Now projecting the personhood of President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, Attorney General Ashcroft, etc. into the unborn child is a bizarre admission of the murderous intent that unites the culture of death with opposition to the Republican party. A celebration of their power to bring death to the unborn. A earnest desire to be free to kill whomever they wish.

Whatever initially drove the abortion movement, it has now become an assertion of power over life and death. And one can't help but believe the quivering fury and tone of political desperation to be the mark of the functional insanity of compounded sin and error. Michael Williams, investigating some of the names from the march, notes the predominance of older women. This is a gray crowd, and people for whom a change of heart would require admission to having killed children and/or helped to facilitate others' ability to do so. As Michael suggests, it is a movement for which defeat could mean retrospective alignment with the threads of evil throughout human history:

Future generations will look back on the 40 million babies killed over the past 30 years -- in America alone -- with disgust and revulsion. A quarter of my generation: dismembered and discarded. And people have the nerve to worry about spotted owls?

We must have compassion for these people, though, because the choice that they currently face is between wrenching contrition and spiraling hatred. Ms. Lopez writes:

One of the women gathered with Silent No More, Lynn Hurley, told me that she had had an abortion in 1971 when she was in college. She knows the pain of abortion and says, "I hurt for the [women marching] who hurt, who have been through abortions themselves. They're probably in denial." She said, "I'm hoping women might see our signs and be touched by them."

For those individual women, we should hope so. But in the long run, more objective good may be accomplished by the signs and slogans of the other side — as people see them and recoil, frightened.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:27 PM | Comments (1)

Bad Marriage Math

Its absense was palpable, so I won't flatter myself that it was in response to me that Darren Spedale added, to his piece about Scandinavian marriage, some of the hard data that I faulted him for leaving out. Now that we've got some objective numbers to address, it would seem that he's continued to be selective in those that he presents, sometimes attempting to spin the statistics past the breaking point. To start with the mild:

In 1989, at the outset of the partnership law's existence, there were 6.0 heterosexual marriages per 1,000 persons in Denmark, according to Danmarks Statistik, the national statistical organization. By the mid-1990's that number had climbed to 6.8 marriages per 1,000 population, or an increase of just over 10% from 1990. As of 2002, the latest year for which statistics are available, the number of marriages per 1,000 population has increased to 6.93.

What's new is the extension out to 2002. The mildly conspicuous omission is the degree of fluctuation during this time. Furthermore, as I offered for perspective last time, with miniscule native population growth, increases in the per-1,000 marriage rate aren't as significant as they would be in a nation with a more rapidly expanding total population. These are both relatively nitpicking points; that becomes less the case with Spedale's newly offered information about divorce:

Furthermore, the number of heterosexual divorces in 1989 stood at 2.95 per 1,000 population. By the mid-1990's, it was at 2.4 per 1,000, or an approximate 12% decrease in the number of divorces. While that number has increased in recent years to slightly below pre-gay marriage levels (2.72 in 2001 and 2.85 in 2002), the fact that the number of divorces fell during the years following the passage of gay marriage in Denmark demonstrate that heterosexual couples didn't abandon the institution when it was opened up to gays and lesbians, as many on the right predicted.

Admittedly, I wasn't paying attention back then, but I still have no idea who those people "on the right" were who predicted an immediate exodus of straights from the institution of marriage; that sounds a lot like the strawmen being thrown into the current debate. Nonetheless, there is a limited sense — but significant to Spedale's analysis — in which that prediction was realized.

Spedale is correct that the divorce rate in 2002 was "slightly below pre-gay marriage levels" — 2.81 in 1987 and 2.87 in 1988. However, the only data he provides is for 1989, the year SSM was introduced, when the rate was 2.95 per 1,000 of the population. What's especially interesting about this is that, as the by-month data shows, the 435 divorce increase from 1988 to 1989 is more than covered by a surge in November 1989 — the month after the first same-sex marriage. That month, divorces increased by 553 from October and were 479 above the average for the year.

That isn't a factor that I'd bother to include, unprovoked, in my own analysis, but it is interesting that, in using data to mitigate the recent increase in the divorce rate, it may very well be that Spedale relies upon the very phenomenon that he intends to dismiss. (The line graph that the statistics Web site provides for this data shows that the jump was much more than any seasonal boost that might have played a role.)

Spedale goes beyond all of these subtleties, as significant as they may be, when he tries to justify his claim that "divorce rates among gay and lesbian couples is so much lower than rates of divorce among their heterosexual counterparts":

In January of 2004, there were approximately 2468 gay and lesbian couples, or 4936 individuals, in registered partnerships in Denmark, according to Danmarks Statistik. Danmarks Statistik also records 1169 individuals as divorced from these partnerships. (The organization does not carry statistics on the annual number of same-sex divorces.) This means that, at a minimum, 585 same-sex couples have divorced since the gay marriage came into being 15 years ago. This would equate to a divorce rate of approximately 19% of all same-sex couples.

However, to be fair, we must assume that a percentage of such 'divorcees' have remarried, taking themselves out of this pool. Nevertheless, even if we assume that 50% of all divorced same-sex couples have remarried in this period of time (unlikely, but possible), then we would calculate that a total of approximately 26% of all same-sex marriages have ended in divorce. Compared to the divorce rate for heterosexual married couples in Denmark, which in 2002 was 41% (or to the U.S. rate, which is closer to 50%), gay and lesbian marriages are indeed more stable than those of heterosexual couples.

It took me longer than I'd like to admit to figure out Spedale's math here. The problem, I ultimately concluded, is that he doesn't "assume that 50%" of divorced homosexuals remarried. That would mean that the same number of same-sex couples had remarried as were still divorced, for a total of 1,170 couples, or 32% of all same-sex marriages. Instead, he got the 26% by multiplying 585 by 1.5, which actually ends up assuming that one-quarter of divorcees remarried. Even 32%, though, is obviously less than 41%; unfortunately, the two percentages measure the divorce rate in incomparable ways. Spedale got the 41% by dividing the number of opposite-sex divorces in 2002 by the number of new marriages in that year. That's a very different measure than the number who have ever been married or divorced.

Before I homogenize the data, I should confess that I have no idea where Spedale got 4,936 SSM individuals in 2004. According to my source, which I believe is his, the number should be 5,577. Thus, his 19% divorce rate should be 17.3%, and his adjusted 26% divorce rate should be 23.9%. From Spedale's perspective, that's even better. Still, applying the same calculations to the numbers of heterosexuals married and divorced as of 2004 (2,154,117 and 405,198), the corresponding divorce rates are 15.8% and 22.0%. Whatever these numbers show, it certainly isn't that "gay and lesbian marriages are indeed more stable than those of heterosexual couples."

And cut the numbers however we may, it is still ridiculous to declare the door closed. We'll see which way Scandinavian marriage and family statistics go, and I can only guess that, deep down, Spedale realizes that it doesn't look good for the argument that he's attempting to make.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:51 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

Songs You Should Know 04/27/07

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Manic" by Joe Parillo and Christine Harrington.

"Manic" Joe Parillo, Jazz
Stream (HiFi)
from Sand Box

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:57 AM

Sidetracked by Life

Sorry about the light posting yesterday and last night. I had been wrapping up my work around 9:30 p.m., with plans for multiple posts, when an old friend called. Well, he's one of those pals with whom conversations can wend along for unseen hours, so by the time we found a comfortable place to hang up, I just went to bed.

Today, this page should be full o' posts... once the daughter heads to grandma's house in the late morning.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:53 AM
Site-Related Announcements

April 26, 2004

When Reason Isn't the Reason

Bruce Carroll applies reason (and reasonableness) to the cause of acquiring marriage rights for his fellow homosexuals. The first step is to admit why the landscape is as it currently is:

But it wasn't the "religious right" or President Bush who started this round of the culture war. It was us.

The battle was clearly started by gay activists who adopted the tactic of challenging marriage laws across the country. The battle was joined, of course, by the conservatives now pushing for a federal constitutional amendment.

But we need to step up and admit that the responsibility of the gay marriage debate, good or bad, is squarely on the shoulders and the consciences of the so-called leaders of the Human Rights Campaign, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, Log Cabin Republicans and their ilk.

The accusation that the President was sparking an election-year controversy over a passive gay marriage movement in a cynical ploy to divide the nation for political gain has been among the more bizarre and transparent feints of SSM advocates. And even supporters of SSM, such as Eugene Volokh, through whom I found Carroll's piece, have suggested that the attempt at a legal coup has set back what had already been (in their view) a probable outcome anyway. That, in turn, relates to another of the more bizarre rhetorical ploys of SSM advocates — that the FMA is an attempt to block something that's culturally inevitable while it is still politically possible to do so.

However, the obvious strategy under those circumstances — disavowing all efforts to force the goal prematurely — requires acknowledging something that many gay activists are loath to admit. The most striking idea that Carroll voices is not the dissent from others who share his cause, but this simple bit of honesty (emphasis added):

I told them that while there was a gay-marrying frenzy breaking out in San Francisco, Oregon, and New Paltz, N.Y., most Americans were not at a place to accept this change.

Of course, I'm outside of Carroll's crowd, but it seems to me that he steps right over a gulf between his casual admission that SSM is something new and the polemical demand that it be seen as a right inherent in the concept of marriage. As it happens, I agree with Carroll's suggestion, even apart from any given policy goal:

What is needed is a fundamental and, most importantly, mature awareness campaign across the country about what it is to be a gay or lesbian American today. We all need to be willing to come out of our closets — proverbial or not — and let our friends, family and work colleagues know who we are.

Let them know that we pay our taxes just like them. Let them know we experience the ups and downs of daily life just like them. Let them know that we want the same financial, job and relationship security that they enjoy. Let them know that we want to be as tolerant of their long-standing religious beliefs as we want them to be tolerant of ours.

Among my most cherished relationships — some short-lived, some lasting — have been those in which the other person was willing to speak candidly about his or her starkly contrasting experiences and the lessons drawn therefrom. Whether the difference is one of gender, race, or sexuality, sincere discussions that are free of sardonic postures and insecure masks engender an appreciation of shared humanity. And I've found my life and worldview greatly enriched by such conversations.

However, contrary to what Carroll might hope, such empathy won't necessarily translate into agreement on particular issues. Seeing a matter from the perspective of those most affected by it often reinforces the conclusions that had been made at a distance. If somebody else is fully human, well, that same person is only human.

To some of those to whom Carroll directs his advice, the idea that there's anything that merits respect in our view, on the opposing side, will be as odd as the notion that we could possibly hold our beliefs without hating them. Perhaps some SSM advocates realize, whether consciously or deep down, that we on the outside don't hate them, in which case it might be conceivable that we're right.

For this reason, although it represents a risk in more ways than one, I'd say a "mature awareness campaign" that puts our beliefs, preconceptions, and conclusions on the table is good advice for traditionalists, as well.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:59 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

The Behavior of an Imbecile

Paul Cella has written a must-read post about depravity and the First Amendment. It's too good to pull out quotes, but here's a little flavor and a point worth independent consideration:

In short, the class of people that still, even at this late date in the progress of egalitarian leveling, retains a considerable bulk of the political power in this country — that is, traditional families with children — got a good look at what awaits their children from the entertainment industry, and reacted as sober citizens of a republic do to brazen depravity. The revelation could not be undone by all the silver-tongued rhetoric about the First Amendment in the world. Clear-headed parents will not be argued into enslaving their children to vice. A predator is not beheld with equanimity by the prey. ...

The faction that captures through some beguiling sophistry the legislation of the country, and removes a large and crucial issue from consideration by placing it above the public debate, has subverted the Constitution; and made of itself the nation's illegitimate Legislator. It is not that free speech should be obliterated, but rather that its lineaments should be subject, like every other issue between men of good faith, to the deliberation and scrutiny of the Republic — as, indeed, it has usually been — with the attendant imperfections and errancy of any activity of men here below.

(via Craig Henry)

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:51 AM | Comments (1)

April 25, 2004

Don't Teach Your Children Well

Jeff Miller offers yet another example that Canada continues to slip into surreality:

Homeschooling parents in a Canadian province have been ordered to stop using religious-based materials or other "unofficial" resources when they teach their children at home. ...

The British Columbia Education Ministry insists the order is merely a "clarification" of the rules it laid out in September 2002, which said distance-education students had to follow the same rules as regular students. ...

With regard to faith-based resources, it stated: "Districts must ensure that students are not using religious materials or resources as part of the educational program and that parents are not being reimbursed for using religious materials or resources with students."

Doesn't this seem like exactly the sort of outcome that would be dismissed, if predicted beforehand, into the "don't be ridiculous you paranoid religious nut" category? What has apparently happened is that the Langley school district created a program to enable it to continue collecting per-student funding of $5,408 by offering homeschooling parents about $600 (or about 11% of the money attached to their children) and a provincial certificate upon graduation.

Only in an environment of bureaucratic greed and secular fundamentalism is such a statement as this possible:

"If a district receives full funding for a student, the student is not being home-schooled," the [British Columbia Education Ministry ] stated.

Fair enough. How about sending the full $5,408 directly to the home-schools?

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:04 PM

"It wasn't the Ten Suggestions that came down from the mountain."

The title of this post is a line from Rev. William Murdoch, director the New England Province for the Anglican Communion Network, with which Providence Journal religion writer Richard Dujardin ended a piece about Rhode Island Episcopalian parishes seeking a link to the Anglican Communion other than the U.S. Episcopalian Church. One-third of Rhode Island (Rhode Island!) parishes are apparently interested. That minority in Rhode Island is, however, part of a global majority:

"We are at a situation where 31 of the world's 38 Anglican primates already declared themselves out of communion with the U.S. Episcopal Church," said the Rev. Canon Jonathan Ostman, rector of St. John the Evangelist Church, in Newport.

As a Rhode Islander, I'm mostly happy to find evidence of good sense among my fellow citizens:

Geoffrey Milner, a member of St. Mary's Church in Warwick, nearly broke down in tears, saying that he was doing this for the sake of the children, recognizing that for them to attain eternal life they must be given the armor of truth, not the "nice feel-good stuff" that is not going to save them.

"This is only the tip of the iceberg," said the Rev. Mark Galloway, rector of the host church and the only priest in the entire delegation of priests and lay deputies from New England to vote against Robinson's ordination at the General Convention last summer in Minneapolis.

Since the convention, he said, he's been berated and labeled a bigot, even though he and his wife have a homosexual friend they once took into their home and he has welcomed homosexuals into his church. It is gotten to the point, he said, where the marginalization of those opposed to the latest cultural trends has become a fait accompli.

As a Roman Catholic, I'd say that this is just further evidence that the most significant divide in Christendom cuts across denominations. Only time will tell if these trends represent a stage on the way toward a small-c catholic Church, as chunks of every individual Church fall into the roiling sea of the secular culture's ideological demands.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:44 AM | Comments (13)

April 24, 2004

Words Passed Through History

Lane Core has been keeping an eye on politics, generally, and John Kerry specifically. For posterity's sake, he's ensured that Kerry's 1971 Vietnam testimony is available as a clean and readable PDF. (Note: that link goes to an html page.)

I'm starting to wonder how the Internet is affecting the behavior of future John Kerrys. Statements can no longer be made with the understanding that they'll disappear into niches of the country, requiring effort to find them. Demand for content can just about disappear for 30 years, but interested parties will still be able to access it as if it had been posted the week before.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:29 PM | Comments (5)

Ceding the Last Battle

In a comment to a post on Tuesday, reader Fitz asks:

I would submit - concerning the general flow of this conversation - that the gay "marriage" battle is really the last battle in the culture war.

By that I mean - to lose this engagement is to answer many of the questions we struggle with.

To lose this battle is to presuppose a disengagement with the culture at large. This will dispirit the troops concerning coming battles over the "right" to die, legalized prostitution, abortion, educational implementation of the liberal agenda, etc.

Furthermore - losing this battle will cement the idea of permissible judicial supremacy over our most important moral battles. This will encourage our robed masters and their new class supporter's - giving them carte blanche to implement their agenda further (really, who will oppose them after this huge defeat).

In many ways they have already won - The lack of outrage amongst the legal elites in calling biology and reproduction "No rational basis" is indicative of their supremacy amongst the ruling class.

My question to you Mr. Katz is - Do you disagree with my thesis? and if the answer is No, then why are you (and the rest of us) not throwing all our efforts behind opposing this latest front? (or are you?)

The first thing to note is that I spend more time than I have to spare discussing, researching, thinking, and writing about same sex marriage. And that, ultimately, is where I've assessed that I can personally do the most good. I can't answer for others in their own judgments about how much to do and in what way. Whatever the case for any particular individual, it must be said that it ain't easy to take a stand. I'm pretty sure I've lost some friends and professional good will as a result of mine. But that's how it goes.

Be my personal sacrifices what they may, taking incrementally broader views leave plenty of room for hope no matter the outcome with this issue. Over the past half-decade or so, folks have been starting to wake up to what has been lost in our culture's rush from traditional principles and practices — and to the need to defend it. The fight over same-sex marriage, in that context, is a battle at the turning point.

If traditionalists lose it, it may prove to have been a parting victory for the abating zeitgeist — a final bit of havoc wreaked by the defeated ethos. Recovery will be more difficult as a result, but not impossible. An optimist might suggest that, given the nature of the trend that we, for our part, are encouraging, the extra work might ultimately be for the good.

In its legal aspect, defeat needn't mean that the judiciary will not face ever-increasing hostilities in its bids for power. The fact of the matter is that the citizenry hasn't really begun to push back against the robed oligarchs. As that poll of Evangelicals illustrates (properly read — ahem), many people who oppose changing the definition of marriage do not fully appreciate the forces at play. Furthermore, SSM advocates such as Andrew Sullivan have devoted a sizable portion of their efforts to declaring that nothing in the law or legal system will nationalize SSM if the people don't want it. Their reactions when they are proven wrong (as I suspect they know they will be), and just the fact of their being proven wrong, will help to cut through the obfuscations that loosen the judiciary's leash, such as carefully spun federalist rhetoric.

Abortion, by way of comparison, came during a completely different era, legally and culturally. It may very well be that the two issues, if SSM is nationalized by the courts, bookend the period of people's tolerance for this sort of behavior from that branch. For one thing, a much broader segment of society was implicated in Roe v. Wade, particularly as time went on. After-the-fact resistance to same-sex marriage will not force citizens to face the question of whether they murdered their offspring, or advocated for the ability of others to do so.

In its cultural aspect, the war is not lost because there are other theaters in which to fight it. Fitz gets to the real variable, however, when he mentions morale. We ought to hold out hope, should this legal battle be lost, that it is possible to use the caused turbulence to strengthen other aspects of marriage. A successful reaffirmation of the lifetime commitment and of monogamy in the culture and (preferably) in the law would limit the ill effects of same-sex marriage, and might even provide an opening for society to transform the social understanding of homosexuality.

The outcome, under any circumstances, is far from certain. Still, we can take comfort in the observation that these things run in cycles. As I've stated before, such principles as those crystallized in traditional marriage seem to have a way of coming around again, even if it must occur after our society as currently constituted collapses.

And even if this is the last cycle... well, I'm a Christian believer, and therefore, even pessimism about particulars can be a source of optimism.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:22 PM | Comments (3)
Marriage & Family

Tripped by Taxes

Well, for anybody who's curious, my little fundraising venture brought in a grand total of $0.00. That's fine; I just like to rattle my cup occasionally to see what happens, and my readership still isn't on the level at which other bloggers seem to start earning money. It might be wise, nonetheless, for me to raise my threshold for such extensive posts as the one on Scandinavian marriage.


I just paid my weekly bills, and thanks to the check to Uncle Sam earlier this month, I'm $25 short for the month. I figure I've got about $5 of spare change in my coffee can. If you'd like to help me make up the difference please do. If not, hey, I understand. Times're rough all around, as they say.

ADDENDUM (04/25/04 12:05 a.m.):
Before I head off to bed, I want to post a quick thank you to the two people who've helped me cover this month's deficit, even leaving the coffee can free of all but a very light skim. Notes of profuse thanks will go out tomorrow, but I thought it important to avoid encouraging further donations on false pretenses.

Bills are relentless, of course, and I'm still a long way from avoiding the fees incurred by dipping below the monthly minimum for my bank account, so further contributions would still be extremely welcome. But the bills can be paid, and for that, I'm beyond grateful.

I'll do my best to keep my budget balanced, henceforth.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:10 PM | Comments (1)
Sales & Fundraising

See No Good Versus See No Evil

Joseph D'Hippolito quotes, in the Jerusalem Post, Civilita Cattolica vice-director and political commentator, Fr. Michele Simone:

For Simone, invading Iraq "lent support to the impression that the West... intends a new colonization of Islamic countries, aimed at taking control of their oil, on the pretext of wanting to bring 'democracy'... without realizing that, at least for Islamic fundamentalism, 'democracy' takes the sovereignty away from Allah and transfers it to the 'people,' which for a Muslim believer is an act of 'impiety.' "

Joseph's article focuses on an "intellectual schizophrenia" within the Catholic Church, but the same struggle plays out across Western society. The difficulties that the West is having concocting an approach to the Islamic world may be, in large part, the result of people's tendencies to see among others what they see among themselves and to believe that others are behaving as they, themselves, would behave.

To the extent that those in the Middle East believe the West is bent on dictatorial rule, it is because that is the regime under which they have lived. Similarly, those who have been such rulers, believe that we seek to take over their dominion for our own benefit, just as they would like to conquer the West for their own. If democracy "takes the sovereignty away from Allah," it does so by taking power from Allah's self-appointed spokesmen.

On our end, folks who encourage a soft approach for handling the Middle East believe that blather about universal equivalence and respect for differences, by which the Western elite has conquered its own masses, will wend its way into the struggle with Islamic society. At best, this strategy would require centuries of sitting through low-grade casualties; with the advent of technologies to murder thousands and millions of people at a time, the "at worst" is much more likely.

Luckily, the wall of blather had already been proving ill suited to the United States, which was beginning to push back against the pressure of creeping socialism even before 9/11. Belief in absolute truths, if maintained, is proof against artificial enclosure. Unfortunately, the elite view has overtaken many of those who are meant to be the caretakers of our Truth. In a broad view, it is the stark choice between possible responses that radical Islam presents to the West — precisely along lines of internecine discord — that makes our decision of such critical importance.

Religious leaders should be resolute in a belief that God's sovereignty exists through "the people" — and impressions be damned. Unfortunately, the West has already been using a pretext of democracy — involving its form but not its substance — to chip away at this sovereignty in the name of material wealth and physical comforts (symbolized, if you like, in oil).

As for the struggle across cultures, sometimes the only way that understanding can bridge a barrier of mutual incomprehension is for one side to act. Think of a dog with a thorn in its paw; only after the stranger holds it down and removes the thorn will it realize the good intentions. That outcome is much preferable, all around, to the opposite intention of shared pain.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:32 AM

April 23, 2004

A Star Among Heroes

In addition to posting a touching statement by John McCain, Marc Comtois writes:

[Pat Tillman's] death is no more tragic than the hundreds of others, but his is an example of someone who had it all, but gave it up to serve his country. He is only one example of those who fight for us.

The reminder is well taken and important to make. However, a compatible point that I haven't seen made is that it's probable that Tillman played, for the average enlistee, the same role that stars play for the average American, when a real or perceived connection exists. Although their decision to serve their country requires no additional objective or social validation, that somebody leaves a privileged life behind in order to stand at their side surely helps to validate that decision on a personal level.

It may be his name and his face that will be seen everywhere for the next few weeks, but it is no less all of the rest of our bearers of freedom whom we honor.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:25 PM

Airlifted to Where?

Wondering why the media seems more inclined to remember Vietnam than 9/11, Patrick Sweeney asks:

al Qaeda has not been crushed. If we think this is Vietnam, then when the last building in New York or Washington is encircled by terrorists as the American embassy was encircled in Saigon -- where are WE going to fly off to in the helicopter?

It's a good question. Although it's not universally applicable, I can't shake the feeling that many in the media and a large segment of the population just refuse to believe that terrorists could strike again. Sometimes it seems they don't really believe that they've struck before.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:54 PM
Middle East

Political Healthcare

It's hard to understand why anybody would oppose socialized, government-run, universal healthcare when Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) puts it like this:

At the crux of any meaningful health-care reform must be a commitment from the government to act in the best interest of its citizens. A national template for this type of coverage already exists: the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). It manages health insurance for more than 8 million federal employees, retirees and dependents. This program, composed of private insurance carriers, is administered by the federal government, which assumes responsibility for approving or disapproving carriers, negotiating benefit and rate changes, and auditing carriers' operations under the law.

With administrative costs of less than 1 percent (compared with private-sector costs that can reach 30 percent), and a below-average annual premium increase, the government can offer a wide variety of choices and protections to its employees.

The system is funded by the taxpayers.

On second thought, how anybody can conclude from the political system and healthcare situation in Rhode Island that what is needed is further regulation and a government-run healthcare monopoly is beyond me. For some reason, this style of thinking seems to be related to that which believes that a system managing healthcare for 2.8% of the population — paid for by the other 97.2% — could simply be expanded to cover everybody.

Hey, if everybody's going to pay for everybody's healthcare, why not just insist that everybody pays for their own? That 1% (or whatever) administrative fee must be a powerful policy incentive...

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:17 PM

The Perils of Local Blogging: Banned from the Conversation!

So Sheila Lennon has a survey on her Providence Journal blog, asking the following question:

The Bush Administration has banned news coverage of dead soldiers' homecomings at all military bases. The administration argues that this is done out of respect for those killed. Critics say it's an attempt to downplay the deaths of those killed. What do you think?

Unsurprisingly, the responses are running 74% to 22% against the policy. What is surprising is that I had to go out of my way to find out the running results. You have to be a registered user to take the survey, and every time I attempted to log in, I was rerouted to the sign-in form. Earlier this morning, thinking that it must have been a glitch, I decided to try again later.

Well, later came, and the rerouting continued, so I thought I'd try reregistering with another email address. And whataya know... it worked. Moreover, my original email address works for other content. So, unless I'm experiencing some weird technical quirk, I am blocked from taking Ms. Lennon's survey. It's true that there's also a comment feature, but it's anonymous, and comes with the disclaimer that "Comments will be previewed before posting." Not that I'd have said anything that might be considered a right-wing parallel to this (not out of place) comment, published at 10:02:56 today:

Bush is a draft-dodging lying moron and should resign immediately taking his greedy cabinet with him. We can hold a special election in a heartbeat and get us out of this mess he made in Iraq.

My being banned is especially curious, considering the subject of the survey. I wonder what the two commenters who've called the no-photo policy censorship would say.

Just two quick responses to specific comments that have been left. One person says, "'Disagree' is just not strong enough....Show Americans the consequences of war - the 'good' and the 'bad.'" I could hardly agree more. Along with the running, front-page tallies of fatalities and terrorist attacks, the media should be investigating all of the personal interest pieces that would give citizens a sense of the good that is being accomplished in Iraq, despite the hardships.

Another commenter, believing the homecomings should be shown, correctly reminds everybody, "These are people, not numbers." Of course, they aren't flag-draped boxes, either.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:18 PM
News Media

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "A The Bronwyn Tale," by Andrew McNabb.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:20 AM

Softening the Sting

Although it was interesting and will benefit me in ways that aren't easily quantified, I spent way too much time on the previous post. If you thought it was worth the effort — or if you think the blog as a whole is — please consider clicking the following button and help to take a little of the sting out of my lost hours:

Of course, I'd be just as (or more) happy to send you a book or two (signed). So, please consider that option, as well. I'm not looking for much. Just enough to give me a silver lining when my wife asks what I did all Thursday.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:46 AM
Sales & Fundraising

April 22, 2004

Scandinavian Marriage by the Numbers

The legalization of same-sex marriage does not of itself cause some cosmic shift in people's attitudes about marriage. The day after the ink dries on legislation or a judicial ruling, divorce lawyers' phones won't ring off the hook and unmarried couples won't give birth to vast broods. However, the legalization of same-sex marriage is a definitive marker — the bottom line of how a society defines marriage and its purposes.

Therefore, it necessarily arrives as part of a progression, not as a bolt from the cultural blue. This is not to say that the "yes" vote doesn't bring a significant shift; accepting marriages between two men or two women establishes a manifest illustration that, whatever the essence of marriage is, it doesn't follow from the unique complement of man and woman.

Beyond the intangibles of gender difference, couples of opposite sex can uniquely be the biological parents of shared children. Tying those parents to those children is a crucial social objective. And to the degree to which denial of marriage's role in this objective is codified into law — establishing rights and privileges for others — it removes marriage as a mechanism to achieve it.

This biological and psychological reality holds no matter the culture in question. Therefore, it would be a waste of time to argue with Andrew Sullivan's assertion that "the legal and cultural norms around coupling and family are very, very different in Scandinavia than in the U.S." Even letting slide his perennial attempts to use that region as a model and example in his advocacy for SSM in the United States, one can suggest that damage to the institution of marriage would only be more profoundly harmful on our shores, where (Sullivan admits) "civil marriage remains... the privileged organizing unit for coupling and rearing children."

However, Sullivan cannot be ignored in his attempts to argue that one area of difference is that Scandinavian citizens can achieve the familial benefits of marriage without entering into the institution per se. He quotes from correspondence with researcher Darren Spedale:

Couples in Scandinavia who have chosen to spend their lives together without a marriage certificate often plan for an otherwise traditional family structure, including children. Thus, the 'out-of-wedlock births' that Kurtz refers to in Scandinavia are children who are wanted by their parents... Probably the most telling proof of this is the incredibly low number of Scandinavian children available for adoption each year. In Denmark, for example, only about 25 Danish children are available for adoption each year in the entire country. ... Kurtz's claim that 'rising rates of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births stand as proxy for rising rates of family dissolution' is therefore misleading.

Perhaps I'm not alone in finding it suspicious that Spedale seeks to replace cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births with adoption as a bellwether of family dissolution. Low numbers of children put up for adoption are to be expected in societies in which parents who would be willing to remove their children from their lives can kill them before they're born. As I highlighted in a post with extensive graphs on these matters, between approximately 11% (Netherlands) and 26% (Sweden) of all children conceived in the region were aborted in 2000. This was up from rates in the same bookend countries of approximately 2% and 16% in 1970.

More to the point, however, Spedale presumes too much in implying that "family dissolution" requires that all parties, including the children, go their separate ways:

The only thing that such statistics demonstrate is a continuing shift in the Scandinavian countries to permanent relationships of families in a traditional family structure (i.e., with children), who don't hold a marriage license. Kurtz fails to prove any connection whatsoever between unmarried couples and family dissolution.

Certainly, a problem faces Mr. Kurtz in that cohabiting families are a bit more difficult to track. For one thing, without the expectation that parents will be married, divorce rates and statistics about whether children live with their own parents cannot easily be combined. Examining statistics of Danish childrens' households, it is heartening that 74.8% of children still lived with their own mothers and fathers in 2001, even if that was down from 75.9% in 1991. The picture begins to tint, however, when one notes that the number of children living with a single mother was up 11% over that period.

Raw numbers of children are tricky for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they can go up in every category, leaving one to compare rates of increase for small and large numbers alike. The number of children living with their own parents, for example, was up 5%, or 41,569 kids, while the number of children living with their recoupled mothers was up 18%, or 13,203 kids. All in all, those 41,569 additional children living with their own parents compares with 28,763 additional children whose original families dissolved.

Secondly, raw numbers of children are skewed by the tendency of traditional families to be larger. To understand this dynamic, consider the data by household type, which is a bit more worrying. In 2001, for homes with one child, unmarried parents (combining all registered partnerships, "consensual unions," and cohabiting couples) amounted to 40.6% the number of married households, while single parent households (either mother or father) amounted to 49.2% of the number of married households. So the total one-child households that didn't involve marriage was 89.8% the size of the total households that did. For homes with two children, the unmarried total was 23.7% the size of married, and the single parent total was 19.2% — meaning that marriage-less households were 42.9% the total for married. For homes with three or more children, the numbers are 16.4% and 13.9%, generating a total no-marriage to marriage ratio of 30.3%.

For a visual sense of what this means, consider the following graphic. The solid bars are the actual numbers in each category for 2001.

Note not only that there are more married two-child households than one-child, but also that the distance increases as described above. The outlined boxes give some historical perspective, as the relevant numbers for 1991. It isn't clear that the trend is of families with children remaining the same, only dispensing with the marital formality, as Spedale suggests. If that were the case, losses in the married category would be made up more directly in the unmarried couple category.

Although there may have been some degree of this in the '90s, comparing the percentage change of the total numbers suggests that the arrangement could be culturally and individually fleeting. Larger families are likely to be older, with a cultural view formed during an earlier period, meaning that the parents absorbed the meaning of marriage, even if they don't have a license. Moreover, larger unmarried families would seem likely to include more reshuffled children, because (for one thing) large nuclear families began earlier in the trend away from marriage.

In the following figure, the solid bars represent the difference that you see in the first figure — the change from 1991 to 2001.

Looking just at the solid columns, you can see that marriage is decreasing among one-child households, but leveling off then increasing for additional children. However, the other family types are increasing at a faster rate. Most disturbing of all are the outlined boxes, which show the percentage change in total households from 1991 to 2004. Single-parent households are by far the most rapidly expanding group for families with multiple children.

What it looks like to me is that there's a reason that it's widely accepted among sociologists that cohabitation isn't stable. Those who are serious will get married; those who are not will separate. And unfortunately, the rate of the latter is increasing more than the rate of the former. Combined with the fact that individual children are ever-more-likely to live without both of their biological parents, and Sullivan would seem to be ill advised to count on the "social conservatism" of Scandinavians. This is especially true when it is considered that, as I showed in the context of births and abortions, Denmark is the most-improving nation in the region.

Sullivan shifts his discussion to Norway (link in original):

It's also true that in the period Kurtz is concerned about the number of marriages in Norway increased by almost 25 percent from 20,161 in 1993 to 26,425 in 1999. How does that square with the "death of marriage"?

Let's get fairness out of the way first: for some reason, Sullivan added the data for marriages abroad to a total that already included them, so the actual numbers are 18,741 and 23,456, which represents an increase of just over 25%. I've no reason to quibble with that, as I believe there's a very real chance that the public battle over same-sex marriage gives the whole institution a temporary boost, because people are considering what marriage means, overall and for themselves. What's peculiar is that Sullivan (or somebody) had to dig to get the table that ends at 1999, and I'm not sure why he believes that Kurtz is only "concerned about" that period.

The latest table goes all the way to 2002, when there were 24,069 marriages. I'm not sufficiently familiar with what's going on in that country to know why it's so, but the marriage numbers have been volatile this decade, up to 25,356 in 2000 and down to 22,967 in 2001. That blip was in large part due to fluctuations in the number of church weddings, which might be consistent with my boost hypothesis. However, the 2002 increase was more evenly divided between religious and civil. Whatever the case, one can discern how susceptible the relatively tiny totals are to distortion of trends by the fact that one could pick five-year gaps during which marriages increased by 25% or by 0%.

One more bit of numerical flimflammery that's worth noting involves this from Spedale:

This solemn approach towards, and respect for, entering into the institution of marriage also explains why divorce rates among gay and lesbian couples is so much lower than rates of divorce among their heterosexual counterparts.

Sullivan emphasizes the point, writing, "Yes, you read that right." But who knows what we're reading; Spedale offers no numbers, let alone a source for numbers. So let's use the numbers that Sullivan's Norway source provides. Although there's no corresponding table, the main report about divorces and separation notes that there were 44 same-sex divorces and 77 same-sex separations in 2002. Since I wasn't able to find any historical data, let's be generous and assume that 2002 was the first year during which Norwegian same-sex couples divorced. Thus, we'll compare the 44 divorces to the 1,412 same-sex partnerships that had been contracted in the previous decade.

This source calculates the heterosexual "divorce rate" per 1,000 married women. In Norway for 2002, it was 11.9. Calculating the per-1,000 number for same-sex divorces, we get 31.2, which is two-and-a-half times the divorce rate of heterosexual marriages. And, remember, this assumes that there had never been a same-sex divorce in Norway before that year. If 44 same-sex couples had divorced every year for the past ten, there would only have been 972 of them by that point, and their divorce rate would be 45.3.

But more than all of the number games, what bothers me about Sullivan's latest spin is this:

Between 1994 and 1999, there were a total of five registered same-sex partnerships in the county Kurtz cites. Kurtz wants to explain the shift in that county's heterosexual conduct by citing a mere ten people?

Variations of this statement have been made — and rebutted — so many times over the past year that I'm beginning to think those who make it don't really listen for an answer. It isn't the actual number of same-sex marriages that creates an issue; those who say it hurts my marriage not at all if two homosexuals marry are correct. At the same time, those 10 folks in that county, even the 1,412 folks in all of Norway, didn't change the law all on their own. What preceded their marriages was a final push of the socially understood meaning and purpose of marriage to the point at which gender became irrelevant. The effects will take decades to play out, and none yet can claim definitive conclusions. But frankly, the numbers don't give much reason for optimism — certainly not enough to emulate the policy here across the pond.

Apparently, I wasn't alone in thinking Spedale's appeal to low adoption rates to be suspicious. Here's Eve Tushnet:

Low rates of babies placed for adoption = strong family culture??? Has Spedale ever spent any time in an American inner city? Many, many American communities have exceptionally low marriage rates and a strong stigma against placing your baby for adoption. Those are the families of "fatherless America," not models of marriageless bliss.

Sullivan has linked to Spedale's full response to Kurtz. To cut to the chase, I'm not impressed. The great bulk of its content is advocacy fluff (e.g., about "respect" and "tolerance"), a strange belief that SSM must be working because the politicians would have modified or removed it otherwise, and snide remarks about how Spedale actually conducted dozens of interviews, whereas Kurtz mostly studied numbers covering entire populations.

In fact, numbers are sparse and selectively applied in Spedale's lengthy essay. We learn that, in 1996, "before the registered partnership law was introduced, approximately 50% of heterosexual couples in Iceland with children were already living together as permanent partners without a marriage certificate." We get the adoption number cited above. And then we get this:

In 1990, at the outset of the partnership law's existence, there were 6.1 heterosexual marriages per 1,000 persons in Denmark. By the mid-1990's (1996), that number had climbed to 6.8 marriages per 1,000 population, or an increase of just over 10% from 1990.

Furthermore, the number of heterosexual divorces in 1990 stood at 2.7 per 1,000 population. By the mid-1990's, it was at 2.4 per 1,000, or an approximate 12% decrease in the number of divorces.

What's peculiar, here, is that Spedale opens his essay proclaiming that "15 years after the first of these countries (Denmark) legalized gay marriage in the form of registered partnerships, the results are in." He ends suggesting that this "15-year history with gay marriage" allows us to "close the door on Stanley Kurtz's supposed argument that gay marriage in Scandinavia has had a negative impact on the institution of marriage." If that's the case, why offer only data from the first six of those fifteen years?

See for yourself why. Since 1996, this marriage rate per 1,000 has fluctuated back down to 6.5 (1997), up to 7.2 (2000), and in 2002 rested at 6.9. (Incidentally, between 1996 and 2002, Denmark's population increased only 2.2%, or 117,327 people, 79,572 of whom were immigrants not canceled out by emigrants. That leaves native population growth of only 37,755, if I'm not missing anything.)

More importantly, and less mixed up with other factors, is the trend in divorce. It's true that the number of divorces decreased from 13,731 in 1990 to 12,776 in 1996. However, they've since increased steadily each year, and in 2002, there were 15,304. That's 2.85 per 1,000 of the total population — up 5.6% from 1990's 2.7, and up 18.8% from 1996's 2.4.

Sorry Darren, I don't think the door can be close just yet. What's the hurry?

Spedale has added some statistical meat to his essay. I've addressed it here.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:57 PM | Comments (3)
Marriage & Family

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:07 AM

Honoring the Dead with Honesty

Sheila Lennon directs readers' attention to establishment-media editor Tom Mangan's thoughts about the photo of flag-draped coffins printed by the Seattle Times (emphasis in original):

So, yeah, it's a storytelling photo. But what's the story? That we're shipping our dead home by airplane? Everybody who cares already knows that. That our soldiers have been dying in a war? Given the hornet's nest they're serving in, it could be argued that the biggest news is not how many are dead, but how many are still alive. ...

There's another story here that isn't so high-minded. It's about how we go with a photo like that because we have it and we're reasonably certain nobody else does. And because we know the authorities don't want us to publish it. The Pentagon/White House have forbidden us from taking pictures of coffins arriving home from the war, which instantly puts the thought in my head, "I'm running the first good flag-draped coffin pic I get, just to show those bastards they can't tell me what pictures I put in my paper." ...

This will always happen, it's the nature of the business. Still, I think people will respect us a lot more if we dump the pieties and just tell 'em: "look, it was a great scoop, and you'd have done the same if you'd been in my shoes." Otherwise we sound like politicians making the usual empty pronouncements.

Even with such forthright explanations, however, the press will still give the impression of rebellious teenagers — who happen to have very prominent podiums from which to stick it to the "authorities." The media's problem, in this respect, requires a much more fundamental, institutional change. In short, they would have to address the fact that very few people actually believe them when they say they run with such images to "honor the fallen."

Part of the solution might be to do a better job of respecting enlisted men and women — and the class from which they come — while they're still alive.

Just a little disclaimer, here: I don't feel that the pieces of Mangan's post that I quoted give an accurate feel for the subtleties of what he's saying. I didn't lose much, but for a basis to react in more than just the specific way that I've done here, you should read the whole thing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:34 AM
News Media

April 21, 2004

Allies Best Backed into Battle

Too late, when prudence craves alliance with
Those who claim support to be contingent,
We find, as oft we do from restive kith:
Though they face our foes, they're retromingent.

[Why should only Derbyshire get to play?]

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:57 PM

If You've Time to Spare

Orisinal's latest game is the best to have been posted on the site in a while. It takes a moment to get the idea, but then it's addictive.

(Hint: you have to enclose only like-colored bug thingies within a shape. They will merge, and when there's only one of each color, the level is finished.)

Unfortunately, there aren't very many levels, so the game ends a bit too quickly once you get the knack. Thereafter, motivation for playing is entirely score-related, something that's never appealed to me. Forget score! I want a goal. That's what made Orisinal's three best games so far — The Amazing Dare-Dozen, The Runaway Train, and The Bottom of the Sea — so much more compelling than the rest, all of which are aesthetically pleasing.

One day I'll learn how to make these things... one day.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:48 PM
Quick Links

Ripples from a Spinning Poll

Without much comment, Andrew Sullivan notes that evangelicals are questioning the accuracy of that PBS poll that found only moderate enthusiasm for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as man-woman. From the American Family Association:

The poll was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in recent weeks for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and U.S. News & World Report. The results of the poll, which were widely publicized, indicated that by a margin of 52 to 41 percent, Evangelicals prefer to leave the issue of same-sex marriage up to the states rather than amend the U.S. Constitution.

The fact that a New York Times poll in March said 59 percent of the general population supports a Federal Marriage Amendment caused many to question the polling group's definition of "Evangelical."

Russell Moore, a senior officials at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says the survey is off target because the authors assumed self-professing Evangelicals are true Evangelicals. He tells Baptist Press that incredibly, 45 percent of those so-called Evangelicals in the survey disagreed with the statement that "only born-again Christians go to heaven."

More than any question of who does or does not have a right to the moniker "Evangelical," this disparity was caused by differences in the actual questions. Once again, here is the question that garnered the controversial response rate (I even took the time to let Acrobat kick in to double-check the PDF):

Should the U.S. Constitution be amended to ban gay marriage, or is it enough to prohibit gay marriage by law without changing the Constitution?

I see nothing about "leaving it up to the states." I don't even see any ambiguity about the preferred outcome. So, unless I'm missing some bit of information, here, the person who wrote the poll summary (see page 17 of this PDF) erroneously introduced the concept of state law, and everybody else has spun a prudential assessment about legal methods into a lack of support for an amendment.

Ever feel like the only person who can see (or will admit) that a coworker's project is fatally flawed?

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:28 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

At Last

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:25 PM
Diary & Confession

Subjective Objectivity

I agree that "Femi-Nazi" rhetoric isn't helpful, and student editorial writers certainly face a tricky task juggling liberalism's rhetorical demands. So, the Good 5-cent Cigar's chiding of those, presumably URI students, who distributed some anti-abortion fliers (apparently to promote a speaking event) wouldn't have drawn comment from me were it not for this:

Comparing those who have had abortions to Nazis is absolutely ridiculous. In an abortion, a woman makes a choice concerning her body and does so for varying reasons, none of which are hate-filled or evil. The Nazis, on the other hand, killed innocent people in cold blood. A woman has the right to choose what she does with her body and Bay Buchanan, or any other anti-abortionist, has the right to vilify a woman for making that choice.

Whether you believe a fetus is a living being or not, comparing women who choose to have abortions to the Nazis is unreasonable, and stands only for its shock value.

What's striking is the veneer of objectivity over a piece of writing that clearly accepts the premises of one side. The Right to Vilify mustn't extend very far if those who are to be its subjects can't be seen as evil. As it happens, most pro-lifers believe those women to be deceived, not evil. The people who present deranged impulses as perfectly ordinary — those to whom I imagine "Femi-Nazi" is generally applied — might be a different matter. One could also charitably see them as having deluded themselves, but some among the Nazi monsters might thereby have a degree of claim to that charity, since they surely didn't consider their actions to be "hate-filled and evil" — no matter how much that might have been the case.

The Cigar apparently holds the scientifically untenable notion that a fetus is not "a living being." Surely the young editors don't believe themselves to hate children still in the womb, much less consider themselves evil. Yet, their characterization of what is even debatable illustrates how people can work themselves into corners from which they lack the visibility to discern objective standards.

"Cold-blooded," for example, is just a depreciatory way to say "without emotion." In that light, what could be more cold-blooded than removing a growth that is not a living being — let alone a living human being? In fact, one could suggest that it is more "cold-blooded" to see a human being as a parasitic growth than as a subhuman intelligent animal. That isn't an assessment of the relative evil of killing each. It's just an even application of the concept of emotionless judgment of others' value.

"[C]omparing women who choose to have abortions to the Nazis is unreasonable" only if it is inherently unreasonable to believe that those who have yet to be born are human beings. The comparison might be excessive. In a campus setting, it may very well be imprudent. But it isn't without basis, given a certain set of beliefs.

And indeed, beliefs dictate what is reasonable. To URI student Chris Ferdinandi, for example, it was reasonable to end a letter that the Cigar published on March 16 thus:

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

I may have missed it, but perusing its archives, I can't find the Cigar's editorial calling Ferdinandi's letter "absolutely ridiculous." Interestingly, in a response that does so, Brad Orleck didn't fault the Cigar for printing it. With limited space, he thought it more effective to argue why such things are foolish to say, not why they should never be said in public. Happily, the Cigar put forward that argument — belatedly — in context of the "Femi-Nazi" fliers:

There is no place for this in a democratic society because it eventually leads to an environment of fear and an uninformed citizenry. Only when all citizens feel comfortable to share their ideas in an open arena can a democracy function fully, and comparing feminists to Nazis does not make this debate open.

There's no place for it in a democratic society, but apparently there is place for it in the Good 5-cent Cigar — and in many more-visible venues, I'm afraid.

Incidentally, I wonder how the Right to Vilification relates to the Right to Comfort. I also wonder whether the Cigar considers those who believe there to be legitimate points of comparison between Nazis and abortionists to be "citizens."

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:18 AM | Comments (1)

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:22 AM

Media Makes Message; President Speaks Through Action

In responding to my post about constraints on leaders' candor, Paul Craddick writes:

I think Justin's point definitely has merit; every time Bush and his administration have disappointed me with equivocation and avoidance of an issue, I have attenuated my disapproval by thinking of extenuating circumstances along the same lines. But if a politician is to stand for anything, at some point he/she needs to make bold and show willingness to be raked over the coals. And here I recall a valuable observation by one of my mentors at college: the moment anything interesting is said, it's amenable to misunderstanding and misrepresentation. There's little point in holding press conferences - which nominally aim at addressing questions of concern to the nation - if no serious effort is made to stake out a clear position.

First, I'm not sure what, about President Bush's position vis-à-vis Iraq and September 11, isn't clear. It may not be what Paul would like it to be, or its phrasing mightn't include exigencies that Paul would prefer, but I'd be willing to bet that he, along with most Americans, could paraphrase what that position is.

Second, correcting for press bias remains necessary, but it further must be considered that a threshold exists after which bold statements can't reach the people for whom they're intended. At some point a brave political risk becomes reckless bravado. Even if a prime-time press conference reaches a significant portion of the intended audience, weeks and months of media hammering away at what was said can transform the message. To some extent, the questions that the reporters asked already shaped our impression of the press conference in ways that obfuscate what the President said:

Mr. President, before the war, you and members of your administration made several claims about Iraq that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators with sweets and flowers, that Iraqi oil revenue would pay for most of the reconstruction; and that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction, but as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said, we know where they are. How do you explain to Americans how you got that so wrong? And how do you answer your opponents, who say that you took this nation to war on the basis of what have turned out to be a series a false premises? ...

Two-and-a-half years later, do you feel any sense of personal responsibility for September 11th? ...

One of the biggest criticisms of you is that whether it's WMD in Iraq, postwar planning in Iraq, or even the question of whether this administration did enough to ward off 9/11, you never admit a mistake. Is that a fair criticism? ...

Two weeks ago, a former counterterrorism official at the NSC, Richard Clarke, offered an unequivocal apology to the American people for failing them prior to 9/11. Do you believe the American people deserve a similar apology from you, and would you be prepared to give them one? ...

After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it? ...

I guess I just wonder if you feel that you have failed in any way? You don't have many of these press conferences, where you engage in this kind of exchange. Have you failed in any way to really make the case to the American public?

The last question is almost laughable in the context of this post. That the first question incorporates the spinning "we know where they are" meme illustrates the degree to which distortions compound. It's only my assessment, obviously, but these reporters were fishing for a headline. What could the President have possibly said? "Yup. It was right there in front of me; I missed it, and the deaths of thousands of Americans will be on my head until the day I join them in the grave." No, what he did say is perfectly reasonable:

There are some things I wish we'd have done when I look back. I mean, hindsight is easy. It's easy for a President to stand up and say, now that I know what happened, it would have been nice if there were certain things in place; for example, a homeland security department. ...

I'm sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have done it better this way, or that way. You know, I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference...

Looking again at Paul's proposal for what Bush could say about the matter of WMDs, I note that — although, overall, he offers what I believe to be an appropriately qualified synopsis — he inserts this language, which would surely be cast as a preparation for backpedaling:

... there's no question that we haven't found what we - and Intelligence agencies 'round the world - were expecting. And that's not good.

Though we don't know to what extent, it's appearing more and more likely that we were all mistaken - our administration and Intelligence agencies, the previous administration, friends of the United States, UNSCOM, and others.

Indeed, that's the common wisdom, these days, and we already have evidence of how it would be handled coming from administration lips. Adding in Paul's accurate point about Hussein's capacity to make biological and chemical weapons, it seems that the President actually put forward more or less the same argument, but without the tone of admission of guilt, and without conceding as much regarding the likelihood of actually finding weapons (emphasis added):

Even knowing what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would have called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein. See, I happen to believe that we'll find out the truth on the weapons. That's why we've sent up the independent commission. I look forward to hearing the truth, exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm [in Libya].

... We'll find out the truth about the weapons at some point in time. However, the fact that he had the capacity to make them bothers me today, just like it would have bothered me then. He's a dangerous man. He's a man who actually -- not only had weapons of mass destruction -- the reason I can say that with certainty is because he used them. And I have no doubt in my mind that he would like to have inflicted harm, or paid people to inflict harm, or trained people to inflict harm on America, because he hated us.

One can presume that the President's being obstinate for political purposes, or one can believe, remembering that he's got much more information than we do, that the President is being straightforward about his actual assessment. Whatever the case, it oughtn't be forgotten that our information is sifted and spun so thoroughly that entirely conflicting realities can be and are constructed. One side in this struggle is disingenuously pulling the truth toward what it would like it to be, and frankly, I find more evidence that it is the media.

Now, I don't think the administration always strikes the balance well between candor and sidestepping when it comes to specific issues. And ultimately the President is responsible for finding ways to communicate with the public. But isn't he? Despite the hostile media, isn't President get his message to the people?

I feel strongly about what we're doing. I feel strongly that the course this administration has taken will make America more secure and the world more free, and, therefore, the world more peaceful. It's a conviction that's deep in my soul. And I will say it as best as I possibly can to the American people.

I look forward to the debate and the campaign. I look forward to helping -- for the American people to hear, what is a proper use of American power; do we have an obligation to lead, or should we shirk responsibility. That's how I view this debate. And I look forward to making it, Don. I'll do it the best I possibly can. I'll give it the best shot. I'll speak as plainly as I can.

One thing is for certain, though, about me -- and the world has learned this -- when I say something, I mean it. And the credibility of the United States is incredibly important for keeping world peace and freedom.

It seems to me that the administration speaks through its actions, leaving it only to convey with words that it says what it means and means what it does.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:56 AM | Comments (2)
News Media

April 20, 2004

Actual Goodness and Inactual Bigotry

Michael Williams put something so well that it demands quotation. The boldface is his:

Many of the problems with our government arise from well-meaning people who reject the quaint notion of morality. They just can't encourage people to behave morally, so they chip, chip, chip away at the tiny freedoms that make immorality dangerous. They want to prove that the benefits of goodness can be separated from actual goodness. But they're wrong, and the result of their belief is the ridiculous, contradictory mess we've got now.

It's a bit like treating the symptoms; the disease will eventually manifest in a more dangerous form that is untreatable. Having not thought it through, I have to put this vaguely, but it may be that Michael's diagnosis points to the central difference between libertarians and small-government conservatives.

Libertarians, generally speaking, don't think it's the government's place to regulate people's behavior because they don't think it's anybody's place to do so. Conservatives understand, even if not explicitly, that handing responsibilities to government removes them from people; the government is almost invariably a poor administrator, and citizens are only too inclined toward a poverty of responsibility.

However, we're pretty far gone down the wrong path through this minefield, and I believe that the law is required, in some limited cases (drawn with maximal specificity), as a crutch to help our moral legs to heal. Most directly, a difficult balance must be struck between adhering to principle and struggling to block enemies who aren't so restrained. More subtle a reason can be found in another post on Michael's blog.

The Christian Pepperdine University turned down two proposals from student Grant Turck to create pro-gay campus groups. Michael writes:

Pepperdine doesn't hate Mr. Turck, but they don't want him to form an organization based around excusing/promoting/glorifying behavior they see to be morally wrong. The administrators would likewise certainly reject clubs whose purposes were to promote the acceptance of extramarital heterosexual sex, theft, lying, gossip, or any number of other behaviors that are contrary to standard Christian theology. Not because Christians hate or fear people who do these things, but because they don't want to contribute to their acceptance.

In a way of looking at it, what Turck is doing is demanding that Pepperdine behave as a government, in the ideal, would behave. Indeed, Aaron, to whom Michael links, raises the increasingly malignant factor of public funds. In a society setting aside special punishments for "hate crimes" and posting a list of groups protected from discrimination even in private capacities, one side, withdrawing its hand from legislation on pure political principle, will eventually find that hand cuffed, if ethical principle is to be maintained.

This brings us back around to the quest to procure the fruits of goodness without the quality's actual existence. Turck wants access to the school's resources without having to change that environment such that resources would be offered. Others want employment with companies or apartments from landlords without the company's or landlord's actual approval.

Something quite the opposite of good would seem the likely result of this practice, which transforms freedom into little more than a right to hurt or superficially help one's self.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:56 PM | Comments (8)

While Stopping Back at the Attic

By necessity, desire, and design, I've been stepping outside of my little attic office more often lately and conversing with my fellow Southeast New Englanders. One thing continues to shock: their pessimism about the economy.

I get the impression that they will refuse to believe in a recovery until we've gone through another whole cycle of boom and bust. The boom will be just an uncertain blip, and the following bust will be a toldyaso. Then, depending on who's in office, they might believe that the economy isn't "in the dumper" when it turns upward again

I don't think that, on the individual level, people are consciously downplaying the economy because the Republicans are running things. It's just that the news they hear is so thoroughly crafted to cast shadows across the noonday economic landscape.

Well, I've got to go back out into the sunshine and liberalism. I'll be back later.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:19 PM | Comments (2)

A Note on Music

Since readership of Dust in the Light has been up quite a bit, this year, perhaps a note on my larger enterprise would be worthwhile — specifically, the Songs You Should Know feature. My door is open to any independent (or even not-so-independent) musician who would like some rotating exposure on this page and on the main Timshel Arts page and a permanent link on the Timshel Music page.

If you, musicians you know, or musicians you like fit the bill, just send me an email pointing me in the direction of samples. From there, if I like what I hear, I'll either ask for a copy or buy one and begin featuring the music. Any genre is fine — my tastes are broad — but I'm particularly interested in evidence of concern for the artistry.

Oh, and if you'd like, I'll be happy to carry anything that's available for sale in Confidence Place. I'll just want a few copies on hand, and if anything sells, I deduct whatever it costs for me to process the order (e.g., credit card fees). I'm more than happy to be cut in on the profit, but musicians' doing so is voluntary.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:12 AM
Site-Related Announcements

Songs You Should Know 04/20/04

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

"Scared" Mr. Chu, Hard Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:05 AM

April 19, 2004

This Closed Mind of Mine

If you've got a moment, grant yourself the pleasure of reading Douglas Kern's review of Peter Singer's latest book. The review begins:

I'm closed-minded. I've made up my mind on most major issues, and I foresee no likelihood that my most cherished principles and beliefs will ever change. I do not worry that my closed-mindedness presents any handicap to me in the free marketplace of ideas, because my life experience indicates that most genuinely new ideas are stupid. I have little time or mental energy to spend refuting the clever arguments of idiots who contend that black is white, night is day, Communism is misunderstood. As I don't want to die as big a fool as I am now, I search for truth where it is, not where it is not. So I am closed-minded, and proud.

WMD: Only a Story in Absence

As Jeff Miller suggests, it's curious that this isn't a major news item:

Two members of an al-Qaida cell connected to top terror master Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have been caught in Jordan with chemical weapons and poisonous gas for a planned attack that Jordanian officials say would have killed up to 20,000 people.

Dan Darling, who's become quite an expert on this general area of current events, agrees that this might merit just a wee bit more attention, noting the worrying size of the plan. However, while delving further into the various questions raised, Dan says that there is only a "remote chance that this could turn out to be Iraqi in origin."

A difficulty exists, with these discussions, because different people demand different degrees of connection before they'll admit a link (if they'd admit one under any circumstances). I'm confident that Dan takes a similar view to mine of the reasonable burdens of proof and the justifiable actions based on what evidence is available. However, I note his doubts because upon searching my blog for Zarqawi's name, I came across this quotation from the Washington Post from last February:

The CIA chief also repeated many of Secretary of State Colin Powell's statements last week to the United Nations regarding Iraq's efforts to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and linking al-Qaida supporters to the Iraqi government. Tenet said the key link between Baghdad and al-Qaida is Abu Musab Zarqawi, a senior associate of bin Laden.

It's interesting how all of the various controversies roil around and around within the space created by the media's ambivalence. You might recall that Zarqawi's name also made an appearance when the press was trying to tar Vice President Cheney for declaring a link between Iraq and September 11.

One can't help but wonder how differently the War on Terror might be going if the media were as objective as it claims to be.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:39 PM
Middle East


Along with introducing the Catholic (?) Kerry Watch blog, Lane Core notes Phil Lawler's column pondering the significance of a Kerry presidency for the Catholic Church:

According to the American Spectator, Kerry's campaign staff is considering a plan to set up a situation in which the Senator would be denied Communion-- with plenty of reporters and cameras on hand to record the event. Evidently, some Kerry strategists feel that the incident would increase their man's popularity-- at the expense of the Catholic Church.

If Kerry goes through with this stunt, of course, we'll know exactly how seriously he takes his faith, since he would be risking his soul for the sake of a few votes.

Perhaps it's my newfound optimism talking, but my sense is that Americans' patience for the Rebel Without a Qualm shtick is wearing thin. Among those who could be persuaded either way, the stark difference between the quietly faithful George Bush and the loudly dissenting John Kerry will give distinct impressions, and I think more people will go with the former (viewing this factor in isolation). Of course, people like professed Catholic Margo Chaires are probably beyond persuasion:

I believe that the American Roman Catholic Church ought to lose its tax exempt status for being in violation of the Internal Revenue Service Code.

As it happens, I believe the American Roman Catholic Church ought to refuse tax exempt status — or at least threaten to make a show of doing so. The Church is not without political strength, in this regard; in Massachusetts, for example, it devotes more resources toward what can be considered charitable causes than any organization other than the state government. Powerful exemplification of injustice is easily within reach.

But the pressure to conform with the expanding requirements for government approval is mounting, while the dramatic power of withdrawing one's bucket from that well is decreasing. Mine is a limited view of the situation, but I think, as a Church, we're experience the unfortunate coincidence of losing options to exert political and cultural influence and having leaders unwilling to stand up to the challenge. It's going to be a rough half-century if we don't find it within us to overturn some tables.

(While we're at it, kicking the benches out from under the dove-peddlers would seem appropriate, at least to this hawk.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:07 PM | Comments (2)

Unspinning Evangelical Marriage Poll Numbers

Andrew Sullivan is surprised and encouraged by a poll showing that white evangelicals are human beings with a variety of concerns, which they approach with varying emphasis. Who'd have thought such a thing could be possible?

While I must admit to some reluctance to temper Sullivan's revelation, it's important to note that he gets the numbers wrong. Some of the blame belongs with his source and its source, both of whose contributions are probably some combination of error and spin. Here's Sullivan's first claim of fact:

52 percent of evangelicals said they preferred the matter to be handled by the states.

Here's how Frank Langfitt of the Sun-Sentinel (which I'm pretty sure is Sullivan's source) put it:

52 percent would prefer to rely on state laws to prevent gays from marrying rather than altering the U.S. Constitution.

That language comes directly from the PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly summary of its survey. But they're all wrong. Here's the actual question that respondents answered (see page 12 on this PDF):

Should the U.S. Constitution be amended to ban gay marriage, or is it enough to prohibit gay marriage by law without changing the Constitution?

The first thing to note is that the number is actually 52% of the 85% who oppose gay marriage. More importantly, the summary writer inserted the concept of state law and introduced the notion of preference, and then Sullivan replaced the emphasis on prevention with generic "handled by the states." The question, itself, however, is one of effectiveness — whether regular ol' laws, federal or state, would be sufficient. The survey doesn't explore whether proven inadequacy of statutes would switch support toward an amendment. Mention of the judiciary might have yielded higher support for an amendment, for example.

Here's Sullivan's second claim of fact:

Moreover 48 percent of evangelicals said that support for marriage rights for gays would not disqualify a candidate from their vote.

He actually got that backwards, as checking his source shows:

only 48 percent of white evangelicals said a candidate's support for gay marriage would disqualify him from receiving their votes.

The "only" is a bit of mild editorializing on Langfitt's part, not included in the PBS summary. Still, PBS assists him by failing to mention that the 48% compares with only 38% who would still vote for a candidate who disagreed on the issue.

The number mix-up is probably an honest mistake on Sullivan's part. However, to the degree that he strengthens the language with his rhetorical boilerplate ("support for marriage rights for gays"), he highlights two important omissions that begin with the summary.

First, another 7% said it "depends." The question is sufficiently open regarding both the degree of disagreement and the areas of agreement that some folks (myself included) would leave room for an election offering the choice between, say, a candidate who would abandon the war on terror and issue an executive order instituting gay marriage and one who would be strong against terrorism and offered some mild, qualified support for gay marriage. Seen in such a light, the 48% is astoundingly high.

Second, if I'm reading the survey data correctly, this question was asked of the total population. In other words, the 38% who would vote for a candidate with whom they disagreed about gay marriage might include as much as 10% who would — despite disagreement — be voting for a candidate who opposes gay marriage.

Thus do numbers transform in meaning and significance. Polls don't offer the most concrete of data, in the first place, but as the layers of spin and misreading pile on, they shift from cautiously useful, to useless, to detrimental.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:36 AM | Comments (5)
Marriage & Family

April 18, 2004

Correcting Incorrect Assumptions

It seems, based on discussion in the comments section to this post, that I was incorrect to infer that Prof. Rosenberg wouldn't support the tightening of some of the obligation-based marital laws, such as those around divorce and adultery. However, his position on such matters seems essentially independent from the question of same-sex marriage, which I find problematic in its own right. A significant portion of opposition to SSM derives from perception of the danger of further corrosion of marriage and the impossibility of comprehending the effects that erasing gender distinctions in such a central institution would have.

There are too many variables to people's handling of information in this debate — from completely different usage of terminology to the media's inclination to stuff all opposition into the religious corner — to propound on the reasons that people make the arguments that they do. I give the professor the benefit of the doubt on this count. However, I continue to find it worrying that even such fair and reasonable disputants as Prof. Rosenberg treat SSM as so entirely a matter of individual rights that strategies for mitigating potential corrodents are not integral to their larger propositions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:02 AM
Site-Related Announcements

April 17, 2004

Misdirected Rage at Wonkette

As always, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column if you find this page difficult to read.

The title of this post shouldn't be taken to mean that those inclined toward rage oughtn't find a target in Ms. Ana Marie Cox, just that the basis for the rage being expressed has been poorly chosen.

In a post that is now heavily trackbacked, Michele Catalano vents frustration at the rise of Cox's blog, Wonkette:

I'm just wondering - how does a relatively unkown person suddenly become the hottest blogger in the political blogger circle when it seems that her column is just a Gawker for the DC crowd? ...

I don't get it. I just don't get it.

Oh wait, I do. Guys will give you all the props you want as long as you are hot and write about sex. But if you aren't hot, or if you don't have a cute little image on your site depciting how adorably cute you are, then just give it up.

John Hawkins takes the bait, suggesting that Cox's rapid fame is just one of those quirks of the marketplace and offering his view vis-à-vis the blog gender wars. Chris "Spoons" Kanis agrees, but adds the following point, with which I greatly empathize:

I find it insufferably condescending for a blogger of Michele's prominence to claim that male bloggers have it easy. For her to get so irked over blog competition that she feels compelled to call Wonkette a whore is just intolerably rude. Michele should tell her complaints to the thousands upon thousands of male bloggers who'd love to get the kind of attention Michele gets.

It's funny that Chris should say "thousands upon thousands" after noting that Michele is ranked 12th (currently 9th) on the Ecosystem. As it happens, my blog is currently ranked 2,859 (although I'm pretty sure I'd be somewhere in the mid-teenthousands if I could get N.Z. Bear to change my profile to reflect the newer subdomain address). And I write about sex, porno, and our lascivious culture all the time!

But all these comparisons of rankings strike me as an annoying peculiarity among bloggers. Links and traffic are the local currency, I suppose, but to become so obsessed over what works for some people and what doesn't work for others strikes me as overwrought. More importantly, it misses the point of Cox's real story in such a way as to divide the rest of us where we ought to be united.

Glenn Reynolds points out, today, that Cox is the subject of a 1,350-word-plus profile in the New York Times. Therein, we learn the following about the "31-year-old self-described failed journalist":

Last month, a party celebrating the start of her site was packed. Held at the Dupont Circle town house of Peter Bergen, the CNN terrorism expert, the party's heavily mediacentric guest list included Michael Isikoff of Newsweek; a former Clinton mouthpiece, Joe Lockhart; the political blogger Mickey Kaus; and a former Howard Dean spokeswoman, Tricia Enright. This is her devoted fan base: Wonkette registered 55,000 page views on its startup date in January, and over a million for the month of March. ...

The daughter of liberal academics from Lincoln, Neb., Ms. Cox moved to Washington from New York in May 2000 with her husband, Chris Lehmann, an editor at The Washington Post Book World.

She's written for the Chronicle of Higher Education, America Online, National Geographic, and the American Prospect, among others. She was features editor for Mother Jones. She has an intern. The bottom line is that it isn't a "meteoric rise" when a blog's opening day garners 55,000 page views. That's starting in the clouds. Most bloggers start in the basement and were pleasantly surprised when the daily Web stats broke double digits after a few months of effort.

Cox is an insider. The majority of bloggers are not. She's what happens when the mainstream decides to adopt the forms of the outsiders and pretend it's taking part in something radical. That's fine, as far as it goes, but it is a matter more of who she is than what she does. It certainly doesn't justify an indictment of bloggers or blog readers. What it might justify is for Bill Hobbs to tweak his suggestion that "Traditional Media doesn't get... that blogs can have influence far beyond what the size of their readership would suggest," because some bloggers seem to require a bit of perspective, themselves.

To Ana Marie Cox's crowd, she's slumming among us, allowing her freer rein with language and content. That's what ought to spark authentic anger. And that spark ought to be quickly snuffed with the realization that they still don't get what we're doing that makes us important... and so cool. (Hey, some of us — or at least some of y'all — are cool.) Michele Catalano, for example, can earn nearly 7,000 daily visitors, while keeping Wonkette's fare beneath her.

She doesn't say whether it's specifically related, but Michele has noted some extenuating circumstances and is taking a break from blogging. I guess the lack of a paycheck (and the accompanying contractual obligation) has a silver lining. Hope she recovers her balance. (Regular readers will be able to guess my prescription.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:06 PM | Comments (20)
Bloggers Blogging

Standing Firm in the Political Playground

Craig Henry is on part five of a series of posts exploring the pre-9/11 intelligence failure:

Connect the dots. That's a kid's game on the place-mat at the Ground Round. Can a serious person really think that threat analysis is child's play?

It oughtn't be lost on anybody that a blogger is here doing what people with among the highest-level government views of events in the country are hamstrung from doing because they can't escape the pull of the issue's political gravity. I'll have to think about this, but perhaps that's part of the forming dynamic: that channels for sober analysis arise outside of the government, picking up some sparks of information from politicians who are essentially putting on a show, but mostly following the accounts of unheralded reporters, obscure academics, and think-tank financed researchers. Unfortunately, the mainstream media seems not to realize the opportunity that this opening presents.

That the "official" information is being revealed amid such a volatile mixture of forces has implications for the way in which our leaders' messages must be delivered. In short, most compromised are clarity and evenly keeled assessment that openly accepts blame among the culpable. This is where I have to differ with Paul Craddick's reflection about the "better explanation and accounting" that the administration could give in the case of Iraq. Oh, I agree with Paul that his proposed speech would be wonderful to hear from the President's lips, but that is merely to say that it would be wonderful if the environment allowed him to deliver it.

No matter the balanced, brilliantly straightforward points offered in the speech, the media and the President's opponents would strive to ensure that this would be the only part heard:

We haven't yet reached a final assessment - the ISG, now under the direction of Charles Duelfer, continues its work under difficult conditions.

Still, there's no question that we haven't found what we - and Intelligence agencies 'round the world - were expecting. And that's not good.

Though we don't know to what extent, it's appearing more and more likely that we were all mistaken...

This may not be anything peculiar to our age, taking a broader view than the past decade or so, but on these crucial life-and-death matters, it seems leaders are having just to act and let people discover that it was all for the best. This is obviously not an ideal approach; it amounts to hoping that we have leaders who will act as adults even as they are forced to stoop to bullies in the political playground. Perhaps as people notice, the value of candor will increase once again.

For a little bit of hope, we turn to David Morrison:

Years ago, when I lived in Israel for a time, in the same valley as Jenin, Israeli Arab associates of mine strongly urged me as an American to steer clear of the area, and that was in the early 1980's. If the fence has managed to reduce the overall tensions in the area, on both sides, which it seems to have done, that would be a good thing for everybody.

The story to which he's responding offers a personalized view:

Last January 1, when the first stretch of fence was completed, Avman met with the mayor of Jenin at brigade headquarters. "On the way back home," he promised the disbelieving mayor, "you will not see a single Israeli tank."

Who would have listened had this result (probably expected, by some) been predicted before the fence went up?

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:35 AM

April 16, 2004

Why They Hate and Fear Us

Because the gulf between American Christians and even moderate Middle Eastern Muslims is sufficiently wide to prove fallacious the direct comparison that some insist on making nonetheless, this is the sort of thing that one does well to back into. In exploring the incompatibility of Western and Muslim culture, Rev. Donald Sensing offers an opening:

There are many points of contention and conflict between Arab Islam and the West, but the chief religious contention is not really between Islamic Arabs and Christian or Jewish Westerners, but between Islamic Arabs and scientific-materialist Westerners.

Because of the supremacy of the sciences in western thought, western culture has become caught in a cycle of ever-increasing changes. Western societies contend with an exponentially increasing pace of cultural changes. However, the pace and kinds of changes that we adapt to (with greater or lesser difficulty, to be sure) are exactly the changes that fundamentalist Arab Muslims correctly believe would destroy basic structures of their society which they believe are the divinely-commanded.

Sensing veers toward the faults of Muslim culture, citing the Allah-ordained treatment of women. But it seems plausible to me that the extremes of decadence in our modern culture exacerbate the differences to such a degree as to hinder progression toward equality and democracy in the Middle East. With Western pop culture achieving levels of effrontery that go far beyond what even mildly traditional religious Americans will accept, it is all too easy for Muslims who might otherwise constitute a basis for democratic reforms to turn away out of a sense of fatalism.

I'll admit that, in all the recent argumentation about pornography, I came close to suggesting that, to some degree, cracking down on smut would assist the War on Terror. This suggestion might draw the response that placing any sorts of limits on obscene "speech" in the context of that war would be giving in to the terrorists. But that's surely the opposite of the truth. The terrorists and the tyrants want nothing more than for the United States and Europe to remain frightening lands of debauchery from which even the most quiescent Muslim would recoil.

I daresay that our own ancestors mightn't have taken some of the eminently just steps toward equality and freedom had there been as dramatic an example of where that path could lead as we now represent.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:54 PM

Lileks Gives It Some Thought (And I'm Right)

In August, this blog was the medium for a somewhat bold suggestion: that Lileks ought to give some more thought to the concept of same-sex marriage before writing on it further. For that post, I fisked his column "Times Change, and So Does Marriage," which read in part:

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

No, if heterosexual marriage is threatened by anything, it's by heterosexuals. Famous heterosexuals in particular. ... Say what you will about gay marriage, it's nice to see someone taking the institution seriously.

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

Well, it looks like he's given it some thought, perhaps providing further proof that opposition to gay marriage increases with contemplation. From today's Bleat:

... what perked up my ears was one of the anthropologist's assertions that there is no difference between a two-parent / two-sex family and a two-parent / same-sex family. None. He said: Any preference for a traditional mom/dad family was based in a "superstition." His word: "Superstition." Because, you see, there was no evidence that two moms were different in any important way than a mom and a dad. Belief in werewolves, belief in the evil eye, belief in the walking undead or the superiority of a mom-dad household: superstition.

... Just because gay couples can't [sic] be excellent parents doesn't mean that the inherent nature of the relationship is equal to the inherent nature of heterosexual parenting. But nowadays we cannot make value judgments about these things. If you say that heterosexual parenting arrangements have a built-in advantage you're somehow delegitimizing the very notion of homosexual parenting.

... Of course kids need dads and moms! But it's not the first time I've heard [that they don't], and it seems to be a favored argument by those who are approaching the same-sex marriage issue not as a civil rights issue, but as a means of enshrining gender-studies grad school nonsense in public policy.

The next realizations in line are that same-sex marriage forced through the courts, or even through legislatures as a blanket civil rights move, would make that grad school nonsense the only applicable law of the land and then that this outcome is the most likely barring an amendment.

It is possible to envision a culture in which homosexuals would seek marriage in terms, and with concessions, that would allow preference for individual liberties to counterbalance all legitimate civil concerns about the institutional shift. But that culture is not the one in which we live, and appeal to those marital terms doesn't seem to go much deeper, currently, than the marketing campaign.

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

Strength in Numbers

Many twenty- and thirtysomething conservatives across America are probably at least a little disappointed to have missed the latest wave of campus culture: conservative caché. Reading their letters to the student paper, I have to admit that my entire experience with higher education might have been different had I been part of a group such as URI's Students for the Awareness of Conservatism. At the very least, it would have offered company for my multiple letters to the editor.

Here're Ryan Lospaluto's thoughts upon attending a Kerry presentation:

On Tuesday I went to see Senator and soon to be Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry in Providence. Even though I am not on the same side of the political spectrum as Kerry I was excited to see him speak and eager to hear what he had to say.

I have to admit much of what he said sure sounded good. I mean, sure he wants to make life perfect for us and is willing to spend a lot of our own money to do it.

How encouraging it would have been, once upon a time, to have like-minded fellows with whom to play drinking games based on the amount of taxpayer money Clinton promised away with each State of the Union! In a comment to a post on Michael Williams's blog, Kurt quotes the astute 19th Century historian Alexander Tyler:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasure. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's great civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependency, from dependency back to bondage.

I'd say we're pretty close to complacency and apathy, indeed, when it is more important that politicians promise handouts than that they have any prospects of actually being able to deliver. Spreading awareness of conservatism couldn't be a more timely endeavor.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:32 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

The Simplicity of Labor

So, ever since college, people have told me that, if I want to find a reasonably well-paying job, I simply have to get a headhunter. Yesterday, I took some time to look into it and discovered that it isn't an easy thing to look into. Google "rhode island headhunter," for example, and you'll get well over 5,000 hits, most of which appear to be run of the mill job-search engines.

I did manage to come across a few articles on finding headhunters, although they were all too specific to particular industries or careers to be applicable. What did seem valid, however, is the impression that I've come across yet another instance in which one must make a full-time job of finding somebody who might — might — be able to assist in some occupation. Everything that I've ever wanted to do has had some variation of the Quest for an Agent.

Well, if there's one area of life for which I feel particularly harmed by inadequate education, it's this one. Worse yet, it's not an area in which relatively introspective autodidacts can easily leverage their abilities. We end up frustrated, pessimistic, and still clueless.

I don't have the most commentative readership, but if anybody has any insights into finding a headhunter, a literary agent, a job, a contract, a mentor, a patron, a benefactor, or a pot of gold, I'd very much welcome a gesture in the right direction.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:32 PM | Comments (2)
Diary & Confession

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from Pedestrian Crossing, A Novel," by Janette van de Geest Van Gruisen.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:05 AM

When Roommates Tie the Knot

Having gone a few rounds on the topic with Gabriel Rosenberg, I haven't entered into his exchange regarding same-sex marriage and parenthood on the Marriage Debate blog. However, a spun-off point from his latest contribution is too revealing not to note:

Even if they can't adopt, I think roommates should be permitted to marry. They already are permitted if the rooommates are opposite-sex and I don't believe we should forbid it solely because of the gender of the roommates. Whether roommates should marry depends on the circumstance. One should only enter marriage with the intention and the expectation that it will be permanent. So if roommates decide to marry they need to understand that they can't be dating other people, or expect to end the marriage when it no longer suits them. That being said I don't think they should jointly adopt unless they undertake this permanent commitment with all it entails.

Overall, this strikes me as further evidence that opponents and proponents of same-sex marriage really do agree on most of the particulars, merely approaching them with different priorities. Opponents argue that SSM would break down barriers further along the progression, and proponents say that it should. The former suggest that this would dilute marriage beyond utility, and the latter act as if this is irrelevant to the law.

I'm sure those who believe that marriage, as it stands, plays an important cultural role will be happy to find Prof. Rosenberg offering his non-binding personal opinion in place of the legal barrier, but they shouldn't be sufficiently satisfied as to acquiesce to his policy suggestion. The legal boundaries of marriage are the mechanism whereby society asserts what pairs of citizens should and shouldn't do. Ponder this sentence further:

So if roommates decide to marry they need to understand that they can't be dating other people, or expect to end the marriage when it no longer suits them.

Would Rosenberg support tighter divorce laws? Or how about guidelines that make it more difficult to remarry after having left a previous marriage for no socially compelling reason? Not likely. He may believe that roommates "need to understand" the rules, but based on previous exchanges, I don't think he sees that need as great enough to merit enforced consequences for breaking them. In a way of phrasing it, Rosenberg's argument is that those whom he seeks to persuade to change the law should trust that others will respect the reason that it was done and pass up benefits to which they would gain legal access... just because.

It may be that part of the reason for tepid response of marriage traditionalists that Chuck Colson finds inexplicable is a simple inability to compute the arguments of the other side. Married roommates "can't be dating other people"? But we all understand, by the word "roommates," that they're not dating each other. That's why it's brought up for the purpose of illustrating the potential perversions of SSM; it will extend the opportunity for benefits to relationships with absolutely none of the qualities that justify those benefits in the first place. In essence, Rosenberg is saying that roommates should be allowed to marry, but that they should only do so if they aren't really "roommates."

Aversion to the confusion of roles on which Rosenberg is relying to slip his point through is the very cultural force that discourages opposite-sex pairs who fit the definition of "roommates" from marrying, even thought they legally could do so. One can imagine the perplexed reactions when such a pair attempted to explain their arrangement to family, friends, and new acquaintances. Straight same-sex roommates would face no such interpersonal pressure to appropriately delineate their relationship because it would be implicitly understood that they are merely gaming the system. By virtue of their heterosexuality, the expectation of romantic intimacy is more easily dismissed.

Joe's admission evoked a curious look from the woman at the bar. "So you and your friend are married?"


Her eyebrows lowered as she laughed nervously. "Are you...," she said, finishing her sentence with the pantomime of a limp wrist.

"Nope." In a tone of practiced nonchalance, he explained that they just hadn't wanted his employment benefits to go to waste while John was partially unemployed and working toward his graduate degree. Joe sipped his beer and added, with a broad smile, "And our bedrooms are on opposite ends of the house."

She tittered again, but this time, the lowered eyebrows gave way to a deep blush.

Imagine the same scene if the woman had been the one attempting to explain that she was married to her "roommate" John for convenience. Professor Rosenberg may not see any reason that society shouldn't move toward gender-neutral cultural subtext, but to advocate as much is to dismiss notions of human nature and to discard endlessly subtle and integral roles that have developed over millennia.

The only way for a pair's marital pronouncements to become the only relevant indication of their relationship is for cultural comprehension and expectations between men and women (or any combination) to be drained completely from society. That is simply not possible among human beings, even if it weren't undesirable. Universities may be pushing their campuses toward the androgyny represented by unisex bathrooms, but the country at large is much less amenable to such social engineering.

It seems, based on discussion in the comments section to this post, that I was incorrect to infer that Prof. Rosenberg wouldn't support the tightening of some of the obligation-based marital laws, such as those around divorce and adultery. However, his position on such matters seems essentially independent from the question of same-sex marriage, which I find problematic in its own right. A significant portion of opposition to SSM derives from perception of the danger of further corrosion of marriage and the impossibility of comprehending the effects that erasing gender distinctions in such a central institution would have.

There are too many variables to people's handling of information in this debate — from completely different usage of terminology to the media's inclination to stuff all opposition into the religious corner — to propound on the reasons that people make the arguments that they do. I give the professor the benefit of the doubt on this count. However, I continue to find it worrying that even such fair and reasonable disputants as Prof. Rosenberg treat SSM as so entirely a matter of individual rights that strategies for mitigating potential corrodents are not integral to their larger propositions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:53 AM | Comments (10)
Marriage & Family

Of Smears and Cover-Ups

Andrew Sullivan has let slip that he's preparing to unleash an assault on Marilyn Musgrave, whose name has become attached to the Federal Marriage Amendment. By way of answering the question of his post, "Who Is Marilyn Musgrave?," Sullivan declares:

Her record is almost entirely devoted to an obsession with homosexuality.

Somehow consistent with her being "almost entirely devoted" to a different issue, Musgrave's "other obsession is the reintroduction of the military draft, and virulent opposition to any legal abortions." Then Sullivan continues with a litany of social matters, providing narrow (linkless) effects of her voting record, that makes him somewhat less balanced than Musgrave's 2002 campaign opponent, Stan Matsunaka.

This is in marked contrast to the absolute lack of evident research in an earlier post in which he compares the rejection of a homosexual candidate for state school board in Iowa with the premeditated murder of a gay man. Apparently, the concern in the former case isn't just that Jonathan Wilson is gay, it's that, as a member of the school board, he would consider promotion of gay issues central to his job. And indeed, a little research about the circumstances of his being voted off of the Des Moines school board reveals this concern not unreasonable:

Right now, the coalition is concentrating on defeating veteran Des Moines school boardmember Jonathan Wilson, who earlier this year confirmed widespread rumors that he is gay. Wilson took that step in the midst of a heated dispute over a proposal - since shelved by the school administration - to ensure "issues related to gay/lesbian/bisexual people are thoughtfully infused in the educational programs and activities."

Oh yes, the desire not to have homosexuality "infused" into the educational life of one's children only differs in degree from luring a homosexual to his death.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:25 AM | Comments (2)

Women of the Right on Bias and Hypocrisy

A pair of columns from female stars among conservative pundits are worth noting, both dealing with bias and hypocrisy. Ann Coulter emphasizes the bias part:

When Democrats make an accusation against Republicans, newspaper headlines repeat the accusation as a fact: "U.S. Law Chief 'Failed to Heed Terror Warnings,'" "Bush Was Told of Qaida Steps Pre-9-11; Secret Memo Released," "Bush White House Said to Have Failed to Make al-Qaida an Early Priority."

But when Republicans make accusations against Democrats – even accusations backed up by the hard fact of a declassified Jamie Gorelick memo – the headlines note only that Republicans are making accusations: "Ashcroft Lays Blame at Clinton's Feet," "Ashcroft: Blame Bubba for 9-11," "Ashcroft Faults Clinton in 9-11 Failures."

Meanwhile, Michelle Malkin concentrates on hypocrisy:

Unsurprisingly, when Attorney General John Ashcroft acted decisively to detain more than 1,200 potential Zacarias Moussaouis after Sept. 11 he was lambasted by Democrats, the ACLU, minority groups, and, yes, the New York Times editorial board, which attacked Ashcroft's "extreme measures" (Nov. 10, 2001) against illegal alien detainees who were merely "Muslim men with immigration problems" (Sept. 10, 2002).
Posted by Justin Katz at 6:58 AM | Comments (2)

April 15, 2004

Going for the Bias Gold

Reuters is apparently shooting for the Most Biased Headline trophy with its piece "Tenet: Vacationing Bush Not Told of 9/11 'Clue'." This spin is all the more likely to win the prize because it is, of course, a facile favorite of lefty talkers and scribes to make a big deal about the President's time in Crawford. How delicious, for them, if they were to find a way to enable the delusion that those vacations caused 9/11. Note that the headline even spins off from the text:

Commissioner Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman, asked Tenet if he had ever mentioned to Bush the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui in mid-August 2001 after he had been detected behaving suspiciously in a Minnesota flight school.

Tenet said he had not spoken to the president at all that month, when Bush was staying at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Nor did he bring it to the attention of other senior officials, saying it was "not appropriate."

"He's in Texas and I'm either here or on leave for some of that time," he said. "In this time period, I'm not talking to him, no."

After Moussaoui's arrest, Tenet and other top CIA officials received a briefing headed, "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly."

It wasn't just the President, but the entire government seeing nothing wrong with pre-9/11 R&R. Even this, though, might provide fodder — were it not for a couple additional bits of information. Astute readers will have noticed that Reuters reporter Tabassum Zakaria, taking his cue from Commissioner Roemer, is careful to stick to Tenet's "mentioning" of the matter and whether he had "spoken" with the President. In this context, part of the transcript of Tenet's testimony is very interesting, mostly in the degree to which it was quickly passed by:

ROEMER: You don't see the president of the United States once in the month of August?

TENET: He's in Texas and I'm either here or on leave for some of that time, so I'm not here.

ROEMER: So who's briefing him on the PDBs?

TENET: The briefer, himself. We have a presidential briefer.

Even those citizens who insist on believing that something in Tenet's voice would have been the magic ingredient are going to have to look elsewhere for a factual basis for blame:

CIA records show that Tenet briefed the president twice in August, once in Crawford, Texas on Aug. 17, and once in Washington, on Aug. 31. A CIA analyst who accompanied Bush on his vacation briefed him approximately six days a week, Harlow said. "He momentarily forgot," Harlow said of Tenet.

Anybody who's watched even a few moments of this charade and tried to imagine offering testimony will have to concede that it isn't exactly a conducive environment for relaxed memory recall. Literally surrounded by people, facing elevated politicians who loom over dozens of cameras, a person can certainly be forgiven for forgetting relatively routine meetings from years ago, back before the world changed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:23 PM
News Media

What Looks B&W in the Distance Will Prove Gray

In the same Impromptus, Jay Nordlinger notes an email from Holland that deserves its own post. I'm quoting pretty extensively, but I don't see any way to capture the enormity of the thing without doing so:

Indeed here in Holland there is a discussion at the moment about bestiality, and I think I know your view on this matter. Because of my work, I know an elderly man living alone in an apartment (the institution of marriage has been practically dead since the Sixties, so we are confronted with many aging singles). I know you know it's coming, so, yes, here it is: This man has a dog. ...

Now, Diana always sleeps on his blankets, but I am quite sure she sometimes sleeps under his blankets. So what have we here? A pervert, a criminal?!

Here in Holland there are many intensive pig-breeders (I hope this is the right word!). They keep thousands of pigs in appalling conditions, and after a short unlife these pigs are slaughtered. I am sure God the Father never wanted His Creation to be perverted like this.

I wrote you this (I always read your column, I sometimes agree) because you think too often in black and white. Of course this does not mean that I condone bestiality; in fact, it makes me rather ill. But after the dog for the blind and the dog for the handicapped, I think the time has come for the dog for the lonely.

Every single issue as it arises in its progressive turn will be possible to cast in casuistry that appeals to common principles. It simply isn't possible to throw one's analogistic net out far enough to capture an example for which this isn't true. Homosexuals may be offended when others suggest that the legal, federal toppling of behavioral standards laws for their benefit will lead to such things as bestiality, but they'd better be prepared to explain why the inevitable arguments put forward by Mr. Nordlinger's correspondent won't stand. We put animals to work — and worse — so why ought the impossibility of consent prevent other activities?

I wish it weren't so, but I think we're just about out of room to wiggle around the basic question of whether it is even legitimate to claim that accepting spiritually corrosive behavior as beyond reproach (even if not beyond nausea) will harm our society in palpable ways. People seem to believe that, when others approach with requests that seem implausible at present, their arguments will be laughably simple to dismiss by any standard. Not so.

Who wants to tell a lonely old man that he's a disgusting pervert? Far from that, Western society's problem, in this vein, is that it's beginning to legislate to prevent anybody from even giving the emblematic old men the idea that there could possibly be anything wrong with lifting those blankets.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:47 PM

In Tune with Nordlinger

Jay Nordlinger agrees that some of the criticism hurled at the administration, while possibly well meaning, goes a bit further than is justified:

Why shouldn't military leaders know better than civilian leaders what strict requirements on the ground are? Isn't this supposed to be a lesson from Vietnam: that Lyndon Johnson and Bob McNamara, sitting in Washington, don't necessarily know best?

Well, those commanders have now stated the need for more troops. And the president and the secretary of defense have responded with alacrity.

I don't see why that's so shameful. I don't know how many troops are necessary; and neither would George W. Bush. But the likes of John Abizaid would know — and their word should count for a lot. The notion that Bush and Rumsfeld are somehow grudging about furnishing the tools — and the men — to finish the job is absurd.

"Leave it to the experts" isn't necessarily dismissive advice; experts are, well, experts, and when a particular one of them is in a position to have maximal information, in an endeavor in which secrecy is extensive, that's who the average person ought to trust most on the specifics. I, for one, consider it among President Bush's best qualities that he seems to understand this.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:23 PM

That's Our Kennedy

Perhaps the single greatest frustration of living in this area is that it happens to be the Congressional district that Ted Kennedy bequeathed to his son Patrick. I've let this sit all day to allow my blood pressure to lower, and in fairness even to Rep. Kennedy, I've adjusted my reaction to account for the fact that his worst statement is largely conveyed through clipped quotes and paraphrases. Still, the $100-a-plate baloney doesn't settle very well:

Charging that President Bush "has created an absolute nightmare for our country and for our troops" in Iraq, Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy said yesterday that the United States should consider scrapping its June 30 deadline for transferring sovereignty to Iraqis.

"If we get out of there on June 30, we'll have a fundamentalist cleric in charge of Iraq in no time," said Kennedy, a Democrat. As for how the U.S. occupation should proceed if the deadline is dissolved, "I'm not going to bail the president out," Kennedy said. "There are better minds than mine to try to decipher what our policy should be."

The problem is the president's, Kennedy said. Mr. Bush "is between a rock and a hard place" in Iraq because of "his Texas, my-way-or-the-highway" approach to the attack on Saddam Hussein's regime last year.

No, Pat, the problem is our troops', and it is ours, which means that it is yours. Beyond this idea of bailing out the President — which manages to skirt the line between indecipherable, inept, and offensive — his comments are mostly boilerplate gibberish about how Bush alienated what Projo writer John Mulligan phrases as "potential allies." I suppose that includes those nations that strove to keep their sweet deals through the U.N.'s Oil for Pillage program. Representative Jim Langevin, in a related fashion, proposes that we hand off sovereignty not to the Iraqis, but to the United Nations. Honestly, I'm astonished that U.S. Congressmen still have such an sanguine view of that organization.

Nonetheless, even if Kennedy lets fly comments with bizarre and potentially disturbing subtexts — such as that handing sovereignty to the Arabs in Iraq in June "doesn't sound too kosher" — that's not the worst part of the reality of my federal representation. No, the worst part is that the state seems to have the leaders it wants — that it deserves. I believe Kennedy when he says the following:

Kennedy said constituents who talk to him about Iraq are overwhelmingly opposed to continuing the U.S. occupation. "Eighty percent of people -- maybe 90 percent of people -- say, 'We've got to get out of there. Just get out of there.' I hear these words several times a day. 'Let them kill themselves. Why are we letting them kill us?' " Kennedy said. "How can you blame people" for those sentiments, he said.

How can you blame them? Well, the evident ignorance about the state of the world and the implied racism would seem reasonable places to begin an accusation. But assigning blame and seeking to spark reflection among people who would say such things is a fruitless pursuit. Better to focus on the substance of the issues... and to go back to lamenting that these folks take their heads out of the sand long enough to vote.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:24 PM | Comments (2)

Confusing Jobs Reports

I'll admit that, when trying to look beyond the underlying message that the economy isn't recovering and we should elect John Kerry, I can't make any sense of an AP report about jobless claims:

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits, after having fallen to the lowest level in four years, shot up last week by the biggest amount since late 2002. The new report dealt a setback to hopes that the economy is finally beginning to produce a sustained recovery in jobs.

So new claims — not total unemployed — had fallen to the same level as in 2000 and then rose to... what? Not the rate in 2002, that's the last time there was a similar one-week increase. Neither number, of course, tells us how many people found jobs last week. The factoid also doesn't tell us whose hopes have been set back. (Not mine.)

The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of newly laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits jumped by 30,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted level of 360,000.

The increase was far above the rise of 7,000 that economists had been expecting, but analysts cautioned against reading too much into a single week's change in the volatile series. Labor Department analysts noted that the period covered was the first week in a new quarter, a time when the jobless claims can be even more volatile.

So the claims increased 23,000 more than expected. However, the following indicates that number comparisons have quite a bit of room for error:

The four-week moving average for new claims, viewed as a better gauge of trends because it smooths out some of the volatility, was up by a smaller 6,750 to 344,250, the highest level since early March.

Were some of the aforementioned economists predicting that number? If so, then the reality is actually better. I also can't help but wonder what economists are out there making week-by-week unemployment-claim predictions. I certainly don't remember the AP report declaring the week before's 13,000 decrease.

Moving on, smack dab in the middle of the gloom is this paragraph that seems cut and pasted from somebody's more-optimistic piece:

The biggest sign yet that the labor market has finally turned the corner was the news that 308,000 payroll jobs were created last month, the biggest gain in four years.

So have we turned the corner, or have we been set back? And what's with the preceding mention that "President Bush and other incumbents running for re-election are also hoping to see as evidence that the nation's long jobs slump is finally coming to an end"? Perhaps they should take a look at the raw data from the Department of Labor that the AP cites. Incumbents will surely be happy to note that the adjusted claims for the corresponding week last year numbered 435,000, 21% higher than this year's 360,000.

At the very least, incumbents would do well not to read to the end of this AP article:

The rise in unemployment claims came as economists were beginning to worry that signs of a strengthening economy and a worrisome inflation report might prompt the Federal Reserve to begin raising interest rates to slow things down beginning as early as this summer.

Does it seem as if every possible trend in the economy has the potential to be seen as bad news? I don't know. I'm still trying to figure out why it's newsworthy that initial unemployment claims saw "the biggest one-week jump since a rise of 42,000 in the week of Dec. 7, 2002, a time when the economy was still struggling to rebound from the 2001 recession," a week during which the total seasonally adjusted number reached 431,000 (or 71,000 higher than last week) and when there were roughly 500,000 more continued claims.

I'll keep my eye on the Providence Journal's main page for further weekly updates.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:03 PM
News Media

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Stillpoint," by Denise Lussier.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:24 AM

When Rhetoric Exceeds Information

One point that the President addressed in his press conference spoke directly to something that's been bothering me of late:

Well, I -- first of all, that's up to General Abizaid, and he's clearly indicating that he may want more troops. It's coming up through the chain of command. If that's what he wants, that's what he gets. Generally, we've had about 115,000 troops in Iraq. There's 135,000 now, as a result of the changeover from one division to the next. If he wants to keep troops there to help, I'm more than willing to say, "Yes, General Abizaid."

Very few commenters, whether pundits or bloggers, have a basis to make declarations about force size. And even those with some expertise should still heavily qualify their analysis with contingencies and avoid heavy rhetoric. Unless a situation arises in which somebody important and involved in the effort — Gen. Abizaid, for example — is publicly turned down for a request, it seems a bit presumptuous to spew talking points. There are simply too many considerations involved, to most of which the public isn't privy.

Our duty, as citizens, is to be vigilant for problems, but it is far too easy to forget that part of the reason ours isn't a purely direct democracy — and that such responsibilities as war waging fall to the most singular branch of government — is the requirement of decisive action based on subtle information that is best kept out of public view.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:20 AM | Comments (2)

April 14, 2004

Different Country, Different Branch, Familiar Sound

Andrew Morse has written a primer column about Victor Chavez and his democratically tinted takeover of the Venezuelan government:

Since his election in 1998, Hugo Chavez has engaged in a methodical campaign to eliminate dissenting voices from Venezuelan politics. He has provided the world with a clinic on how to set up totalitarian rule. First, get control of one branch of government. Then, eliminate all opposition within the government by making all other branches subordinate to the one branch you control. Next, use the power of government to prevent any other segment of society from organizing. He has attacked the labor unions, the independent media, the church -- any source of people organizing that is an alternative to the state.

Sounds familiar (though of course much further along).

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:41 PM | Comments (1)

Using Their Hate Against Them

Christopher Johnson points out another example of something that I'm approaching with a deliberately wary eye:

[The Passion of the Christ] has sparked hours of discussion between Christians and Muslims regarding questions of faith. Many Arabs were interested in seeing the film only because of the anti-Semitic controversy surrounding it. However the movie's theme is an unavoidable subject. "The message of loving your enemies and Jesus who, even while up on the cross, prayed for and forgave them strikes all viewers deeply," said two Americans working in Qatar.

The American couple said they were amazed the government had permitted the film to be released in an Islamic country like Qatar. "In the next few weeks tens of thousands of people living here will go and see this powerful retelling of Christ's suffering and death. Many moviegoers react to the film. For example, those sitting next to us in the theater were moved and breathless. Others wept or had looks of disgust on their facers when watching the brutality Jesus underwent," they said.

The examples are starting to add up, though.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:35 PM
Middle East

Op-Ed Page Feelers

We sincere dabblers in the political game should consider it a sign of our own moral health if we find unnerving the willingness among our more-experienced brethren to treat politicians' meaningless policy feelers credulously. For a contrary example, Newzilla reacts appropriately to John Kerry's tentative whispers of something somehow not quite at odds with a tempered variation of resolve in Iraq:

The man that would be president if only the American people would vote for him wants to handle matters of great importance by waiving privilege to voice our opinions and our concerns. This is not a man that should ever be president of the United States of America.

The voices are out there, if you listen, objecting that Kerry would have to take things more seriously if he actually were the President. At some level, it seems to me, that requires a belief that Kerry doesn't actually believe the basic tenets that he's followed for his entire public career and that the bulk of his supporters echo. (Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he is the echo.)

Whether he's been pretending a convenient worldview for decades or his current hints of sanity are affectations, his proximity to the Commander in Chief's chair is truly frightening.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:26 PM

Markers of Progress in the Evening

Apologies for the lack of posts today. My wife's work schedule was quirky, leaving me with extra time as domestic dad because it doesn't make sense to bring the kid to "Mema's house" for less than an hour. Then, there were in-law taxes to do and personal bills, for which I'd had to wait for a paycheck's arrival, to pay. And I had my usual dayjob work to do, of course. Luckily, there wasn't much out there requiring my immediate blogging attention.

So, evening has closed the day, at last. The rain dissipated into a fog that has captured the fleeting warmth within its folds. Streetlights transform each corner into a stage. Smells drift low along the pavement — detergents bringing forth memories of the homes of childhood friends, trees redolent of teenage meanders. Scenes from across the years sift between the shadows.

Over the past few years, I've noticed a newcomer to my emotional repertoire: inexplicable optimism. Ultimately, it derives from faith, I know, but the absence of more-explicit justifications makes it an irrational kind of hope. (I'm convinced that the unseen foundation of faith is what allows many atheists and apathetic quasibelievers to step away, and that the reliance on irrationality leaves them unable to spot the gaping hole they leave in their children's formation by wrongly assuming hope to be an independent, inherent quality.)

I've no reason to expect any opportunity to advance in the near future, visible when the fog lifts. Quite the opposite. But there are other types of expectation, and besides, there's plenty to experience just lingering at this particular corner.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:11 PM
Diary & Confession

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:09 AM

Markers of Progress

One can begin to see, this time of year, how the alternation of pouring rain and quick bursts of sunlight tease the buds from dirt and wood. Some flowers have sprouted; low bushes are flashing green; even the trees boast new bunches from which leaves will sprout.

Nonetheless, it's difficult not to feel the target of some malicious force when rain that had abated for hours falls with fresh vigor the moment one steps out to walk the dog in the evening... and then abates again the moment the walk is over and the towel applied to fur. And perhaps there is ill intent behind the rain, when it goes beyond refreshment and into flooding. A puddle can drown a flower, and standing water will bring the bane of summer: mosquitoes.

Perhaps there's something to the altercation. If sun and rain goad nature to awake, what do good and evil, pulling in turn, awake in us?

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:07 AM
Diary & Confession

April 13, 2004

Where the Slope Begins

There's certainly a disparity of expertise between myself and David Bernstein, so it's probable that my objection to the following paragraph from a post on the Volokh Conspiracy is more directed at the events to which he makes reference in Canadian law than at him. After mentioning a column by John Leo that notes the pending ban on statements conflicting with the homosexual agenda, Bernstein writes:

Fifteen years ago, when I was in law school, supporters of hate speech rules argued that there were no slippery slopes, that Holocaust deniers' and pornographers speech could be restricted without damaging the First Amendment. In Canada, they started making exceptions to their constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech just fifteen years ago. Those cases involved Holocaust deniers and pornographers, and now it's illegal to quote biblical condemnations of homosexual acts. No slippery slopes, indeed.

"Hate speech" and pornography are different in their fundamental natures. The slippery slope from restricting Holocaust denial to restricting religious objections to homosexuality is clear, requiring only the expansion of what is considered to be a hateful opinion. Pornography is generally understood to involve images, and laws can be constructed to specify it as such.

It's true that the difficulty in differentiating pornography from artwork can mirror similar difficulties arising from the use of language (such as incitement to violence against versus legitimate criticism of), but that doesn't justify, much less necessitate, legal leaps from one to the other. So, I'd need more concrete explanation of the slope in Canada to believe that the inclusion of pornography with "hate speech" isn't superfluous. For one thing, our experience in the United States places the two potential restrictions in opposition, as part of the conflict between religious traditionalists and behavioral libertines.

Bernstein may very well be among those more intelligent and principled First Amendment absolutists who are consistent in their application of arguments. If so, that makes him exceptional. Many of those who assert a right to do and say whatever they want extend that right to include a freedom from unsolicited criticism. Although I would respond to warnings not to break some sort of "no law" barrier regarding freedom of expression by declaring it delusional to believe that barrier not already breached, I do hold the government to be a potentially dangerous mechanism through which to enforce such public standards. That doesn't mean that our current circumstances can't be such that recourse to government is justified.

When the public finds itself no longer able to assert its principles and create reasonable restraints on behavior through religious expression, those who hold individual liberties above all else — up to (and perhaps including) the end of the world — shouldn't be surprised when that public begins believing it worthwhile to express those principles and assert those restraints through the only means that remain: laws and law enforcement. Libertarians can't simultaneously seek to drain religious, and other ethics-based, institutions of their public power and insist that government isn't the best public institution through which to manage ethical standards.

When a Church that attempts to reinforce its teachings — through its own practices and speech and for a politician who ostensibly cares — is treated as if it is overstepping boundaries of church and state, don't be surprised when followers of that Church begin voting to translate their beliefs into legal statutes. When freedom of speech and religion begins to be treated as freedom from censure and from others' declarations of morality, and when government begins to be leveraged to enforce the expanded freedom, don't be surprised that the moral majority will begin to push back.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:50 PM | Comments (1)

The Way We Weren't

It's one thing to recast a group's history to conform to its current persona. It's an entirely separate matter to attempt to rewrite that history in a way that conflicts even with current behavior. Nonetheless, as Rich Lowry suggests, the Democrats are attempting to do just that:

The image of the pre-9/11 Democrats created during the past several weeks is a fantasy, the opportunistic canard of a party only willing to be hardheaded in retrospect and when it serves the cause of damaging Bush. The actual pre-9/11 Democrats have a strong resemblance to the post-9/11 Democrats — hostile to necessary law-enforcement powers, allergic to military force, politically correct on any question touching ethnicity and obsessed with not alienating any international actor who can remotely be considered an ally.

It would be such a pleasure to see the Democrats push this rhetoric so far that they begin generating political pressure on themselves to take the hard-line policies that they are declaring self-evidently advisable. Of course, coherency isn't generally a binding principle, in their case.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:52 PM

Ownership of the State

Providence Journal editorial-pages editor Edward Achorn accuses the good people of Rhode Island of being "The biggest saps in America." He's right:

It adds up to a beautiful state that is being served badly -- scandalously so -- by its elected leaders. In Rhode Island, government is costly, taxes are high, people with connections line their pockets at the expense of taxpayers, public education is second-rate, and business development is scared away by the civic culture.

Rhode Island could do vastly better, of course. But it will never change until citizens who are being played for suckers start demanding better.

Young, struggling families — such as those headed by semi-employed conservative writers, just to put an entirely random face on them — can be excused for wondering if they mightn't increase their chances of success exponentially were they to move elsewhere. The problems come from various components of public life and public culture, and they are so thoroughly woven into the mindsets of the citizens that "suckers" is less applicable a description than "drones."

I may not have a completely developed sense of the state, but the impression that I've gotten is that everything is homogenous. The unions, government, and media are monolithic. The major, culture-generating industries are higher education and tourism. The former ensures that mouthing highfalutin liberal policies is a central requirement for public office, while the latter gives an excuse for economy-stifling environmentalism. Both industries are largely characterized by the temporary population that they attract, which must contribute to the approach to monetary and public service policies.

From the time I was a child, I've preferred to take such challenges head on, scorning the option of running away. But frankly, I don't know how much longer even my wife's large local family will be sufficient justification to continue the struggle to squeeze through the economic and cultural barriers that we face.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:44 PM | Comments (1)

Songs You Should Know 04/13/04

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

"The Video Store Song" Victor Lams, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Robot Love

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:19 AM

Back into Life's Stressmachine

At this point in my progression into faith, perhaps the greatest difficulty that I have is in balancing the comfort of my Christianity with the stress born of my ambition. That ambition has already been whittled down to a moderate state, and while I'm increasingly able to find solace through the personal modesty of expectations that follows from belief in a larger reality, it remains true that this world imparts responsibilities.

Lent and Easter, this year, have brought some spiritual reinvigoration, but now the feeling is of returning to an unusually busy office after a vacation. The baby deadline looms, with no more basis for hope that I'll find additional income than I've had for months and years. I must be doing something wrong.

Frequent reading of the Psalms doesn't seem to be helping, in this regard, what with all that talk about being inflicted, oppressed, and miserable. That's all well and good for a psalmist able to wander the alleys at night, but when one is charged with shaping the world in which children will form their impressions and personalities, it loses most of its ascetic appeal.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:17 AM | Comments (2)
Diary & Confession

April 12, 2004

The Burden of the Bien Pensant

By now, you've probably already come across a link to Margot Mifflin's piece on Salon describing the ordeal of introspection sparked when her therapist admitted to enjoying Rush Limbaugh — as a rhetorician, not a right-wing-nut joke — and you've already decided to watch the commercial to read the whole thing or to skip it. Well, I read the whole thing and was surprised at how seriously the piece took its subject matter.

Perhaps I missed it, but Ms. Mifflin didn't seem inclined toward the self-dispraising irony that one might have expected under such circumstances. Rather, she seems not to wonder at all whether there's something in the incident that ought to challenge her own opinion. She even writes of letting her shrink off easy in the debate over Rush's character:

I granted her that I didn't even find his recent Donovan McNabb gaffe worth losing his ESPN gig over, and neither did most of my black journalism students, but I wouldn't forgive him for telling a black caller, years ago, to take the bone out of his nose and call back later, among other cracks. She'd never heard this. I didn't mention that he'd called 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton the White House dog, or that he'd claimed that all composite illustrations of criminals look like Jesse Jackson, or that he'd joked about AIDS.

On the substance — well, look — Limbaugh has been a public figure of an entertainment sort for decades, mostly in live media. Is it surprising that FAIR can draw one-liners from throughout his career and, out of context, prove them to be factually incorrect? Not at all. It'd be surprising if his media enemies couldn't do so, but beginning with a presumption of evil, every word is turned to the most objectionable angle and piled into a mountain of proof.

The nose-bone incident captures the various bits of this process well — from the careerwide span to the removal of context to the uncharitable reaction. According to Snopes, the comment was made in the early 1970s. Moreover, the proof of the quote comes from Limbaugh himself, admitting in 1990 that he felt guilty for once having made the comment. In other words, by the time Mifflin gets to it, the line is twice removed from context. The second removal suggests Mifflin's finely tuned capacity for outrage, so sensitive that she won't forgive him for a thirty-year-old comment of which she's only aware because he expressed remorse about it. This bit of evidence for her argument is like Mifflin's reaction to the therapist in that it tells one much more about her than about either of the people to whom she's reacting, which is why the lack of self-reflection is palpable.

It would, of course, stretch things to transform this into a blanket statement about the relative behaviors of liberals and conservatives. Yet, there's some generality to be found. From personal experience, I can suggest that I react quite differently upon finding out that acquaintances are staunch liberals than they react in return. Perhaps part of it is that conservatives are outside of the media mainstream, so we're used to the discovery corresponding to what Mifflin sees as "betrayal."

Whatever the case, perhaps her therapist should have assigned her a certain number of hours of weekly Rush listening. Just pondering the subtext of his catchphrase about tying half his brain behind his back "just to make it fair" would do her a world of good.

One last amusing note. Mifflin describes a disconnect between Limbaugh's "rhetorical techniques" and her counselor's advice to her to avoid "name-calling, 'provocative' language, finger pointing and mudslinging." Earlier in the piece, she mentions that Rush's "fabrications... helped Al Franken land a bestseller," without providing the title of that book. It was, of course, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot.

The Media: Expert Outsourcing for Criminals

Craig Henry articulates something that has surely crossed the minds of many people who follow the news and that has implications for everything from petty crime to international terrorism:

Modern media companies can draw upon the expertise of a large number and wide variety of authorities. This professional expertise is completely beyond the reach of the average individual. But when there is a hot story, the information and insights are just there for the asking on TV, in the newspaper, and on the Internet.

This problem is just one of many examples of the ways in which technology compounds the difficulty of weighing freedom and community safety. Freedom trumps, in most cases involving information that isn't classified, and it's a fortunate side-effect of the entire process that technology also helps to address complexity. But I know I've seen analysts on the news who've left me feeling better qualified to commit particular crimes for having benefited from their expertise.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:16 PM
News Media

Coming Round to Civil Unions

Citing some new polling data from the Los Angeles Times, Andrew Sullivan writes:

The latest breakdown shows about 25 percent favor of marriage rights, close to 40 percent support civil unions, and 33 percent favor giving gay couples nothing at all. What strikes me about that finding is that the polls haven't changed much on marriage - with one significant difference. The middle group of Americans - tolerant, but queasy, say - have now come round to civil unions. Civil unions are, in fact, the natural compromise right now. Bottom line: around two-thirds of Americans believe that gays should have either marriage rights or something close to that (called something else). I'm encouraged.

What strikes me about the finding is that it's the first time I can recall the question being posed as a three-way option. The Washington Post, for example, has been measuring civil union support separately from the yes-or-no on marriage. The latest results presented that way, from early March, find 51% support for civil unions, but support for same-sex marriage split 38% for, 59% against.

Sullivan (aided by the AP summary that he cites) adds a few percentage points in his direction when summing up the L.A. Times poll. And it's mildly interesting to note that he gives a "close to" percentage for "civil unions," the only category for which his AP source actually provides the exact number, whereas he translates "about a quarter" for marriage and "about a third" for neither into actual percentages. Looking at question 34 on the PDF of the raw data, the breakdown is actually 38% civil unions, 24% marriage, 34% neither. As the saying goes: you can take the blogger out of the Old Media, but you can't take the Old Media techniques away from the blogger.

With actual numbers in hand, and assuming some legitimacy to comparison, it seems that the civil union percentage doesn't primarily come at the expense of support for same-sex marriage. If anything, it draws down the opposition number more. That serves to further emphasize that Sullivan is wrong to characterize people's view of civil unions as "something close to [marriage] (called something else)." As I noted when he pulled the same trick with the Post poll, I would have been captured in the "civil unions" category, and I envision them as something quite distinct from marriage.

Sullivan thinks that the "job now is to persuade the middle ground that civil unions would be a far bigger blow to marriage than allowing gays into the institution." However, it's at least as likely that succeeding in such persuasion would result in people's returning to complete opposition. Whatever the case, it's odd to find Sullivan "encouraged" at the civil unions news, considering that they've been considered the "compromise" for years and that, in June 2002, he declared it "time to stop the mealy-mouthed talk about civil unions as some sort of option for homosexual citizens."

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:11 PM | Comments (2)

Beyond Iraq's Borders

Perusing Dan Darling's rundown of events and revelations having to do with the War on Terror brings home the folly of restricting one's view of John Kerry's national defense viability to his (ostensible) ability to move forward with nationbuilding. Bold moves will very likely prove necessary against other nations in the Middle East, as well as outside of it, and Kerry simply will not have the standing to make those moves.

The broader view also helps to put the war in Iraq back in a context that was obscured during the buildup and aftermath phases of the related politics. Does it affect Just War judgments if Iraq was a battle and not the war? It ought to, although each battle against a distinct enemy requires its own justification, of course.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:10 PM
Middle East

So Much for Terrorism

Andrew Sullivan's latest Sunday Times of London piece is, frankly, astonishing. Here's his political advice for John Kerry:

It would go something like this: "Thank you, Mr president, for your leadership in difficult times. You took some tough decisions in good faith. I disagree with you but I will not let our troops down and I will not abandon Iraq. But you, Mr president, are now part of the problem. You are too polarizing a figure to bring real peace to Iraq, and have bungled the post-liberation too badly. Your failure to find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction has undermined your credibility as a war-leader. You are too unpopular to allow European governments and the U.N. to cooperate fully in the war. One of the advantages of a democracy is that we can pursue the same goals over time with different leaders and different strategies. I intend to win the war in Iraq because we cannot afford to lose it. But I also intend to bring our allies more centrally into the task, to increase troop levels in the country, to appoint Richard Holbrooke to oversee our cooperation with the incoming Iraqi government, and ask former president Bill Clinton to re-open peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. I will be tough on terror and tough on the causes of terror. I can complete what you started. In fact, I alone can complete what you started."

There is some ambiguity about whether Sullivan believes what he's telling Kerry to say and actually wants Kerry to say it and win or is just fulfilling his role as a political writer. Generally, I think he takes too much of a personal and activistic approach to his work to be offering detached analysis. If that's the case, then I can't help but wonder where his boundaries are beyond which principle must bend to desire. Put another way, I wonder how similar his own balance of principle and desire is to Kerry's:

Can Kerry say such a thing? Well, history shows he can say almost anything if it's to his political advantage. Last week, he junked his entire primary season promises and pledged to enact steep spending controls in office on the old Gingrich-Clinton formula. He has kept his options open on the future in Iraq, while being lacerating about how we got where we are. A neo-hawkish ouflanking of Bush is therefore a perfect electoral gambit. After all, what lies ahead in Iraq is not, in fact, a very Republican project. It's classic nation-building - the kind of thing Clinton and Gore once favored and George W. Bush once resolutely opposed. Were Kerry to take this tack, it would, of course, be a turning point rich in irony, especially when viewed through the prism of Vietnam. Whereas Richard Nixon inherited a Democratic war, Kerry, the man who found his first fame in anti-Vietnam protests, would inherit a Republican war. Whereas Nixon was doing all he could to find a way out with honor, Kerry would be doing all he could to find a way to win for the sake of democracy. Yes, we may be seeing a strange replay of Vietnam. But in reverse. And, quite possibly, with an entirely different ending.

So, the Democrat replacement, in this Vietnam mirror, might win the war that the Republican cannot. The gaping contextual hole that Sullivan leaves open is that of the larger War on Terrorism. Even if he is correct to imply that Democrats are better at nationbuilding (as opposed to just giving it more lip service), it undermines all of his previous support for the war to tease out Iraq from the rest of the anti-terror assault. Nationbuilding isn't all that's left to do, in the larger picture.

Worse: Sullivan acknowledges — as a plus — that such a statement from Kerry would be entirely cynical. What's to stop him from taking a "neo-hawkish" stance to win the support of Andrew Sullivan, only to junk it and pull a neo-Zapatero move once in office? Does Sullivan even care?

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:18 AM | Comments (6)

April 10, 2004

In Anticipation

Psalm 104:27-30.

All of these look to you to give them food in due time.
When you give to them, they gather; when you open your hand, they are well filled.
When you hide your face, they are lost. When you take away their breath, they perish and return to the dust from which they came.
When you send forth your breath, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
Posted by Justin Katz at 4:07 PM

April 9, 2004

Follow-ups on Bigotry in the Bluest State

Apparently, there's actually a national precedent for white supremacist groups' "advertising" by littering leaflets. So perhaps my skepticism about such an incident at URI turned out to be potentially unfounded, this time:

The National Alliance Web site encourages visitors to print copies of racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic fliers, similar to those found on the Kingston campus, Drapeau said. Fliers from a German-based neo-Nazi organization, the NSADAP, were also found scattered on the Kingston campus, Drapeau said. ...

Residents in several towns north of Boston awoke last month to find National Alliance fliers opposing gay marriage and Israel scattered throughout their neighborhoods. Several other Massachusetts towns received white-power and "love your race" fliers last year, according to the Web site of a local newspaper, the Georgetown Record.

Similar National Alliance fliers have appeared within the past two years in Kennebunk, Maine, near St. Petersburg, Fla., and in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, according to Web sites.

I'm still a bit discomfited by the reaction to the fliers. The unhealthy fear is highlighted by the pathetic strategy of the group and the marginal status that it indicates. As New England ADL director Robert Leikind notes:

"The power is the shock value, confirming that there are people out there with this kind of hatred, working to spread these views," he said. "But it's important to keep it in perspective. Proponents of these views are very marginal in our community."

It's the inherent granting of power to foolishness that makes the ultrasensitive campus temper so potentially harmful.

Keeping with foolish tempers and potentially harmful power, the Newport Daily News follows up on a story that I thought I'd blogged, but that I can't find, now. For background, Castaways recently made news when it opened as the first gay bar in Newport, and this occurred shortly thereafter:

Lionel Pires, 48, and Alan Dillabough, 39, were in their second-floor apartment above Castaways, located at 28 Prospect Hill St., when they were wakened March 13 about 2:35 a.m. Dillabough called 911 while Pires opened a window and looked outside. He saw a man, who ran up Prospect Hill Street toward Spring Street when Pires yelled to him.

Police were at the nightclub within minutes. They found nine holes punched through the two 4-by-8-foot windows at the front of the building. The glass, which was reinforced with diamond wire, lay in jagged pieces on the sidewalk and scattered throughout the bar.

The case was assigned to Rosa, who interviewed neighbors and other potential witnesses. One neighbor reported hearing a man making "anti-gay remarks," Bestoso said.

Breaking windows, for any reason, is just dumb, offensive, and unsettling. What caught my interest with the vandalism story when I first saw it was that, in this region, any anti-gay animus would have been barely less of a fluke than a random window breaking. We're informed that the arrested suspect is a 23-year-old automechanic, but the only mention of motive is that he'll likely be charged with a hate crime:

"I believe the prosecutor will be asking to invoke the Hate Crimes Sentencing Act upon conviction," Lt. Norman G. Bestoso, the Police Department's public information officer, said this morning.

That means that if Lungarelli is convicted of vandalizing the nightclub, and a judge finds beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was motivated by hatred for homosexuals, Lungarelli will serve at least 30 days in the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston.

I oppose hate crime laws, particularly with mandatory jail time. Frankly, I can't think of a better way to push somebody down a wrong track that he may or may not have already started on and to increase his hatred — generally and for the specific group regarding which he was sentenced — than to send him to prison for the first time.

Nonetheless, to gain some perspective, I looked at the Rhode Island statute covering vandalism. There's a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or incarceration of 1 year, with the only mandatory punishment for first-time offenders being 100 hours of community service. However, there's also a provision that this particular statute applies only to vandalism not specifically covered elsewhere, and here's the statute covering breaking windows:

Breaking lamps or windows. — Every person who shall willfully break any lamp, lantern, or window shall, for every lamp, lantern, or window broken, be fined not exceeding two hundred dollars ($200).

So, breaking the window merits a relatively small fine. However, if that one neighbor is believed, or if Lungarelli confesses that he uttered aspersions, a full month in jail will follow automatically, with no hope of suspended sentencing or probation. What Lungarelli did was wrong, obviously, as well as exceedingly stupid, and $200 might actually be light (although I imagine he'd be made to pay for the damage, as well). But because of the group status of the bar's owners, he could face a 30-day nightmare.

I wonder if littering is a misdemeanor.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:22 PM

How It Got This Way

Paul Craddick emailed me a link to an article by Dale Steinreich that gives some of the background for understanding the mess that healthcare has become. It's worth a few minutes, if you've any interest in the topic. Apart from the history lesson, Steinreich offers the following suggestions:

A first step toward genuine health freedom would be an elimination of all federal restrictions on supply and demand factors in medical markets. This means no more millions of dollars in federal subsidies to hospitals to train fewer doctors, and the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare and Medicaid have only worsened the problems in the health-care sector by adopting Blues-type practices which have in turn encouraged an over-consumption of health care services among the poor and elderly.

Beyond this point free-market health-care reform becomes a tricky matter since some of the most oppressive restrictions (physician and hospital licensure, restrictions on midwives and pharmacists) have been enacted at the state level. It would be a violation of states' rights to advocate that the federal government override these restrictions.

Steinreich is understandably frustrated by public apathy. That's the difficult part of balancing reasonable policies on specific issues with democratic principles. It's a shame, though, that he ends on the sour note of slurring the public for its ignorance. Coming up with a policy is the (relatively) easy part; convincing others why it's better than one crafted by politicians, special interests, and demagogues is the challenge, and it's much more easily met with optimism.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:18 PM

Still Swatting the Issue

Well, despite my staying up way too late honing my response to Eugene Volokh's post on the future "what if" of a government crackdown on porn, it looks like I only reached the level of linkless "several other correspondents" in his follow up post. That'll learn me.

Instead, Volokh addresses a post by Clayton Cramer that more or less accepts the terms of the debate: that the central objects of the crackdown are the determined porn viewers. The broadest view Cramer takes is at the end:

Professor Volokh has fallen into the traditional libertarian trap: the assumption that a law must be 100% effective to be worthwhile. It only has to influence people at the margin to change their behavior in a positive direction, without introducing counterproductive behaviors. I am not convinced that the Justice Department's current efforts (assuming that they are accurately portrayed) are necessarily the best way to do this--but I am also not convinced that they are intrinsically doomed to failure.

Volokh acknowledges the argument that the crackdown will limit "the availability of porn through non-Internet commercial channels," answering, "But so what?" Again, he shifts the perspective back to seekers of porn:

But the respectability of the channel is not, I think, high on many porn consumers' lists of desired characteristics. And any tiny decrease in consumption may well be offset by an increase, for instance as people who are used to seeing porn videos on cable will find they need to get good Internet connections instead, and, once they get them, will realize that they can get much more online than they ever could from the cable company.

As I've already suggested, the argument of the first sentence actually stands in opposition to the complaints that obscenity prosecutions will infringe on the individual liberties of those consumers. If the exit of Fortune 500 companies and mainstream media conglomerates from the porn industry makes only a "tiny" difference in the level of those customers' consumption, then they've got no reason to object to it.

However, the second sentence does put forward a new point that relates to my argument: that removing porn from cable will drive people toward better Internet technology, through which they'll discover more and worse material. But forces unrelated to pornography are bringing that technology to American households, anyway. Those already hooked on smut will doubtless find their way to its online providers. Meanwhile, fewer people will become acclimated to the material through traditional media, and forcing it into a lawless realm will likely translate into a starker difference between people's comfort and the porn that remains available.

Is Volokh really stating that cutting something from the public square will make no difference? Probably not. However, he is claiming the inevitability of the objectionable outcome that he described yesterday. To salvage that point, he writes, today:

Still, my post wasn't just about that: Rather, I was asking what the government's likely next steps would be. One possibility is that the government prosecutes some U.S. pornographers, sees some apparent success as hotels and cable channels stop running porn, notices that people are still using lots of Internet foreign-distributed porn, and decides "OK, we've done all we really can. Sure, all our prosecutions aren't really changing people's consumption, but that's fine. We'll either keep going with the futile prosecutions, or close up shop."

The other possibility, though, is that the government isn't going to be happy just with the limited effects that Cramer and the others describe. Remember that the planned prosecutions are of the producers, not of the cable companies and hotels, which after all are also distributing porn and thus potentially legally liable -- this makes me doubt that the government's ambitions are limited to blocking the hotel and cable distribution.

First of all, I'm not sure from where Volokh draws the notion that "planned prosecutions" are limited to producers. The article that everybody's been citing seems strongly to imply the opposite — or at least that distributors will be made aware that they aren't secure. Beyond that, these paragraphs may represent a fundamental difference of worldview, in that libertarians view government expansion as inescapable and, therefore, invalidating all government action. If that's the case, then there isn't much utility to engaging in debate, because the possibility of expansion is always available from their point of view. Of course, the flip side is that the possibility of expansion of abhorrent trends in society is always available to those who wish to place a governmental barrier somewhere along the spectrum.

But assuming that discussion is possible at some middle point, it seems that Volokh has overlooked an important contributor to what "the government" is going to accept for results: citizens. Surely, as the tendrils of smut pull back from venues that the average American encounters everyday, everywhere, support for broadly intrusive measures against an unseen, behind-closed-doors proliferation will diminish. When the crackdown reaches the point of which Volokh warns, in other words, the perceived need to continue will no longer exist, because the objective of the majority of Ashcroft's supporters will have been met — just about 100%.

In that respect, it seems to me that those wishing to secure individual rights to access any desired content err in placing their blockade so far beyond the door. Making the disagreement one of first principles from the very outset will only diminish their weight down the road should the effort go forward — which it is and which it will.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:44 AM

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:55 AM

The Fly Distracts the Driver

Honestly, pornography is not high on my list of topical priorities. Nonetheless, believing my opinion to be correct, a sufficient challenge merits an escalation. Mark Kleiman provides such a challenge when he proclaims, "Using Eugene Volokh's mind to figure out why a crackdown on porn is a bad idea seems a little bit like using a howitzer to swat a fly." It's an interesting simile. Under most circumstances — against most flies — a howitzer probably wouldn't be a very effective tool.

Knowing Professor Volokh's intelligence to be difficult to overstate, I nonetheless see some hope for the fly. Here's the ostensibly unanswerable rhetorical with which Volokh ends the post in question (which Glenn Reynolds calls must-reading for the Justice Department):

I'm asking: How can the government's policy possibly achieve its stated goals, without creating an unprecedentedly intrusive censorship machinery, one that's far, far beyond what the Justice Department is talking about right now.

Unfortunately, Volokh never explains what he's taking those "stated goals" to be. He opens with the acknowledgment that there is "porn of all varieties out there on the Internet," he talks of blocking "cyberporn," and his scare scenario — wherein married couples are lured to phony Web sites and thereafter jailed — is built around the Internet as the playing field. However, the article that caused the uproar yesterday characterized the "goals" thus:

Nothing is off limits, they warn, even soft-core cable programs such as HBO's long-running Real Sex or the adult movies widely offered in guestrooms of major hotel chains.

Department officials say they will send "ripples" through an industry that has proliferated on the Internet and grown into an estimated $10 billion-a-year colossus profiting Fortune 500 corporations such as Comcast, which offers hard-core movies on a pay-per-view channel.

Unless Volokh intends to argue that Comcast would substitute foreign suppliers for its porn needs, his entire analysis would seem to be founded on a false premise. In defending the latter party in Community Standards v. the Individual, Volokh presumes that the former's goal is the inverse of the latter's desire — that the crackdown's motivation is defined by a desire to limit the individual. In his entire post, the only mention of anybody besides porn creators and their determined customers is an unexplained reference to "the viewers' neighbors" toward the end of the post.

Individualizing the harm that the Justice Department seeks to prevent certainly would change the calculation. I would agree with Volokh, in fact, that an effort to actually prevent anybody from watching porn ever would require measures that are much too intrusive for whatever net gain in morality such an overly exuberant policy might seek to bolster. It is reassuring, therefore, that Justice Department anti-porn lawyer Bruce Taylor evinces a more measured, strategic objective:

Once it becomes obvious that this really is a federal felony instead of just a form of entertainment or investment, then legitimate companies, to stay legitimate, are going to have to distance themselves from it.

If that plays out as it likely would, there would be no need for Volokh's hypothetical future in which the government becomes "outraged by the 'foreign smut loophole.'" Any loophole would not open out onto the field of basic cable; it wouldn't enable commercials for the illegal products; it wouldn't erase the boundary for magazine content. In other words, the investments driving porn's mainstreaming would dry up. Moreover, accidental viewers, viewers who watch only when they come across it, and viewers who are only willing to make minimal effort to find it will drift out of the audience for porn.

Therefore, unless Volokh predicts the utter failure of the Justice Department's efforts — which he does not do — it would seem incorrect to declare as inevitable a future in which "U.S. consumers keep using exactly the same amount of porn as before." The only way that prediction could hold is if he limits the definition of "consumer" strictly to devoted users of Internet porn. Happily, for those folks, Volokh offers an argument that their individual freedoms wouldn't be objectionably limited:

And even if overall world production of porn somehow falls by 75%, which strikes me as nearly impossible, will that seriously affect the typical porn consumer's diet? Does it matter whether you have 100,000 porn titles (and live feeds) to choose from, or just 25,000?

So, parents and people desiring to avoid corrupting material will no longer face the forces pushing them toward isolation or capitulation. And, as Eugene Volokh argues, those who wish to acquire porn will not face negatory limits on their choices. Sounds like a win-win scenario to me.

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

April 8, 2004

Senator Pontius

Mel Gibson's portrayal of Pontius Pilate in The Passion of the Christ is one of those reflective topics that tells one more about a reviewer than about the film. Consider, for example, Andrew Sullivan:

Pilate and his wife are portrayed as saints forced by politics and the Jewish elders to kill a man they know is innocent.

More than anything, this sentence highlights one of modern politics' most potent weapons: the passive voice. Can politics force one to do evil? Sullivan believes that Pilate is absolved of blame because he acted merely according to the demands of his role.

Father Raymond J. de Souza begs to differ:

That such conduct would be considered admirable reveals serious moral confusion. The evangelists likely did not doubt that they were painting a damning portrayal of Pilate. His conduct is not that of a man consumed by rage or overpowered by events. He is cool and in control of himself. His compromises are not capitulations. They are careful calculations; calculations in which the fate of an innocent man is no more than dust on the scales.

Far from mitigating it, the contemplative acquiescence to evil is the sine qua non of culpability. Perhaps it could be argued that sacrificing Jesus was an expedient means to the arguably good end of minimizing the risk of broader bloodshed. Even skirting the complicated Catholic demand that we never do evil that good might come of it, with effort, a reasonably intelligent person could think of other means to the same end. They may have required more effort and been more difficult, but morality isn't generally a simple, easy matter in a fallen world.

So yes, it's certainlyrevealing how people see Pilate, and Fr. de Souza is correct to dub him as the patron politician of our day: "He was clearly personally opposed to the crucifixion." But he had to separate his own private beliefs to the objective demands of his office. How lamentable that we have excised the necessity of morality from the parts of life where its lack can do the most damage, albeit at the smallest apparent personal cost.

"Apparent" being the operative word.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:32 PM

One and a Half Sides to the Story

The same-sex marriage debate presents a problem for those who oppose changing marriage into a gender-independent institution: there are multiple bases from which to address it. At first glance, that might look like an advantage, but what it has enabled the media to do (even talk radio), at least in Rhode Island, is to choose which component of the opposition to present for balance. Not surprisingly, they've gone with the religious front, because that can be countered with the thoroughly memorized and rehearsed separation of church and state argument.

Last week, I sent a column to the Providence Journal offering some of the secular points against same-sex marriage, and I'm getting the feeling that they're not interested in publishing it. However, today, the paper printed a letter that — as heartened as I am to hear voices in contrast to the paper's advocacy — sticks to the storyline:

We who strongly oppose same-gender marriage believe the way we do not because homosexuals are "exotic," not because of a piece of paper, not because of nice, fuzzy feelings, not because two persons are law-abiding citizens, not because of a feeling of civil legitimacy. Rather, we believe in a just God, who instituted marriage between a man and a woman for love and the perpetuation of his created beings.

The letter writer, Paul Pagano, makes some good points, but I'm beginning to get that creepy feeling I had before I discovered alternative media. Surely blog readers will have felt it: as if nobody else in the world (or the state) can see the arguments and the reality that seem so obvious to you. It's extremely unsettling, although rumors of a land where the truth may be spoken offer some encouragement.

(Note: I'm going to try to place the above-mentioned column elsewhere, but if I haven't done so in the near future, I'll just make a post of it.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:18 PM | Comments (14)
Marriage & Family

More Racist "Acts" at URI

As longer-term readers may recall, back in October, the University of Rhode Island had an instance of anti-Semitic graffiti on a Jewish girl's dorm room door. Although they apparently caught some of the culprits, I've never been able to find any information about them, and as I noted at the time, the treatment and explanations of the administration raised some questions of their own.

Well, the student paper today reports another incident:

University of Rhode Island Police said that they had found literature promoting hate towards black, Hispanic and Jewish people on campus yesterday, but had not identified any potential suspects.

Robert Drapeau, URI director of public safety, said that police received their first phone call about the flyers targeting the groups shortly after 11 a.m. Officers began removing the literature, which Drapeau said was only found on campus roads. Drapeau himself had found the flyers on Beard Hill and the intersection of Lower College Road and West Alumni Avenue.

It appeared as if someone had dropped the flyers on the road from their vehicle, he said. He said there were no witnesses and there were no reports of any person-to-person distribution or any pamphlets being posted anywhere.

Drapeau said that police had not determined if URI students were involved in the act. ...

Drapeau said police were looking into action that could be taken against individuals involved, but were unsure if they were protected by free speech.

The nature of the content — at least as conveyed in the article — seems more explicitly to point to white supremacists. Of course, these things have to be viewed with suspicion, these days, and it does seem a peculiar way intentionally to distribute sincere literature, but there isn't enough evidence to say, yet.

More importantly, however, it ought to be shocking that a college director of public safety is "unsure" whether fliers are protected by free speech. One shudders at a university atmosphere in which students' reaction to opinions, even propaganda, that they don't like, conveyed through littering, is to call the police rather than just throw it out. The student reporter didn't even think to call a political science prof. to ask about the puzzling matter of free speech!

It's astonishing, and perhaps dangerous, the level of fear that the students — and the entire university — must have of hostile and stupid rhetoric. Be wary, ye academics; some among your herd may be attracted to the mysterious power of the unmentionable, and others may become so meek as to succumb quickly when first they encounter it for real.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:37 PM

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:59 AM

Breathing Clearly

Back when I used to smoke, it wasn't uncommon for my colds to last weeks. It seemed as if the smoke helped to clear my nose a little (maybe), but the congestion and especially the coughing continued for days on end. I remember being surprised, shortly after I quit, when I felt a cold abating after only a day — gone within three.

Sometimes, I miss cigarettes, mostly as an image and neurosis thing, but the taste of food and the times when I can just about breathe clearly after only a couple of days of illness more than compensate as motivation not to start it up again. And besides, as I recall, it takes such effort to start.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:57 AM | Comments (3)
Diary & Confession

April 7, 2004

Foretastes of the Future

Phil Lawler mentions a line from the Passion according to Luke that nearly caused me to lose my place reading the "Voice" part during Mass on Sunday:

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, "Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed."

That seems an appropriate entry into the discussion of the day.

On a tangential note, Rev. Donald Sensing quotes from a Pew Research study that purports to find an increase in anti-Semitism over the past seven years, somehow related to The Passion of the Christ:

A growing minority of Americans believe that Jews were responsible for Christ's death. Roughly a quarter of the public (26%) now expresses that view. This represents a modest but statistically significant increase in the number holding this opinion when compared with a 1997 survey by ABC News which found 19% feeling this way. But a solid majority of Americans both then and now (60%) continue to say that Jews were not responsible for the death of Christ.

Sensing wonders if this is "a cloud around this silver lining." Here's my comment:

Hmm. A 7% increase in "yes" responses over seven years, and a film released two months ago is to blame?

Frankly, that rise in numbers could be merely the result of people's knowing more about the entire debate, no matter which way they fall. (Note that "don't know" responses have fallen 5% over the same period.)

My phone rings and a surveyor asks me, "Were the Jews responsible for Christ's death?" Well, first of all, the "were" makes it possible to respond as if to "were the specific Jews responsible." As a more theological matter, I might find myself unwilling to say "no, the Jews were not responsible," believing as I do that we all were and are.

So, on most days of the week, I'd likely be included in that 26%. My supposedly implied anti-Semitism will surely come as a surprise to Grandpa Katz.

Commenter Tom also wonders if the relentless slant of the media and the elite against Israel and, more generally, Jews mightn't have something to do with any actual anti-Semitism that the study uncovered.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:02 PM | Comments (1)

Smut in Smut Out

Sorry for the absence of posts during the day, today. It was a bit of a blur, between work, illness, and all the talk about pornography. There's much worthwhile discussion in the comments to the previous post, if you're interested. It seems to be the topic of the day (or "days"), too.

Greg, the Hobbesian Conservative, catalogues some of the instances of inappropriate material seeping into the culture, from comic books to commercials. and outlines some answers to the question of who is hurt. Meanwhile, Craig Henry collects some links on the topic, including this from Jessica's Well:

What say we get together an organized campaign to mail to Mr. Jarvis' home one Playboy, Penthouse, or Hustler every day? I mean, he doesn't have to open his mailbox, does he? If he does he can always not look at what is there. And if he can't be there 24 hours a day to keep his kids from getting at the stuff, well.....I guess a little more supervision is in order at the Jarvis household.

Better yet, let's start spam, flier, billboard, commercial, and PR campaigns pushing hardcore religion — not only dogmatic material, but encouragements toward foreign missions — into the homes of libertarians and libertines. We all know how well received the pushers at the airports were. For me, unfortunately, the "larger meaning," "personal revelation," and "restrained proselytizing" things can be a bit of a handicap in the escalation of effrontery.

And here's Bryan Preston explaining why the anti-anti-porn whining is misguided and suggesting that winning the War for Porn by electing John Kerry might just prove a Pyrrhic victory:

Now, as to the porn effort itself, it's probably worth noting (though the libertarians probably won't acknowledge it) that all the Bush administration is doing is returning to enforcing laws that the Clinton administration did not enforce. In their 30 year history, the relevant laws that the FBI is using here have been enforced for 20. The Clinton administration stopped enforcing them ten years ago, and porn exploded into the gigantic global enterprise it is today, with the porn spam and pop ups on the web and all that assaulting behavior. The Bush administration is restoring enforcement, nothing more. If you don't like that, libertarians, get the law changed.

And vote for Bush. He's still the best chance you have at winning the war and thus maintaining your rights.

I'd add to Bryan's analysis that we don't have to lose the war against Islamism for our rights to fall away. If Kerry were to pull back the War on Terror, and if terrorists were to follow the troops back within our borders, civil liberties would be the first casualty. (And the socialists in the Democratic party are more substantively censorious, anyway.)

The more-difficult surprise comes from Michael Williams:

The government won't be able to eliminate pornography; there will always be "earthly things" to distract us from the holy thoughts and purposes God created us for. As a Christian, I must depend on God daily to give me the strength to focus my mind on the course he has laid out for me, ignoring the tempting scenery that could so easily lure me off the path.

For the fully formed adult, this might be true. (Although, even then, the problem can get to the point of such constant bombardment that one can barely take the prudent steps to avoid temptation during times of weakness.) However, our entire culture contributes to the formation of future generations, and easing the difficulty of doing so in a moral way clearly ought to be among the various factors that we balance in constructing our society.

There is a line at which the individual spirit becomes a personal matter, capable of being assisted by others only within relationships of various sorts. However, this view of the whole admits that, on the other side of that line, action through our sole institution that is entirely shared, our government, comes into play. I would prefer that religion weren't struggling to remain in the public square. Many of us would prefer that more leverage had been left with states to accommodate irreconciliably stark differences in worldview within the borders of the United States. But that's not the world that God has given to us to inhabit.

Everything Michael suggests is correct, in other words, but it's true as a foundation, not as a self-contained political and philosophical structure.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:50 PM | Comments (2)

Risking the World for Porn

Thanks to Prof. Reynolds for the link; his willingness to facilitate broad debate is one reason he's at the center of it all. Let me offer just a quick note to any newcomers that the design of this page can be changed for readability by clicking "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

Glenn Reynolds thinks a Baltimore Sun report on Justice Department efforts against pornography indicates a poor political decision for the Bush administration. According to the Sun:

Lam Nguyen's job is to sit for hours in a chilly, quiet room devoid of any color but gray and look at pornography. This job, which Nguyen does earnestly from 9 to 5, surrounded by a half-dozen other "computer forensic specialists" like him, has become the focal point of the Justice Department's operation to rid the world of porn.

In this field office in Washington, 32 prosecutors, investigators and a handful of FBI agents are spending millions of dollars to bring anti-obscenity cases to courthouses across the country for the first time in 10 years. Nothing is off limits, they warn, even soft-core cable programs such as HBO's long-running Real Sex or the adult movies widely offered in guestrooms of major hotel chains.

Frankly, without a direct quote, I'm not inclined to take claims about the extent of the effort — branching into soft-core stuff on HBO — at face value, particularly when put forward by a reporter, Laura Sullivan, who would write this paragraph:

The law itself rests on the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision in Miller vs. California, which held that something is "obscene" only if an average person applying contemporary community standards finds it patently offensive. But until now, it hasn't been prosecuted at the federal level for more than 10 years.

Got that? The law's existed for more than 30 years, and "until now" federal prosecutors haven't leveraged it... except during the first two decades. But the substantive point, as Reynolds puts it, is that those computer agents would be better allocated elsewhere:

I blame John Ashcroft. No, really, this time I mean it. And if the Administration thinks that this is a good use of their "computer forensics" experts, then they must have decided that terrorists aren't a threat any more.

Six "specialists" are working on something other than terrorism, and that's a signal that the War on Terror has been abandoned? Ms. Sullivan doesn't give us more of an idea of the cost than "millions," which is a pretty broad range, but how many millions not devoted to the multibillion-dollar effort of national defense indicate unduly skewed priorities?

Be the price tag whatever it is, it seems that the Justice Department isn't the only party that can be accused of thinking pornography more important than the war. Reynolds quotes from an email:

I voted for Bush and donated to his campaign and have been looking for reasons to support his reelection. But when I saw your post, I snapped. I just made a small donation to the Kerry campaign...and, living in Massachusetts, I have no reason to be thrilled about Kerry.

Apparently McCain's odd (political) comment about Kerry's not being "weak on defense" has given this emailer license to think that the porn/war decision isn't really a tradeoff. That's quite a bit of weight to put on a politician's Thursday-morning-TV equivocation, if you ask me.

So here's a thought: if the public really is as enamored of smut as Ashcroft's critics believe, why not campaign to change the law? If porn is such an obviously good, or at least neutral, thing, why sidestep the actual issue — involving those six guys and some unknown millions of dollars — by substituting rhetoric about the war? Come out from behind the computer desk and lance the issue head on.

Sullivan describes one of the effects of the law's non-enforcement over the past decade thus:

The strategy in the 1980s resulted in a lot of extreme pornography - dealing in urination, violence or bestiality - going underground. Today, with the Internet, international producers and a substantial market, industry officials say there is no underground.

Rather than funding a ridiculously horrible candidate for President on the hopes that he won't enforce the law, supporters of this activity should redirect their funds toward a campaign to leave no law to enforce. The effort ought to make for some interesting signage.

To comment on a related post over on Instapundit, I don't believe the AMA has found any evidence that watching other people have sex reduces one's risk of prostate cancer. Moreover, by looking for ways to strengthen and encourage marriage, the Bush administration is actually protecting the prostates of American men. Studies show (and experience confirms) that married men are much more sexually active.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:02 AM | Comments (55)

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:01 AM

Silence in the Box

Back in my pre-blogging days, and back when I actually went into the office to do my day-job editing, I would sit in my cube, with gray-cloth walls that had hash marks on them, as if some previous occupant had thus counted the days, and stare at the computer screen, knowing that there was an entire connected world beyond it, but not knowing how to connect with anyone. Like a man marooned and looking out across the ocean for bottles.

Since last Friday, my Web stats had been frozen for some reason, and days like yesterday that brought no comments or email felt quiet and still. Not that that's necessarily bad; I'm ill, after all, and perhaps not as sharp as preferable. But everything's fixed. Your footprints are still in the sand. Thanks for coming ashore.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:59 AM | Comments (1)
Diary & Confession

April 6, 2004

Paying on the Way Out

For better or worse, articles and blog posts about healthcare issues are now blinking on my radar. This hit the other day:

When Chuck O'Brien visits his doctor, they talk about his aches and pains, his heart problems and his diet, but never about his health insurance. That's because Dr. Vern Cherewatenko is one of a small but growing number of physicians across the country who are dumping complicated insurance contracts in favor of cash.

Is this the health care wave of the future? Probably not, experts say. Most people are content with monthly premiums and $10 copays; nine out of 10 doctors contract with managed-care companies. But cash-only medicine is becoming an increasingly attractive option for doctors frustrated by red tape and for the 43 million Americans who lack health insurance. ...

He started a group called SimpleCare to spread the gospel of cash-only medicine. The organization steers patients to doctors who offer cash discounts, and gives technical and moral support to doctors who want to start cutting their ties to insurance. Membership has grown to 22,000 patient members and 1,500 doctors. Some reject all insurance and take only cash, while others continue to accept insurance while offering discounts of 15 percent to 50 percent for cash-paying patients.

Independent of SimpleCare, doctors in California, Colorado, Minnesota, Texas, Mississippi and other states have also quit the insurance game. Some tired of the paperwork and administrative expenses. Some wanted to spend more time with patients without managed care bean-counters peering over their shoulders. The patients who pay cash range from poor to wealthy, with most in the blue-collar middle.

To build on my still-blurry view of a solution, a pay-at-the-door component might do much to revivify the medical profession for both doctors and patients. Some basic coverage for calamities and expensive procedures would be mandatory — perhaps with some sort of minimum coverage, such as one free checkup per year — and everything else would be paid on a cash basis.

That might open up an area of competitive differentiation for insurers, which could offer additional free visits and the like to attract subscribers. It would certainly open up the options that doctors would have in designing their practices. If they can receive more income per visit, and therefore spend more time with patients, who knows but some might offer house calls for slightly higher fees.

This might be the PR basis for building consensus behind healthcare reform laws. The possibilities of a liberated system beyond the stifling shelter of insurance are manifold and tremendously appealing, with powerful and comforting imagery to draw from our cultural past.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:20 PM

A Do-Over Is Better than the Wrong Call

I've stepped back a bit from the debate over the two marriage amendments. It's true that I believe the Hatch amendment to be inadequate for the problem that we currently face, but my main objection is that it came to public attention before it was prudent to release an alternative to the Federal Marriage Amendment. For that reason, while I'm mildly vexed that Ramesh Ponnuru is actively promoting it, I also find Maggie Gallagher's response to him to be a little more fervent than necessary. This debate isn't taking place behind closed doors, after all. However, Ramesh doesn't really address my complaint, unless he means to sidestep it with this point:

Six: The courts will ignore the intent of the Hatch language to do all kinds of terrible things. "[I]f we had courts bound by the intent of the framers we wouldn't be facing this problem, would we?" So now the courts are the problem? I thought Gallagher's argument was that we would have a problem even without the courts. There goes Argument One, and most of Arguments Two and Three. If Argument Six is correct — that judges are so far gone that there's no way an amendment can constrain them — then the FMA is pointless too.

The choices that Ponnuru offers are too stark: either the courts will follow the intent of the language or they cannot be constrained. But the letter of the law isn't the only determinant of the environment in which the courts have to work — particularly considering that the deleterious trend at hand is the expanding use of extralegal precedent (e.g., personal, elite, and international opinion). The tacit reality, in other words, is that the judiciary must be constrained as much, or more, in a political, public-image sense than a legal one.

The FMA is drawn such that any transgression by the courts will offer political cover for very strong responses from the legislature and executive. The HA is considerably lighter in that respect. Therefore, if the latter becomes the Constitutional parry of the legislature, the judiciary is left with room to continue its strategy of legalisms and loopholes, wearing down marriage — and increasing its own power.

It may be that the American people are beginning to see past the gavel and through the black robes sufficiently that the other branches could muster the mandate to respond should judges wear the HA down to useless verbiage. I continue believe, however, that there's still hope — and therefore reason for endeavoring — to pass the stronger amendment in the first place.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:55 PM | Comments (4)
Marriage & Family

Opening the Door with Passion

Christian fans of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ haven't had a whole lot to say about the film's release in the Middle East. Some have thought to suggest that any Muslim anti-Semitism centering, for a time, on the film didn't issue from, but subsumed, it. Perhaps others haven't let the topic tumble away because Gibson-haters haven't given reason to believe that they'd be persuaded by such arguments.

Dave Gudeman, quoting an email from somebody who saw the movie in that region, looks past the domestic dispute and makes a point that ought to have been among the first suggested:

The person writing this email is a Christian who believes (as I do) in the power of the Gospel message to change lives. But even if you don't believe in this, there is reason to hope that this will have a positive effect on Muslims. If nothing else, it will make some of them curious about Christianity, and therefore about alternatives to the hate-filled religious teaching many of them have had to live with. Now that they have the internet, the only thing keeping those people in their insular world is lack of curiosity, so if we can make them curious then a large part of the war has been won. In addition, this film may help to break some of the harmful stereotypes that Muslims have for Christians and Jews. They will see that there is more to Christians than the Crusades and the US Marines. And surely someone is going to have to notice that Jesus was a Jew and that he forgave the people who crucified him.

The message of the Passion can, of course, be distorted. Methodist Minister Don Sensing is skeptical about the substance of Dave's hope largely because Islam has already developed an answer to divert the power of Christ's story:

In fact, Islam recognizes Jesus as a great Muslim prophet, the greatest Muslim prophet after Muhammed, I recall. Many Muslims believe that Jesus will return to judge humanity under the authority of Allah. Jesus is the only prophet to whom Muslims ascribe the working of miracles. ...

At very best, The Passion might plant a seed, but without further nurture it is unlikely to blossom.

"At very best"? Surely the movie will find some good soil, even in a land braced against the scattering of Christian seeds. The Reverend is correct to caution against the expectation of immediate mass conversions, but those are the sort that spring from "rocky places," anyway. Putting his comment in the terms of the parable, Dave's mention of the Internet could be seen as indicating the broad availability of good soil for those who seek it.

Sensing elides Dave's sentence about the power of the Gospel message, and I'm curious why. In so doing, it would seem he also elides a potential answer to his worry about Who will provide further nurture. To be sure, we ought to guard against hope's becoming unreasonable expectation, but perhaps that caveat ought to fall short of skepticism.

Meanwhile, Christopher Johnson points out that a more subtle, more Western door is (re)opening in England:

Record numbers of secondary schools are "converting" and becoming Church of England schools to fulfil parental demand for Christian values and better discipline. Since 2002, eight previously secular schools have become Church schools and three more will convert this year.

Just to avoid misunderstandings before any arise: by wondering aloud about Rev. Sensing's elision, I didn't intend to insinuate anything whatsoever about his faith or approach thereto. I have high respect for him, and I consider it more than likely that he would be able to address the question cogently. In other words, I really am just curious.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:14 PM

Note on the Previous Post

Sorry about the previous post. I've held it at bay since last Friday, but Nicolosi's anecdote persisted in taking up my mental space, so I thought I'd best lure it out with words.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:25 PM
Quips & Asides

The Talent of Avoiding Cracks

In a post that probably proves me peculiar and self-absorbed for finding it depressing, Barbara Nicolosi evinces the perspective of the teacher:

It's such a hard reality to have to engage - and all of us who work in the arts have to evolve a strategy to deal with it. Most of the people who come to us for guidance and help, just do not have the talent to make our efforts on their behalf worthwhile. The trick is, to still give help - but to give the kind of help that will actually be of use to the person really who only wants you to hand their screenplay off to Steven Spielberg.

What makes it all worthwhile is that every so often, when you are probably over-tired and really don't have the time or energy to 'sell everything you have and buy the field,' you come face to face with the Divine Economy in the arts. And it is such a rush.

Some are called to discover and others are called to be discovered. And still others are called, it seems, to long for discovery. Thus does Salieri transform into a character who has haunted me across the nearly two decades since I first saw the movie Amadeusdemanding of God:

Why implant the desire to serve and then withhold the talent to do it? Why bestow Your divine genius on Mozart, who is neither good nor chaste? ... Because you choose for your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy; and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation; because you are unjust, unfair, unkind; I will block you.

Counting me as the reader, all three of these callings come together in Nicolosi's post to create an all-too-familiar, guilt-evoking jealousy and pining for the hand never offered:

Took me only half a page to see it. One of my students has talent.

My students were throwing me greetings and questions while they settled in. All I wanted to do was duck under my desk and read. "LEAVE me alone! Can't you see I have a good writer here!?!" ...

I immediately started a kind of Machiavellian planning as to how I could get this young person under the collective wing of people I know who could help her. It will be a joy for us all.

And the desperate choir echoes through the years for all of we who are represented by those anxious students asking questions of a teacher glowing from the light of someone else:

Confutatis maledictis
Flammis acribus addictis
Voca me cum benedictis.

Oro supplex et acclinis,
Cor contritum quasi cinis,
Gere curam mei finis.

[When the damned are confounded
and condemned to sharp flames,
call me with the blessed.

I pray, kneeling in supplication,
my heart contrite as ashes,
take thou mine end into thy care.]

The possibility remains always open that I've never been as talented as I'd thought (to some extent led to believe), but if wings have ever reached out to pull me under, I've failed to see them and so slipped away. Be my other abilities what they may, the defining one has been falling through cracks. Perhaps it's a matter of personality; sometimes the sense is strong that others believe their efforts better expended elsewhere — although whether because of a perceived lack or advantage on my part isn't always clear.

It often seems that my work just isn't to the taste of potential discoverers across whose paths I stagger. And my reaction to the above anecdote snaps out from a detail about the young writer that Nicolosi withholds almost to the very end. Here it is again:

I immediately started a kind of Machiavellian planning as to how I could get this young person under the collective wing of people I know who could help her.

Her. Tracing back across my formative years:

  • High school. Creative writing, English, and gifted/talented classes? Female teachers.
  • Carnegie Mellon University. Playwriting, rhetorical writing, and music composition classes? Women.
  • University of Rhode Island. Creative and nonfiction writing classes? You guessed it.

There needn't be deliberate discrimination in this. Perhaps there's something in the shared experience of people of the same gender that facilitates that first-impression wow that Nicolosi describes. I'd be lying, though, if I didn't confess my suspicion that teachers and other influential people — men and women, both — who deal with teenagers and young adults across a broad swath of interests and intentions often make the perhaps subconscious judgment that young white men don't require assistance from any given person. The presumption is that somebody, at some point, will offer a wing, as if by default. But what if every potential guide or mentor concludes the same?

Thus we find ourselves — we who are disliked or passed over or of mismatched styles or just not talented — slithering among the cracks while others take their first wobbling steps and then, God willing, take wing.

Lacrimosa dies illa
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.

Huic ergo parce, Deus,
Pie Jesu Domine:
Dona eis requiem. Amen.

[Lamentable is that day
on which the guilty man shall arise
from the ashes to be judged.

Spare then this one, O God,
merciful Lord Jesus:
give them peace. Amen.]

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:21 PM
Diary & Confession

More than the Munchies

Dogs will eat just about whatever they are thrown, and Scooby Doo was a dog. Most adults will know what Shaggy's excuse was. In fact, that knowledge is one of those "discoveries" that make teenagers so willing to believe that the Beatles put backwards messages on their albums. From speaking in spelling, to writing in script, to Bugs Bunny's innuendos, grown-ups communicate over the heads of children so often and so deliberately that the adolescent can't be entirely sure when he's reached the end of the deception.

Bill Hobbs notes that Hollywood's adults are apparently no longer content to leave subversion unstated:

Blake Wylie spotlights the unconscionable decision by Warner Bros. to include a scene in the new Scooby Doo 2 movie that portrays "huffing" - inhaling nitrous oxide - in a humorous light. Wylie provides a link to a clip from the movie. In the scene, "Shaggy" huffs nitrous oxide from a whipped cream can.

Yeah, everybody's joked about Shaggy's zonked demeanor. But only the pathetic losers who run the entertainment industry would trample the joke — and give children dangerous ideas — by explaining it in context.

It's one thing to include puzzling dimensions that require explanation and may spark curiosity. It's another to provide instruction. This should be a big deal.

Wylie has noticed that the people involved in the first Scooby Doo movie pulled back from the edge. Here's the actor who plays Shaggy about the first film:

Is Velma gay? Is Shaggy high? Are ( Fred and Daphne ) hooking up? All those jokes were in there, but we found at the end of the day it was more important to go the other way ... and that was to be more family oriented.

I guess they figure they've gotten past the parents' firewall by the time a sequel is released.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:14 PM

Songs You Should Know 04/06/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Bed for Blossom" by Rosin Coven.

"Bed for Blossom" Rosin Coven, Arthouse Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Penumbra

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:07 AM

Almost Made It

As is frequent, this time of year, in this region, all of our gains in rainy warmth were lost when the sky cleared. After I walked the dog in the downpour and then slept poorly Sunday night, the rapid chill was more than my immune system could take.

Well, the sun and blue skies are worth a few days of nose-blowing. Hopefully before those few days are done, I'll no longer have to unwrap a scarf to do it. Weather watchers predict that nature will institute some sustainable policies for maintaining heat.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:05 AM
Diary & Confession

April 5, 2004

Why the War on Terror Is Winnable

The Islamicist terrorists continue to astound with the utter stupidity of their strategy-lite approach to global domination:

Also Monday, the conservative newspaper ABC said that just hours before the terrorists killed themselves in Leganes, it received a fax from the same group that had claimed responsibility for the March 11 bombings. This time, it warned it would turn Spain "into an inferno" unless the country halted its support for the United States and withdrew its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, ABC said.

ABC said the letter was handwritten in Arabic and signed "Abu Dujana Al Afgani, Ansar Group, al-Qaida in Europe."

In a videotape found outside a Madrid mosque two days after the March 11 attacks, an Arabic-speaking man read a statement signed by Al Afgani claiming responsibility for the March 11 bombings.

The ABC letter said Spain had until April 4 to end its support for the United States and withdraw its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"If these demands are not met, we will declare war on you and ... convert your country into an inferno and your blood will flow like rivers," the letter said.

Thus, they endeavor to transform what was arguably a tremendous success — a change of the Spanish government that aligned with their interests — into the thorough defeat of a united enemy by lashing a spine to the very leaders whom they're counting on intimidating. I guess when a group's lunatic atrocities are directly mandated by its god, the carrot can be sacrificed to allow more stick waving. But when the opposition has declared its intention to capitulate at first opportunity, it's best to give it the chance to do so.

Not that I'm not thrilled that the terrorists are such fools when it comes to curbing their bloodlust for the sake of their objectives. Let's just hope that the Spanish government and the people who recently voted its new leaders into office aren't even bigger fools.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:31 PM | Comments (5)
International Affairs

Creeping Toward Gomorrah

John Leo makes some observations constituting a reminder to be careful what groups you support:

Call this mission creep. A group starts out with a clear mandate that commands respect across most of the political spectrum. Gradually it moves to a broader and vaguer agenda, typically heading left. John O'Sullivan, columnist and former editor of National Review, offers us an explanation, which he calls O'Sullivan's First Law: "All organizations that are not actually right wing will over time become left wing." As examples, he cites the American Civil Liberties Union, the Ford Foundation, and the Episcopal Church. ...

Leo's amendment to O'Sullivan's First Law: Any organization with "women" or "girls" in its title will tend to become part of the cultural left in general and the abortion lobby in particular.

So what do you do when your daughter's Girl Scout troop begins honoring Planned Parenthood chiefs and preaching the normality of abortion, masturbation, and homosexuality? Personally, I'm praying that things turn around some before I have to face that particular struggle. However, it would seem most constructive, and at least plausible, to work toward the initiation of other — even more fun and cooler — groups or events that just happen (oops) to overlap with scheduled events of the offending troop.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:18 PM

"Art" Imitates Seinfeld

In episode 146, "The Millennium," of Seinfeld, George Costanza endeavors to get himself fired from the Yankees in order to accept a job from the Mets. In one of the masterful pairings of subtext with plot that made the show so good, George remained true to his characteristic desperate, yet laughably pathetic, approach to challenges by streaking across Yankee Stadium during a game. The pitiful part was that he wore a flesh-tone bodysuit, resulting in the moniker of Bodysuit Man and exactly the opposite outcome from his intention.

Michael Williams notes a Drudge report indicating either that a certain star is watching too many reruns, or that she's not watching enough:

... feisty rock singer Alanis Morissette poked fun at Janet Jackson's notorious breast-baring episode by stripping on stage to reveal cartoonish fake nipples and pubic hair.

Morissette, hosting Canada's annual music awards, said the stunt, in which she appeared in a provocative skin-hugging body-suit was intended to expose US "censorship."

The singer, renowned for her angst-ridden lyrics, told the audience at the Juno Awards in Edmonton "we live in a land where we still think the human body is beautiful and we're not afraid of the female breast."

Morissette let a dressing gown fall to the floor to reveal her "nudity" after an announcer warned : "we can't show nipples on national TV," in an obvious dig at US outrage fanned by Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the Superbowl.

Perhaps it would be wasted effort to point out, to a woman who misconstrued the meaning of the word "irony" in one of her hits, that she censored herself in this rebellious act, which didn't actually threaten the audience with a female breast. I agree with Michael when tells Ms. Morissette:

It may be hard to believe, but we're not afraid of you, we just don't like you. We find your nakedness and superfluous cursing to be aesthetically unpleasing. We don't want our kids to grow up to be like you, because absent the publicity machine of the fading music industry you're a pathetic, angst-ridden loser.

Didn't George have a running "thing" against rock stars? Perhaps it was self-recognition.

Great minds... yadda yadda.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:27 PM | Comments (2)

No Solution but to Defeat Them

Bryan Preston has moved through a transition of a different sort:

Dialogue in our own culture hasn't done squat. We're about as divided as a country can be, and over such a basic question as whether to defend ourselves or not. Leftists today openly cheer the deaths of their own countrymen. How sickening is that? We're sure not going to win the war with Islamofascism with dialogue. Sometimes you've just gotta kill the other guy before he kills you and your family, and when it comes to Islamofascism, that's the situation we're in. You lefties didn't understand that on 9-11, you don't understand it now and I'm convinced you never will. You'd rather bury your empty little heads and pretend George W. Bush is a bigger threat to world peace than an Osama fanatic with a suitcase nuke hanging out in downtown Chicago. You're entitled to your opinions, no matter how asinine they may be.

So here's what I plan to do with the next few months, in terms of the blog and in terms of my attitude. Dialogue with you people is done.

Of course, we ought to approach each new person across whom we come as if he is sincere and open to persuasion (and even capable of persuading), but it's always disheartening to realize that a great number of people are determined to believe as they do regardless of the reality upon which they propound. When there are enough of those people to constitute a political force, political victory becomes the first consideration... especially in an election year.

(And yes, I realize that those who live in the parallel realities of the Left or extreme Right will call me a hypocrit for this post. Leave your comments if you must, but don't expect a response. [Although you may, in fact, get one.])

On This Date

Well, 4/4/4 passed without comment on this blog, I'm sorry to say. On top of general busyness, we had an eight-year-old's birthday party to attend. And before that I had to recover from reading the "Voice" part of the Passion at Mass. One thing that Mel Gibson's movie did for me was to fill in some of the blank canvas around the words that I was reading as I, as Peter, denied Christ and, as Pilate, declared Him innocent but handed Him over anyway.

Putting us in those roles — with the entire congregation saying, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" — may be among the most profound ceremony-driven reminders of our place in the universe. As Jeff Miller suggests in a post marking five years as an inducted Catholic, the Church calls us not because we are perfect, but because we are the opposite:

I will never forget that night five years ago when I was received into the Church and first received Communion (licitly). Walking back to the pew I realized that I had truly spent forty years in the wilderness and had entered the promised land. My reading in Church History and listening to Catholic radio especially Catholic Answers prevented me from some idealistic church where all Catholics had halos and the Mass was always conducted reverently. If the Church would accept me than other suspicious characters could slip in also. So while I am greatly thankful for being in Christ's Church on earth I always remember St. Paul's words about persevering to the end.
Posted by Justin Katz at 7:09 AM

April 3, 2004

Let's Be Outraged About the Right Thing

Glenn Reynolds invokes the Lott affair while linking to John Cole's reaction to another objectionable statement from a Republican. Cole quotes Mark Kleiman's summary:

Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, speaking of Dr. Daniel Mongiardo, a dark-haired, dark-skinned second-generation Italian-American running against him this fall:

"I have to tell you he looks like one of Saddam Hussein's sons... I mean before they were dead, of course...I really mean that he looks like one of Saddam's sons, and he even dresses like them, too."

Cole is absolutely correct that the comment was inappropriate, and even more than absolutely correct that Bunning's behavior after the fact deserves sharp rebuke. However, regarding the actual statement, it isn't directly comparable to Lott's, and there is room for context to make it better or worse. For example, if the line of oration had been political lookalikes, the comparison would just be a matter of extremely poor taste. If the preceding sentence had been something along the lines of "they all look the same to me," that would have been much worse. Somewhere in between — and still objectionable — would have been a "looking like the enemy" context.

I know nothing about Kentucky politics, so I won't presume to guess what the context might have been. (I've also little reason to get worked up about the joke for the same reason.) However, the charge of racism seems largely to have been imposed upon the comment, and while it could possibly play a role, that isn't necessarily the case: compare here and here.

Well, I guess the poorly conceived comments are alike in the way Chris Muir suggests in today's Day by Day cartoon. However, I hope there are a lot of available seats at that meeting!

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:45 PM | Comments (7)

Omitting Information That's Unhelpful to the Cause

Something just doesn't add up in a Providence Journal report today by Michael McKinney:

A Fall River foster mother, arraigned on charges of raping a 15-year-old girl in her custody, had previously been viewed by the state Department of Social Services as offering a "model foster home," according to a department spokeswoman.

The 26-year-old woman, Christina Machado, has been a foster mother since 1996 and has two children of her own as well as another foster child, and the 15-year-old accuser has been in the house since September 2002.

Machado is free on $5,000 bail and has moved out of the house rather than force the girl out. (Although the girl has apparently left, too, so perhaps Machado left so the other foster child could stay.) According to McKinney, she pleaded not guilty to charges that followed an investigation begun when the Department of Social Services "received a call on its hot line about two or three weeks ago about the accusations." DSS spokeswoman Denise Monteiro says, "At this point, we take every allegation seriously until it is proven or unproven." McKinney reports that specifics "of the alleged crime could not be determined... before a trial."

Monteiro said by phone yesterday that over some two weeks, DSS investigators found no witnesses to the alleged crime. It could not be determined yesterday if the police, which investigate separately, had found witnesses.

So, based on this article, it seems entirely plausible that the foster daughter — who went through who knows what before the age of 14 — might have made up a story, and it's just gotten out of hand. Every kid knows that DSS is one way to express power over mommy and daddy, but it is a little odd that this girl would target mommy and not follow the more predictable storyline. I mean, one would guess that there's a foster father, because (1) Machado has two children of her own, (2) Monteiro said that "they have been a model foster home," and (3) if the mother has left the house, somebody has to be there with the children.

But it's just quirky enough, and it's sufficiently nearby that there was a chance I'd know of the family, so I figured I'd Google Machado, whose name the Projo provides (along with her home address). Doing so, I discovered that the Boston Herald covered the story yesterday, in a piece by David Guarino entitled "Rape rap fuels gay fight: Lesbian foster mom charged in assault."

Well, that's an interesting omission from the Projo piece! Perhaps McKinney or his editors didn't want to taint the front-page encomium of RI House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, who is basking in the affection resulting from his public coming out the other day. But Machado's lifestyle isn't the only bit of information that the Boston Herald reveals that the Providence Journal wouldn't or couldn't:

Sources said a teacher at the girl's school made the report after she had been "acting up."

Sources familiar with the lengthy police report said the rapes allegedly occurred within five days of one another last month. The sources said a friend of Machado's "witnessed the abuse and was instrumental in telling police what happened." ...

The girl had been in the care of Machado and another woman, who sources identified as her partner, since November 2003 after living in several other foster homes.

The girl was examined at a Fall River hospital by doctors who confirmed she had been raped, according to a source. ...

DSS records show one call to report abuse last year but Monteiro said it was "unsupported."...

Three other younger children are still in the Walnut Street home, including another foster child, a boy.

That makes it sound quite a bit less like a teenage foster child's revenge gotten out of control. It also raises a number of questions about the case and about the Providence Journal. Regarding the former, we have a lesbian who's been a foster mother since she was 18. Perhaps her partner is older, because that seems awfully early to sign up for that role, but then how did the 26-year-old lesbian come to have two children "of her own"?

The Herald puts the 15-year-old in the house about four months before the two alleged incidents (as opposed to the Journal's year and a half), which makes the timing of abuse more plausible. If the Herald is correct, it would mean that the same girl probably wasn't the one who made the "unsupported" accusation last year. The Herald's vague details also raise disturbing questions about the nature of the case. What sort of lesbian rape would leave traces that a doctor could confirm? And under what circumstances did the "friend" witness the abuse? Was the behavior consensual?

I'm not confident that the Projo will be the place to watch for answers to these questions. It's possible that Guarino has better sources at the Fall River police station than McKinney does, but the nature of the household is a pretty basic detail — one that he seems deliberately to have written around. If that's true, then the news division of the Providence Journal left out information specifically because some readers might have found it relevant.

Discouraged by the lack of real debate about the marriage bills currently in the Rhode Island legislature, I submitted a column to the Projo earlier in the week. Ever since, I've been thinking that it mightn't have been prudent for me to react so harshly to some of its coverage in the past, as merited as I believe my criticism to have been. But McKinney's piece is an embarrassment, at best, and an outrage, at worst — particularly because it is entirely in line with the paper's already clear agenda. How can interested citizens not react harshly when the state's only major newspaper shifts to advocacy?

A local TV news station has online video (mostly of the house and neighbors who can't believe such things could happen in their neighborhood). I've also found the Fall River Herald News report. (I'd tried earlier, but the paper's main page is quirky, and I gave up.)

Both of these sources accord with the Providence Journal with respect to the length of time that the girl had been in the home (since fall 2002). The TV news did mention that Machado lives with another woman, but without using the "L" word. The Herald News, conspicuously, only mentions that she "lives with another foster child and two natural children." Both of these sources also report that the 15-year-old was removed from the home immediately, and the newspaper adds this peculiar bit of information:

Monteiro would not discuss the details of the investigation, but did say the alleged victim has been traumatized and is "a troubled girl."

Was she "troubled" before living there or only after? And what does Monteiro mean to imply — mentioning this aspect of the case for public consumption?

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:19 PM | Comments (5)
News Media

An Unhealthy System

Even people with high thresholds for tedium will have topics that cause their eyes to gloss over. For me, healthcare is just such a topic; even when I have a direct interest in figuring something out, words and phrases like "premium" and "primary care" do to my comprehension what staring at the sun does to my vision. For all I know, that's a deliberate accomplishment of the folks who run the industry. There are more than enough complicating elements, however, that no corporate conspiracy to bore is required.

For one thing, I've a somewhat latent hypochondria, and unpleasant notions linger everywhere in discussion of health coverage and treatment. It's also emotionally difficult to work up righteousness in defense of professionals — doctors — who move out of state because the low-end of the salary range has dropped 15% to $105,000. Doctors provide a valuable service, of course, requiring a tremendous degree of investment and devotion. Moreover, one can hardly fault folks for working in neighboring states where the money is better. I'm merely suggesting that the dollar amounts in question are high enough that the average person will slip into cry-me-a-river mode.

But then the complexity of the issue kicks in. Financially speaking, insurance companies hardly qualify for sympathy. Doctors, at least, directly provide their crucial service, whereas most people don't know, really, what the purpose of filtering all medical costs through insurers might be.

These matters could all be straightened out in the public mind, however, if it weren't for the involvement of the government. Andrew Morse put it well in an email that he sent me offering some answer to my confusion about the reason any large group of people couldn't negotiate health insurance rates: Our system "combines the compassion of raw capitalism with the efficiency of bureaucratic socialism." Here's part of his explanation:

insurance sold through employers legally insulates insurers from the consequences of their decisions. This is an unintended consequence of a federal law called ERISA - The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. Under ERISA, when insurance is sold through employers, damages from lawsuits over denied claims cannot include costs (such as death) incurred because treatment was delayed; they can only cover the cost of treatment. Also under ERISA, states cannot regulate HMOs any more stringently than federal government can.

That last part raises further problems, because states can regulate the businesses that are compelled to offer health benefits to their employees. However, as Sydney Smith explains, another layer of big-pocketed folks slip out of the regulatory constraints, which then become nooses to those who remain:

The small business, (as well as the individual) insurance market is a tightly regulated one, and it's regulated by fifty different states with fifty different sets of rules and mandates. A large employer or a union -- and the insurance companies that insure them -- can get around the byzantine maze of regulations and mandates by providing self-funded insurance programs to their employees. Self-insured programs are exempt from state regulations and mandates. Because the large, self-insured businesses and unions turn the money for their insurance programs over to traditional insurance companies to administer, the self-funded programs are just like any other insurance policy -- except that the premiums are cheaper and the risk is assumed by the company. It is an option that small businesses just can not afford. As a result, small businesses and their employees have less choice since they are limited only to insurance companies willing to comply with whatever state regulations may apply in their area. And they pay higher premiums to cover state mandates for care.

Smith notes that one potential solution, the Small Business Health and Fairness Act of 2003, is currently stuck in the Senate. It would allow "small businesses to purchase insurance across state lines through their professional and trade associations." While this sounds like a reasonable, quick bandage on the part of the problem deriving from over-compassionate state governments, it would seem likely to tighten that noose on those who can't slip out through the new opening and to add a further layer of complexity to the issue. In the long run, there may be no other factor that is more important to avoid. As Morse noted in his email:

No one is really sure about how to unravel the tangle of laws, regulations, and precedents that allow insurance companies to restrict the choices of the insured. Because the problem has become such an incomprehensible mess, a lot of people are buying into the idea that the poor quality of health insurance has been created by inevitable socio-economic globalizing forces, and that the only way average citizens can protect themselves is to support a government takeover of healthcare.

The answer that's beginning to take shape beyond my thoroughly glazed eyes is exactly the opposite. Paul Craddick makes a good initial suggestion:

What to do?

Not National Health Insurance;
Not piecemeal tinkering around the edges of the current "system";
Not laissez-faire in health care;

Rather, mandatory, private, health Insurance - "universal coverage in exchange for universal responsibility."

That, it seems to me, might be the American way to create a universal health plan. It puts the onus on the individual, while providing for his well-being. Think of auto insurance if everybody were born with a car. Like auto insurance, more companies would spring up with varying products tailored to differing priorities; right now the underlying customer priorities are those of the companies negotiating the rates. Also like auto insurance, interested and relevant groups could pick up rate negotiation, as AAA and some companies already do for auto. Churches, for example, could secure group discounts — even offering a charitable component for those who cannot afford the premiums.

Employees might benefit from companies' newfound need to develop other ways to attract and keep employees, once risking temporary unemployment is no longer to risk one's life. Salaries would surely go up. For the companies' benefit, they would no longer have to administer a large program outside of their competencies, and human resources departments could save time now devoted to attempts to comprehend and explain the mind-numbing ins and outs of a system whose critical offering enables a complicated delivery that leaves many going without care and services that would improve their lives — and that they may not know they're already paying for.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:31 AM | Comments (1)

April 2, 2004

Describing Our Armchairs

Dan Darling takes a step back from the wrangling over terrorism to remind us of the limited perspective that we, as interested citizens, actually have. The following point isn't an adequate summary of the post, but it struck me as important to remember:

One of the tendencies that I've noticed within counterterrorism circles is that in many cases people want to reduce the al-Qaeda threat down to single nexus or pivot that would be utterly devastating if not fatal to the group were it removed. For Mylroie that pivot seems to be Iraq, for Ledeen and others it's Iran, for the SAAG folks it's Pakistan, and for many more people it's bin Laden or al-Zawahiri. Some want to go even further and say that the central pivot is Islam itself, but they don't get too much attention and probably thankfully so.

My own view is that bin Laden deliberately set al-Qaeda up in such a fashion so that there wouldn't be any Achilles Heel that would cripple the group were it ever removed. I've noted this before and I'll say it again - bin Laden was a businessman long before he was ever a terrorist and that the organization he created resembles a giant multi-national corporation more than it does anything else, which is one of the reasons why it's so damned hard to kill.

There aren't many exceptions to the general rule that we all come out swinging in these debates, and often we get so tangled up in our arguments that we lose sight of the fact that our method of thinking and of debate requires the partitioning of reality into addressable segments. That — it should be needless to say (but isn't) — is never an adequate approach to forming broader opinions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:10 PM
Middle East

Changing the Storyline

Earl Appleby has noticed a liberal's quick turnaround on the reason Condoleezza Rice isn't is testifying for the 9/11 commission.

Meanwhile, the New York Times considers it news that Hollywooden activists are writing Bush hatred into their scripts:

Galvanized politically in ways they have not been since the early 1990's, Hollywood's more liberal producers and writers are increasingly expressing their displeasure with President Bush with not only their wallets, but also their scripts.

In recent weeks, characters in prime time have progressed beyond the typical Hollywood knocks against Washington politicians to calling out the president directly or questioning his policies, including the decision to go to war in Iraq, the support of the antiterrorism law and the backing of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

That's was an interesting authorial decision on Times writer Jim Rutenberg's part, leading with the punchline: the entertainment liberals haven't been this energized to defeat a President since the last time there was a Republican President to defeat! And boy, do they want to defeat President Bush:

Ms. David and her like-minded peers are putting a lot of money behind the push. She, for one, has given $100,000 to the Media Fund and America Coming Together, Democratic groups using unlimited donations to run television commercials and to motivate voters against the president. Marcy Carsey, whose production house Carsey-Werner-Mandabach produces "Whoopi," has given $500,000 to the Media Fund, federal election records show. Ms. Carsey declined to be interviewed for this article.

On Wednesday night alone, Senator John Kerry's campaign was estimated to have raised $2.5 million at a fund-raising event in Beverly Hills attended by powerful studio executives like Sherry Lansing, the chief executive of Paramount Studios, and stars like the actors Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson.

Personally, I think Mel Gibson made a better — and more effective — investment.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:08 PM
News Media

Jesus: More than Just a Friend

Providence Journal contributing editor M.J. Andersen has, by observing reactions to The Passion of the Christ, come across the conflicting trends between believers in what I've previously counterpoised as Metrosexual Jesus and South American Prison Jesus. Somehow, I'm not inclined to disagree with Andersen's observation that the former is more simplistic:

In a recent New York Times essay, Prothero speculates that Gibson's Jesus, and his film's immense popularity, could signal a return to a Jesus from whom Americans are more estranged. Gibson's suffering man-god may be harder to comprehend than the admirable guy many Americans thought that they had come to know.

Probably without realizing it — for reason of the piece's focus on Jesus — Andersen touches on what the two trends ultimately represent. The less comprehensible Jesus is, well, God. "Jesus as pal" is not (or, at least, might not be). The latter, being (above all) likable, is more prone to reflect that which we like, particularly in ourselves. The former will sometimes decree realities that conflict with our preferences.

This one difference, however we wish to phrase it, carries through the entirety of those beliefs and impressions that constitute a worldview. And the line between the two distinct camps cuts across denominations, which explains what Andersen seems to consider a mystery: that American Protestants are "flocking to the movie" even though "Gibson is a conservative Catholic who rejects the liberalizing reforms of Vatican II" and whose "focus on the physical agony of Jesus flows directly from Catholic devotional tradition." The line between Catholic and Protestant isn't any longer (or is less and less) the single greatest dividing line in Christendom.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:03 PM

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from The Congregation," by Lori Dillman.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:00 AM

Still Raining

The problem with days' worth of rain is that the dampness starts to get into everything. The dog, for example.

Yesterday, he was restless to go outside, and shortly after I decided the weather dry enough to oblige, it began to pour. Maybe if he weren't nearly a hundred pounds of northern-furred dog, we could blowdry him or something.

But... one can see spring in the subtle red buds that make the trees look more twiggy and on the willows with their yellow beginning. Between the colors and the rain, spring comes in like autumn goes out.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:56 AM | Comments (2)
Diary & Confession

April 1, 2004

The Marketplace QED

I wasn't sure how to react when I first came across Tyler Cowen's post saying, essentially, that Hollywood makes about as many "wholesome" movies as the market will bear, ipso facto:

While some bias may be present, enough moviemakers are simply greedy. The study shows that many wholesome movies are in fact made and succeed financially. So if more wholesome movies would make more money, we would get them. They are not shut out of the market. So in financial terms I doubt if the bias can be a large one.

Part of the problem is that the organization that put out the report hasn't made it available online. Some of the summary data can be found on WorldNetDaily, and some actual numbers can be found here, but it's difficult to form a complete picture from what's offered. Still, Cowen's conclusion that there "is only room for so many wholesome pictures in the market," beyond which "consumers demand sex and violence in their movies," overlooks some of the factors that affect relative data.

For one thing, nothing in the information that we have — or probably even in the full report — gives direct basis for guesses about "what if" questions. Cowen seems to rely on the assumption that "enough moviemakers are simply greedy" that they would make a larger number of moral films, even if it went against their own immoral principles to do so. Far from being self evident, that assumption would seem to require additional substantiation to refute the argument that even the greed motivation isn't being heeded. Moreover, a predisposition to naked greed would exacerbate a problem that Craig Henry notes:

Markets are efficient information processors, but they are not omniscient. Buyers can only purchase what is presented to them by producers. Since producers are not gifted with perfect foresight, they often miss opportunities. That is why innovators and new entrants can reap high returns. As Clayton M. Christensen shows in The Innovator's Dilemma, established firms usually are locked into existing customers and are blind to the profits to be found in new or underserved segments.

More problematic to Cowen's hypothesis is that moviemakers have tended to flood the market with working formulas. At the very least, one would expect the industry to make more of the types of movies that sell most. Were that the case, the average earnings would seem likely to even out, as more "moral" movies were made, with the bulk making less money, thus bringing down the average. (This also may suggest that moviemakers will only make "wholesome" movies that are sure to succeed, while they're willing to take financial risks with "unwholesome" movies.) Consider this chart of data drawn from the actual numbers link above:

The solid lines are the actual numbers (left axis), while the dashed lines are earnings (right axis). Without knowing the distribution of the films being averaged, one can only speak generally. However, all things being equal, according to Cowen's explanation, the lines of the same color should be relatively parallel and less steep. The former because the industry would make more movies of the type that made the most money; the latter because making more movies means more movies that can flop and more that share the same niche.

The dashed green line represents the average earnings of "movies with very strong moral content." Unfortunately, I don't know how many movies this includes, but drawing on the inverse proportions between "no sex" and "no nudity" movies, whereby the 15% fewer "no sex" movies earned 15% more, my best guess is that 62 or 63 strongly moral movies were made.

The bottom line is that, whatever the reason, Hollywood would do well to make more moral movies. (That will surely require some new hires of higher-ups who can create such movies without seeming insincere.) And as for Cowen's bottom line that people "demand sex" after a certain number of wholesome movies, I'd suggest that the slight uptick of revenue for movies with "excessive" sex and the coalescing trends between revenue and number for excessive nudity give a pretty good indication that this is the only market that is adequately covered... well, not adequately covered, but you know what I mean.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:09 PM | Comments (5)

A President You Could Vote For

John Kerry had some surprising comments on MTV, and to be honest, somebody who would say such things — to that audience, especially — goes up a few notches in my estimation:

I think that serious politics is best left to those who have the temperament and personality for the real world of governance. You can't sum up the farm bill in a five-stanza song. You can trot out Woody Guthrie to get the audience to believe you're for the guy who's got 40 acres and a mountain of debt, but Woody isn't much use when you have to balance the needs of the domestic sugar-beet industry against foreign competition.

It's not an insult to say that musicians don't belong in politics, any more than it's an insult to say that Supreme Court judges shouldn't tour with Phish, or golf pros shouldn't start writing articles for medical journals.


I never saw a single episode of "Friends," because what happens on "Friends" just doesn’t come up on the floor of the Senate that often, and I have to keep up to speed on the requirements of my job. But as far as I know it's about a bunch of good-looking kids who have amusing problems. That's fine, but America has some serious problems, and it's my job to address those. ...

Popular music, the stuff you have here on MTV, won't be so important to you as you get older. You'll still love it, and the old songs will still sound great, but when you're young it occupies an oversized place in your life. Sometimes I think people of my generation were more upset by the breakup of the Beatles than the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Well, okay, okay, you probably already know that these quotations are just Lileks dreaming about what a politician could say on MTV. In reality, Kerry spoke about as you'd expect Kerry to speak. For example, Jeff Miller notes Kerry's response to the question, "I heard you were really inspired by John F. Kennedy. Who do you think is an inspirational figure for my generation?" Spoketh JF Kerry:

Boy, that's a good question. You know, it's just a different time right now. As I talk to my daughters, who are recent graduates of college and out there, they tell me that a lot of young people just don't have that kind of feeling right now. Certainly not about politics. And I regret that. That's one of the things that I would like to change. I mean, Howard Dean and I just did a rally here at George Washington University, talking to young people about making politics relevant again. And a lot of what I would like to achieve in this race comes out of the inspiration of my own experience when a candidate for president, and then a president, challenged us to become involved and change the system. You know, young people have so much more power than they tend to think to be able to affect politics. And if people will organize and get involved and go out and knock on doors and hand out leaflets and make a change, then they can determine the future. And that's what I think is at stake in this race. I hope I can inspire young people to care about the system in this race, certainly in terms of politics. I know there are a lot of musicians and a lot of artists and there are a lot of writers and other people who inspire young people, but I'd like to see somebody in political life be able to connect and make these choices that we need to make in Washington real in terms of people's lives.

Understandably, given that ponderous paragraph, Jeff's conclusion that Kerry's had been one of those flub answers to avoid admitting that he had no clue who would be relevant to the young lady asking the question is only half correct. There was an answer of the sort that politicians are rightly inclined to step around. Did you catch it?

I hope I can inspire young people to care about the system in this race, certainly in terms of politics.

Note that a few sentences before he expressed this hope, Kerry suggested that Kennedy — the context of the question — had done the same for his generation. So. Kerry's answer to the question about who could inspire the younger generation? "Me."

Don't let this guy anywhere near the Oval Office. Please.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:54 PM

How Many More Programs Are Like This?

This is almost too much to believe — certainly too much to want to believe:

The Department of Energy program to compensate sick nuclear weapons plant workers has cost $74 million of taxpayers' funds - and only one worker has been paid.

That one person in Washington state has received $15,000.

The $74 million has gone to paperwork involved in deciding whether workers were sickened by radiation or toxic chemicals on the job. ...

The DOE and its contractors are obliged to track down scarce documents, some decades old, on individual workers' exposure to deadly materials used in bomb-making. A panel of physicians makes the final decision on whether an illness or death was job-related.

Of 23,000 applications in nearly four years, DOE has rejected about 5 percent and moved ahead on 1 percent, according to testimony Tuesday from the General Accounting Office.

The kicker is that the DOE is asking for another $76 million dollars. That would be a nice round total of $150 million. Consider that the agency could give all 23,000 applicants $15,000 for $345 million, and it would seem that a less stringent process might be in order. Almost 5,000 people could have been paid $15,000 from the sum already spent, while the 6% of cases that the money managed to review only amounts to 1,380 folks.

Not knowing the background, I'm not going to comment on the merits of the program, but when dollar amounts in the millions are spent considering whether to hand out dollar amounts in the thousands, something's wrong. As John Hawkins suggests at the above link, perhaps the media ought to pay a little less attention to Big Energy and a little bit more to Big Government.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:27 PM

The Talk Not Walked

One needn't think hard to explain the coincidence that oppression and even genocide often come up in proximity to such topics as terrorism. And sadly, one needn't think that much harder to form a rudimentary understanding of Western governments' reaction to both.

Glenn Reynolds links to several sources supporting this perspicacious statement: "For all the talk of 'never again,' genocide hasn't seemed to upset the international community much."

Meanwhile, Ann Coulter superimposes the terrorism timeline over the Presidential timeline of the last few decades. Noting that President Bush saw the need for a policy change after September 11 (and, to a lesser extent, even before that date), she writes:

Democrats opposed it all – except their phony support for war with Afghanistan, which they immediately complained about and said would be a Vietnam quagmire. And now they claim to be outraged that in the months before 9-11, Bush did not do everything Democrats opposed doing after 9-11.

Perhaps we'd be justified in wondering if there's anything liberal leaders — from national government to (their preferred) international fora — hold on absolute principle... besides the objective justice that they, themselves, have wealth and power. Domestically, their reaction to threats to that latter birthright show just how dirty they're willing to get battling a cosmic wrong. (And by that, I mean the Bush administration.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:29 PM | Comments (1)
International Affairs

So Many Worlds from Which to Choose

Jay Nordlinger writes of the interplay of the two, irreconciliable worldviews when it comes to Iraq:

"U.S. weapons hunters in Iraq have found more evidence Saddam Hussein had civilian factories able to quickly produce biological and chemical weapons, the CIA's top weapons inspector told senators yesterday."

I realize that's not good enough for the world, but it's good enough for me. Is it good enough for you, too? I suspect so.

The line following the sentence I quoted is, "But they still have not found any weapons."

Again, what they have found is good enough for me. If they'd found Little Boy and Fat Man themselves, sitting right in the kitchen of Saddam's favorite palace, it wouldn't have been good enough for Dominique de Villepin.

Of course, nukes in the kitchen wouldn't have been an imminent threat. At the very least, they'd have to be driven to the launch site. Somehow, I can't help but relate this you-see-white-I-see-black matter to an Arkansas friend's note that Nordlinger reprints. It's about the issue of, umm, black and white:

A co-worker of mine has a daughter in public elementary school, here in Pine Bluff. They're still doing Black History Month stuff, apparently, because the kids were told to come to class dressed as a famous (and presumably accomplished) African-American. My co-worker's kid was told to come as Tina Turner. My co-worker informed the teacher that her child would come as Condoleezza Rice instead. The teacher refused to allow it, on grounds that Rice 'is for white people.' Nice, huh?

These little travesties always seem to have that extra little degree of lunacy: pop star Tina Turner was not "for white people"?

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:11 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

Swim for That Green Light, John

It's in the fine print of my guidelines for writing this blog that I must link to anything that relates politics intelligently and interestingly to classic American literature. Jim Geraghty deservedly benefits from that policy today with a piece on John Kerry and Jay Gatsby:

Naushon Island, off the Massachusetts coast, has been known as the home of pirates, who confiscated the hard-earned wealth of merchants and businessmen; sheep, obedient creatures who demonstrate no independence; ticks and flies, droning annoying pests; and is rumored to be haunted by frightening, ghostly pale, gaunt figures. It is also a family home of John Kerry...

Note to college students: There's definitely a longish paper in this comparison, with many subtle, intriguing parallels and connections. (For example, the Forbes family, of which Kerry is an offshoot, made its money, in part, trading opium. Gatsby was a bootlegger, as was the Kennedy patriarch, if I remember correctly.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:11 PM

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:05 AM

Spring Arrives from the South

Well, another cold, rainy day here in New England. That's one thing about bloggers from the South posting pictures of spring's arrival. We've still got a while up here, and the photos only make these last few weeks (months?) before the seasonal transition all the more frustrating.

Is there some kind of federal aid program for that?

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:03 AM
Diary & Confession