May 31, 2004

More Time to Bid

Obviously, it wasn't the most opportune weekend to begin selling CDs on eBay, again, but necessity is what necessity is. I've extended the auctions on the following CDs until Thursday, and reduced the price on most:

The Band, The Best of the Band
Barenaked Ladies, Rock Spectacle
Barenaked Ladies, Stunt
The Beatles, With the Beatles
The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour
The Beatles, Let It Be
The Beatles Abbey Road
The Beatles, 1
Brad, Shame
The Chieftains, The Long Black Veil
Counting Crows, Recovering the Satellites
The Cranberries, Everybody Else Is Doing It...

The following discs already have bids, but you have until a little after 5:00 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday) to get yours in:

Allman Brothers Band, Where It All Begins
The Beach Boys, Endless Summer
David Bowie, Young Americans
Jackson Browne, I'm Alive
Jimmy Buffett, Son of a Son of a Sailor
Jimmy Buffett, Hot Water
Nick Cave, The Boatman's Call
Phil Collins, No Jacket Required

Please bid!

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:56 PM
Sales & Fundraising

A Memorial Day for the Middle East

To close out this Memorial Day, here're some links that have been building up in my bookmarks file to the sort of information that the Internet has become so essential for providing.

Arthur Chrenkoff has compiled a second post of good news from Iraq. This tidbit, although relatively superficial, is doubly surprising:

And the actor Gary Sinise, who played Lt Dan in "Forest Gump" had this to say after visiting Iraqi hospitals: "I also saw a beautiful interaction between our Soldiers and the Iraqi children. The kids I saw on my second trip to Iraq with Wayne Newton in November 2003 were loving our Soldiers and were so grateful to them for having liberated them from Saddam Hussein. It was a tremendous feeling to see these children hugging and kissing our Soldiers, cheering them with the thumbs up sign and in broken English saying, 'I love you'... Good things are happening over there [Iraq]. On the nightly news it looks like all hell is breaking loose, but I know, from being over there, there's another side to the story."

Meanwhile, readers of solely the mainstream media likely believe the wedding-day bombing to be a closed case (and not in a good way). Belmont Club begs to differ, and has been tracking information as it's become available:

The AP video shows a dead band member almost without a facial mark, peaceful and almost resting. (The very popular Baghdad singer?) Was he the only one killed? If the bomb hit the musician's tent, as indicated by the debris of musical instruments, where are the other dead men? Was there a third structure attacked, the figurative 100 Syrian fighters 'down the road'? Or were there just the two structures?

Personally, I'm skeptical even of the dead band member.

For his part, John Hawkins offers a broader view in "George Bush's Wildly Successful War on Terrorism":

Despite what we hear daily from the "nattering nabobs of negativity" in our country, we should be proud of the magnificent job that George W. Bush, his administration, our troops, and our intelligence services have done fighting the war on terrorism. In perhaps the two most perfectly executed military campaigns ever waged on this earth, our troops smashed the Taliban and Saddam Hussein's regime, freeing 50 million people from tyrants who had made the lives of their people into a living hell.

Although some will surely object that the war in Iraq oughtn't be included in analysis about the progress in the War on Terror, WorldNetDaily suggests that such objections are increasingly less justified. Among other things:

Recently translated documents captured by U.S. forces provide new evidence of a direct link between Saddam Hussein's regime and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Rosters of officers in Saddam's Fedayeen list Lt. Col. Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, who was present at the January 2000 al-Qaida "summit" in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at which the 9-11 attacks were planned, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Also less and less justified is the notion that Iraq ought to be placed in U.N. hands. James Lileks focuses on Europe:

If anyone thinks Europe is “three or four more times as democratic as America” he is living in a dream world. A world where Russia lectures us about treatment of Muslim detainees, France is a model of nation-building, the Patriot act muzzles the press, and China is deeply concerned about the sovereignty of conquered nations.

And while I'm linking around, I'll close with a column from a mainstream outlet, the Providence Journal — albeit, criticizing the mainstream media. Peter Brown calls for perspective among his peers:

My news-media colleagues are largely responsible. We rightly press for explanations about why things happened and how they could have been averted. But we also legitimize the mentality that it's okay to come down from high after the battle and shoot the wounded. We feel the need to make sure someone takes the fall, regardless of whether anyone would have done the same thing, or worse, in his or her shoes.

It's a sick game. ...

It's a loss of perspective because the situation highlights why Rumsfeld should stay in office. We won the war. The United States took the prisoners, not the other way around.

We won it quickly and with many fewer U.S. casualties than even the optimists had predicted, not to mention the doomsday scenarios of the pessimists -- many of the same people now wanting Rumsfeld to resign. Last time I checked, the prime responsibility of the secretary of defense is to make sure that the U.S. military wins wars.

How our military treats enemy prisoners, although worth considering, ranks far, far lower on that totem pole. And rightly so.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:27 PM
Middle East

Keeping Doubts Alive

There isn't much to fruitfully argue in Walter Olson's latest post regarding Virginia's recently passed amendment to its Affirmation of Marriage Act. Olson presents his post as a response to Ramesh Ponnuru's explanation, which is similar to my own. Ponnuru and I have argued what the law ought to be construed to mean; Olson is arguing what it could (and shouldn't) be construed to mean. Inasmuch as even some of the articles that Olson cites present the central points that I would make, to argue along the "what will it do" line would be to continue a repetitive dance.

The amendment is now law, and until judges begin taking the cases that will eventually illustrate what it does and does not cover, restating ambiguities over and over would seem to lend credence to bill-sponsor Delegate Robert Marshall's suggestion that the intention is "to sow doubt about the statute."

However, the following from Olson oughtn't go without comment:

So, again: which private arrangements are void? Ponnuru's answer is agreeably circular: he thinks the law will ban only those arrangements which purport to convey incidents of marriage which cannot be conveyed by contract. In other words, it will ban only those arrangements that are already void.

That bit about Ponnuru's conclusion being "agreeably circular" seems, if Olson has paid half as much attention to the debate as I believe he has, disagreeably oblique. As we're discovering in Rhode Island, and as has been suggested here and there across the country, with states' creation of civil unions and legitimization of same-sex marriage, the explicit declaration of "public policy" in other states is pivotal in preventing importation of those arrangements. And indeed, the version of the amendment that passed the Virginia House uses the language "declares as existing policy."

Understandably, those who support SSM will object to any barriers' being built into state laws, but to imply that the barriers' redundancy indicates ulterior intentions is a bit much. On one hand, SSM advocates wish to push redefinition through the courts on the grounds that marriage isn't defined, and on the other, apparently, some of them object that legislating definition is so unnecessary as to prove expanding bigotry. For their part, those who oppose the judicial imposition of SSM believe any such laws would be redundant.

Although I'd suggest that all of the various imputations of motive muddy waters in need of clarification, the effort spent pushing laws and arguments to their most extreme interpretations is much more extensive among those who wish to do away with them. Consider Olson's "curious postscript":

Marshall (whose private views, of course, do not determine how courts will rule in interpreting the law) disagrees with the idea that durable power of attorney, medical directives or wills might come into question, but "said the Virginia law is intended to ban child custody and guardianship agreements between same-sex partners". ... The mention of guardianships is interesting since the designation of guardians has long been untethered to the "privileges or obligations of marriage" -- parents can and routinely do select sisters, cousins and completely unrelated friends of the family to step in as guardians for their children in the event of their demise. It appears that Marshall -- contra Ponnuru's thesis -- hopes the law will empower courts to undo private legal arrangements which are routinely upheld as valid when carried on between other unrelated persons on the grounds that they arise from a same-sex relationship.

Olson goes on to warn of a legal guardian from another state having her long-deceased partner's child snatched by the Virginia bureaucracy while on vacation within its jurisdiction. Such an event would be a travesty, indeed. However, posing the scenario on the basis of an unsympathetic reporter's paraphrase of Delegate Marshall's legally irrelevant statement on the matter would seem to discard Olson's previous emphasis on "plausibility."

In response, I'm tempted to ponder the likelihood that a federal judge will take the opportunity created by such extreme hypotheticals to strike down the Virginia statute in a ruling that's sufficiently broad to invalidate even more temperate state laws. Whether that happens, we'll just have to wait and see, but I'm not optimistic that supporters of SSM will apply their apparent aversion to surplus breadth in legal language to the ruling if it does.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:49 PM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

In Service of the Nation

Austin Bay's farewell entry of May 18 has been much on my mind ever since:

Removing Saddam began the reconfiguration of the Middle East -- a dangerous, expensive process, but one that will lay the foundation for true states where the consent of the governed creates legitimacy and where terrorists are prosecuted, not promoted. The job of building New Iraq falls on the Iraqi people, but they have a precious opportunity, one supported by government civilians and contractors, volunteer workers and, of course, the uniformed military personnel serving with the U.S.-led coalition.

It is my privilege to join that group for the next few months. I know the hardest burden in this deployment will be borne by my wife and daughters. I thank them for their sacrifice.

Because I was born with two clubbed feet, there has never been a time when I wasn't aware that I was 4-F; as Merriam-Webster puts it, that means "classification as unfit for military service." In other words, it has never even been a matter of choosing not to enlist — a matter of rejecting the call to serve. For most of my reckless youth, I considered that to be an instance of good fortune. And I still do, although in a different way: in the way that the cleansing from sin of an adult baptism makes it a matter of luck to have once been an unbaptized atheist. The good fortune is in not having to face the reality of unmitigated shortcomings, whether cowardice, selfishness, or sin.

Just as one must remember, however, that being an unbaptized atheist surely contributed to sin, which contributed to misfortune, which defined much of the starting point for adult life, one must understand that never having had to consider the most potent form of service to one's country contributed to a larger attitude of service's avoidance. Put more simply, 4-F was — and continues to be — an excuse, at least on my part, piled on top of many others, until what is excuse simply cannot be peeled away from what is reason.

To each his own, and we're all called in different directions. But a citizen who sacrifices less profoundly must sacrifice more, and for longer, until every excuse has been hammered into a reason in retrospect. The life not risked is not thereby absolved of the responsibility to be a life given over. If my legs prevented my carrying what burden a commanding officer might have place upon my shoulders, then my mind and fingers must work until an equivalent service has been rendered.

So, on this Memorial Day, we who have not served ought, by duty, to thank those who have — not just for their sacrifices, but for setting the bar so high. What they have given — what you have given — is an example of such weight as to inspire a lifetime of continual striving according to the individual callings of the rest of us.

Whether he intended it or not, Austin Bay speaks more broadly than just the war against the terrorists when he writes that "every American, in some form or fashion, is part of this war." And although each of us contributes to humanity's larger struggle, we rightly pause to thank and to honor those who have fought directly to establish the foundation from which the battles of the mind may be waged.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:07 AM | Comments (1)

May 30, 2004

Eccentricity to Truth

Music critic Dave Marsh makes a culturally telling comment on the back cover of the Ted Hawkins CD — The Next Hundred Years — with "Ladder of Success" on it:

When [Hawkins] declares that you can't get anywhere without "connections," in his "Ladder of Success," he's speaking a simple truth which becomes more convoluted only when you realize how utterly simply he means it: He genuinely believes contact with God possesses more power than contact with mammon. This complex simplicity lends his songs their sense of strangeness and eccentricity.

Personally, I get more of a sense of strangeness from the fact that this comment was printed in full promotional view on the CD in question. And what eccentricity it indicates in an industry when it apparently stands as an oddity that somebody actually believes God to be more powerful than money.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:51 PM

Time for Anonymity

No matter what you know, it's who you know
No matter how great you are
You got to know somebody
That knows somebody
Who knows somebody
That is somebody
So run and tell somebody
To finance somebody
So they can pay somebody
To push somebody
You have to trust somebody
You have to trust somebody
So why not trust the Maker
He will help you make it

Convoluted as the route from one to the other might be, the song "Ladder of Success," by Ted Hawkins, came to mind when I finally saw Return of the King last night.

One aspect of The Lord of the Rings' climactic scene, emphasized thereafter, that the movie really highlighted for me was the degree to which everything ultimately came down to two characters and the strength of their friendship. We tend to see our own lives in close-ups, and when the camera is focused on Frodo and Sam struggling up Mt. Doom to dispose of the ring, it is easy to believe that the fate of Middle Earth rests with them. When the camera hovers over the crowd of warriors who have made bait of themselves as a distraction, and one sees Mt. Doom off in the distance, it is quite a bit more strange to think that the real action isn't with the king, or the soldiers, or the company wizard.

A similar sense, although much more profound, followed me from the theater when I saw The Passion of the Christ. From the point of view of our globalized world, it's striking how small in scope were the worldly events involved with Christ's coming, death, and resurrection. There's no mention in the Bible, or elsewhere, that every person in the world looked up at the sky — or something — with knowledge that a major event had just happened in the world. Surely there were a great many people even in Jerusalem who had no idea why the Earth might be shaking.

It may sound self-contradictory, but to expect such an instant global effect is to put abnormal limits on God. God, it ought to be clear, has time. Specifically, He has time to wait for the spark of Christ's coming to compound into broad flames of belief. I can imagine an apostle staggering through the streets after the Passion, or striding through them after the Resurrection, and wondering, "Is it possible that none of these people bustling about with their lives know what has just happened?"

Well, yes. It is possible. Probable. God has time.

He also has scope — defines scope. This divine measure of the extent and breadth of events' importance speaks to our own perspective within the limited reach of our actions. A few months ago, a much older friend of mine suggested that she had only recently realized that not everybody can be Mother Theresa. I took the comment to be an equal reference to the amount of good done and the amount of notoriety received. A parent, for example, cannot abandon his or her children to roam the world doing good, and even those who are free to do so will not likely gain worldly fame for their deeds.

During a period when I believed in a vague sort of fate, I half-jokingly fretted that my role in the world might be to cut off some guy on the highway, snapping the final straw, sending him into a frenzy during which he would kill some random woman, who would say something profound on her deathbed, which would affect her son in such a way that, when he became President of the United States, he would institute some policy that averted war. At my most selfish (in my bachelor days), I outlined a story about a failed musician whose child went on to become famous. The story would have been constructed as an expression of tragedy.

In the Christian view, however, God doesn't create human beings simply to be means to another end. Not one of us is merely a bumper in a cosmic machine of events, there only to reflect the sphere of significance in a meaningful direction. So, we oughtn't fear to accept that hints of reality's purpose may not arise directly out of our actions. It may be that momentousness, according to humanity's conception, touches our lives only at a distance. In the mechanism of society, it may be that any given person's manifest role is only to finance somebody to pay somebody to push somebody so that somebody else might make it.

But to God, we all exist in close-up — where it is easy to believe that what we do affects the fate of the entire world.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:16 PM | Comments (2)

May 28, 2004

Letters from Behind the Curtain

Letters from Rhode Islanders expressing conservative ideas have been mounting in the Providence Journal. (I wonder what an analysis of which letters are published in print versus online would reveal.) In keeping with my desire to establish a Red Politics beachhead in the Ocean State, here are links to some of the brave souls.

Echoing with different emphasis some comments from the (apparently liberal) International Institute for Strategic Studies, Mike Toppazzini, of North Providence, thinks the Islamicists are waiting, with nervous anticipation, the outcome of our national elections this year:

Terrorists, like bullies and dictators, only survive by creating an environment of having your opponent in constant fear or insecurity, thus paralyzing them from fighting back. Once this doesn't work, I'm sure it makes them uneasy.

My guess is that they are waiting for the election with the hope that John F. Kerry wins, so things can go back to the old ways, like having meetings and putting sanctions in place that never work anyway.

Although he implies them in his closing, Mike neglected to add international bureaucrats to the list of people who thrive on the paralysis of the masses. In an interesting twist on this cross-disciplinary trait, Lt. Col. Patrick Donahoe insinuates that members of the media segment of that crowd might wish away the realization of their dark desires through the success of their advocacy:

Frank Rich's commentaries (Journal, May 9 and 23) are examples of a generation of journalists pining for the "good old days" of Vietnam. Rich admits that the "Vietnam parallels are, as always, not quite exact," but he poses the flawed argument anyway.

In reality, Iraq is not Vietnam, neither politically nor militarily; Fallujah is not Hue City; and Abu Ghraib is not My Lai. The constant refrain of a "new Vietnam" is the sad musing of an aging generation of reporters who cut their teeth on the jungles of Southeast Asia. These writers want to paint our country in the worst light. They can assign no other motive to America than the evil exercise of power. ...

I feel sorry for Mr. Rich. He will not get his Vietnam. He and others of his ilk will have to look elsewhere. They will be denied their crowning glory, the ignoble defeat of American aims in Iraq and the corresponding humiliation of our nation and our country's armed forces.

And if John Kerry were to win in November, they'd lose even the ability to strike their favorite poses. The domestic regime change would have been brought about well before hippy-era activism filtered through our society. Indeed, the switch in tone from foaming to fawning might very well result in mass infliction of whiplash and (even more) unfavorable public attitudes toward the opinion elite.

In what might prove to be a foretaste of that outcome, a letter from Cliff Hanks, of Cumberland, makes me wonder whether its author can claim some of the credit for this spate of contra-Blue opinion in the pages of the state's only major newspaper:

Is there a left-leaning group that controls which letters get printed in The Journal, or just one leftist fanatic? Who controls the editorial process, since there is lots of space for such vacuities as John MacArthur and Froma Harrop, et al., with their interminable mindlessness, and little space for thoughtful commentaries.

This is, to be sure, a refrain that I regularly sing, although I try (often unsuccessfully) to keep in perspective that the demands on a newspaper — a professional media organization — are different than those on a blogger. Being online, after all, I have unlimited space for vacuity.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:05 PM
Quick Links

Gods — Virtual, Ancient, and Human

I'm behind today because I got caught up with a long, but absolutely fascinating, piece about the degree to which online virtual-reality fantasy games are becoming almost small nation states:

[Economics professor Edward Castronova] gathered data on 616 auctions, observing how much each [virtual] item sold for in U.S. dollars. When he averaged the results, he was stunned to discover that the EverQuest platinum piece was worth about one cent U.S. — higher than the Japanese yen or the Italian lira. With that information, he could figure out how fast the EverQuest economy was growing. Since players were killing monsters or skinning bunnies every day, they were, in effect, creating wealth. Crunching more numbers, Castronova found that the average player was generating 319 platinum pieces each hour he or she was in the game — the equivalent of $3.42 (U.S.) per hour. "That's higher than the minimum wage in most countries," he marvelled.

Then he performed one final analysis: The Gross National Product of EverQuest, measured by how much wealth all the players together created in a single year inside the game. It turned out to be $2,266 U.S. per capita. By World Bank rankings, that made EverQuest richer than India, Bulgaria, or China, and nearly as wealthy as Russia.

It was the seventy-seventh richest country in the world. And it didn't even exist.

As the self-contained worlds of such games have aligned with real-world systems and attitudes, they've not surprisingly moved toward the core influences on society. As the objects and "lives" in them begin to have real value, the games seem to me to be moving out of the phase during which it was possible to talk about a utopian reality in which everybody begins from equal footing and advances based on effort and merit. Human nature is too complicated, and intractable.

In some ways, the virtual worlds can be likened to a newly discovered, inhabited and intellectually modern, country — like an island paradise. Whatever tenuous dreamworld has been enabled by the absence of physical pain and mortality is drained through interaction with the wider world. The major difference, although the article doesn't go this in depth, is that these worlds have powerful "gods" — the designers and administrators — with control over every detail of the internal reality. One doesn't expect, for example, that a jealous god will wink an island nation out of existence as external economies make inroads, but such a thing is still possible in the games.

The formulation of the people who run the games as gods points to an interesting trend. The common (simplified) view of theology's progress in human history is from sort of mechanical gods spiritually connected to specific things in the world; through the concept of powerful deities who aren't much different than comic book superheroes, replete with human-like foibles and passions; followed by distinct, often competing, "forces"; and ultimately to the all-powerful God of the monotheistic faiths. The virtual gods have gone in the reverse.

At present, they are like the ancient Greek gods. They can dictate certain rules of nature, transform objects, make things (like money and goods) appear and disappear, but the medium in which they work imposes restrictions. However, as our legal system begins to assert rights to regulate — if the game owners choose to continue to allow the expansion of the games — they will become somewhat less powerful, even, than world leaders. If a head of state pushes a button and annihilates a civilization, he faces only what consequences other nations or his own people are able to force. Were the game owners to do the same, they'll eventually be criminally liable, at least for lost money.

What this really means, though, is that, as the gods of the games shift toward their actual humanity in power, as the games become more a component of this world, the God of the games becomes the real God. And that raises some intriguing ethical questions. Primary among the answers, I would suggest, even before the questions begin to be asked, is that excessive immersion in a virtual world threatens one's soul, inasmuch as it moves one's consciousness an implementation of reality further from God.

How significant would charity within EverQuest be if it came at the expense of, for example, depriving children of an active father? Not very, I'd say. But turn that question around a bit, and an answer to the real-world parallel must be more intricate: how significant is charity of the body that comes at the expense of the soul?

Economics isn't the only field that can find a model in these games, but I don't know how much our secular society will like the theological and philosophical conclusions to which the virtual worlds may lead.

(via Shiela Lennon)

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:33 PM | Comments (6)

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:17 AM

Evil in Their Eyes

It looks as if, since I felt compelled to say something, I should have just gone ahead and made my point about comparisons between the Family Research Council and the Nazis. Trey, the blogger who suggested the comparison, has clarified, but without answering my unvoiced concern:

Do I believe the rhetoric of hate and demonization that the FRC uses has the possibility to increase violence and legal discrimination against my family? Yes, most defininitely. Just as I believe child pornography endangers children and extreme violence on TV numbs us to real violence (I'm sure Mr. Katz would agree.. as would the FRC, so why doesn't the FRC see what they are doing?), the speech the FRC uses against gays is a danger both now and in the future. Their rhetoric is indeed comparable to that the Nazis used against Jews.

I wonder if Trey has actually read through the disgusting Nazi propaganda from which the selective quotes of his source for the comparison were drawn. If he has, I'm at a loss to understand how he could fail to see how the equivalence abets evil through its diminishment with one hand and inflicts unjust harm with the other. Here's a taste:

When the agricultural Egyptian population prepared to defend itself against these foreign usurers and speculators, they emigrated once again, and plundered their way into the "Promised Land," where they settled and mercilessly pillaged the lawful and culturally-advanced inhabitants. ...

Here, the ultimate mixed race that is the Jews developed over the centuries from the oriental-preasiatic racial mixture, with a hint of the negroid - foreign to us Europeans, born from totally different kinds of racial elements, different from us in body and above all in soul. ...

In the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, they spread from Eastern Europe like an irresistable tide, flooding the towns and nations of Europe - in fact, the entire world. ...

Then (1918/19) the Jews seized their chance. They came to the forefront, pretending to be faithful citizens, deeply disturbed about the fate of the German people. ...

While millions of established Germans were unemployed and in misery, immigrant Jews acquired fantastic riches in a few years - not by honest work, but by usury, swindling, and fraud. ...

Supposedly their so-called religion prevents the Jews from eating meat butchered in the ordinary way. So they let the animals bleed to death. ... It would otherwise been inconceivable, considering the well-known German love of animals, that Jews until recently were able, without being punnished, to torture innocent and defenseless animals. ...

Under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, Germany has raised the battle flag of war against the eternal Jew. ... "but rather the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!"

One doesn't know whether to laugh or vomit. During the part about suffering animals, the image is of laughing men. Other images are of maps plotting the Jews' infiltration of the world. According to the film, Jews are responsible for just about every crime. "The common language of international thieves comes not without reason from Hebrew and Yiddish."

The film, in short, creates an extended, mythic history of the perfidy of Jews, with sickly humorous juxtapositions of images and text, with lies stoking a paranoia such that annihilation is presented as a reasonable option. For Trey's "evidence," aligned next to the various statements and false statistics are comments from people involved with the FRC. All are out of context; many deal with demographics; many express opinions about behavior; many are indistinguishable from sources that can't be called anti-gay by any stretch. Here's another Nazi nugget:

Fifty-two out of every 100 doctors were Jews. Of every 100 merchants, 60 were Jews. The average wealth of Germans was 810 marks; the average wealth of Jews 10,000 marks.

That's aligned with Robert Knight of the FRC (from 1994):

Homosexuals are among the most economically advantaged people in our country. Research by marketing firms shows that as a group homosexuals have higher than average per-capita annual incomes ($36,800 vs. $12,287), are more likely to hold college degrees (59.6 percent vs. 18 percent), have professional or managerial positions (49 percent vs. 15.9 percent...

And here's the Providence Journal reporting on the first-ever survey — by a pro-gay group — of Rhode Island homosexuals:

81.1 percent have obtained a bachelor's degree or higher, versus 25.6 percent of all Rhode Islanders. ...

77.2 percent work full- or part-time, versus 64.7 percent of all Rhode Islanders.

The specific numbers are debatable, to be sure, but the point is that citing them in the context of testimony that a group doesn't need special protections is quite another matter from citing them to instill fear and promote annihilation. Trey's source goes on like that. To Nazi claims that Jews essentially orchestrate global crime, the source compares quotes about pedophilia and sodomy. Included is a sentence from Robert Knight, saying, "Twenty-one states have laws prohibiting sodomy," which was true at the time.

Having reaffirmed the comparison, Trey offers a hypothetical:

A national media-exposed political advocacy group which has a prominent purpose (large portion of its web site and media appearances) of opposing Christian rights to marriage, employment protection, and discrimination. To oppose these rights to Christians, this group make many claims about them. Christians have an agenda to undermine the national and social structure and destroy the nation. They must be stopped. Christians are violent and cruel people and are known to physically abuse their spouses. Christians are a a danger to children and a very large portion of them are pedophiles, abusing their own children and others' children both sexually and physically. Christians are disease-ridden and spread diseases throughout the population. Christians are increasing in number and recruiting others to their peverted lifestyle when we should be converting them away from their vile beliefs and eliminating them.

Were I in the mood to joke, I'd suggest that Christians face such a group — the ACLU. Were I feeling philosophical, I'd suggest that, even in the extremity, Trey has removed the heart of what it means to be a vibrant and variegated society by conflating the elimination of beliefs and the elimination of people.

But the truth is that I'm exhausted by the impossibility of resolving even what ought to be a simple matter of observation. I'm exhausted by the amorphous meaning attributed to "discrimination" — by the idea that it could make me a Nazi not to believe in "employment protection" for homosexuals when, in all but very narrow circumstances, I don't believe in "employment protection" for anybody.

Look, the reason I didn't go through this the other day is that I have a strong suspicion that doing so publicly will negatively affect my job search, considering my region and the sort of work I'm looking for. Owing to distortions very much like those comparing the FRC to Nazis, it's all too easy for "right-thinking" people to quickly section off those who disagree. Maybe in some nuanced way I'm not a patent bigot, the hirer might concede, but perhaps the suspicion is enough to save the hour of an interview.

So, as I sit here, before wrapping up a day spent auctioning CDs to pay bills and sending letters and email to anybody who might be able to help me find work that will, in some tangential way, further my career rather than put it on hold, wondering whether I wasn't better off without a public platform, back when I could divulge my opinions only to those whom I trusted with the information, I empathize with Trey's concerns:

... the words used by the FRC demonize me, my partner and my daughter and by doing so increases the dangers we have to face as individuals and as a family.

Until Mr. Katz and others recognize the hateful speech and rhetoric of demonization the FRC uses and calls for an end to it and acknowledges the danger it can and does pose for me and my family, then civil discourse becomes difficult if not impossible.

If they do not recognize the danger the FRC's rhetoric poses to me, then they become just another person who stands aside and says 'I didn't do it'.

I empathize more than he knows.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:42 AM

May 27, 2004

Tanked Thinking

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is getting quite a bit of attention for some analysis that Iraq is harming the War on Terror. In fact, whether or not he meant this particular study, Al Gore cited the "think tank" in his already infamous tirade. Reading the full summary of the report (PDF), however, one gets the impression of a glorified opinion column. Consider the section on WMD proliferation:

Washington's leverage over both Tehran and Pyongyang has eroded, as the US found itself pre-occupied with an increasingly desperate situation in Iraq and as the Bush Administration remained deeply divided over policies towards Iran and North Korea.

This brings to mind a recent quip from Ann Coulter that, for liberals, "history always begins this morning." Does anybody believe that Iran and North Korea would currently be more inclined to eschew their nuclear ambitions, the "underlying motivations" of which the IISS itself says are "more deep-seated" than Libya's, if the United States had backed down on Iraq?

In fact, one must look at these situations at a skewed angle in order to find even tepid diplomatic progress to be a setback. For its part, Iran is doing nothing that's not habitual among rogue regimes if its "commitment to the October agreement [to disclose past nuclear activities, accept stronger IAEA inspections, and suspend its fuel cycle program] has been suspect." North Korea has long provided an example of the dubious nature of such "commitments."

Especially regarding North Korea, the IISS criticizes the American administration for moving forward — and succeeding in large part — with a strategy that it has held for years: refusing to engage in unilateral talks with the dictator. The broader version of this point strikes me as simply odd; continuing from the previous quotation:

As a result, the US ceded diplomatic initiative to third parties: to China in the case of North Korea and to Europe in the case of Iran.

In context, this is presented as undesirable; I'm not sure why the IISS believes the United States shouldn't work with allies in its diplomacy. It would seem to me to increase the options (e.g., good cop/bad cop). Indeed, just two paragraphs before, in describing Libya — presented as casting its shadow on the "limited progress" in the other two countries — the IISS declares it to have been "a brilliant success for British diplomacy." Not surprisingly, there's no mention of the role that the invasion of Iraq played therein.

It appears that ambiguously successful multilateral strategies are the fault of the Bush administration, but that such strategies are to be credited to the other nations when they represent clear advances. For an encapsulation of the bias from which this standard ensues, consider this bit of casual, unexplored prognostication:

Increasingly, the Six Party Talks [involving North Korea] look like buying time until a new Administration takes office in Washington in January 2005.

I'm sure Iran, North Korea, and countless despots, terrorists, and corrupt bureaucrats are, indeed, anxiously hoping for that electoral outcome.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:08 PM | Comments (1)
Middle East

Turning the System Around

David Gratzer suggests that the direction of healthcare in this country may be turning:

Given Maryland's tight budget situation, though, Sabatini needed to be imaginative — and frugal. First and foremost, Sabatini wanted to encourage businesses to buy insurance, making the option more attractive by making it more affordable. At the heart of his reform package was a simple idea: cut regulations. Insurance companies, he reasoned, ought to be able to offer small employers an inexpensive, no-frills health policy. Small business may fret the price of a Cadillac plan, but what about a Honda? Add to the mix malpractice reform and a crackdown on fraud, and he believes that more Marylanders will be insured. It's a bold agenda, and just last month Sabatini's efforts bore fruit when both chambers of the legislature approved a bill allowing no-frills insurance.

One can only hope that what we're seeing is the beginning of a shake-up of thinking, of some new ideas being put into play. Local AM talk host Dan Yorke was just talking about a new tax break suggested by the governor of Rhode Island, Don Carceiri that would introduce tax breaks whereby families earning less than $75,000 per year could deduct a certain amount of medical expenses that aren't covered by insurance, such as co-pays.

Yorke was focusing on the income cap (which apparently rules him out), and the governor has phrased the proposal in terms of helping people. But I wonder if the strategy mightn't count as a small side-door reform. Mostly the shift is psychological, putting the focus on healthcare as a personal expense, giving a relatively high limit for which to shoot ($1,500), considering the specific expenses included. Again, as a reform, it's miniscule, but it could betoken a change in attitude.

In fact, these two reforms made me realize that I haven't really been thinking about my contribution to the healthcare that I get through my part-time employer. This month, I started attempting to track every penny that we spend, but somehow, it hadn't even occurred to me to include taxes and healthcare in my pie graph. Now that I've done so, I see that health insurance, alone, amounts to about 10%, which, for a two-income family, is almost a full week of work for one person.

Short of finding an employer with a better program, there's not much I can reasonably do to minimize this deducted wedge from my wages. If healthcare were akin to every other cost of living, I could decide that the vision care program, for example, isn't worth the expense. If consumers were granted the ability to make such decisions more easily and directly, providers would have reason to price for incentive.

Granted, I'm predisposed to make these connections, and other people, upon making them, will conclude that somebody else ought to pick up the tab, but one oughtn't underestimate the power of new perspective.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:38 PM

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Three Women on a French Canal," by Heide Atkins.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:56 AM

Frank and Honest Discussion Is Worth a Try

Columnist Eugene Kane recently criticized Bill Cosby for the star's remarks about personal responsibility in the black community:

In recent years, Cosby seems to have eschewed his role as "America's Favorite Dad" in favor of "Black America's Favorite Curmudgeon."

There are more than a few reports of Cosby acting cranky at public affairs, as he criticized black rappers, black actors, black people in general for failure to live up to his standards. ...

Still, there's always a sense of uneasiness whenever somebody like Cosby uses the same language some whites use to justify their racism. ...

Sometimes, beating up on defenseless people is just being a bully.

Well, Mr. Cosby gave Mr. Kane a call, and the resulting column raised my admiration for both men and offers some reason to hope that racial divisions and the problems that they help to perpetuate are on the slow path toward resolution:

So when the phone rang and it was none other than Cosby on the other end of the line, frankly, I was pretty intimidated.

That didn't last long.

"Mr. Kane? First, what I want to say is this is not an argument, this is a discussion." ...

At 66 years old, Cosby said he had become frustrated at the dysfunction of some blacks, and the downward path many black communities have traveled. ...

A man who has donated millions of dollars to charity - much of that in the name of educating black children - shouldn't have to defend himself to someone like me.

Perhaps, however, Mr. Cosby's having done so will be a small furtherance of one role that he has played throughout his career — as a bridge between cultures. Hopefully folks like Mr. Kane — of all races — will see that the bridge goes both ways, and the views that Cosby is espousing aren't necessarily cover for racism when voiced by whites.

For our part, we can always benefit from reminders that others come to discussions with their own presumptions, and they aren't necessarily unjustified.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:11 AM

May 26, 2004

Research Versus Principle

Eric Cohen takes a look at the latest push for more federal dollars to be granted for embryonic stem-cell research:

Stepping back, a pattern of facts emerges. Embryonic-stem-cell research is promising but so far purely speculative; the federal government in no way limits such research in the private sector; supporters of the research believe they can obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in private funding in the next few years, as the creation of new stem-cell institutes at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Wisconsin demonstrates; and yet, despite the ethical objections of a very substantial portion of the public, stem-cell advocates insist that Congress should compel every American to support the research with tax dollars, and to make that happen they inflate the promise and distort the facts surrounding the research.

Cohen's most useful service is to illustrate how putting aside specifics erases all possibility of an accurate moral calculus. It's one thing to approach the American people with the suggestion that the sacrifice of a few lives is almost certain to save and improve the lives of many. It's another thing if the reality is that a great many lives will have to be sacrificed in order even to prove or disprove speculation.

I'd oppose either proposition, but the distinction would make the difference for a substantial portion of voters, I'm sure.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:46 PM

Not in the Political Interest

John Derbyshire mentions a Wall Street Journal editorial. Explains Derb:

The main drift is, that the Bushies are so keen to hand off the whole shebang to the UN & get out, the admin is dancing to the UN tune... and the UN, or at any rate their man Lakhdar Brahimi, wants a Sunni strongman running the place. That shuts out Chalabi, who is (a) a Shia, and (b) a democrat. So Chalabi's gotta go.

I'm skeptical. Surely, I'm not alone — and am quite far from the teetering edge — as one for whom it would be much easier to find other things that are more important than voting come November if the administration is simply going to ignore all of the worrying festers of the U.N. and damn the people of Iraq to its whims.

This administration has done much to expose the corrosion of the United Nations, and I don't believe they'd hand control of Iraq over to it — even if the President is more cynical than I believe him to be.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:33 PM
Middle East

Erasing Us from History

I'm beginning to think that the objective, indicated in its name, of the American Civil Liberties Union is to unify all judgments of civil liberties under the control of a limited few. The organization is truly beginning to let slip the fanaticism according to which it operates:

The American Civil Liberties Union wants to take religion out of the Los Angeles County seal. ...

At issue is the seal designed by the late Supervisor Kenneth Hahn that contains a tiny cross symbolic of the Catholic missions that are so much a part of the county's history.

In a letter to the supervisors, ACLU Executive Director Ramona Ripston says the cross is unconstitutional and has given them two weeks to act.

The ideologues who have taken control of the ACLU (assuming they haven't always had it) will not be satisfied until they have erased Christianity from American history. Eugene Volokh has more on the seal in question, including a picture. Personally, I think a county ought to be able to display religious symbols as religious symbols, but that's a fair debate, and one that can take its time resolving. But when a powerful, well-funded organization persists in picking through the documents, symbols, and monuments in every crack of the American governmental system, it's time for reasonable citizens to disavow the group.

The frightening part is that the L.A. county controversy is a parlay, for the ACLU, of success at changing public self-definition through raw intimidation:

The genesis of the spat began with a controversy about the city seal of Redlands, which contained a cross. Last February, two Redlands residents complained to the ACLU that the cross was a religious symbol. ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner wrote to the city that the U.S. Supreme Court had declared such symbols on government logos and seals unconstitutional.

Redlands capitulated when faced with a lawsuit and ordered the cross removed from every city logo.

Here's more on that controversy, including a picture. The objection of two residents was sufficient to modify the shared symbol of the town. Civil liberties for two means that all process, all votes, all consensus is moot. Twist some matter around to phrase one's desire in terms of rights, and no democratic principle can stand in the way.

The only pertinent question is how we begin to wake up our neighbors to the creeping legistopoly.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:18 PM

A Coalescence of Strategies

Well, John Kerry has bowed to pressure to actually accept the Democrat nomination at the Democrat nomination convention. That would seem to undermine the strategy that Mickey Kaus had discerned (all emphasis in original):

The "non-acceptance" gambit is not about campaign money. That's just the cover story! (As if money spent in August made that much difference--a point Simon makes rather forcefully.) Nor is Kerry's seemingly suicidal plan to draw attention to himself by giving a series of high-profile national security speeches over the next 11 days anything but another clever feint. The proof: Just see if he actually says anything memorable! According to ABC's The Note, Kerry plans "town-hall meetings and discussions with military families, veterans, and fire and police personnel." Heh, heh. No network news producer is going to bump Iraq off the air for those proven coma-inducers! If it seems like the Kerry planners are trying to put Mark Halperin to sleep, maybe that's because they are.

But with a little imagination from the Democrats — and perhaps a little help from Bruce Springsteen — all hope may not be lost:

Democratic operatives are buzzing that the Boss has been talking about staging a free concert somewhere on Sept. 2, when President Bush is due to address the Republican National Convention.

Besides getting out the vote, Springsteen hopes to provide "counterprogramming to the message the Republicans will be broadcasting," says a source.

If Springsteen were to stage a free concert in Boston during the Democrat convention, he might draw enough public attention away from Kerry to keep the candidate's shadow-politician opinion boost going.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:17 PM

Two Sides and a Question of Values

Frankly, I'll take Michelle Malkin over Wonkette any day — and according to any measure of value that one might think to apply. Addressing the phenomenon of which the latter is an indication, Michelle writes:

This female Beavis and Butthead duo illustrate what normal Americans hate about the Capitol scene: narcissism, moral bankruptcy and self-congratulatory media-political incest. The Washington Post's legitimization of this shallow "story" illustrates something else: the mainstream media's perverted moral values. The paper's recent profiles and features of social conservatives drip with condescension and ridicule. Religious activists are portrayed as intolerant homophobes; Republicans as gun-toting rubes; abstinence promoters as freaks.

But give The Washington Post two vain, young, trash-mouthed skanks who couldn't care less about what their parents think of their sex-drenched infamy, and the newspaper can't wait to help make them full-fledged members of the media elite.

It's never reported, but I'd love to see some kind of information — whether statistical or anecdotal — about the people who respond in the wrong way to media blips like the one that Malkin describes. This Washingtonienne chick (Beavis, presumably) has now established lower-echelon whore blogger as a potential perch from which to be struck by national media lightning. How many young women, do you suppose, will hurt themselves and those who care about them attempting to repeat the trick?

An Associate Degree in Blogging

Lane Core, whom I so often cite, completes his second year of blogging today.

Here's hoping he goes for the full B.A. — at least.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:26 AM | Comments (1)
Bloggers Blogging

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:24 AM

Mired in the Day

Sorry about the lack of posts, yesterday. I'm a bit off — like the weather, which is giving us October in May.

Apart from my lone entry and some comment and email writing, I spent quite a while writing an entry that I decided it prudent not to post. (Suffice to say that I find comparisons between the Family Research Council and Nazis specious, to say the least, but am not optimistic that arguing as much will persuade those for whom it is not obvious.)

Then, ironically, I ultimately found myself unable to post a comment to this post by Gabriel Rosenberg because of "questionable content." (I've included the comment in an addendum, here; note that I didn't try to embed the image in my comment and even attempted to include the link merely as text.)

In the evening, we finally managed, after several days of attempts, to watch part of Two Towers in preparation for viewing Return of the King. Our daughter had been refusing to fall asleep until well after the time at which any substantial part of the film could be taken in. Tonight, if she'll allow it, we'll watch the Battle of Helms Deep.

Before night falls, lack of sleep and a surfeit of frustration notwithstanding, today is a new day. Well, on with it.

My comment to Prof. Rosenberg:

A couple of really quick (and perhaps sloppy) answers.

The chart. Looking at the labels, one sees that the columns' height is "percentage of total births." It is this that has increased by two percentage points each year. The rounding of the table (I think it's the rounding) distorts the differences, but here's a quick idea of what it should look like (modified only from '94 on):

(click the image for the full-sized version)

The change from 1994 to 1995 was particularly affected by rounding; the difference was actually only 1.26, but 0.78 was added in the rounding. It might help to read Kurtz's piece, today, on NRO, and (I believe) he'll be publishing a more statistical piece thereon in the near future.

I should also point out that in the CBS numbers an out-of-wedlock birth is one where the mother was unmarried 307 days before the birth.
— Yes, but you should also point out that the corresponding lag is true for children born just after divorces and deaths.

it seems at times that Kurtz is arguing not that same-sex marriage will lead to an increase of out-of-wedlock birth, but rather the campaign for it will.
— Well, yes, he's been arguing that for a while, as have I. The concept of marriage that must become true in order for gay marriage to come into being is what hurts marriage, before and after the fact.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:12 AM | Comments (5)
Diary & Confession

May 25, 2004

Reverse Ripples in the Flood

Last Saturday, on the Beltway Boys, Mort Kondracke voiced a common point of advocates for same-sex marriage. In effect: "How can 2% of the population affect the institution of marriage?"

A more specific manifestation is the untempered incredulity with which proponents react to the notion that SSM could affect traditional marriage and indicators of its health, like cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, and so on. Congressman Robert Scott (D-VA) gave a perfect example of both the specific boundaries that the question is deliberately made to fit and the foreordained reaction during hearings on same-sex marriage in the Judiciary Committee (at about 1:02:30 of the streaming video). He phrased his question in various ways, but he never moved far from the restricted matter of whether "a present traditional marriage will be harmed if gays get married." When panelists answered "yes," although attempting to answer the more relevant institutional question, he laughed.

What the laugh indicated, above all, is that these questions are meant to be purely rhetorical. In Congressman Scott's case, the question was designed to be so narrow as to exclude all but a handful of easily addressable answers. In the broader — more intellectually fair — versions, it is supposed (perhaps gambled) that no adequate response exists or can be made with sufficient clarity to persuade the public.

Stanley Kurtz's new essay in the Weekly Standard, "Going Dutch?", uses the Netherlands as a case study by which to show how, indeed, the concept of same-sex marriage weakens the institution and, in turn, changes the behavior of heterosexuals:

A careful look at the decade-long campaign for same-sex marriage in the Netherlands shows that one of its principal themes was the effort to dislodge the conviction that parenthood and marriage are intrinsically linked. Even as proponents of gay marriage argued vigorously--and ultimately successfully--that marriage should be just one of many relationship options, fewer Dutch parents were choosing marriage over cohabitation.

As I've said before, it wasn't the 2% (or whatever) of homosexuals alone who pushed their cause this far, and it won't be solely them who bring about the repercussions. The actual influences will vary from culture to culture, but what Northern Europe provides is an example of the sort of mechanism at work. It isn't a matter of a given homosexual couple's sparking reactions in specific heterosexual couples, but of the approach that equalizes the two at the social level.

Approach seems to be a key factor to the position that a person takes. Opponents of same-sex marriage begin with a principle — that hasty fundamental changes to the idea of marriage will harm the institution — and look for evidence. Because their focus is elsewhere, proponents of SSM essentially respond to this point in reverse: insisting that the statement of principle can only follow from the evidence. In something as complex and amorphous as society, such a demand ensures that we are always searching backwards for what went wrong. A man doesn't step from the courthouse after final divorce proceedings and remark, "Huh, I guess this divorce indicates that I didn't value my marriage."

The more intellectually driven (and willing to discuss) among those who argue for SSM, such as Gabriel Rosenberg, will respond to Kurtz that homosexuals are parents. Without treading too deeply into the dispute about what is meant by "parenthood," one can observe that here, too, the direction of movement between principle and evidence is reversed; some homosexuals are parents, so they should be included in marriage.

But homosexual parenthood is incidental. Most of them are not parents, and only a debatable number have that desire. That they have children does not follow from their relationships. Fertile straights, in contrast, are parents in principle, and marriage aligns this biological reality with culture. Sterile straights who adopt become parents on a case-by-case basis and are, in a neutral sense, aberrations. Homosexual couples are sterile by default. Society can form policy that accepts a certain amount of irregularity. It cannot form policy in the hopes that a principle will adhere where it does not inhere.

The conflict of approach is part of a broader cultural difference and underlies a range of topics. (Evolution comes to mind.) Generally, when evidence begins to appear for the traditional principle, progressives' emphasis switches. They become much more obvious in the degree to which they were acting from belief all along, themselves. They make reference to the complexity of the issue and the probable existence of other factors; they declare that opponents can't prove anything beyond a shadow of a doubt. But that's only because the progressives will refuse to see it proven.

If we wish to discern, in advance, what proof is likely to emerge and what principle is likely to be formed, we do well to look for evidence in the way in which same-sex marriage is being approached. As persuasive as Professor Rosenberg's argument might be under certain circumstances, the practical reality is that those circumstances are not our own. Few advocates for same-sex marriage emphasize the benefit to children; that subtopic is, rather, handled as a rebuttal when the other side brings it up.

Still further, I don't recall reading a single account of a homosexual lamenting the impossibility of marriage because it affected his or her children. Even when children are present, the argument focuses on the adults and their rights and benefits. In the visible promotion of the issue, children are presented primarily to inculcate an impression of normalcy.

In theory, yes, gay parents could be folded into the secular marriage-parenthood equation, but so could any number of family arrangements. The simple reality is that this isn't the attempt being made. Evidence regarding the health of marriage is essentially irrelevant from the point of view of the push for gay marriage. Either its health is taken on faith or it is dismissed. This treatment is most obvious in the absence of hesitance in the name of principle — the urge to disregard Scandinavia rather than to wait for longer-term trends to emerge more clearly.

The divorced man leaving the courthouse makes his observation too late. If he and his spouse had been more deliberate in asking themselves and each other whether they valued their marriage back when the answer would have been "yes," the option of divorce wouldn't have formed as possibility.

Do we value marriage?

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:51 PM | Comments (24)
Marriage & Family

Songs You Should Know 05/25/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Crazy Child" by me.

"Crazy Child" Justin Katz, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:03 AM

May 24, 2004

Linking to the Linker

Lane Core has been running a feature called "Blogworthies" every Saturday, including links to and excerpts from pieces that he believes worth reading, but that he either lacks time or additional comment to make posts on their own. The feature is always worth checking out, but this past Saturday's includes some particularly interesting posts.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:29 PM | Comments (1)
Bloggers Blogging

1,001 Iraqian Nights

Most folks will recall that Scheherazade was the tale-telling heroine of the story that framed The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. To recap, Shahryar, a fictional king, marries a new wife each night, only to execute each the following morning. Eventually, Scheherazade, the daughter of the king's vizier, marries the king and keeps herself alive by telling a story per night, each halting at a cliff-hanger to be resolved the following evening.

Well, I confess that I chuckled to discover that (a previous version of) the AP report about the video of that Iraqi wedding that the United States allegedly bombed was written by one Scheherezade Faramarzi. With the Abu Ghraib story running out of steam, the wedding has emerged as the media's next means of darkening the public's impression of our military and the next tale to spin in its attempt to keep opinions about the Iraq war low enough to harm the President in November.

Writes the latter-day Scheherezade:

A videotape obtained by Associated Press Television News captures a wedding party that survivors say U.S. planes later attacked, killing up to 45 people. On Monday, the U.S. military showed photographs to support its own case that the target was a safehouse for foreign fighters.

The U.S. military says its investigation of the attack, which took place early Wednesday about five miles from the Syrian border, will try to reconcile the two different sets of images.

A certain Providence Journal blogger clearly has a firm opinion about which side to believe. ("It was possible for the military to deny this was a wedding until several hours of video shot by the hired wedding photographer... showed up.") For my part, I'm not so sure — and not just because my bias is to believe in our men and women in uniform.

This sort of production for the benefit of Western media wouldn't be without precedent in that region. (Remember the faked Palestinian funeral?) "Survivors" led the AP reporters to the site, and the reporters were able to identify "survivors" on the videotape of the wedding that supposedly preceded the bombing. Among the rubble, they found a piece of possible U.S. ordinance, which would be very easy to come by in Iraq, at this time. And a water tanker truck is visible in both the destruction video and the wedding video.

The more substantial, although not conclusive, evidence would be a match between the wedding band keyboard player and a corpse appearing in yet another video. But frankly, with respect for the dead and apologies if I'm wrong, I don't think it's the same guy (look at the noses).

I am, however, on the edge of my seat in anticipation of tomorrow night's tale.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:19 PM
Middle East

Studio Matters Notes & Commentary

Maureen Mullarkey's latest Notes & Commentary essay is "Two Artists Who Walked Away," reviewing Lee Bontecou at Knoedler & Company and Sarah G. Austin at Kimberly Venardos. (For additional samples, click the exhibition names.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:53 PM
Visual Art

Watch Maker and Gatekeeper

Marc Comtois quotes from a review of a book about American secularism:

For the past few years a friend of mine in the Midwest has been engaged in a war of words in the columns of a local newspaper. Every so often someone writes a letter to the editor claiming that the United States is a Christian nation and that, as the formula goes, "freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom from religion." In response, my friend writes a letter pointing out that the Founding Fathers tended to be deists, not Christians. They saw God as, essentially, a watchmaker. He created the universe, wound it up and then stood back to let it run. If Franklin, Washington, Jefferson and Paine had a religion, it was a faith in reason, not in the Bible.

Marc (an historian himself) agrees, for the most part, but insists:

...the true intent of the 'separation of church and state' was to permit citizens to practice their religion freely without fear of governmental prosecution. Implicit in this is the right to not practice any form of religion. The effort to divorce ourselves from the importance of religion to our national heritage may indeed point to the secularization of our society. . . Our Founding Fathers, whether they be Deists, Congregationalists or Catholics, would have never imagined that the clause 'separation of church and state' would have been perverted in such a way. Not in their wildest dreams.

To some extent, I think the sides in this dispute are talking to each other from separate boxes. I think I've done more reading and thinking than writing on this (see the end of this piece for some of the writing), but it has seemed to me that secularists cut out the half of the American deists' beliefs that is more directly relevant to our society today. Whatever their beliefs about God's involvement in this world, they largely seemed to believe in judgment and in soul, from whence derived morality and the presumption of an ethical foundation on which to place freedom.

In a sense, God was not just a watch maker, but also a gatekeeper. What modern secularists have done is to add to the idea that God doesn't meddle in our affairs the completely distinct and insidious notion that He doesn't care what we do.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:32 AM | Comments (5)

Not Just the Administration Sans Bush

A while back Rev. Donald Sensing took a look at the history of United Nations peacekeeping and nation building. He makes a point in an update to that post that I think is generally correct:

What those calling for the UN to take over the whole operation do not seem to grasp is that the UN does not share their agenda. By and large (but not completely) the American pro-UN advocates really have no vision for Iraq much different than that explained by the Bush administration. They just don't want Bush to be the one who brings it about.

But they need to understand that the UN plan for Iraq is pretty much restoration of the status quo ante bellum, without Saddam or his terror regime, but also without the true freedom the Iraqi peoples deserve so richly. What the UN apparatus certainly does not want is an Iraq whose people are both economically and politically free.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:16 AM
International Affairs

But Bucking Morality Is More Fun

Wesley Smith's piece, "The Wrong Tree," makes so important an argument that I've refused to let it fall off my To Blog list since May 13:

Fortunately, embryonic stem cells are not the only potential source for regenerative medical treatments. There are also adult stem cells, umbilical-cord-blood stem cells, and other cellular-based treatments that do not use embryos at all. Here we see a completely different picture emerging. Under-reported by the ESCR-besotted mainstream media, many of the diseases that embryonic cells are supposed to treat may be ameliorated with adult-stem-cell and related therapies far more quickly. ...

The thrust of the research now seems indisputable: While certainly not yet a sure thing, and noting that much work remains to be done in animal and controlled human studies, barring unforeseen problems adult-stem-cell and related therapies may be potent sources of new and efficacious medical treatments in the years to come. Just as significantly, these therapies are likely to be available far sooner than embryonic-stem-cell treatments, since adult and related therapies do not appear to cause tumors, would not be rejected, and do not have to be maintained indefinitely in vitro, because they would come from patients' own bodies.

It's certainly possible that I've missed some of the coverage, but it seems as if there's a peculiar devotion to the more morally objectionable form of stem-cell research. If that impression is correct, it could be that this debate brings with it all the baggage of the Culture War. Or perhaps there's an element of insistence among a certain crowd that they can't be told what they are allowed to do. Or perhaps there's something more sinister at play.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:11 AM | Comments (1)

Contra Max Boot

Don Feder understands that the inevitability of same-sex marriage is proportionate to liberals' power to force it:

That's ancient history. Today, liberalism is characterized by a sneering disdain for vox populi. The slogan of 21st century liberalism is: Shut up and do what you're told.

Nothing better illustrates liberalism's betrayal of democratic principles than its embrace of judicially mandated gay marriage.

Under an edict from its high court, Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples this week. It was but the latest example of judge-ocracy supplanting democracy, and the most recent instance of liberal autocrats forcing their values on a cringing public.

Boot is not alone in declaring that the courts are "only slightly ahead of the societal consensus." Frankly, whether or not one believes that SSM is inevitable in the long term, the extent of Boot's claim strikes me as absurd, and only plausible if one is fully immersed in the mainstream media's total whitewashing of related issues.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:04 AM
Marriage & Family

Bright Lights, Dirty Pavement

I've been meaning to mention Jeremiah Lewis's journal-type entry about a visit to New York City, in particular, his description of Times Square:

Times Square was simply overwhelming--New Years on TV just doesn't cut the live experience. Imagine a river gushing through the streets, like what is depicted in The Day After Tomorrow. This is Times Square, only the river is made up of moving organic bodies--human beings, each one earnestly resting his or her eyes on the feet and back in front of them, each slightly overwhelmed in their own way.

A person is never content in Times Square. The endorphic rush of images and sound is comparable to, say, being caught in the maelstrom of a well-orchestrated asteroid bombardment. It simply demands attention. But where's the payoff? Maybe it's just in getting out without having succumbed to abject worship of the gigantic video billboards. Honestly, I felt that was my great triumph in leaving Times Square behind and heading to the polar opposite of Central Park.

Perhaps it's because living just outside of New York made it "the city" rather than "The City," or because I was introduced to it so young, or because of the pre-Giuliani era in which that was, but it never held the magic that is evident when others write of visiting. People, a lot of them; buildings, big ones; filth and the smell. New York was always just a place, but bigger.

Marching blocks upon blocks to drop in on people to whom to hand demo tapes (that they, in turn, would drop in the garbage), I passed decked-out ladies who were just women in fancy clothes. The rough young New Yawkahs were just kids with screwed up ideas about what it meant to be young.

As the biggest thing within ten miles from home, New York was a night out. Sometimes the home of girlfriends, whose mothers shook with anger when they discovered that their daughters had gone all the way to New Jersey. For them, that was like another country. For us, being in New York was like being lost in the wrong neighborhood, not because of something unique about the city, but because people are animals, and the city had a lot of them.

Perhaps it's strange, then, that Times Square turns out to be the critical point in the universe toward the end of A Whispering Through the Branches:

With this resolution, Nathaniel plunged through the bodies that flooded the sidewalk around him and marched across the street, unthreatened by the racing traffic that seemed, miraculously, to sway its own course for his sake. In the space of a breath, and not a bit disheveled, Nathaniel hopped onto the concrete island in the midst of the pandemonium. Even the light around him seemed to have changed, even the smells. This was not the same world that had watched the sun disappear to the West. This world had hope. Nathaniel looked up triumphantly.

It isn't surprising that I would use the city as a literary device. We always used the city, we kids from the suburbs. It made us tough when we met people from far away. It put us in a different world from home. It gave us a place to go for the forbidden — alcohol (most often). All of which made it ours, in its way for us. Our experience was always drawing from it, never giving to it. In a different way than for those who only visit as well as those who never leave, it was ours.

But it wasn't ours, obviously, and deep down in that arrogant, fearful disdain was the admission that New York, just another place, defined us. Made us its. That City that others strain to describe — that must be "imagined" as grand metaphors? You don't know it like I know it, and I hardly know it at all.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:07 AM | Comments (3)
Diary & Confession

May 23, 2004

When Defeat Isn't Utter Defeat

Supporters of same-sex marriage have been making a big deal out of defeatist columns by Max Boot and Cal Thomas. Although the opposition's ploy gives a vague sense of spuriousness, the columns are, for different reasons, worth addressing.

In Boot's case "defeatist" may not be an accurate term, inasmuch as I don't know what his position has heretofore been. At the very least, it seems reasonable to suggest that he hasn't done quite as much reading from the side that he might or might not consider to be his own on this issue. In this, he can be forgiven, considering that pieces laying out the arguments are rare in the mainstream media, and that those arguments are almost nonexistent in ostensibly objective coverage of the debate. Still, it's disconcerting to find Boot essentially paraphrasing the points from the other side.

Opponents of same-sex marriages may have most of the public on their side for now, but they've already all but lost this battle.

How do I know? Simply by looking at the arguments being advanced by both sides. Advocates of same-sex marriage speak in the powerful language of civil rights and liken their cause to that of African Americans fighting anti-miscegenation laws in years past. And what do opponents say in response? Once upon a time, the case would have been open and shut: Sodomy is a sin, period. Many people may still believe that, but that's no longer a tenable argument in our secularized politics.

The truth of the matter is that I've heard almost no opponents offer that as a response. In fact, probably a majority, including myself, have professed opposition to sodomy laws. Boot is correct, however, that many of us have made the marriage argument from tradition. His answer to it, though, with all due respect, is of the sort that I fielded in high school classroom debates:

They argue, first, that we shouldn't tamper with thousands of years of tradition that holds that marriage is between a man and a woman. But 141 years ago we tampered with an equally old tradition: slavery.

One struggles to articulate the difference between the primitive labor practice of slavery and the family structure of marriage to a conservative for whom it isn't obvious. Traditional marriage? Well, hey, we don't scourge thieves in the public square anymore! It seems the victory that Boot presumes to concede is much broader than simply of same-sex marriage; radical feminists surely feel vindicated in their equation of marriage to slavery.

Therein emerges the strange echo that underlies Boot's next point:

Their second argument is the slippery slope — first gay marriage gets legalized, then polygamy, pederasty, incest and who knows what. But this kind of reductio ad absurdum can be applied to just about anything. If liquor is legal for adults, why not for children? Society always draws the line somewhere.

And yet, embedded in his declaration, a few paragraphs before, that the opponents of SSM have "already all but lost this battle" is this very same unstoppable movement, whether he wants to see it as slipping down a slope or being pushed by an avalanche. "Contraception and abortion — once taboo topics — have been enshrined into law... On TV, characters used to say 'gee whiz' and sleep in twin beds; now they curse as if they had Tourette's syndrome and flash skin as if they were Gypsy Rose Lee":

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws last year. The Episcopal Church has appointed an openly gay bishop. Many newspapers carry the equivalent of wedding announcements for gays. Same-sex kisses, once shockingly daring, are now almost as common on TV as commercials for Levitra or Prozac. Given this seismic cultural shift, anyone who makes avowedly moral arguments against homosexuality now gets treated the same way homosexuals were treated only a few years ago — as a sex-mad pervert.

Note whom Boot cites for evidence: the Supreme Court. The Episcopal Church. Newspapers. Hollywood. The elite. To Boot, there is apparently no Culture War, in the sense that sides actually disagree in fundamental ways. Liberal elites push the boundaries and call it progress; the rest of us follow. It's the classic liberal view of conservatism — a temporary reluctance. The reaction to Janet Jackson's boob doesn't, apparently, exist in this world. The success of The Passion of the Christ is a matter of cinematic taste. Such events are little but the last spasms of recalcitrance, sparked when our betters turned up the controls just a little too much in our transformation:

Republicans would be wise not to expend too much political capital pushing for a gay marriage amendment to the Constitution. They will only make themselves look "intolerant" to soccer moms whose views on this subject, as on so many others, will soon be as liberal as elite opinion already is.

And despite all that has preceded this point, Boot writes — with the confidence of the opinion-page researcher — that "it's hard to imagine that legalizing gay marriage will make much difference in the lives of most people" and that homosexuality "always has been and always will be the preference of a tiny minority; most of us are biologically hard-wired for heterosexuality." Are those two statements what legitimates Andrew Sullivan's characterization of Boot as a "leading conservative"? That he declares our traditional lives inviolable and asserts that homosexuality remains unnatural for most?

I suppose there's consistency to be found; moral arguments don't apply to homosexuality, because homosexuality is simply a matter of biology. Building on that, what is unnatural for most can be natural for some, and it is immoral to restrain the natures of a minority merely because what they wish to do conflicts with the preferences of the majority. It's all written in our immutable beings — stenciled on our souls by God. That's the story, anyway. We'll have to wait and see whether "polygamy, pederasty, incest" can be in the natures of some, as well.

For now, same-sex marriage is a done deal, says Boot. "Since the ultimate concern of conservatives is to preserve the institution of marriage, they would probably be better off caving on gay marriage rather than acceding to the most popular alternative: civil union." Somehow, in a world in which it is in homosexuals' nature to marry, it is not in heterosexuals' to do the same. We must open the doors of marriage, because otherwise, heterosexuals will wade across the swamp to the less onerous citadel of civil unions.

Cal Thomas's conclusion is oddly consonant with Boot's:

"Pro family" groups have given it their best shot, but this debate is over. They would do better to spend their energy and resources building up their side of the cultural divide and demonstrating how their own precepts are supposed to work. Divorce remains a great threat to family stability, and there are far more heterosexuals divorcing and cohabiting than homosexuals wishing to "marry." If conservative religious people wish to exert maximum influence on culture, they will redirect their attention to repairing their own cracked foundation. An improved heterosexual family structure will do more for those families and the greater good than attempts to halt the inevitable. A topical solution does not cure a skin disease whose source is far deeper.

As the population within the marital walls increases, Thomas suggests, traditionalists' only chance of making a difference is to rush to mend the floor. What's stunning about Thomas's column is that he sees same-sex marriage as inevitable because it is a "cultural tsunami" that began with a "subterranean earthquake": "this 'wave' was preceded by a seismic shift in the moral tectonic plates." Yet, he advises as if marriage is the highest ground it will reach, before receding to sea level, the landscape irrevocably changed.

Although approached from positions of belief and rejection, respectively, Thomas and Boot's answer to the "slippery slope" is the same. Thomas has faith that traditionalists can build a platform, Boot that a line will just be drawn... "somewhere."

Yes, I agree that part of securing long-term victories is the ability to make advantages out of short-term defeats. Perhaps conservatives can capitalize on some thread in the same-sex marriage movement to swing public opinion toward stiffened divorce laws. We'll have to try, at least. But in their advice to redirect efforts, both Thomas and Boot imagine that we are stepping onto firmer ground — that the assault will not continue.

In all of the varying arguments, and arguments about the arguments, few have thought to point out an obvious factor: it wasn't the "tiny minority" of homosexuals alone who pushed their cause this far. Homosexuals do not control the Supreme Court, the media, Hollywood, or even the Episcopal Church. As far as I know, the politicians and town clerks who have sought to undermine their individual legal systems were not universally, or even primarily, gay. And yet, the "gay cause" has advanced.

Both of our defeatist conservatives refer to an inexorable "seismic shift," but my mind keeps coming back to Boot's example: "anyone who makes avowedly moral arguments against homosexuality now gets treated the same way homosexuals were treated only a few years ago — as a sex-mad pervert." Way back, before the rumbling earth rolled us down the slope, society used to lock up perverts and didn't think freedom of speech included theirs. What do we face further down?

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:02 PM
Marriage & Family

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

I wonder what percentage of people in the United States and throughout the West aren't even aware that such a thing could even potentially be happening:

Over the last few months, the U.S. intelligence community has received new evidence a sizable amount of Iraqi WMD systems, components and platforms were transferred to Syria in the weeks leading up to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, reports Geostrategy-Direct, the global intelligence news service. ...

Through the use of satellites, electronic monitoring and human intelligence, the intelligence community has determined that much, if not all, of Iraq's biological and chemical weapons assets are being protected by Syria, with Iranian help, in the Bekaa Valley.

The Syrians received word from Saddam Hussein in late 2002 that the Iraqi WMD would be arriving and Syrian army engineering units began digging huge trenches in the Bekaa Valley.

Saddam paid more than $30 million in cash for Syria to build the pits, acquire the Iraqi WMD and conceal them.

At first, U.S. intelligence thought Iraqi WMD was stored in northern Syria. But in February 2003 a Syrian defector told U.S. intelligence the WMD was buried in or around three Syrian Air Force installations.

And I wonder what percentage, faced with irrefutable evidence, would simply declare it irrelevant.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:04 PM
Middle East

Apologies for the Surreal

Victor Davis Hanson thinks happenings have been odd lately:

What is going on? The months of April and May have been surreal — scandals at Abu Ghraib, decapitations and desecrations of those killed from Gaza to Iraq, and insurrections in Fallujah and Najaf. The shock of the unexpected has led to hysteria and cheap TV moralizing by critics of the war, fueled by election-year politics at home, apparent embarrassment for some erstwhile supporters of the intervention who are angry that democracy in Iraq has not appeared fully-formed out of the head of Zeus, and a certain amnesia about the recent dark history of the United Nations.

He also thinks some folks have lashed out in their confusion, saying some things that they oughtn't have:

So let us calm down and let events play out. If it were not an election year, Mr. Kennedy would dare not say such reprehensible things. In two or three months when there is a legitimate Iraqi government in power, Mr. Friedman may not wish to level such absurd charges. And when the truth comes out about the U.N.'s past role in Iraq, both Iraqis and Americans may not be so ready to entrust the new democracy's future to an agency that has not only done little to save Bosnians or Rwandans, but over the past decade may well have done much to harm Iraqis.

Mr. Hanson suggests that apologies are in order. Unfortunately, admission of transgression would, by the very nature of the affronts, make it clear that apologies simply aren't enough, and for that reason, even the minimum is unlikely.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:52 PM
International Affairs

Legislating via Plausible Deniability

The extreme bias of Linda Borg's Providence Journal coverage of the now-famous Lee and Judi McNeil-Beckwith, the first lesbian Rhode Islanders to make a show of marrying in Massachusetts, is hardly noteworthy. Of a little more interest — in an inside-baseball sort of way — is that Borg's is the first Projo article I've seen that admitted that Attorney General Patrick Lynch "parsed his words carefully" for his "opinion" on the legal question of such marriages' validity. In a mild way, I wonder whether somebody at the paper read my previous complaints about its handling of Lynch's statement.

However, busy and stressed out as I am, the following is what made this latest bit of marketing-as-news worthy of a few moments for a post:

After waiting nearly a decade, the couple wanted one final blessing before they took the plunge. They wanted to make sure their marriage would be valid when they returned to Providence. And so Lee called Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch Tuesday and asked for his advice.

"He congratulated us, wished us well and said his hope is that we receive all of the benefits" of marriage, Judi said.

That makes Lynch's parsing seem somewhat less of a political balance and more of an activistic strategy. It's one thing to decline responsibility for a decision in such a way that others manipulate the statement to place responsibility where it does not belong. It's another thing to intend for that to happen.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:31 PM
Marriage & Family

What Any Two People Can Do

This is a little old, but I wanted to note that Ramesh Ponnuru has, as promised, addressed the Virginia civil unions law:

A while ago, I said I would look into a bill underlying a dispute between Jonah and Andrew Sullivan. The latter said that Virginia had passed a law that made it impossible for gay couples to make certain contractual arrangements. He said that conservatives should denounce the bill, especially since many conservatives had suggested the use of contracts as a substitute for the practical benefits of same-sex marriage. ...

The narrower reading seems to me much more plausible. The theory behind this reading is that confronted with the words "the privileges or obligations of marriage," a court or executive agent should look to the other laws of Virginia to figure out what those privileges or obligations are--and not try to derive some other meaning for them from another source. For the purpose of state law, the privileges and obligations of marriage are whatever state law says they are. The purpose of the law is to prevent any other state's decision about these matters from overriding those of Virginia.

Of course, Ramesh could have saved himself some time by simply linking to me. Hey, that's what we bloggers are here for.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:56 PM
Marriage & Family

Welfare Everywhere

Tom Coyne's piece about the Rhode Island welfare state, which I noted a couple of weeks ago, has drawn an op-ed response from Nancy Gewirtz and Linda Katz (no relation), of the Poverty Institute at the Rhode Island College School of Social Work. Because I share Coyne's assumptions, I thought it worth seeing whether the objections were valid, and what I found was evidence of how difficult it is to dig through the "rhetoric" and "facts" to figure out the truth.

Most glaringly, Gewitz and Katz only address some of the issues that Coyne raises, swinging into gear here:

Rhetoric: We have an expensive welfare system, which attracts more poor people than do other states' systems.

Facts: In 2003 the percentage of the Family Independence Program (FIP) caseload that moved to Rhode Island from another state was the lowest it had been in nine years (5.3 percent of the caseload). Families also leave FIP at a much higher rate than the rate at which they come to Rhode Island: In 2003, 1,130 cases closed because of "out migration," while 747 opened from another state.

The FIP is Rhode Island's version of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which each state administers according to its own policies. It is not the entirety of what might be considered to be Rhode Island's "welfare system."

In Rhode Island, FIP participants can collect cash handouts for five years. (Some states only allow two.) I can't find data on migration of poor people from state to state, so I can't comment on those numbers. And I'll assume that the TANF program is not such that families can just move to new states and restart the clock as their benefits run out. However, I will note that it is conceivable that some of the "out migration" (whatever that means), during the year that the U.S. economy began to turn around, is attributable to folks who went elsewhere to work, either when the free money was about to run out or earlier, but transferred their TANF info just in case.

Mr. Coyne's reliance on the National Association of State Budget Officers' (NASBO) report, which ranks Rhode Island third in total cash payments, is problematic. In this category, the report erroneously includes Rhode Island's expenditures for child care and Food Stamps -- costs not included for other states. Thus, Rhode Island's ranking is artificially high. The 2003 Rhode Island Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Act/FIP expenditure cited in the NASBO report is only 1.4 percent of total expenditures: lower than those in Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts, and tied for 10th in America.

From what I gather from the NASBO report (PDF), the attempt being made is to compare the widely varying programs of the fifty states. Clearly, "erroneous" is opinion; it appears that some costs aren't included for other states because those other states don't offer comparable services. Rhode Island, for example, adds money to the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Now, one could say that this extra money isn't included for other states, or one could say that other states' expense for extra money is $0.

If I'm reading it right, according to the NASBO, 19 states give "cash" payments solely within the TANF program. Of those states, only seven pay more through this program than does Rhode Island (which spends more elsewhere), thus moving Rhode Island from third to tenth. Remembering that there are fifty states, that seems a whole lot of waxing to create a moderate shine.

So, first Gewitz and Katz cut out all assistance not included in the FIP. Now, they've whittled away assistance not specifically associated with the TANF. Next, they draw attention away from categories of recipients in order to proclaim the following:

Rhetoric: Rhode Island has the most generous welfare benefits in the nation.

Facts: One could hardly call the FIP cash payment generous: A mother and two children receive $554 a month -- a benefit level that has not been raised in 15 years, reducing purchasing power by 40 percent. This family would receive more in four other New England states: $609 in Vermont, $618 in Massachusetts, $625 in New Hampshire, and $636 in Connecticut.

The folks not included in this analysis are those who have some form of other income. To understand why this matters, consider what looks to be the comparable program in Massachusetts. (The $618 figure doesn't match the number provided at that link, but Gewitz and Katz might have attempted combine payments to those who do and don't live in subsidized housing.) That single mother of two will, indeed, receive $633 per month in Massachusetts if she doesn't live in subsidized housing. However, her income (after certain deductions) is directly subtracted. So, suppose she gets $200 from some other source. In Massachusetts, her monthly cash gift would be $433, with $633 remaining her monthly income.

In Rhode Island, on the other hand, her base benefit would be $554, and the first $170 of additional income isn't counted. Moreover, the cash benefit is only reduced $1 for every additional $2 of income. For the woman making $200, that would result in a $15 reduction. So, this same woman who was capped at $633 in Massachusetts would take home in Rhode Island: 554 + 200 - 15 = $739. And in fact, the percentage of those who benefit from FIP who are working rose from 13.7% in 1997 to 21.3% in 2003 (PDF), which has been at least part of the reason for this change:

Since the Family Independence Program began, in 1997, there has been a steady decrease in Rhode Island expenditures for cash assistance: from $51.5 million, in 1997, to $18.9 million, in 2004. The average cost per case has decreased from $480 in May 1997 to $422 in December 2003.

First, note from the previously linked PDF that the expenditure for cash assistance is apparently up, this year, from $15.5 million in 2003. More significantly, over the 1997–2003 time period, the state's expenditures for its Child Care Assistance Program increased from $18.6 million to $75.2 million. Adding the two programs together, we get $70.1 million for 1997 and $90.7 million for 2003. An increase of just under 30%. This brings us back to my initial objection about the narrow view, because the vast majority of the increase in child care subsidies has gone to low-income families who aren't even participating in the FIP.

In fact, all Rhode Island households earning no more than 225% of the federal poverty level are eligible for child care subsidies, with copays ranging from $0 to $48 per child per week. For a family of four — which mine is about to be — that means annual income of $42,413. According to the U.S. census, the median household income in Rhode Island for 2000 was $42,305. Rhode Island apparently considers half of its families to be "low income."

From a taxpayer point of view, it's also interesting to note that, to encourage child care providers to accept poor children, they get fully paid healthcare. And healthcare opens a whole 'nother stack of taxpayer bills. Every family receiving cash payments from the government is eligible for it. Every family with income up to 185% of the federal poverty level ($34,873 for a family of four) is eligible. And every child under 19 and pregnant woman with household income of 250% FPL is eligible. If the household makes less than 150% FPL, the insurance is free, otherwise there are relatively tiny monthly payments of $61, $77, $92.

This is the hidden bloat. I'm not averse to helping people out when they're facing hard times, and I do believe that some degree of temporary help from the government is a worthwhile investment within a social system that doesn't have assistance built in through other, more cultural, means. But when the poorest of the poor become job insurance for bureaucrats pushing middle-class health- and day-care subsidies, a little more clarity is needed. If Rhode Island's nascent socialism is the right approach, the state ought to proclaim it rather than hide it under selective statistics... although then we'll really be able to watch the influx of poor — and not-so-poor — people.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:37 PM

May 21, 2004

Cherry Picking Marriage & Family Numbers

Click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column if you'd prefer a simpler layout that you may find more readable.

I made it through most of the day maintaining my resolve not to spend any time on Andrew Sullivan's reference to Lee Badgett's piece arguing against Stanley Kurtz's Scandinavian analyses. Although Sullivan — among others of his fellow SSM advocates — seems peculiarly anxious to declare that this "mini-debate, at least, is now over," my time is just too thinly stretched to do today what Kurtz has promised to do next week.

Still, one factoid that Sullivan quotes from Badgett struck me as high, and I couldn't resist checking it out:

In the Netherlands, a bit south of Scandinavia, 90 percent of heterosexual couples with kids are married.

Well, I can't argue with that. According to the Netherlands StatLine, in 2003, there were 1,878,713 married couples with children and only 213,941 unmarried couples with children, which is, indeed, a 90% marriage rate (actually 89.7%). But that doesn't tell quite the whole story. There were almost twice as many single-parent households in the Netherlands in 2003 than unmarried couples: 424,742. In other words, married couples only make up 74.6% of all households with children.

That's still relatively high, of course. However, since we're looking at these numbers within the context of historically recent events, the current number is less important than the trends since those events. And in 1995, the year the same-sex marriage ball started rolling in the government, the numbers were: married, 2,012,375; unmarried, 99,610; and single, 360,754. In other words, married couples were 95.3% of all couples with children and 81.4% of all households with children. The numbers have since dropped 5.6 and 6.8 percentage points, respectively.

Although married couples represent the only decreasing group, a dark silver lining exists in that unmarried couples are increasing at a faster rate than single parents. At least there are two parents in such homes. It should be noted, however, that this rate difference decreases for households with multiple children.

Once again, it strikes me as premature, to say the least, to declare the matter settled.

While poking around the statistical Web site, I noticed a new dynamic that will surely come up in the future, so it's worth mentioning here. The divorce rate in the Netherlands is now lower than it was throughout most of the '90s. It had been hovering in the low-to-mid 30,000s and increased steadily after 1998 (the year same-sex partnerships actually entered the law), rising from 32,459 that year to 37,104 in 2001.

On April 1, 2001, marriage itself was opened up to same-sex couples, and since then, the number of divorces has fallen — to about 32,000 in 2003. However, at the same time, the law was changed to allow couples to switch between marriage and registered partnerships with merely a visit to a registrar. Unlike marriages, registered partnerships can be dissolved out of court, by a solicitor or notary. This has led to a phenomenon called "flash annulments," of which there were about 5,000 in 2003. In other words, married couples are getting divorced without its being counted among the divorce statistics. "About 60 percent of the conversions [from marriage to partnership] were dissolved within a month, 90 percent within six months."

Including flash annulments, divorces in the past three years have been well above any previous year, before or after registered same-sex couples of one form or another.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:31 PM | Comments (9)
Marriage & Family

An American Exodus

I've been meaning to note a post on Catholic (?) Kerry Watch:

The greatest scandal is not that CINO politicians, like Judas before them, have sold Christ out for the electoral equivalent of 30 pieces of silver, but that so many heirs of the Apostles, like Pontius Pilate, are washing their hands of the blood of the innocent lest Caesar be discomforted.

As for the response, in particular, the American Life League's recent ad campaign, as Flannery O'Connor once observed, when the world is deaf, you have no choice but to shout. Indeed, if uncompromising defenders of life are folks on the fringe, if defenders of the Faith of Our Fathers are a remnant, let us then shout all the louder, and may our cries, please God, join those of countless victims whose silent screams call out to You for justice for, in this lost world, we have no other hope.

The attempts of certain pundits and propagandists to paint their opposition as "fringe" — as if those who don't take the easy way of joining the crowd are less likely to be correct — brought to mind a line from Exodus 23:

Neither shall you allege the example of the many as an excuse for doing wrong, nor shall you, when testifying in a lawsuit, side with the many in perverting justice.

Some Bibles translate that as "do not follow the majority when they do wrong." Ancient advice and instruction remains relevant throughout the ages exactly for the reason that it is so hard to follow.

Exodus 23 also offers some guidance should the Church be attacked, for its efforts, through its tax-exempt status:

Never take a bribe, for a bribe blinds even the most clear-sighted and twists the words even of the just.
Posted by Justin Katz at 3:56 PM | Comments (1)

Some Perspective on Hastert v. McCain

It seems a mild, inside the Beltway, scuffle to become outraged about, and my emotions aren't strong either way. However, I thought it worth tracing back a bit of righteous anger from Rod Dreher (whom I respect and like) to see whether I ought to follow suit. Here's Rod (with two key points emphasized by me):

That's the headline on the lead editorial in today's Dallas Morning News, which whacks House Speaker Denny Hastert for his disgraceful suggestion that John McCain needs to go visit wounded soldiers to learn something about sacrifice. I know McCain is not the GOP leadership's favorite, but how dare Speaker Hastert, who escaped Vietnam service on a medical deferment, say such a thing about a senator who was beaten so badly by the communists that he can't raise his hands above his head, and who refused to end his torment by leaving prison early, ahead of his comrades, when the North Vietnamese offered to let him go? It boggles the mind that Hastert would stoop so low -- and over a budget issue, on which McCain happens to be right. It makes me ill that the GOP runs the executive and the legislative branches, and this conservative government is spending worse than Democrats.

McCain is right to say that's wrong. I wish more Republicans would. I'm sick of being told we can have tax cuts without cuts in nonmilitary spending, which as we know has skyrocketed under this administration.

Here's the Dallas Morning News editorial to which Rod refers:

Mr. Hastert's insult of his fellow Republican came in response to comments the Arizona senator made the day before at a deficit conference. "My friends, we are at war," Mr. McCain said then. "Throughout our history, wartime has been a time of sacrifice. But about the only sacrifice taking place is that by the brave men and women fighting to defend and protect the liberties we hold so dear, and that of their families. It is time for others to step up and start sacrificing." ...

What a disgraceful display. Mr. Hastert needs to be sent to the woodshed with fellow loudmouth Sen. Ted Kennedy, who recently implied that the U.S. management of the Iraqi prison was no different from Saddam Hussein's, which turned it into a blood-soaked gulag.

In fact, Mr. McCain's critique – which was leveled at both parties – is entirely legitimate. According to a recent report by the libertarian Cato Institute, total federal spending will rise 29 percent between fiscal years 2001 and 2005. You can't blame it on the war: Nondefense spending will increase about 36 percent during Mr. Bush's first term – this, under a Republican Congress.

It is deeply offensive to trash Mr. McCain as a fake Republican and pseudo-patriot because he insists that it's immoral to spend money we don't have, especially during wartime.

Here's Hastert's exchange with a reporter:

The exchange started when a reporter asked: "Can I combine a two issues, Iraq and taxes? I heard a speech from John McCain the other day..."

Hastert: "Who?"

Reporter: "John McCain."

Hastert: "Where's he from?"

Reporter: "He's a Republican from Arizona."

Hastert: "A Republican?"

Amid nervous laughter, the reporter continued with his question: "Anyway, his observation was never before when we've been at war have we been worrying about cutting taxes and his question was, 'Where's the sacrifice?' "

Hastert: "If you want to see the sacrifice, John McCain ought to visit our young men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda. There's the sacrifice in this country. We're trying to make sure they have the ability to fight this war, that they have the wherewithal to be able to do it. And, at the same time, we have to react to keep this country strong."

And here's the line from McCain:

As mind-boggling as expanding Medicare has been, nothing tops my confusion with the rationale for cutting taxes during wartime. I don’t remember ever in the history of warfare when we cut taxes.

First, Hastert did not say that that McCain needs "to learn something about sacrifice." Extemporaneously responding to a reporter's characterization of McCain's speech, Hastert said that the troops are making a sacrifice and that the government has to support them financially and to keep the economy strong. (I assume he means the economy, since he was responding to a question about tax cuts.)

Second, although McCain's speech, to the Progressive Policy Institute Forum, was more broadly directed at government spending and devoted most of the tax-cut talk to corporate tax breaks, it appears that Hastert hadn't heard the speech and was only reacting to the line offered by the reporter. Whether or not one believes tax cuts deserve much of the credit for the current growth of our economy, Hastert seems to be referring to that dynamic, not defending big-government spending. As it happens, I agree with most of what McCain says. I also believe that the rhetoric could be toned down some, but that goes for Rod, as well.

Given the heat of the editorial's reaction and the slight-but-significant twist of Hastert's comment to imply something that it did not originally imply, Rod seems to be mixing a heavy helping of politics with his principles, as well. Distorting Hastert's on-the-fly remarks and then comparing them to Ted Kennedy's prepared equation of the Bush administration to the Ba'athists as a regime that encourages torture? That manages to escalate Republican differences beyond the reach of dialogue at the same time as it minimizes the near-treasonous bile from Kennedy.

If this keeps up, editorial cries of outrage will become the pro forma expressions of disagreement. Now, that would be a disgrace.

Ramesh Ponnuru agrees. He makes more points than this, but here's the policy-debate component on which I lack the research to comment:

As for McCain's being right on the underlying budget issues: There is room for doubt. McCain wants a budget rule that makes it harder to cut taxes or increase spending. But he has voted to waive the rules to allow more spending. House Republicans have noticed that, and they don't like it. Whoever's right, it certainly complicates the picture of McCain as apostle of fiscal rectitude.
Posted by Justin Katz at 3:02 PM

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from At First You See It," by A. Valentine Smith.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:03 AM

Enough with the Cold and Rain! Maybe.

I'm beginning to think that summer will come interspersed with days that represent a year-long autumn. Or perhaps it would be more true to characterize the weather as a delayed spring, with early-April weather coming in late May. At some point in June, we'll probably be walloped with full-on August.

Weather can be a muddle of advantages and annoyances. Too cold, but at least not too hot. Not warm, but at least not freezing. After so much practice, this year, it isn't hard to get around to a sunny view, even when it's raining.

Now, to apply that attitude to other matters...

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:02 AM
Diary & Confession

May 20, 2004

Not Just a Flesh Wound

I've been meaning to link to a long but worth-reading post by Bryan Preston:

We all know what happened. But bin Laden had gone to school on us. He knew about our political hemophilia. Given time, and a wound in just the right place, we would bleed ourselves to death.

That's why I got worried. I suspected that al Qaeda knew what such a wound could do to us, and was either planning to inflict that wound or hoping we would inflict it on ourselves since it seemed that al Qaeda could no longer mount an attack us US soil. He knew that either way, he could count on US political forces arrayed against the Bush administration to do his heavy lifting once the wound had been inflicted. ...

What we have witnessed in the past week or so has been the bleeding from the Abu Ghraib wound. Al Qaeda got very lucky, because otherwise the war in Iraq was going fairly well for us. Violence had flared up in Iraq, but so had local elections--in which mullahs ran for office and lost to businessmen and doctors. A militia had sprung up to oppose us, but another militia had sprung up to oppose the first militia. We were showing patience and restraint, and applying force properly for the most part and avoiding civilian casualties. The Zarqawi memo told a story of inevitable allied victory and terrorist defeat.

And then Abu Ghraib. And our political opposition thinks it has a "silver bullet," our Senate all but handcuffs our intel operatives, the press goes wild with stories about US "atrocities" even while terrorists saw an innocent American's head off with a machete, and we flagellate ourselves into a stupor from which we may not recover.

The question becomes: do the Westerners loading their silver bullets understand what they are doing, or do they truly believe that dialogue and effacement convince the world's tyrants to just go away?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:54 PM | Comments (1)
Middle East

Victims Against the Storyline

Just remember: somewhere, some doofus of Christian heritage made an inappropriate crack about terrorism to an exchange student:

Andrew Ubah, general secretary of the association, told Reuters Thursday the tally was based on reports from church leaders throughout the city. Twelve churches have been burned, he said.

David Emmanuel, a factory worker, told Reuters he saw two truckloads of corpses Wednesday night and counted at least 30 bodies in the street.

Elsewhere, Assist said, correspondents have seen 35 mostly burned and mutilated bodies.

The official police tally of 30 deaths is belied by the overflowing morgue and the constant stream of eyewitness reports from all quarters of the city, Assist said.

Bodies were being taken to undisclosed locations because the main hospital mortuary was full, according to the Red Cross.

"Not all cases are reported, especially cases in which relatives have already buried their dead," said Aminu Inua, a Red Cross official in Kano.

"Hundreds of people were killed," said Christian leader Mark Amani. "Some corpses were burned in wells. Even little children were killed.

"The bodies of pregnant women were ripped open and their bodies burned," he said.

A spokesman for Barnabas Fund said its source reports the killing of several hundred people "when defiant mobs of Muslim youths armed with clubs and machetes and cutlasses rampaged at about 1 a.m. on Thursday despite a police imposed curfew."

"Mobs went from house to house looking for Christian victims and in some cases trapped the occupants inside and torched the houses," the Barnabas spokesman said.

African and Christian? Yeah, like that's news.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:45 PM
International Affairs

Everything They Wish the U.S. Would Be

Mark Steyn addresses the "Oil-for-Fraud" program and U.N. fetishization:

So the question now is whether the UN Oil-for-Food programme is just another of those things that slip down the memory hole, and we all go back to parroting the lullaby that "only the UN can bring legitimacy to Iraq/Afghanistan/Your Basket Case Here". Legitimacy seems to be the one thing the UN doesn't bring, and I'm not just talking about the love-children of UN-enriched Balkan hookers in Kosovo.

As Steyn says, "Oil-for-Fraud is everything the Left said the war was." That seems to be the way — doesn't it? — with our parallel-universe world.

Lisez la chose entière, as they say.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:37 PM
International Affairs

I'm Really Sorry, but...

Jennifer Levitz's recent piece in the Providence Journal about local reactions to Abu Ghraib and Nick Berg's murder, particularly with respect to interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims, starts out well enough. However, it quickly moves through smirk-worthy to too-thickly laid:

At the mosque in North Smithfield, the largest of some six mosques in Rhode Island, Nasreen Ahmed desribes how she saw an American friend at the supermarket just after the pictures of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners were made public.

Ahmed says her friend cried, right there in the market. "She said, 'I'm so sorry,' " Ahmed says. Shd told her friend, "It's not your fault. I'm very sorry, too. I'm sorry things are getting so bad."

Even so, the piece, as something sure to appeal to local tastes, wouldn't have sparked comment from me were it not for the following:

Fadel Abu-Hilal, a bakery worker, describes those conversations on a break. He has a goatee, dimples, and a cell phone hooked to his belt. He is 25, and from Jordan. He is in Rhode Island to attend Johnson & Wales. He recalls how one of his professors apologized to him a few days after the prison abuse photos came out. Then, a regular customer came into the bakery and said he was sorry.

"He felt bad. He said it felt humiliating," Abu-Hilal says. He told his customer, "Listen, Jimmy, I know how you're feeling."

Abu-Hilal says he is empathetic to how American citizens might feel -- misjudged -- because he felt misjudged after Sept. 11.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks, for instance, he was doing an internship at the front desk of a hotel in Boston. He says that a customer asked him if he was Arab -- and when he said yes, laughed and told him not to put a bomb in her room.

Now, it is American officials who are telling the world not to judge the United States and democracy from the pictures out of Abu Ghraib.

"I'm not going to do what Americans did after 9-11, no offense," says Abu-Hilal. "I'm not going to blame this country."

To begin with, a college professor's apology to a Muslim student for abuse of prisoners from a different Arab nation than the student and incarcerated as part of a war that the professor likely doesn't support strikes me as masturbatory ego-stroking. One can picture the prof. literally patting himself on the back after class.

But then the dramatic parallel with how Abu-Hilal was treated after 9/11 — treatment for which he offers a single mild, if annoying, example — raises a question that I don't think he intends. Did he go around apologizing to Americans for 9/11? It may be that he's "not going to do what Americans did" after a global organization of well-supported Muslims murdered 3,000 of their countrymen, but did he do, then, what those Americans are doing now that a handful of soldiers abused some prisoners? What he goes on to say offers a clue:

Abu-Hilal condemns the beheading of Nick Berg, who was killed in what his captors said was revenge for the prison abuse. Yet, he was not surprised that terrorists lashed out.

"I'm not telling you it was the right way, but what do you expect? I'm not saying it was right."

After that, well, talk about having to restore America's credibility rings a bit hollow.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:24 PM
Middle East

An Expanding Crack in the System

As the day has worn on, my mind keeps returning to just how stunning what's going on in government with respect to this marriage issue is. For the moment, put aside your beliefs and conclusions about the question itself and think about the mechanism of its progress.

From the Providence Journal article that I mentioned earlier:

It appears clear, however, that legalizing gay marriage won't happen in this, an election year.

Rhode Island is one of a minority of states whose laws are ambiguous when it comes to same-sex marriage.

Lawmakers submitted bills this legislative session to legalize same-sex marriage, and to prohibit it by defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. But all those proposals appear dead, lawmakers say.

"A lot of representatives and senators would rather stay away from controversial issues in an election year," said Rep. Edith H. Ajello, D-Providence, one of the sponsors of the proposal to legalize gay marriage.

With the state next-door handing out marriage licenses and a public not sure what that means for their own state, the legislators consider keeping their jobs to be more important than doing them. They wish to be elected not because they feel they deserve the job, nor because they feel themselves actually representative, but because, well, because they wish to be elected. Bad timing — no vote.

But little matter. Along comes the attorney general who, although he is elected, is an enforcer rather than a legislator, so what the law is or becomes won't seem directly relevant to how well he is performing and, therefore, whether he deserves reelection. Nonetheless, he issues a carefully phrased statement on the question, which the legislators are too scared and lacking in principle to answer, saying essentially that it depends whether same-sex marriage conflicts with "public policy," and that such a thing isn't for him to decide. Ambiguity on top of ambiguity, and here's the tally: legislature, no comment; executive, not my department; judiciary... well.

The lone remaining branch is certain to be given its own opportunity to have a say. That opportunity has accelerated, because the "not my department" reply from Lynch, a representative of the executive branch, isn't quite so benign:

Judi proposed to Lee on Sunday in the rose garden at Roger William Park in Providence.

But they didn't rush up to apply for a marriage license early Monday -- they waited to hear what Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch had to say.

After Lynch said he did not see a prohibition against gay marriage in Rhode Island law, they drove to Worcester to file for a license. On Tuesday, it was off to the doctor for premarital blood tests, which came back today. ...

But while they know the issue may end up in court, the McNeil-Beckwiths believe the license is valid, citing Lynch's opinion. The attorney general said the law suggests the state would recognize any marriage legally performed in another state, "unless doing so would run contrary to the strong public policy of this state."

In other words, even though he declared it the job of another branch to decide the matter, it is as if he's given the go ahead. So, the elected body charged with making laws as the people's representatives is taking a pass. An elected official with no direct responsibility for anything other than enforcing the laws rightly passes, as well, although opening the way for legal challenges so wide that people believe he declared the matter legal. And now it will end up in the hands of — you guessed it — officials who are appointed for life and can only be reached by the people if "impeached by a majority of the house of representatives and convicted by two thirds of the senate."

I'm not going to make any predictions, but considering the unified advocacy of the media — from the state's major newspaper to its main talk radio station — I wouldn't be surprised if the legislature's election-year demurral isn't made permanent before the representatives get a chance to actually take a stand. The frightening possibility is that this may be the new paradigm for controversial issues — which will tend toward the "most important" side of the public ledger.

Similar arguments about a crack expanding through a government made brittle by politicians' weakness and judges' presumption apply to Massachusetts. Hadley Arkes argues that the weakest link in that state's balance of powers was the governor. Here's one point in a more-involved column:

... if the constitutional authority was really with the governor, to act for himself and the legislature, then it made the most profound difference that the governor flex that authority now himself: He could invoke his powers under the constitution; cite the error of the court in seizing jurisdiction wrongfully for itself; and order all licenses of marriage to be sent on to Boston, to his office, until the legislature, in the fullness of time, settled its policy on marriage. By an act of that kind he would have forced a change in the focus of the litigation: The task would fall then to the court to entertain challenges to the actions of the governor. If the judges summoned the governor to appear before them, there would no longer be any quibble over the question of whether the governor has standing before the court, or whether he would appear. And the court could be compelled now to face precisely the issue that the judges had skirted: whether the majority of four had themselves violated the constitution of Massachusetts. Faced with a tension of that kind, it was even conceivable that one of the wavering judges of the four might peel away, and in peeling away, leave the issue back where it belonged — in the political arena, with the governor and the legislators.

William Duncan concentrates on the legislature's complicity:

In 2001, a citizen coalition gathered 76,607 certified signatures (57,100 were needed) to place before the Massachusetts legislature a proposed constitutional amendment that, if passed, would have defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman and prevented the creation of a marriage equivalent. In order to be placed on the ballot, the measure needed to gain the support of 25 percent of legislators in two successive sessions. Evidencing a fear of the popular vote that bordered on "democraphobia," the Goodridge lawyers lobbied the attorney general and filed suit to prevent the legislature from considering the proposed amendment.

They need not have made the effort. The senate president ensured that the bill would not get a vote by simply ending the constitutional convention before such a vote could be taken. (The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that this violated the Massachusetts constitution, which calls for "final action" on initiative proposals.) If the legislature had voted at that time, the measure could have been on the November 2004 ballot.

The activists' quick recourse to the attorney general and to file a lawsuit suggests where they believe the ultimate authority to lie. Apparently, the legislature agrees, as Duncan suggests when he writes that "the new senate president proposed a civil-union law, but dutifully sent his proposal to the court for input before allowing legislators to vote on the idea."

All of these factors come together to suggest the trajectory of the debate into the federal sphere. Between the various arrogations, abrogations, and equivocations, the terms of the discussion are cycled and churned so dramatically that concepts of principle and precedent are meaningless. As Stanley Kurtz points out, civil disobedience swept aside arguments about federalism and Massachusetts's residency law for marriage before they were even tested. Moreover, in Goodridge, Justice Greaney cites the residency rule to assuage objections to the court's decision. Just four months later, lawmakers cited Goodridge itself as invalidating the residency rule.

At this point, I'm not sure what to think. It takes some effort to get up to speed on this matter, and I'm not confident that the American people will invest that effort in time to prevent — or even demand a vote on — nationalized SSM. The erosion of the walls between government branches blurs violations of separation of powers. The quick and specious characterizations of the issue as a simple civil rights issue confuse the emotions of a post-Sixties culture. And the facile references to safeguards, whose demises are already planned, are succeeding in bolstering citizens' natural apathy from one stage of the coup to the next.

That, to me, is the concern that transcends the particularities of same-sex marriage. For the overt issue, one can construct a dark solace by comparing same-sex marriage to other shifts in law and culture that have harmed marriage and, therefore, the basic family unit of society. Christians can find a less-dark peace in the knowledge that our spiritual obligations remain largely the same, only in a different (albeit more difficult) context. The danger that these comforts will be less capable of mitigating, however, is that the strategy that will have brought our nation same-sex marriage will be applied to any issue that can be made to fit the mold — capable of being spun into equal rights phrasing and of being litigated.

Hope is not lost, though, even on the matter at hand. Andrew Sullivan is either deceptive or delusional when he writes:

The major goal of the anti-marriage rights lobby was to provoke hysteria and backlash from the images of weddings for gay couples. But, in fact, the mainstream response has been either positive or neutral. Most people rightly fail to see how these couples' committing to one another hurts anyone else. And if it doesn't harm anyone, and brings such joy to so many, why stop it?

The backlash suggestions from every advocate against same-sex marriage whom I've read making any predictions are expected to coincide with the export of Massachusetts's marriages elsewhere, and that has yet to come. When it does, increasing numbers of people may come to see what folks such as myself have been arguing all along: even if the sociological arguments are too abstract, there are more direct and palpable ways in which the arrival of same-sex marriage affects us all adversely.

Odd that Mr. Sullivan doesn't appear to have even considered whether the lack of hysteria on M-Day among those who oppose SSM indicates that their motivation isn't hate and bigotry, after all. Maybe theirs is a reasoned, principled argument. Well, soon enough, advocates for SSM will have their own opportunity to prove that they stand on principle. Sullivan in particular — from February:

If all legal precedent fails, if DOMA is struck down, if one single civil marriage in Massachusetts is deemed valid in another state, without that other state's consent, I will support a federal constitutional amendment that would solely say that no state is required to recognize a civil marriage from another state. By that time, we might even have had a chance to evaluate how equal marriage rights play out in a single state or two.

We'll see. I can only hope to be stunned by what actually occurs in that case.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:41 PM | Comments (8)
Marriage & Family

Christian Divisions in Iraq

One should take into account that Younadem Kana, an Assyrian Christian member of the Iraqi Governing Council, is the contemporary Iraqi equivalent of a politician. Still, Meghan Clyne's summary of some of the talking points from his tour of the United States is worth a read. Since the piece covers a lot of varied ground, quoting from it representatively would be redundant. However, this part caught my attention in particular:

"During Saddam's time," Kana says, "we were disrespected guests in our own home." The Baathist regime destroyed close to 200 villages and over 125 churches and historical monasteries in the region; it tried to impose Koranic law on Christian children; it employed a policy of Arabization toward the Assyrian community; it assassinated the leader of the Assyrian Christian church; it exiled and killed many in the Chaldean community. "They destroyed us and deported our people, without even giving them a chance," Kana notes.

In 1991, following his defeat in the first Iraq war, Saddam Hussein used religion to try to endear himself to the Islamic world. During this "faith campaign," symbolized by the addition of "Allah Akbar" (God is Great) to the Iraqi flag, Saddam closed down Christian businesses and shut Christians out of politics and positions of power. Unable to make a living for themselves, and weary of the persecution, many hundreds of thousands of Assyrians were forced to leave Iraq, fleeing to Europe, Australia, and the United States.

"Under Saddam's sectarian, apartheid policies, we were fifth-degree citizens," Kana explains. "First came the Sunnis, then the Shiites, then the Kurds, then the Turkomen, and we were fifth — unwelcome, even though we are Iraq's native people. This oppression was for nothing more than our Christian faith and our Assyrian ethnicity; we were allowed only to be Baath-party members, and to be Arabized."

Those paragraphs probably won't surprise many folks in America, but what makes them interesting is the mild difference from an Iraqi Catholic priest's comments:

The Christians are pleased that Saddam is gone, yet they felt safer under Saddam. This is because Saddam did not bother Christians so long as they kept to themselves. While this meant that Christians could not openly proselytize, it nonetheless allowed them to maintain churches and hold services without fear of government reprisal. Since Saddam's fall, however, Father Hermiz lamented that one church in Baghdad has been bombed, and the Christians are scared. His parishioners are concerned about the Shias, who they fear will not adhere to Saddam's "don't bother us, and we won't bother you" policy.

Various factors must be noted. Kana is a political man and has been actively fighting the Ba'athists for thirty-some years, while Father George Hermiz appears to have led a quietly charitable church, doing good where good could be done. Both of these approaches are necessary, and both will fit into a given area's politics and culture in different ways. It may be that the theology and group identities of the groups lend themselves to the particular roles that they've filled.

We shouldn't just acknowledge life's and Christianity's tapestry of distinctions and move on. The dichotomy is worth considering both to increase in empathy with those who approach life differently and to assess one's own inclinations. More immediately, though, and of more relevance for current events, is a potential lack of empathy on the ground in Iraq, about which Rod Dreher wrote in March 2003:

Incidentally, a reader who knows something about the Church situation in Iraq says that non-Chaldean Catholic Christians there have long viewed the Chaldean Catholics as collaborators with Saddam. The reader predicts that there is going to be hell to pay for the Chaldean Catholics after the fall of the Saddam regime, as other Iraqi Christians hold them accountable for their relationship to the dictator. The Vatican's strong objection to this war has been duly noted by non-Catholic Iraqi Christians, the reader says, and the post-war fallout from that is not going to be pretty.

Both Kana and Hermiz mention other sects in ways that suggest a tendency toward mutual inclusion as Christians in a Muslim land. But I do hope there's some more direct communication being pursued at all levels.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:35 PM
Middle East

What Each of Us Sees in the Marriage Law

As I pointed out on Monday, Rhode Island gay activist Kate Monteiro was wrong to say that state Attorney General Patrick Lynch "has said clearly that what we've done for centuries in Rhode Island will continue - that valid legal marriages performed in other places are recognized here in Rhode Island." It's clear, from Lynch's statement on the matter, that he believes there isn't anything explicit on which he has the authority to opine, but that the answer will have to be "determined by statute, legal precedent, and common law."

Well, Providence Journal reporter Tom Mooney likes Monteiro's interpretation better than mine:

Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch's opinion Monday that Rhode Island should honor legally obtained same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts signaled how the landmark ruling across the border promises to have ramifications here.

"Promises," no less. To the extent that Mooney's suggestion is true, it is evidence of nothing so much as that Representative Victor Moffitt was right to suggest that Lynch should have been clearer in confirming that "he can't interpret what's not there" in the law. For his part, Moffitt was the legislator who introduced the bill to confirm marriage's definition in Rhode Island as what everybody's always believed it to be.

Representative Edith Ajello, a sponsor of an opposing bill to expand marriage to couples of the same sex, made a comment with broader, almost conspiratorial, implications:

The more people see pictures and hear personal stories about couples who have been living in committed relationships for years finally being allowed to make their relationship legal, the more people will relax.

That's certainly true, particularly considering the degree to which the average citizen just wishes the issue would go away. In fact, homosexual activists are playing on the inclination to shake our collective heads and turn away in their marketing work. The Boston Globe reported, speaking of Susan Shepard and Marcia Hams, the first lesbian couple to receive a marriage license in Boston:

The couple had been carefully selected by gay advocacy groups, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and GLAD. Those advocates are eager to see media attention trained on the right kind of couples in the first hours of gay marriage: those with deep local roots, so their residency -- the focus of enormous controversy over gay marriage in the past few weeks -- is not in question.

The planning and control are not just in response to the residency requirement, of course. The strategy has been part of every decision, including the search for plaintiffs in Goodridge and other cases. It has also been an effort that many media sources, including the Providence Journal, have been suspiciously willing to assist. The Boston Herald found a (perhaps mild) example of the sorts of couples that are being so scrupulously avoided elsewhere:

PROVINCETOWN - The couple who expect to be the first to receive a marriage application here on this landmark day is from Minnesota, and despite legal obstacles the governor has tried to enforce, they plan to marry around noon.

I don't care about what the governor has to say,'' said Jonathan Yarbrough, 30, who will reaffirm his legal Canadian marriage to his partner of seven years, Cody Rogahn, 55. The couple called in January to reserve the top spot. ``What the governor is doing is shameful in itself.'' ...

Yarbrough, a part-time bartender who plans to wear leather pants, tuxedo shirt, and leather vest during the half-hour ceremony, has gotten hitched to Rogahn, a retired school superintendent, first in a civil commitment in Minnesota, then in Canada, and now in Massachusetts, the first U.S. state to recognize gay marriage.

But he says the concept of forever is "overrated'' and that he, as a bisexual, and Rogahn, who is gay, have chosen to enjoy an open marriage. "I think it's possible to love more than one person and have more than one partner, not in the polygamist sense,'' he said. "In our case, it is, we have, an open marriage.''

"Have chosen to enjoy an open marriage." That's in contrast, I suppose, to couples — such as my wife and myself — who "have chosen to submit themselves to the restrictions of monogamy."

One wonders whether Rep. Ajello believes the public will relax if the pictures are of leather-clad libertines with twenty-five year age gaps being openly defiant of the law. Granted, that's a big "if."

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:03 PM
Marriage & Family


I've been intending to mention that both Cox & Forkum and Chris Muir have been on the ball lately. They're both worth scrolling through, but one from each related to the media are currently my favorites. For Cox & Forkum, there's the one addressing the intersection of Abu Ghraib and Nick Berg's murder that's sure to spark a "so true." For Chris Muir, one dealing with coverage of Abu Ghraib still has me laughing at the image it evokes.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:04 AM
Bloggers Blogging

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "SanGimignano (Siena) Italy," by Len DeAngelis.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:56 AM

The Blogger's Good Fight

It's been one of those weeks, with each night adding just a bit to the sleep deficit. Got some disappointing news about employment hopes yesterday. Oh well. Maybe something better will come along.

In the meantime, I intend to catch up with the blogging (and with other things on which I'm falling behind) today... or pass out trying. If I say anything goofy — well, more goofy — you'll know why.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:55 AM
Diary & Confession

May 19, 2004

To Lead a Better Life, We Need U.S. to Be Here

In a comment to a post touching on reactions to Nick Berg's murder, Tim the European writes:

Imagine for a minute that you are an iraqi citizen. Before GWB started to make unproven claims that there were weapons of mass destruction in iraq, they lived under Saddam. Saddam wasn't a nice bloke, he did awful things to his own people, BUT most iraqis felt sort'a safe under his reign. Now here comes mr GWB, takes over Iraq in record breaking time. American soldiers were expecting to be welcomed as heroes, for saving the iraqis from this evil dictator.. And they were by most iraqis, cause finally iraqis could say what they want, they wouldn't have to worry about any innocent lives being lost anymore, no more familly being tortured, children finally getting a chance to be raised in a safe environment, or so they thought for a little while at least. But obviously the killing didn't stop, iraqis were still being wrongfully arrested, some of them tortured, or at least mal-treated, children and women are still getting killed. And in ADDITION to that, streets are less safe then they used to be, there's more gunfire and war going on in the country.. people WILL feel LESS safe than they used to. And that's all there is to it if you ask me. the image of being "safe and free" under american reign is fading quickly. With every woman or every child that gets shot by americans, another "terrorist" is created. The image of the americans has never been very good among most muslims, so if you are going to start a war in the middle of muslim territory as americans, you would have needed to be doing it cleaner and better than ever before. Obviously that is not the case. Personally i feel that this is a popularity contest the us army isn't going to win if they keep on going like they are doing now. From the iraqi point of view i can understand why they don't like americans too much, the situation didn't improve, that needs to change quickly, otherwise this whole war will be a lost cause.

Still trying to formulate a response to that, I came across two posts (one, two) on Instapundit that did some of the answering for me. One link in the second entry goes to Michael Graham (who doesn't appear to have direct links). Graham writes, about a cartoon in the Washington Post:

But if, as it appears, Toles is saying that the people of Iraq are victims of abuse as a people at the hands of President Bush, then Toles' cartoon is disgusting and outrageous.

The idea that Iraq today is suffering because of America's liberation is nonsensical unless you believe that, if Saddam were back in power, life in Iraq would be better. Is that how much these liberals hate George W. Bush?

Anybody who requires substantiation of Graham's assertion should set aside some time to explore Arthur Chrenkoff's must read roundup of good news from Iraq. The sense that we in the West are living in two contradictory realities is unshakeable, and I don't know that the gulf between them can be bridged for more than a few daringly objective people. I can't even understand Tim the European's transition toward his comment's conclusion:

Nick Berg's assasins had a reason for killing him. Do i respect that reason? Nope, not a chance. Do i understand the reason? Not really, but i can try to see it from their point of view. Would i kill these people if i had the chance? Nope i wouldn't, that wouldn't make me any better than these people at all. that simply would be forcing my beliefs onto them, which is wrong.

Is he saying he would not kill Nick Berg's murderers because doing so would impose his worldview on them? Strange view of death, that — like just another argument, a post-modernist "text." Oh the finality of the dialectic! Tim doesn't "respect" the terrorists' reasons for murder? No wonder such people can see sexually embarrassing prisoner abuse and excessive force in handling them as of greater magnitude than brutal head severing for a video. For those arguing over the meaning of "relativism" in the comments to a different post, here's your exhibit A.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:39 AM | Comments (3)
Middle East

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

The Redwood Review poem of the week is "Meetings on the Road, II: Immortal Conflict," by me.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:09 AM

Is It Only Wednesday or Wednesday already?

I'm having a very odd week. So much is happening that it's becoming difficult to root myself in time. I'll keep y'all posted as news solidifies.

Speaking of posting, I still have a backlog of links to share and things on which to comment, but I've been frequently sidetracked. Perhaps today, I'll catch up (with both the blogging and my sleep... hopefully).

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

May 18, 2004

The Gift of Patronage

Birthdays have long been just-another-days on which to look at some pretty cards and eat a little (extra) cake. The gifts, when there are any, have become more practical — often things I was going to have to buy anyway — and at our level of income, money gifts are more likely than not to cover a shortfall.

So, if you're inclined to make my birthday not just another day, but just another good day, not a day of ecstasy, but a taste of the days that I wish every day could be, perhaps you'll consider picking up a book:

Or two:

If you'd rather, I'd also welcome outright donations (although I'll probably offer to send you a book anyway). Or, you can head over to Confidence Place and pick up something other than the books pictured above. I sign all books by me, with some sort of personal message. And my repeated sales pitch remains true:

Just imagine the dollar amount when your children or grandchildren bring the book(s) to Antique Roadshow toward the end of the century! No matter the amount, their reactions could hardly be more excited than mine whenever somebody thinks enough of my work to pay for it (even at my supremely reasonable prices).
Posted by Justin Katz at 8:53 PM
Sales & Fundraising

Last Call for Twentysomething

Well, today I have exactly one more year to be in my twenties. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I've always been the youngest among my friends, but from the perspective of twenty-nine, thirty doesn't seem quite the big deal that young'ns make it out to be.

Of course, my attitude about what's to come probably has more to do with the fact that, whereas many people peak around their college years, I bottomed out at that time, instead. Everything since has been upswing. Ten years ago, I dislodged reasonable hope from my life by dropping out of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Oh sure, I had a dreamer's hope — even a plan to go with it. I would return to New Jersey, find a job, get an apartment, buy a car, save up some money, head west, and then... lightning. Stardom.

As things turned out, I had the good fortune to stall after buying a car. At the time, I didn't think it good fortune, of course; even the prospect that my 1970 Oldsmobile 98 (like this, only brown) probably wouldn't make it all the way across the country just added to the adventure. The truth of the matter is that I'm not sure that I'd be alive today if I hadn't found the initial steps of my scheme to be unexpectedly difficult. The road to the radio is paved with would-be rock stars, whose strange mix of ego and tenacity keeps them drudging on a road to nowhere rather than take what looks to be a compromise.

I've always particularly liked the lone song that I wrote in May 1994, "Not Your Clown Anymore." (I've put a streaming MP3 of a very rough demo I made of the song at the time online.) Whatever it indicates about the level of my talent, the piano part was a little more involved than my usual improvised simplicity. Moreover, the utter depression that was quickly becoming the pounding theme of many of my songs was tempered by a sort of defiant hope.

I don't recall my thinking when I inserted the embellishing "Lord" exclamation toward the end. It probably just seemed lyrically appropriate — an indication of pop/rock tradition, rather than of faith. If it had a more profound intent, I must confess, it was probably a cynical and ironic subtext. (Funny how the same artistic flourish resonates differently from the perches of faith and no faith.)

But here I am, ten years out, after nine years of climbing from the bottom to which my life settled in the spring and summer of 1994. Happily married, just about to be a father of two. A man of faith. And still making progress. I may not be strolling in the light, but I can see it ahead, and I know it isn't an illusion.

Thank you for the role that you've played, over the past two years, in helping me to put some space between the boy of then and the man of now.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:31 PM | Comments (3)

Songs You Should Know 05/18/04

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

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:00 AM

Slandering the Troops in Order to Defeat Them

Click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column if you'd prefer a simpler layout that you may find more readable.

In the presence of an embedded reporter, in March 2003, Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey, of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Weapons Company, mocked an Iraqi civilian who was trying to communicate with Marines:

They were just two farmers on their way across a familiar field to the nearby town to get gasoline for their vehicle, when suddenly they were on the ground surrounded by men in uniforms pointing weapons at their heads.

"Keep your head down," shouted Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey, 31, of Waynesville, N.C.

While they waited for interrogators to arrive, O'Neill showed one of the Iraqis pictures of enemy vehicles in a 500-plus-page manual. The man motioned that he didn't recognize any of the vehicles.

The men, who did not speak English, tried to communicate with their hands.

"What, you feel like break-dancing?" joked Massey. "Know any songs by Michael Jackson?"

A little more than a year later, Massey implied to the Associated Press that excessive 9/11 rhetoric might have contributed to the atmosphere that facilitated the Abu Ghraib abuses:

"Soldiers were encouraged to make the incorrect links," said Jimmy Massey, a former Marine sergeant from Waynesboro, N.C., who served in Iraq, then quit the force and has affiliated with an anti-war group called Veterans for Peace.

Massey said "a bunch of innocent civilians" were killed by his platoon and he attributed these deaths in part to military intelligence reports warning of potential terrorist attacks by non-uniformed Iraqis.

"You put a bunch of Army or Marines out in the desert and tell them to guard these supposed terrorists, and they're going to start inventing ways to keep themselves busy," Massey said.

In between these two press mentions, Massey lost his swagger in Iraq, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, received a discharge, and began decrying war crimes — first to French media, but increasingly in the United States. Suffice to say, it's been a rough, but exciting, year for Sgt. Massey, and thanks, in part, to left-wing blogs, the months to come look to be even more exciting.

The domestic buzz began with an interview that Massey gave to anti-war activist Paul Rockwell for the Sacramento Bee, and some of what he says therein is eerily familiar:

Q: What does the public need to know about your experiences as a Marine?

A: The cause of the Iraqi revolt against the American occupation. What they need to know is we killed a lot of innocent people.

The accounts that Massey relates aren't pleasant. "Trigger happy" American military personnel throwing the corpses of Iraqi civilians in a ditch. Orders from "senior government officials" to wipe out peaceful demonstrators. Marines firing on Iraqi motorists with their hands up at checkpoints. "Fallujah is just littered with civilian bodies." The 31-year-old sergeant told his commanding officer, "We're committing genocide."

According to a February 11 piece in the Waynesville Mountaineer, on April 15, 2003, one year to the day after he was pulled from his duty as a recruiter in North Carolina, Massey approached his commanding officer in Iraq confessing depression. The next stop was a visit to a Navy psychiatrist:

"You have every right to feel the way you feel," the doctor told him.

But did he, Massey wondered? Civilians might be sickened by the killing, but a Marine is not supposed to be. "I was the ultimate war machine, all blood and guts. I was embarrassed. I was supposed to be able to handle it." ...

In the morning Massey was called into the commanding officer's room. He was not cut out to be an officer in the Marines, the superior told him.

"He told me, 'You're a poor leader,' 'You're faking it,' 'You're a conscientious objector,' 'You're a wimp,'" said Massey. "You don't respond to that. You just stand there and take it. But my sanity was not worth the U.S. Marine Corps."

Massey spent the next six months or so in California, apparently sorting out his discharge, with a lawyer "who defended American soldiers after the Mai Lai attack in Vietnam." On November 14, he received the verdict that his would be "a medical retirement." Massey described the incident that precipitated this change, and threatened his sanity, in a French article put into circulation in early April. Translated in the Chronogram:

It was very warm that day, and Baghdad hadn't fallen completely. A red Kia Spectra sped toward our checkpoint at about 45 miles per hour. We fired a warning volley above it but the car kept coming. Then we aimed at the car and fired with full force. I made eye contact with the driver. The Kia came to a stop right in front of me, three of the four men shot dead, the fourth wounded and covered in blood. When he saw that his brother, the driver, was dead, he collapsed and fell to the curb, waving his arms frantically. And when we were pulling his brother out, he started running and screaming, 'Why did you kill my brother?! We didn't do anything!'

In that piece, by Natasha Saulnier, the accusations escalate. Regarding the desecrated contractors:

When I read about the mutilated, charred bodies of the Blackwater mercenaries in the news, all I thought was that we did the same thing to them. They would see us debase their dead all the time. We would be messing around with charred bodies, kicking them out of the vehicles and sticking cigarettes in their mouths.

Regarding operations with Task Force 121, including representatives of the Delta Forces, Navy Seals, and CIA Paramilitaries:

We would go into villages and stick C-4 explosives on the doors of supposed Saddam loyalists, and we would ransack their houses like the Gestapo. The Spooks would wait until we blew them up and secure the occupants inside, then they would go in. They never found anything except for large quantities of money. ... The Spooks would put [the occupants] on the floor and take over. We would leave and I don't know what happened to them but I heard from intelligence reports that some occupants were blown up.

Massey tells of firing on targets the nature of which only "higher headquarters" knew, and Massey didn't trust that the targets weren't civilians. Sprinkled throughout Saulnier's piece are supposedly corroborating accounts from other sources. An anonymous 23-year-old Marine tells of defecating on "run over dead Iraqi bodies." The same source asserts:

One day, I watched as the Marine Corps pushed the bodies of 47 Iraqis into a mass grave with a bulldozer. I don't know if they were civilians but they looked like it because some of them were wearing dress shoes like loafers. Our sergeant was looking for bombs with metal detectors. Then he went out on the bodies and picked them for jewels and money. He also took their IDs and sold them to Marines for trophies to show off when they’d come back to the us.

This slanderous tone is the building rumble. Saulnier quotes a rhyme of unclear origin — "Throw some candy in the school yard / watch the children gather round / Load a belt in your M-50 / mow them little bastards down!" — that appears to have inspired other French accounts, first translated on

Massey cited instructions of commanders disregarding lives of Iraq civilians as one of many reasons still driving him nuts.

"Throw candies in the school courtyard, and open fire on children rushing to snatch them. Crush them," he recalled officers as saying during drills.

Thus do the dark, libelous accusations of the anti-war Left from the days of Vietnam reappear. Instead of napalm, we get cluster bombs. Back to the interview with Rockwell:

Q: Cluster bombs are also controversial. U.N. commissions have called for a ban. Were you acquainted with cluster bombs?

A: I had one of my Marines in my battalion who lost his leg from an ICBM.

Q: What's an ICBM?

A: A multi-purpose cluster bomb.

Q: What happened?

A: He stepped on it. We didn't get to training about clusters until about a month before I left.

Q: What kind of training?

A: They told us what they looked like, and not to step on them.

Q: Were you in any areas where they were dropped?

A: Oh, yeah. They were everywhere.

Q: Dropped from the air?

A: From the air as well as artillery.

Q: Are they dropped far away from cities, or inside the cities?

A: They are used everywhere. Now if you talked to a Marine artillery officer, he would give you the runaround, the politically correct answer. But for an average grunt, they're everywhere.

Q: Including inside the towns and cities?

A: Yes, if you were going into a city, you knew there were going to be ICBMs.

Presumably, Massey means ICM (Improved Conventional Munitions), not ICBM (InterContinental Ballistic Missile),* but the point is clear: to raise visions of massacres and indiscriminate killing, simply ignoring claims and evidence of meticulous care to minimize casualties. Rockwell asks about the specter from the 1991 Gulf War, depleted uranium, and Massey includes it in his declaration of genocide to his commanding officer:

He asked me something and I said that with the killing of civilians and the depleted uranium we're leaving over here, we're not going to have to worry about terrorists. He didn't like that. He got up and stormed off. And I knew right then and there that my career was over. I was talking to my commanding officer.

In no previous article has Massey mentioned DU. Rockwell, on the other hand, included the matter in his document "U.S. War Crimes in Iraq: A Prima Facie Case," which he apparently "respectfully submitted to the International Criminal Court."

This is how the anti-war forces seek to defeat the U.S. military. Seeping from conspiratorial Web sites and foreign anti-American rags into the mainstream consciousness like leech-filled swamp water rising through the floor boards, the level of conceivability for accusations notches up as time goes on — as September 11 recedes and as the election approaches. Whatever their motivation, and whether or not they believe the sunny delusions about the world scene after an American defeat, those who enable, promote, and lend credibility to this propaganda assault must be faced and stared down this time around the historical cycle.

Our nation cannot afford to follow either John Kerry or any Generation X versions of the anti-war veteran. Jimmy Massey cannot escape the implications of what he is declaring to all the world by laying blame with the President based on clichés about war for oil and lies about weapons of mass destruction. And we who understand the importance of success cannot afford to keep our heads down.

* Thanks to Donald Sensing for suggesting the proper acronym.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:34 AM | Comments (63)
Middle East

May 17, 2004

Overstating and Underplaying

The Rhode Island attorney general, Democrat Patrick Lynch, has released a politic statement regarding the validity of Massachusetts same-sex marriage in his state:

In Rhode Island, as in other states, many of the answers to the questions raised by same-sex marriage, such as the one posed by [Massachusetts] Governor Romney in his April 29, 2004, letter to [Rhode Island] Governor Carcieri, will ultimately come from the courts-not from the Attorney General, the Governor, or any other state officer or employee. No Rhode Island court has addressed or interpreted whether or not Rhode Island's marriage laws permit same-sex couples to marry or whether same-sex marriages, if performed in Rhode Island, would be void. To date, the only marriages in Rhode Island deemed void involve bigamy, incest or mental incompetence, or marriages in which one or both parties never intended to be married.

A different legal issue is whether same-sex marriages legally performed in Massachusetts would be recognized as marriages under Rhode Island law. If a same-sex couple were to marry in Massachusetts, where such marriages are legal, Rhode Island would decide whether to recognize that marriage under principles of comity. This Office's review of Rhode Island law suggests that Rhode Island would recognize any marriage validly performed in another state unless doing so would run contrary to the strong public policy of this State. Public policy can be determined by statute, legal precedent, and common law.

He leaves the possibility open, but notes (correctly) that it isn't really his place to make the call. In other words, Kate Monteiro, of the RI Alliance for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, is simply incorrect to say, "Lynch has said clearly that what we've done for centuries in Rhode Island will continue - that valid legal marriages performed in other places are recognized here in Rhode Island." He said they might be recognized; "it potentially involves the interpretation of statutes, a constitutional analysis, and the application of common law principles relating to the relationships between and among the different states."

What's more striking — and probably indicative of Lynch's personal views — is that the attorney general warns homosexual Rhode Islanders only that, before heading to Massachusetts to marry, "they may want to consult with a private attorney and, in any event, they should take care when completing any application and when attesting to the truth of any matter." Surely, Lynch knows that lying about residence will open couples up to perjury charges. In fact, that's the argument that town clerks are going to use in their own defense — that "the onus would be on the couple to be truthful and to accept the consequences of getting a license in defiance of the governor's edict." (What that last bit means, in translation, is "in defiance of the governor's reminder of Massachusetts law.")

For all I know, some legal principle bars Lynch from making assertions about Massachusetts laws. That excuse doesn't apply, however, to the Providence Journal, which handles the matter as follows, in the piece announcing Lynch's statement:

Lynch said gay couples traveling to Massachusetts to wed should consider consulting with a private attorney and take care when answering application questions.

In most Massachusetts cities and towns, clerks are following Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's directive to issue licenses only to residents or those who plan to move to Massachusetts.

Wouldn't it clearly be an important part of the Projo's service to its readers to mention where the legal "onus" lies?

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

Beginning with Illegality

It isn't my intention to offer running commentary in response to uncritical major media coverage of happenings in Massachusetts. But this raises a point that oughtn't get lost in all the heavy breathing:

Provincetown is among a handful of Massachusetts towns that have said they would ignore Gov. Mitt Romney's directive that city and town officials ask couples for proof of residency or intention to move to the state before issuing marriage licenses.

And that helped Provincetown attract couples from Minnesota, New York and Alabama today.

Chris McCary and John Sullivan, both of Anniston, Ala., flew into Boston yesterday and left for Provincetown at 3 this morning. They reached the steps of town hall at 5:30 a.m., were the first in line and the first here to receive a same-sex marriage license.

"This was a sure bet," McCary said.

The couple, together for six years, didn't want to wait any longer to make it official. They were heading for the district court in Orleans to ask a judge to waive the normal three-day waiting period. They planned to marry later today in Provincetown.

From what I've read, there's a question on the marriage license essentially asking out-of-state couples, under penalty of perjury, whether the marriage would be legal in their home states. The implications of this for couples who disregard the law would seem, at the very least, to merit a bit of discussion in articles about their marriages. Think of it: the Alabama couple mentioned above — from a state that explicitly bars SSM — is going to a Massachusetts judge to request additional concessions in procuring their illegal marriage.

Not exactly an indication of fidelity to the law or belief in the process of democratic persuasion.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:10 AM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

Note on Unsolicited Testimony

The previous post is actually an essay that I wrote in the hopes of placing it somewhere to have an effect on the debate in my state. Well, given events, today seems as good a day as any to give up in that endeavor. (The somewhat pitiful thing is that this blog is conceivably the most visible Rhode Island source that would potentially publish it.)

So, considering that it's meant to be a sort of active piece, making a case more than expressing raw opinion, I'd be much obliged to anybody who thought it worth a link elsewhere — whether in agreement or disagreement.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:37 AM
Site-Related Announcements

Unsolicited Testimony to the Rhode Island Legislature on Same-Sex Marriage

For a more-readable layout, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

In researching the issue of same-sex marriage, one comes across many accounts of homosexual parents who wish to raise their children in the most normal environment possible. Other cases involve people who want primarily to procure assistance in caring for each other. Because these arguments draw so directly from the pool of reasons that society supports and encourages marriage, they are the most powerful for their cause. Our hearts rightly ache in response to such pleas, sincerely put forward, and were the institution of marriage healthier, we might move to make exceptions.

The unfortunate reality is, however, that marriage and the family structure that ensues are in a weakened condition. We've all heard the statistic that half of marriages end in divorce. Less well known is that only fifty percent of children conceived in the United States are born to parents who are married, with the remainder evenly split between abortion and birth out of wedlock.

Countries that are further along in the liberalization of family structure provide evidence of the folly of its pursuit. In Sweden and Norway, for example, children are more likely to be born out of wedlock than within. Sweden's abortion rate is higher than that of the United States, and ours is dropping while theirs climbs. Children's odds of being born into wedlock — of being born at all — are plummeting throughout Europe. It is crucial for the United States, which is much larger, encompasses greater demographic diversity, and drives more of the global economy to avoid the further erosion of marriage.

The hopeful news is that the domestic tide may already be turning. Abortions are back down to the rates of the 1970s. Out-of-wedlock births seem to be reaching the crest of their curve. Shifting the institution on which family issues hinge, therefore, would shake ground on which we've only just begun to get our balance. The particular innovation of same-sex marriage would not have minimal repercussions.

Compelling arguments can be made for the extension of certain benefits to homosexuals for their roles as parents and as mutual caregivers, and that is an area of legislation that is surely worthy of debate, at both the state and federal levels. One question that such proceedings would have to address is the bottom-line purpose of the laws and to whom benefits ought to be granted. If a brother and sister, for example, are committed to raising her child from a previous marriage, why should the argument for assisting children's guardians exclude them? Perhaps a daughter should be able to ensure that her Social Security extends to her mother, for whom she cares, should anything happen to the younger woman. But if these questions, and countless variations, are asked and answered within the context of marriage, the institution would quickly lose its legal and cultural meaning and, therefore, its power to shape our society.

Dilution is only one of the routes toward marriage's decline should we extend it to same-sex couples at this time. Every statement about marriage ever made in law, philosophy, sociology, and so on has been premised on its definition's being opposite-sex. It is difficult to think of an institution more susceptible to unintended consequences. Marriage lies at exactly the intersection between government and culture, public and private, secular and religious.

Homosexuals who would like the ability to marry each other ask whom it would hurt. The answer is not emotionally satisfying, but it is no less important for being so. The major policy questions of our day rarely deal with direct benefits that lead to direct detriments. We don't know whom, specifically, same-sex marriage would hurt. However, we do know who is most harmed by fundamental liberalization of family structures: those for whom it is not a choice and those without the resources to absorb the disruption. Children, in the first case. In the second, the poor and struggling.

Even if, for the purposes of civic policy, we sublimate religious considerations to a presumption of individual liberty, as I believe we should, we must admit that the right to marriage cannot be granted on a case-by-case basis. It must represent a social and moral standard. This is a practical reality as well as a substantive one. Marriage is effective because of its shared principles and the way in which it counterpoises benefits and requirements. Civil support of it exists, in large part, for the sake of those families most at risk to break its rules — to give them a sense that there are rules. Its tacit meaning and simple emphasis are crucial attributes.

This careful balance of factors that are most important for those least able to articulate them can only be safely manipulated through similarly broad and implicit, almost uncalculated, change. This isn't a civil rights issue; homosexuals are free to form relationships, to pursue happiness, however they desire. This is a matter of societal well-being, of fundamental construction and first principles. We all — young and old, married and single, gay and straight — will be helped or hurt by the decisions that we make as citizens today.

Even as we seek humane accommodations for those whose lives venture beyond the boundaries of institutional ideals, we must allow those boundaries to expand naturally, not prematurely. There may well come a day when familial frontiers seem ordinary extensions of the marriage community. The law can reflect that sense when it comes, because the law will not risk undermining our culture; it will be, itself, an effect thereof. But legislators and judges should not use the law of this state to dictate a change with effects that we cannot possibly comprehend as we stand, now, in the midst of turmoil and controversy.

To the contrary, the legislature must cement the current legal definition of marriage so that the laws of other states don't dictate change in ours, and so that our courts don't transform marriage through the pretense that the law already demands it. We are a charitable people, but let's not ignore countless faces that we cannot yet see out of compassion for a few that we can.

Ampersand has picked up on something that I probably should have made clearer above. The "abortion rate" to which I refer is measured as the percentage of conceived children aborted, and I drew the conclusion based on some statistical analysis that I performed (with charts) back in March.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:28 AM | Comments (4)
Marriage & Family

Crossing the Rubicon Down the Aisle

Well, today, courtesy of four judges and a gavel, same-sex marriage arrives in Massachusetts. The fires that are about to crop up across the nation's various government bodies and across our culture and society are too broad and varied to guess. We'll just have to keep an eye out for them.

The question of the day: will the sparks be enough to wake America up to what's happening? Or will we just roll over and cover ourselves with a blanket of apathy? One thing we can expect is a surge of commentary declaring, "See! Nothing happened!" As if social corrosion were an instant phenomenon. I wondered, as I walked the dog, this morning, what will win the race: nationalized SSM, evidence of its effects, or the 2010 census.

Be that outcome as it may, we can also expect the elite — with its perhaps insurmountable power via judges and media — to move on to the next issue that it's inclined to push through. Will it be further loosening of restrictions, or are the bien-pensant prepared to begin tightening the screws on their nemeses? Yet another thing that we can only wait to discover. For our part, on the conservative and traditionalist side, even as we keep up the struggle to win this particular battle, we should start looking for other ways to minimize damage, such as hardened divorce and adultery laws.

Reading accounts of same-sex couples waiting in line in the middle of the night, it really came home to me how difficult an issue this is to address. As with any issue, the people involved are mostly just going along with their lives, strolling off the path rather than charging. Chasing them with angry words will drive them further into the thicket, but neither can we fail in our duty to attempt to draw them back.

It was a bit of surprise to discover this little-cited passage in the first reading that happened to fall yesterday in the cycle at Mass:

'It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities,
namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols,
from blood, from meats of strangled animals,
and from unlawful marriage.
If you keep free of these,
you will be doing what is right. Farewell.'

I don't think the Massachusetts judiciary is meant to be the judge of what is "unlawful" in this context.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:16 AM | Comments (4)
Marriage & Family

May 15, 2004

Seeing How the Other Half (Doesn't) Live

One indication that conservatism is on the rise is the increasing number of those-strange-creatures columns by liberals. Folks who've been Internet media readers for at least a few months will recall, no doubt, Margo Mifflin's much too serious and sincere piece about the internal turmoil resulting from the revelation of her therapist's Limbaugh listening. Well, Oliver Griswold has gone so far as to camp out on our side of the media divide:

Looking for a challenge and a little affirmation, Oliver Griswold tests his die-hard liberal beliefs and goes on an all-conservative-media diet for one month. Life on the Right side of the dial doesn't turn out the way he expected.

Now, since I found the piece via the unyieldingly liberal Sheila Lennon, I didn't expect anything near a full conversion on Griswold's part. Unfortunately, there wasn't so much as an upward notch of compassion for conservatives and liberals' shared humanity. The big surprise to which the lead alludes is that Griswold confirms himself in every particular of the stereotype in which he believes.

The piece begins well enough, and the average conservative will likely feel a burst of sympathy for Griswold. After all, his immersion in conservative media echoes the experience of every conservative who has yet to discover alternative forms of information and debate. But then:

Too frequently I discovered those lofty themes are not meant for all Americans, but trotted out in a jingoistic attempt to suit conservatives' own agenda, which is often racist, nationalistic, xenophobic, and greedy. The more I read, the more disillusioned I became with the gulf between the rhetoric and the reality of the Right. My resistance to conversion on any issue was bolstered by the sense that the Right doesn't have a vision for America, it just drags one out as a means to achieve selfish ends. The oratory sounds like cock-a-doodle, but the truth tastes like doo.

For a moment, sympathy shifts to the realization that Griswold has captured perfectly the way conservatives feel about liberals. But reading through his evidence is a bit like listening to a visitor's description of one's hometown and noticing that certain architectural details are out of proportion, some are left out, and some are just distorted. It seems Griswold didn't take in the scenery; he trolled for evidence of his preconceptions. He didn't listen; he argued, and he did so in a way no different than liberals often do from their own territory. He even availed himself of the cliché of comparing the dictionary definitions of "liberal" and "conservative."

In some cases, one doubts that he actually performed his little experiment. For example, consider the following supposed contradiction that he believes as indication that "many of the lofty themes didn't mix very well, leading to some bad-tasting intellectual pretzels":

The Heritage Foundation unequivocally supports President Bush's tax cuts (lofty theme: helping the economy), while also supporting an expansion of the USA Patriot Act (lofty theme: making America safe), without making the connection that reducing the size of the federal treasury will make the hiring of additional Justice Department workers more difficult.

Could Griswold really have spent a month-plus reading conservative media without once encountering the argument that cutting taxes increases government revenue? Even dismissing that idea, one would think that he could come to understand that (many) conservatives believe tax cuts to be right and the Patriot Act to be necessary, and if spending cuts are required in other areas to make both possible, well then, that suits conservatives' "vision for America" just fine.

Or consider this "clue" about the Right's view of the Left:

According to the home page of the Media Research Center, all of the network news operations are liberal, and conservatives never win Pulitzers. (Past Pulitzer Prize winners include Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot, Newsweek columnist George Will, New York Times columnist William Safire, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, among other leading conservatives.)

If that paragraph is a clue about anything, it's about why conservatives often suspect liberals of being disingenuous. Gigot won the Pulitzer for commentary in 2000. Krauthammer snagged it in 1987. Will and Safire almost constituted a wave, receiving their prizes in '77 and '78, respectively. There may very well be other conservatives on the list of winners from 1970 to 2004, but I didn't recognize any of their names. The four "leading conservatives" whom I do recognize amount to a little less than 12% of all commentary Pulitzers awarded in the past 34 years; even if there are four whom I don't recognize, their win rate is 23.5% — a wee bit shy of the percentage of Americans who share their views.

The kicker of the piece, however, comes with two references to Griswold's job as a teacher. The first is at the beginning, as he's beginning his "project": "I drove to the middle school where I teach, walked into class, and happily explained my plan to the students." The second is toward the end:

The following week I went on vacation to the mountains. A complete absence of any media at my secure, undisclosed location offered a reprieve from thinking about the project, but when I returned, I felt guilty about the lack of exposure. I decided to extend the project by a week. That's when one of the eighth-graders in my class asked, 'Are you going to die?'

How better to prove conservatives' contention that liberals simply consider their view to be de facto truth? For all their claims about nuance and openmindedness, many liberals simply can't see the ideological structure upon which they're standing, so they believe it to be terra firma. Frankly, the cocktail of my reactions to the following leaves me able to formulate a response only through vertiginous vision:

They believe their views are correct, as do we all. But here, the point is that the Right establishes narrow strictures not just for the ideas they are willing to hold, but also for the ideas they're willing to hear, and then proclaims the space within those parameters 'the mainstream.'

Didn't Griswold notice that most folks on the Right use "liberal media" and "mainstream media" interchangeably? More significantly: how perfectly representative of the way in which people of a certain mindset only spot — and decry — that which appears superficially in others, although it is fundamental to themselves.

Those who populate the conservative media tend to believe that opinions exist along a spectrum of possibilities. Some are correct, and contradictory ones are wrong, to whatever degree. We figure out which are which by putting them up against each other, and we approximate an impossible objectivity by admitting what biases we can see. Thus, ostensibly objective institutions are liberal because they deny the bias.

The irony, here, is that relativism is a leftish principle, yet those on the Left often fail to apply it to the one area of life in which it is most applicable: human opinion. For Griswold, conservative principles aren't sincerely held in good will; they're a result of hypocrisy and anger. He confesses to being a "flaming liberal," but those flames must be thick, indeed, for a man to so dramatically miss the attitude and tone at play on Fox News:

On one of those first days, ran a headline: 'Bush Warmly Welcomes Kerry to Race.' Directly beneath, the subhead read: 'Bush: Kerry has switched positions on almost every issue.' It made me wonder how the New York Times had covered Kerry's later primary victories. I scoffed that, at the very least, Times headlines and subheads wouldn't have argued with each other. I mean come on. But then I caught myself. Wait a minute. Do arguing headlines mean that FoxNews might really be as 'fair and balanced' as they claim? Had I been brainwashed my entire life?

For those who join Mr. Griswold in not getting it, let me just say this: it takes a certain arrogance to never question whether the butt of one's joke wasn't the witty one to begin with.

Pop Culture Events Closer Toward Infinity

Charles Hill highlights some instances in which moments in pop culture act as perspective markers in time:

The late musicologist and audiophile Edward Tatnall Canby used to say that the length of your perceived memories is a constant, that as you get older the years get closer and closer together, like the calibrations on a VU meter as the volume — as your volume — diminishes into inaudibility.

To add cross-generational example to those that Charles provides, the time between the Beatles' breakup and John Lennon's murder was roughly equivalent to the time between Kurt Cobain's suicide and now.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:55 PM

Too Tender for All but Our Own Evil

Jonathan Gurwitz has a good addition to the mounting commentary dealing with what the media thinks we can afford to be shown and what it thinks we can afford not to be shown:

Acknowledging this disparity does, however, reveal something about the motivations of those in the media who practice this double standard. Abu Ghraib is the realization of an anti-American fantasy, the embodiment of "the Ugly American" in the post-modern age. Its images are a montage of every perceived vice of American society, and every grievance against it. Islamic fundamentalists see the emancipation of women, homosexuality and sexual decadence taken to its logical -- American -- end.

Arab and Third World nationalists see evidence of American imperialism.

Multiculturalists see proof that American society is no better than the societies that globalization and the spread of democracy threaten to supplant.

Anti-war activists revel in a digital My Lai -- a final reckoning of decades-old indictments of the American military.

When all the images have been broadcast, when all this American self-flagellation is complete, perhaps the media will finally show us the Americans tortured by flames and forced to leap 100 stories to their death. Perhaps they'll give us the images of the other incomprehensible crimes that have occurred in the Mideast in the two weeks since the Abu Ghraib photos emerged.

Gurwitz isn't talking about our crimes, and he isn't optimistic about his maybe.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:41 PM | Comments (4)
News Media

The Strange Price of Anti-War Victory

I knew Dale Munschy, a piano-playing employee of the music department, when I was at the University of Rhode Island. I found him very friendly and always quick to encourage student musicians. However, his politics look to be a whole 'nother matter:

While addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, of Nebraska, argued for the restoration of compulsory military service, stating that such a move would compel "our citizens to understand the intensity and depth of challenges we face."

Senator Hagel asked, "Why shouldn't we ask all of our citizens to bear some responsibility and pay some price?"

I would ask George W. Bush -- who couldn't think of having made a single mistake -- the same question.

Although I can guess some of the ideals that he likely holds and policies that he likely prefers, I don't know enough about the rest of Dale's politics to say whether this applies to him. But it's been one of the strange twists of this thirty-year echo of the Vietnam anti-war movement that the same class of people — probably some of the very same folks — who fought so hard to end the draft are now beginning to call for its reinstatement.

Do you think it's been discussed, in some Lefty meeting somewhere, that succeeding in ending the draft is turning out to have been a long-term tactical failure? It just doesn't have quite the emotional force to stoke fears about the possibility of the possibility of the possibility of being sent off to war.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:32 PM | Comments (3)

May 14, 2004

That Could Never Happen Here...

Here it comes:

SEATTLE -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington today announced an agreement settling a discrimination complaint filed by a gay man against a local business that refused to print invitations to his wedding with his same-sex partner. Under the agreement, the business owner has apologized for her actions and agreed to abide by Seattle’s anti-discrimination law in the future.

"Our nation's commitment to ending discrimination requires businesses to serve all customers equally," said ACLU of Washington staff attorney Aaron Caplan, who represented the gay man in the case. "Business owners are entitled to their private opinions about same-sex marriage, but discriminatory business practices are not permitted." ...

The business owner’s refusal violated Seattle’s Open Housing Public Accommodations Ordinance, which protects an individual’s right to purchase products and services without regard to sexual orientation. With legal representation by the ACLU, Butts filed a complaint with Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights, the agency that enforces the non-discrimination law.

Under the settlement announced today, the business owner acknowledged that all persons should be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of sexual orientation, and she apologized that her actions offended and hurt Butts. She agreed not to violate Seattle’s anti-discrimination law in the future. Butts and Carter were married in October 2003.

Jeff Miller points out that there's quite a bit of difference between housing and card printing. The more fundamental line that's been crossed, however — even accepting as legitimate the argument that business owners don't have a Constitutionally guaranteed right to associate and transact with whomever they wish — is that the discrimination wasn't directed at the customer, but at the project. The business owner didn't refuse to print birthday invitations or some such on the basis of the orientation of the buyer.

This is a very common conflation among identity-activists of all sorts, but particularly among homosexuals. In fact, it constitutes the entire civil rights argument for same-sex marriage, and that's what's so shocking about the way the SSM debate has been phrased.

Similarly, it's the most shocking part of the invitation lawsuit. Of course, the case was settled out of court, but such claims will surely find their way into courthouses in the very near future. And when they do, the basic question that they will ask is whether private businesses and organizations have a right not to endorse the activities and events of homosexuals. Frankly, I'm nervous about the answer. The requirements that the settlement imposed on the business owner smack of a condescending punishment of a grade-school child — entirely fitting, considering that the consequence of the way of thinking that justified the suit is that even business owners are little more than employees of the state.

Where are all of the sincere SSM activists — where's Andrew Sullivan — condemning this clear threat to civil liberties? One doesn't have to oppose same-sex marriage to agree that this sort of litigation ought to be quashed before the wave arrives.

That could be Monday.

(via El Camino Real)

Apart from questions of rights (and all that stuff), think of what a political weapon this precedent will be if it becomes law. Imagine that the business owner had been a congresswoman who supported the Federal Marriage Amendment. She would be in the position of heading a company that has to print invitations to the very events that she seeks to make illegitimate! Imagine the spurious mockery that would flood the opinion and commentary worlds.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:51 PM | Comments (14)
Marriage & Family

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:09 AM

It's Cold Again, Naturally

A couple of good — well, hopeful — things happened yesterday, having to do with housing and employment. One gets used to living on Internet time, so having to wait weeks to hear news pertaining to real life can be like a child's having to wait for Christmas from Thanksgiving. One day at a time, I guess.

This particular day, it's cold and looks like rain. I recall a brief discussion in one of my more-creative junior high school classes about how the weather often seems directed at us as individuals. I hope today's weather is only meant to cool the anxieties that come with potential changes in life.

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

May 13, 2004

Much (Much) More than an Apple

Edward Achorn addresses the risky topic of the deal offered to Providence's teachers:

I happen to believe that good teachers, particularly in urban districts such as Providence, should be very well rewarded. I am proud of the big investment Rhode Islanders make in public education.

But, like a growing number of Rhode Islanders, I find it hard to ignore the poor return that Rhode Island gets on that investment. I hate to see children trapped in bad schools that never get better. I am troubled that reforms get shouted down by teachers acting like members of a mob, that the unions block efforts to hold teachers accountable, that an obsession with benefits far more lavish than those enjoyed by most of the taxpayers who must fund them is more important than, say, exposing children to art and music.

As Achorn implies, there's hope for this individual problem with Rhode Island's public sector because the costs in Providence spread to other towns across the state in which the teachers union doesn't have the same degree of leverage. But the same problem exists elsewhere. Read through the pay and perks that Achorn lists, and you'll get a sense of why older teachers are staying put and why those positions that do open are quickly filled through nepotism and politics. (Why, in short, my wife couldn't find a job.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:51 PM | Comments (2)

Who Are Those People, and What Do They Want?

John Hawkins has put together a short FAQ for liberals about what conservatives believe. I've had a few conversations recently in which the ability to direct an acquaintance to this particular answer would have been useful:

Well, how about the United Nations? Aren't they the good guys? How can conservatives have a problem with them?: The UN is a corrupt, incompetent, toothless, largely anti-American and anti-semitic organization, where dictatorships and global small fry have an inordinate amount of power and influence. That is reason enough to hold the organization in contempt. But, more importantly, conservatives believe that the United Nations often tries to insert itself in matters of US law, put itself above the US Constitution, and chip away at the sovereignty of the United States. That is simply intolerable.

One warning: a variant of John's answer is likely to represent the first time many people who get their information from mainstream sources will have heard such a string of accusations. Be gentle as you turn folks' world upside down.

Heroes Like in the Movies

Donald Sensing highlights an example of military heroism that is surely one of many:

He had his driver move the vehicle through a breach along his flank, where he was immediately taken under fire from an entrenched machine gun. Without hesitation, Chontosh ordered the driver to advance directly at the enemy position enabling his .50 caliber machine gunner to silence the enemy.

He then directed his driver into the enemy trench, where he exited his vehicle and began to clear the trench with an M16A2 service rifle and 9 millimeter pistol. His ammunition depleted, Chontosh, with complete disregard for his safety, twice picked up discarded enemy rifles and continued his ferocious attack.

When a Marine following him found an enemy rocket propelled grenade launcher, Chontosh used it to destroy yet another group of enemy soldiers.

When his audacious attack ended, he had cleared over 200 meters of the enemy trench, killing more than 20 enemy soldiers and wounding several others.

It wouldn't take much television production wizardry or creative report writing to make that a compelling war story. Yet, the wires show only a few papers and one television station mentioning Capt. Chontosh, and all but a niche market magazine were from Chontosh's local area in New York state.

Remember that the next time the necessity of entertainment value is cited as an excuse for skewed coverage.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:28 PM
News Media

Let the Strong of Spirit Be Oppressed

Susanna of Cut on the Bias has given some thought to trends in the movement to normalize homosexuality:

I've watched over the last two decades as homosexuality has been aggressively pushed into the public scene as not just an acceptable alternative lifestyle, but actually one that is not alternative at all - just another way of being, as legitimate and unremarkable as heterosexuality in all its benign and not so benign manifestations. The tragedy of the spread of HIV and AIDS was seized upon and used relentlessly as a tool to force acceptance of homosexuality in the name of compassion. For those interested in such things, and we all should be as it affects our daily lives, it's been a textbook case of social engineering.

And now the final phase of normalization is moving toward completion - legal sanction of gay marriage. Once that's been accomplished, there really are no more official steps needed. There will continue to be major pockets of objection, but those will be marginalized by the mainstream media and the social liberals in power in government and education.

Susanna isn't optimistic about the way in which the movement's momentum will manifest once the most prominent of the laws that homosexuals consider oppressive are erased. In particular, she believes that those who continue to refuse, as a private matter of freedom, to normalize homosexuality will begin to draw the spare fire. "The sanctity of the individual's right to make choices about where to work and what to do is [in the present culture] greater than the sanctity of someone else's religious beliefs."

While I'm not as pessimistic as Susanna about the chances of halting the charge for SSM, or at least redirecting its subsequent thrust, previews of the next phase are on the rise:

Before they could get one of their trademark 10-foot wooden crosses fastened together, two men were arrested by Dayton police officers on charges of disorderly conduct at yesterday's Gay Day gathering. ...

Both also expressed concern because they say they were arrested on private property, across the highway from the gathering at the park, and without being read their Miranda rights.

To be fair, I don't know the specifics or the background of this particular instance, but circumstances that would justify the arrest are far from obvious. Moreover, it's a story on a growing list.

Despite it all, though, it bears asserting: sometimes it's easier to be Christian where being Christian isn't easy. Susanna notes in an update that we should remember prayer. I would add to that we should also remember promises.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:12 PM

Thursday By-the-By

Whew! I just worked through a pile of accumulated emails and comments. Now, I've got to get some work done. However, I hope to work through my pile of accumulated items to post as I take breaks throughout the afternoon and to finish it off this evening.

ADDENDUM (7:48 p.m.):
Sorry, I didn't mean to be misleading. Things came up today that required attention (all good, in a probable sort of way). And I still have some work to do. I continue to intend to do some posting, though.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:45 PM
Site-Related Announcements

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:53 AM

Unbelievable Sex

Can we talk candidly, here?

I remember the day that Mr. Keith foiled the plans of every boy in his eighth-grade sex ed class by informing the girls that "blue balls" isn't all that painful and goes away quickly. With that inside information arriving on top of the graphic pictures of genitalia infected with various painful-looking diseases, we young males came to believe it was Mr. Keith's objective to scare us away from sex — or, more specifically, to scare the girls away from us. (And that was before he showed us home video of his child's birth...)

Apparently, the "experts" in Britain have found that Mr. Keith had it all wrong:

Encouraging schoolchildren to experiment with oral sex could prove the most effective way of curbing teenage pregnancy rates, a government study has found.

Pupils under 16 who were taught to consider other forms of 'intimacy' such as oral sex were significantly less likely to engage in full intercourse, it was revealed.

Not to beat around the... umm... not to put too fine a point on it: until I've had a chance to peruse the currently unpublished study, I simply don't believe its conclusions. For one thing, the language involved is all-important. Is oral sex included in statistics about children who are "sexually active"? If not, it could be that rates of children engaging in non-intercourse sexual behavior have skyrocketed. That could increase the spread of disease and lead to a subsequent explosion in full sex and pregnancy, as teenagers continue to experiment and, not accustomed to condoms in their "usual" activities, don't bother with them.

Indeed, according to This Is Exeter, every high school in Exeter is participating in the program, yet the city's pregnancy rate for girls between fifteen and seventeen was 44.4 per 1,000 women in the latest study, above the national average of 43.8. Although, how this relates to the "A Pause" program is difficult to say:

Dr John Tripp of the Department of Child Health at Exeter University said: "We can't show reductions in pregnancy rates because it is not easy to collect that data.

"But we can show precursors which you would expect to be linked to reductions in teenage pregnancy rates.

"For example, we can show that young people who have taken the A Pause programme rate sex as less important in relationships, are likely to have better information about sexual issues and are less likely to have experienced intercourse by the time they are 16."

On the basis of these generic tidbits, subjectively offered by teenagers, the Guardian piece that is linked above reports:

Now the government will recommend the scheme, called A Pause, to schools throughout England and Wales following the success of the trial in 104 schools where sexual intercourse among 16-year-olds fell by up to 20 per cent, according to Dr John Tripp of the Department of Child Health at the University of Exeter, who helped to design the course.

The article isn't clear about the method of discerning that drop. The program provides an evaluation survey in the final year, but This Is Exeter also mentions data from anonymous national surveys of 16-year-olds. It's difficult to say, then, how direct the findings are. It isn't difficult to say, however, that said findings are blurry, even at the level of hard numbers. Pace the Guardian, what looks to be the same category of data from This Is Exeter is a bit different:

The 'A Pause' course - which has been piloted at 130 schools around the country including all the Exeter high schools - has been criticised for encouraging promiscuity among the under 16s. ...

Results showed the number of sexually-active teenagers from schools where the A Pause course had been taught had fallen by up to 12 per cent.

More schools, less improvement. What explains the difference? Don't know. I do know, however, that these stories ought to serve as a wakeup call to parents everywhere, whose duty it is — I must concur with Michael Williams — to teach their children how to behave responsibly and "what true intimacy means, not how to get each other off to slake their momentary lusts."

But parents are part of, and giving kids options other than intercourse doesn't address, the problem. As I pointed out in January, 45% of single pregnant teenage girls in Britain wanted to become pregnant or didn't care, thanks largely to benefits for teen mothers. In that post, we met seventeen-year-old mother Katie and her friend from Swindon:

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

How far into this thicket are the "experts" going to march their country in an effort to avoid the obvious?

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:20 AM | Comments (4)

May 12, 2004

Doctoring the News

Dr. Karl Stephens, of Barrington, Rhode Island, diagnoses the problem with the Providence Journal's coverage of Donald Rumsfeld's testimony before the Senate and House Armed Services Committee. Stephens notes that Rumsfeld and Gen. Meyers emphasized the actual timeline of events related to Abu Ghraib and the importance of allowing problem cases to work their way up the investigative chain, given the direct and strong authority of those of greater authority. Then:

Not surprisingly, none of the accounts of the hearing published by The Journal mentioned either point. Instead, the journalists preferred to concentrate not on the facts presented by Rumsfeld, et al., but on the deceitful implications of Senators Edward Kennedy, Robert Byrd, et al., that none of this would have ever been investigated if the pictures hadn't been -- illegally, one might add -- shown on TV.

The Journal still doesn't seem to understand that in this era of cable TV, with multiple news outlets, people can watch for themselves entire hearings and press conferences, and then see the next day how the newspapers distort what was said. (It is then especially disillusioning to realize it has probably always been like this.)

Wonder what Dr. Stephens's practice is. Barrington isn't that far away, and confirmation that I'm not insane would surely benefit my health.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:09 PM | Comments (5)
News Media

Meanwhile, in Our Hemisphere

With the approach of our efforts to instill the principles and processes of democracy in the culture of a soon-to-be-modern Iraq, it's easy to lose track of what's going on across other continents. Carroll Andrew Morse has got his eye on Venezuela, where an established democracy appears to be wobbling:

Can democracy exist when people outside the government play by the rules, but people inside the government change them when they do not like the results -- or just ignore them altogether? This question underlies the petition drive to force Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez into a recall election.

As can be seen, somewhat more mildly, even within our own borders, those who believe in democracy follow the very procedures that those who do not are working to undermine. Interestingly, Andrew suggests that Venezuela's polity may not be too far deteriorated for international pressure from the relatively young Inter-American Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States to make a difference. An extrapolated implication of that possibility is that what the world really needs, at this moment in history, is an international mechanism for legitimate democracies — and only legitimate democracies — to reinforce each other:

... if the United States and the other democracies of the world do not see reasonable progress towards a United Nations Democratic Charter within a two-year frame, the United States and the other democracies of the world should announce their intention to withdraw from the United Nations. A different forum where the executive branches of the world represent their interests to one another -- a forum that does not carry the UN's baggage of indifference to the links between human rights and democracy -- can be formed easily enough.
Posted by Justin Katz at 9:00 PM
International Affairs

Evidence of Presumption

Lane Core is correct to suggest that the New York Times isn't likely to give much space over to arguments such as that which Laurie Mylroie espouses:

Opinion polls show that most Americans still believe Iraq had substantial ties to al Qaeda and even that it was involved in 9/11. Yet among the "elite," there is tremendous opposition to this notion. A simple explanation exists for this dichotomy. The public is not personally vested in this issue, but the elite certainly are.

America's leading lights, including those in government responsible for dealing with terrorism and with Iraq, made a mammoth blunder. They failed to recognize that starting with the first assault on New York's World Trade Center, Iraq was working with Islamic militants to attack the United States. This failure left the country vulnerable on September 11, 2001. Many of those who made this professional error cannot bring themselves to acknowledge it; perhaps, they cannot even recognize it. They mock whomever presents information tying Iraq to the 9/11 attacks; discredit that information; and assert there is "no evidence." What they do not do is discuss in a rational way the significance of the information that is presented.

In this piece, Mylroie relates new information confirming the meeting between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence in Prague. Therein, she mentions her testimony before the 9/11 Commission, which, as a ten-minute highlight of her work, is well worth a few moments of your time. Scroll down a bit, as well, for her contentious exchange with Richard Ben-Veniste. Of particular interest, considering Mylroie's thesis, is Ben-Veniste's repeated reference to the news media and stories that "occupy the front page of the newspaper on a daily basis."

It's also worth noting part of a response to Dr. Mylroie from another expert, Judith Yaphe:

Well, Dr. Mylroie's answer leaves me kind of breathless because I think she's doing exactly what troubles me the most about leaping to great conclusions, that Iraq -- that al Qaeda was a front for Iraqi intelligence. I'm sorry, I need evidence. If I'm -- if there is evidence, if we can get some material that says this, fine, but I don't see it now.

The question, among many of the questions, why would Saddam Hussein have given to a group like al Qaeda that he couldn't control, that that did pose a threat, an existential threat to him, why would he give them those weapons of mass destruction -- botulinum, chemicals, radioactive whatevers -- when he didn't want to admit he had them himself? Now, to give them to a group that fingerprints would have been easy to trace back, I would think. I don't see why he would do it. I don't think he sent them to Syria. I think he learned a great lesson in 1990 when he sent his aircraft off to Iran, never to be seen again. These are not things you share or give away, especially if you can't get them back, you can't control, and they won't do you greater danger.

This topic presents a tangle of seemingly conflicting reasoning, to be sure, but I agree with Mylroie that it's odd to choose, rather than attempt to unravel the various presumptions, to declare them insignificant. Yaphe wants proof that al Qaeda is a front for Iraqi intelligence, but she also professes incredulity that Iraq would hand off weapons to a rogue group. She notes that Hussein didn't want to admit to possessing weapons, but based on some supposed lesson learned, denies that he would export them during the approach to war.

She also steps around the most plausible reason to foster a relationship with terrorists as a delivery mechanism for WMDs, as opposed to conventional methods, which would be much more effective as a deterrent and threat: of all methods of attack, the "fingerprints" are least traceable within a shadowy organization drawing from various ideological groups around the world. My suspicion is that "front" is indeed a bit strong a term, considering the degree to which al Qaeda was a bin Laden cult of personality, but that Iraqi intelligence could very well have been intimately involved, behind a screen of false identities and intrigue, in the higher-level administration of the group, sufficiently to mitigate the risk of handing off dangerous weapons to it.

I'm not saying that I believe this, absolutely, to be the case. But for me, it would be little more than extra credit. Even Yaphe admits that the Ba'athists gave support to international terrorists, probably including training in terrorism techniques. Simply put, that is enough of a link for me — and, I should note, for a majority of Americans.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:40 PM
Middle East

Who Fired the First Shot?

Thanks to Prof. Reynolds for linking to me in a post that was already must-reading. For anybody new to this blog: for an easier-to-read page layout, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

Wednesday is off to a slow start, mostly because of time spent attempting to process a post from Sheila Lennon on her Providence Journal blog. It's about Nick Berg's murder — or partially about it:

Nick Berg, according to first reports, died for the sins of the Abu Ghraib.

To those who are sorry only that the photos came out, I can only say there were no photos from German concentration camps, but truth came out anyway. Germany has never recovered from what was done in its name in secret there.

There's not a lot of high ground left for anybody to claim right now. If Donald Rumsfeld was having a bad week already, Michael Berg is going to make it a lot worse.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the tape shows the "true nature of the enemies of freedom." He said those responsible have "no regard for the lives of innocent men, women and children." It sounds hollow and simplistic in the light of Abu Ghraib.

I fear that we are on the brink of an ideological civil war in this country far worse than the one tore families apart -- over Vietnam -- in the '60s.

Al Qaeda isn't mentioned. Berg "was beheaded in Iraq"; he died for America's sins, as if to balance some cosmic scales. What that indicates about the murdered and desecrated contractors in Fallujah, I don't know; the latest video is treated in isolation from everything except Abu Ghraib and the Patriot Act. The only appearance of the word "terrorist" comes when Ms. Lennon quotes Nick's father, Michael, from a radio interview after he had heard about his son's death:

It goes further than Donald Rumsfeld. It's the whole Patriot Act. It's the whole feeling of this country that rights don't matter any more because there are terrorists about.

Well, in my opinion "terrorist" is just another word like "communist" or "witch" -- it's a witch hunt. This whole administration is just representing something that is not America. Not the America I grew up in.

That's simply... stunning. Look, we all should rightly have a high threshold to criticism of the Bergs, at this time, and to an extent, that means letting anti-war (and anti-Bush) forces leverage Mr. Berg's words for their own cause. To be sure, Michael Berg was among them even before his son was detained on March 24. Lennon notes a Free Republic posting that reprints a March 20 list of people endorsing A.N.S.W.E.R.'s call to "End colonial occupation from Iraq to Palestine and everywhere!" Michael Berg, in conjunction with his son's business, is on it.

Ms. Lennon pivots on Free Republic, quoting a post from the site that dismisses Abu Ghraib in context of Berg's murder, to move toward the "ideological civil war" point quoted above. Apparently, she was unable to bring herself to provide her readers with a link to the post, itself, but searching it out, one might notice that the second comment to it was an objection. In contrast, I can't think of a single instance in which Ms. Lennon has criticized the zealots on the left. Ted Rall, for one example, has escaped censure. So has Air America hostess Randi Rhodes, who suggested that President Bush ought to be shot (while reciting the Hail Mary). Civil war, indeed!

One wonders what, precisely, Lennon fears about a civil war, considering that she blithely compares the misconduct of some soldiers at Abu Ghraib with centrally orchestrated mass murder in Nazi concentration camps. If Iraq is "tearing America apart," Ms. Lennon, you and other members of the mainstream media, with your constant blaming of America and nostalgia for Vietnam, are certainly tugging hard on one side of the rift.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:29 PM | Comments (68)

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:06 AM

What Is There to Say?

What can one say about the murder of Nick Berg? Yes, it was horrible. Yes, the resulting headlines, furthering the terrorists' message are unforgivable and the censoring of the images is worthy of cynicism. But what about the whole thing isn't obvious?

The amazing thing is that the terrorists hope to gain by releasing that video. Five masked cowards attacking a man chained at their feet, with one idiot reading a prepared statement, are not apt to make Americans quiver. How much do you want to bet they hit Mr. Berg from behind when they nabbed him? All they did was to clarify our efforts against them. And no propagandist could have more effectively directed attention away from Abu Ghraib.

Prayers go out for Nick Berg and his family, as well as all of the other missing in Iraq and all of those helping the nation to rebuild. Their sacrifices and risks will not have been in vain.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:05 AM | Comments (6)
Middle East

May 11, 2004

Barbarity Fools Technology

I realize that this is just an unfortunate confluence of a useful technology employed by Google's advertising program with a horrific story, but I have to admit that my eyes bulged when I spotted the following on the Providence Journal's Web page. I also have to admit that, fairly or not, all companies involved took a hit in my impression of them. Click the image for the actual-size version.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:17 PM
News Media

The Right to Not Be Married... or Whatever

As concerned citizens attempt to flesh out the full implications of what can and cannot be assumed about the Full Faith and Credit clause with respect to same-sex marriages and federalism (see the comments here, for example), the country's courts are in the process of setting the precedent that will ultimately decide the debate. Dennis Powell points out one such case with sparse details available. Two lesbians with a Vermont civil union are battling over divorce under New York's jurisdiction. Powell raises the FF&C clause here:

Barring invocation of the Defense of Marriage Act, the case would be tried under the full-faith-and-credit clause. But again there are legal vines to be hacked away. What law in New York governs civil unions that do not legally exist in New York? The judge would have a choice. The case could be ruled as being so far outside New York law that the parties to the suit would be told to go back to Vermont for their divorce (which would be problematic not for the judge but certainly for the parties, in that Vermont has a six-month residency requirement for filing and a one-year residency requirement for obtaining a dissolution). The judge could decide to try the case in New York employing the relevant Vermont statutes. Or the judge could try the case under New York domestic-relations law, effectively creating recognition of civil unions in the state. ...

There is apparently no judicial guideline in New York for the handling of such matters. By statute, New York does not recognize common-law marriages, but under full faith and credit dissolves them if a divorce action is brought. It could turn out that the path through the legal jungle is an easy one, depending on the approach taken in the case. But it may well spark legislative action in the Empire State.

Full Faith and Credit, it is crucial to remind ourselves, is little more than another principle thrown into the tangle of this issue. It is simultaneously an angle of attack for proponents of SSM and a decoy from other routes. New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer has already declared that Massachusetts same-sex marriages should be recognized in New York. The bottom line is that, barring a constitutional amendment, this fundamental social and cultural question is going to be answered by a handful of largely unaccountable public officials.

For a sense of the way in which the various routes and angles coalesce to redefine the law — effectively, to legislate — by way of legal precedent, consider another case addressing Vermont civil unions in New York. In that instance, the question is whether a civil union ought to grant the same rights to litigate as a spouse in a wrongful death suite. In the process of working around to a "yes," a judge has cited common-law marriage precedent that requires recognition of such marriages if they are legal in the other state. Of course, common-law marriages are not legal in Vermont, but that merely made it a simpler matter to equate civil unions with them.

In the wrongful death case, it is also relevant that the judge cited various limited instances in which common-law marriages have been recognized. Such citations — always selective, and often drawing from other states' courts — become the basis for determining what precedent is and, in the language of full faith and credit, what "public policy" is. Thanks to the Massachusetts judiciary, same-sex marriage has come too quickly for the public even to observe the federalist ramifications of civil unions in one state. It simply stretches the bounds of reasonable discussion to suggest that a patchwork for marriage will hold long enough to allow legal consequences to become apparent, much less social consequences.

I'll say it again: If gay marriage arrives as a direct, unobstructed result of this push, it will not only arrive in the worst conceivable way for our culture, and the gay subculture, but it will also have torn a gaping hole in the law on its way.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:31 PM | Comments (12)
Marriage & Family

Over the Counter, Under the Rug

Earl, of Times Against Humanity, addresses the (perhaps fleeting) victory of efforts against making the "morning-after pill" over the counter. The campaign against the drug could do with a stronger nickname for it — the "quick-kill pill" or the "baby-under-the-rug pill," perhaps. As Earl notes, would-be Catholic president John Kerry, in keeping with his tendency to drop everything to fly across the country and vote on behalf of the abortion lobby, was quick with a statement:

The decision was immediately attacked by a spokesman for CINO presidential contender John F. Kerry, who, unlike AmChurch bureaucrats, is quick to act when the lives of unborn babies are on the line—albeit in the wrong direction.
By overruling a recommendation by an independent FDA review board, the White House is putting its own political interests ahead of sound medical policies that have broad support. This White House is more interested in appealing to its electoral base than it is in protecting women's health.

Translation from Kerryspeak: President Bush's White House is more pro-life than John Kerry's would be. Tell us something we don't already know, John!

What strikes me is Kerry's implicit suggestion that, far from being incorrect, President Bush's base simply doesn't count. To wit, how could a group be a "base" if it isn't sufficient to constitute "broad support"? Some people have complained that President Bush doesn't adequately represent small minorities. John Kerry, apparently, wouldn't believe himself to be a representative of a much larger cut of the population.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:03 PM

Thinking of Christians in Iraq

Robert Alt's anecdote about coming upon a Catholic church in Baghdad is interesting in many respects — an Iraqi's instant connection of "Amerikee" with "Me Christian" and local charitable work and interreligious experience, for examples. Two other distinct points are probably most significant in combination:

Since Saddam's fall, however, Father Hermiz lamented that one church in Baghdad has been bombed, and the Christians are scared. His parishioners are concerned about the Shias, who they fear will not adhere to Saddam's "don't bother us, and we won't bother you" policy. While Father Hermiz expressed fear about extremists like Muqtada al-Sadr weeks before the Mehdi Army clashed with American forces, he also expressed fear about the seemingly moderate Ayatollah Sistani and his followers. The priest asserted, "If [an] imam like Sistani says, 'Go and kill yourself,' they will do it without question." ...

The priest worried about the presidential race in America — emphasizing his concern that the United States might weaken its commitment to Iraq if President Bush were to lose in November. He therefore questioned me about Senator Kerry, what his Iraq policy would be, and what insights I had regarding the forthcoming election. Of course, Father Hermiz is not the only Iraqi who is following the presidential race. Muqtada al-Sadr has made it clear that he desires a change in leadership in the United States. Given Senator Kerry's reference to al-Sadr as a "legitimate voice in Iraq," perhaps we have finally found one of the many foreign leaders whose support Kerry previously touted, but chose not to name.

Just something for American Christians — Catholics especially — to keep in mind. In addition to facilitating the work of the abortion industry, John Kerry will almost definitely weaken our activities in Iraq, which could make a future Iraq such that visitors will be much less likely to hear the words, "Amerikee! Me Christian!"

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:46 PM | Comments (1)
Middle East

Songs You Should Know 05/11/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Never Thought" by Dan Lipton. As always, I cannot recommend the CD from which this song comes, Life in Pictures, enough — if you like musically intelligent, slightly quirky pop/rock music. To find out more, read my review, click Dan's name, or give "Never Thought" a listen.

"Never Thought" Dan Lipton, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:10 AM | Comments (1)

For Whom the Mercury Rises

Spring seems to have arrived at last and looks likely to give way with unreasonable speed to summer. From cold to heat; stasis to turmoil.

I've got about a month to find more work or some other income. A permanent clamp of stress is affixed to the back of my neck, and it appears to be attached to some hard knobs digging into the small of my back.

I can still smile, though. I realized, yesterday, that it's been exactly ten years since I reclined at the rock bottom of life for twelve months or so, followed by nine years of climbing. A man's bound to slip now and then on his way out.

Nonetheless, unless I find new or more well-paying work, I'll be filling my income gap with whatever work I find, no matter the pay and no matter the hours. That will require all of the career seeds that I've been planting — most having to do with writing of one form or another — to lie without tending for a while. Plans for a conservative group blog for Rhode Island, to offer some alternative information and a respite from isolation will have to be put aside.

Any leads to work, or to grants or stipends, would be welcome. Also welcome, though it seems a relatively minor matter for which to ask them, would be prayers.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:08 AM | Comments (3)
Diary & Confession

May 10, 2004

A Foundation for Evil

I spent 20 years looking for a government that I could overthrow without being thrown in jail. I finally found one in the Catholic Church.

It would be difficult to find a statement that better encapsulates blithe evil than that one. Folded in with the ideal of destruction for destruction's sake is utter cowardice. That a woman would rattle off this rehearsed repartee in an interview for publication illustrates volumes about the disturbing world she believes herself to inhabit. (It may be that such women once served as evidence for Freud's phallic philosophy.)

The speaker is Frances Kissling, head of Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), the funding of which Joseph D'Hippolito traces back, in large part, to the Ford Foundation. According to Joseph, it's a voice created specifically to deliver a message:

CFFC, therefore, provides a useful counterweight to the Vatican's position in public debate. Joseph O'Rourke, a former Jesuit and president of CFFC, told the conservative National Catholic Register in 1984, "CFFC really was just kept alive for years because the mainline pro-choice movement wanted a Catholic vote."

"Catholic," in this usage, is a term entirely of self-definition — a usage akin to the Devil himself claiming to be a Christian. (Who is more likely to believe in Christ's divinity?) This inversion of terms, this purposeful nihilism, is a form of rhetoric mastered by Kissling and her ilk. Here's a question that she asked Kate Michelman, of NARAL, in an interview:

Isn't part of our problem as a movement that people don't know the complexity of decisions that a prochoice person goes through in relation to the question of life? Don't you want sometimes to scream from the rooftops, "I am a pro-life person"?

Scream it as loudly as you like, Ms. Kissling; only fools will be fooled.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:03 PM | Comments (1)

Accepting RI's Burden

My wife and I would like to buy a house in Rhode Island in the not-too-distant future, but honestly, if she didn't have a large family all within a fifteen mile radius, here, I can't say I'd be inclined to choose Rhode Island over some other shoreline state. Tom Coyne of North Kingstown expresses a central reason:

For too many years, Rhode Island's elected "leaders" have focused on the redistribution of income, rather than on its production by the private sector. The bill for this is now coming due. Unless more radical budget reforms are soon undertaken, the state's decline will accelerate, and all of us -- poor and rich, young and old, public and private, Democratic and Republican -- will suffer.

As Coyne details, Rhode Island is attracting poor people, has a high percentage of elderly citizens, supports a disproportionately large public sector, gives public employees excessive benefits, and through high taxes and business-unfriendly policies is driving out the private sector. Throw into the mix the ridiculous prices of middle-class-grade housing, and it isn't a very hospitable place to begin a family. Between the definingly liberal politics of the state and the region, the corruption encouraged by monolithic institutions, and the huge voting blocks looking for handouts, there is very little reason for optimism.

A large family, a nearby ocean, and an interesting landscape only have so much pull, even for a stubborn fella like me.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:43 PM | Comments (4)

May 9, 2004

Purporting Marriage in Virginia

In the Washington Blade, D.C.'s weekly paper for homosexuals, reporter Adrian Brune quotes UVA professor Robert Lombardo regarding Virginia's just-passed (and controversial) marriage law:

Lombardo also argued that the law's reach might be limited by other legislation more specific to the types of contracts gay couples might enter into.

"The usual rule judges follow in these instances is that laws with specific language usually overcome laws with more general language," Lombardo said. "For example, the state's advance medical directive says you can designate anyone you want to make medical decisions on your behalf, regardless of your relationship. That would clearly outweigh a law prohibiting a general contract between persons of the same-sex as long as it doesn't specifically mirror a civil union.

"I wouldn't want to predict how people would try to use this law. At least on its face, while it's not good news, it doesn't have the reach that it might."

Apart from the suggestion of "prohibiting a general contract," which seems beyond the language of the law in question (depending what he means by it), Lombardo supports the argument that I've been making. Moreover, to the extent that a "general contract" prohibition exists, Lombardo provides an example of precisely the remedy that I've previously suggested.

I can understand why homosexuals would object to this law, and why they believe it discriminatory and unfair. However, it doesn't help anybody's cause to exaggerate the meaning of statutes so that they appear to do more than they in fact do. If one's cause is just and right, it deserves honesty.

Speaking of honesty and law, here's how the piece ends:

The Virginia DOMA law and Marriage Affirmation Act might also be challenged under the U.S. Constitution's "full faith and credit law," which generally requires states to recognize legal documents like marriage licenses issued by other states.

Whether such challenges would (or should) succeed is, of course, a highly disputed question. And Brune maintains factual accuracy by referring to an argument that might be made, not one that might win. Still, given the focus on the Full Faith and Credit clause, with advocates for SSM denying loudly and often that it will nationalize one state's same-sex marriages, the above paragraph makes one wonder whether we're seeing a distinction between what is said to the general public and what is said among themselves, so to speak.

(via Marriage Debate blog)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:37 PM | Comments (10)
Marriage & Family

Extemporaneity, Through Tragedy, and into Faith

My playwright professor at Carnegie Mellon advised us, when facing writer's block, to extemporize. When no thoughts come to mind, the next step is to begin writing the word "block."

Bilhah turned from Jacob, a wisp of hair across her face, and held her arm against the bare skin of her chest. She imagined it burned, the flesh, in a way that she did not burn, saturated as she was in the knowledge that... cats fighting in the night became a ball of rolling audible fur, in the dead of night, when the night rumbled with passing Coast Guard helicopters, rattling the window which the couple had only dared leave open to the air for the first time since the long, long winter had... blockblockblockblock... let its fingers slip.

Those cold fingers, which had slithered back from the coverlet and the house and across the yard and down the street, and which clattered across the stones of the New England shoreline, out into the bay and the river, where the cold still had the power over life and death — beat the rotors as they may.

Late last night, a helicopter flew low over the house. Midday, I directed my daughter's eyes away from the sandbox to watch another one (or perhaps the same one) through the trees. "See the helicopter?" "Hedipopter?"

About five hours later, the Coast Guard called off the search:

Shivering with cold, his feet cut and bleeding, 14-year-old Christopher Duarte stood at the Roses' front door about 1 a.m. today, saying his family had been involved in a boating accident, and he needed help.

The teenager, barefoot and wearing a T-shirt and shorts, told Dave and Karen Rose that he'd been fighting the current, as he swam to shore for what seemed like nearly two hours. The last time he saw his mother, the boy said, she was clinging to a fender on the boat, without a life jacket.

"He kept saying, 'There's been an accident. I swam to shore. I'm sure the boat sank by now,"' Karen Rose told The Associated Press.

Duarte's mother was among three people who died when a small pleasure boat carrying six people capsized in Mount Hope Bay during the night. A fourth person, Duarte's aunt, remains missing. Duarte's father, 35-year-old Allen Duarte, was rescued and was in critical condition in a hospital.

Well. That's not a direction in which I had expected this post to turn. Rather, my intention had more to do with perspective on the various annoyances and difficulties of life. How insignificant that intention was by comparison. Perhaps we should learn our perspective before our foundations sink from view.

God, bring the lost home to you and return Allen safely to his son, Christopher. And reach out your hand to those who have lost those parents, sons and daughters, and friends.

"Why did you doubt?"


Posted by Justin Katz at 12:17 AM

May 8, 2004

Abu Ghraib University II

You may have come across it, already, but Linda Chavez's column about the co-ed military in the context of Abu Ghraib prison is definitely worth reading:

Military service has become heavily sexualized, with opportunities for male and female soldiers, sailors and Marines to engage in sexual fraternization, which, though frowned upon -- and in certain circumstances, forbidden -- is almost impossible to prevent.

So what does this have to do with those pictures of mistreated prisoners? Take a look at the faces of those soldiers again, especially the female soldiers. They look less like sadists than delinquents. They look like they're showing off at some wild party trying to impress everybody with how "cool" they are. What they are doing is despicable, but they seem totally oblivious.

Very well put: "They look less like sadists than delinquents." That sentence gets to the essence of the mixture of emotions that the pictures evoke; in some ways, this particular dark side is peculiarly American. It isn't just what the soldiers are doing, but that they're enjoying it — not like a torturer relishing his work, not even like Alex and his droogs out for a little twenty-to-one, but like partiers out on an pseudo-innocent tear, as if the prisoners were statues at an S&M tourist stop.

This seems to be a rare topic on which both the institutional military and the Left are in line, neither wishing to accept the questions as legitimate. Nonetheless, as Rich Lowry observes, it's getting difficult to ignore:

Consider Pfc. Lynndie England, who is famous for holding the leash over the naked Iraqi detainee. Well, it turns out she wasn't supposed to be mixing with detainees at all, but ended up doing so in visits she paid to her boyfriend. This is how the New York Post reported it today: "There, the young reservist was not supposed to oversee detainees, her family claims. Her role was to process and fingerprint Iraqis."

She would regularly visit her fellow reservists assigned elsewhere in the prison, including her boyfriend, Spc. Charles Graner, 35, one of six reservists from the Maryland-based unit now facing court-martial.

Army officials confirmed yesterday that she is pregnant. The baby is known to be Graner's child.

Pregnant? Wasn't she smoking in one of those pictures?

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:58 AM

May 7, 2004

The Ellipsis of Love

Different worlds, indeed. I've been pondering all day how Andrew Sullivan can take this legal language:

A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage is prohibited. Any such civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or jurisdiction shall be void in all respects in Virginia and any contractual rights created thereby shall be void and unenforceable.

And assert this as undeniable fact (emphasis his):

...when a law is passed that bans even private contractual agreements between two gay people in a relationship... making even a "partnership contract or other arrangement ... void and unenforceable," Virginia is denying gay couples any legal protections at all in as broad and vague a fashion as possible.

This is very much like the whole "incidents of marriage" thing that I've been over and over (here's one entrance to my writing on the topic), meaning that the relevant part of the text is what Sullivan elides: "purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage." The meaning of this law looks about as clear as laws can be, and although I look forward to reading the results of Ramesh Ponnuru's investigation, I'm not sure why he considers it at all vague. (That response, on Ponnuru's part, already gives Sullivan rhetorical leverage.)

Basically, whatever "privileges and obligations" the state of Virginia considers to be exclusively available to married couples will not be available to homosexual couples, whether through private contract or public registration in another state. In other words, any contracts enforceable between any two people — whether friends, family, business partners, or what have you — would remain available to homosexuals. In reverse, any contracts that are not valid between another pair would not become valid just because the parties draw up a contract calling themselves "married" or "partners" or some other term.

When someone as sharp and in line with my own position on this issue as Ponnuru has doubts, there's certainly reason to leave open the possibility of a blindspot. But barring language in the law that my brain just won't register, it seems to me that supporters of SSM — whether as a conscious device or conceptual error — presume a right to some sort of special recognition in their claims of bigotry and "persecution." This missing principle is at the heart of an email posted by Jonah Goldberg:

Sullivan's point is that he theorizes the mainstream Right is lying when they claim they only oppose same-sex marriage in the name of marriage and aren't anti gay. Even though the Virginia law may not be a fair test of Sullivan's thesis (Ponnuru's point), you sure gave credence to Sullivan's theory with your reaction.

Thus, by inexplicit definition, refusing to grant homosexual pairs additional rights and privileges that would be premised on their being homosexual amounts to being "anti gay." Put another way, it becomes "anti" simply to be something other than "pro." (I think this is along the lines of what Goldberg has been arguing.)

The emailer goes on to suggest that "a strong condemnation of the law under Sullivan's interpretation," at least, would be merited, but such condemnation, without rephrasing, would tacitly accept that equivalence is persecution. Sure, I would condemn a law that declared that "all contracts whatsoever between people who are homosexual are void," but that's not what Virginia is doing here.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:52 PM | Comments (5)
Marriage & Family

Friday's Just Another Day

Yes, it's Friday, but there's work to be done. I was wrong to be a pessimist this morning; it's sunny and warm. There's a metaphor in there somewhere.

Here's the plan: I'll be responding to email and comments and making various posts as I take breaks from the day-job editing today. Which I do, or whether I devote my minutes to further reading instead of writing, will be a matter of mood. Guess I'm just saying that I'll be around the office, and I'll probably pop in from time to time.

Incidentally, I'm a bit disappointed in my Site Meter stats. Because it defines "Visit" by the half-hour, and because it also counts (I believe) people who go to the non-subdomain address, I expected it to be closer to the higher of the two stat-tracking programs that I use through my host. As it happens, the non-Instalanche Site Meter numbers have been less than half of my lower measure, and less than a third of my higher one. So, even though visits are up a couple hundred from the same days last week, it feels like less.

This Internet thing...

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:05 PM
Site-Related Announcements

The Silence in Sudan

William Minter has an interesting piece on Sudan, in the Providence Journal:

Researchers from Human Rights Watch spoke in March to some of the 100,000 refugees who had fled across Sudan's western border to Chad. They document a clear pattern: Government troops have joined with government-supported militia in razing villages and killing their inhabitants, or forcing them to flee. The rights organization confirmed two massacres in early March, in which more than 200 men were executed after their villages were destroyed. Other reports estimate that thousands of villages in Darfur had been similarly destroyed. ...

The government has created, armed, and directed militias among the Arab-identified groups, while rebel movements opposing the government have gained support among the non-Arab-identified groups. The Sudanese military government has long practiced this strategy of divide and rule. It has also promoted ethnic militias and instigated atrocities against civilians elsewhere in the country, particularly in southern Sudan, which has been at war for decades. ...

The U.N. Human Rights Commission, which last month passed a watered-down resolution on Darfur, must insist on follow-up after a more comprehensive fact-finding report. President Bush -- who has deferred sanctions against Sudan, saying that Khartoum and the southern rebels are negotiating "in good faith" -- must be willing to threaten sanctions to protect the Sudanese in Darfur from further violence.

I don't know when Mr. Minter wrote his piece, but this would have seemed an obvious development to include:

Sudan won an uncontested election Tuesday to the United Nations' main human rights watchdog, prompting the United States to walk out because of alleged ethnic cleansing in the country's Darfur region. ...

Fourteen seats were filled on Tuesday for the 53-nation U.N. Human Rights Commission based in Geneva. Many were decided by regional groups before Tuesday's voting in the Economic and Social Council in New York.

There's no better position from which to water down resolutions than on the commission that issues them.

(last link via Baldilocks)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:43 AM | Comments (3)
International Affairs

New England, the California of the East Coast

My gut tells me to dislike this move, but I don't know enough about the standard, the proposal, the science, or the politics to be able to comment with confidence:

Governor Carcieri has announced the adoption of a tough new vehicle emissions standard for new cars sold statewide, with the goal of greatly reducing air pollution.

Adoption of the new standard -- called the California Low Emission or Clean Cars standard -- is expected to spur sales of hybrid vehicles as well as those designed to run on hydrogen fuel cells, electricity or super low emission gasoline.

Auto emissions are considered a major pollutant in the Northeast. More than 30 percent of the total greenhouse-gas emissions in the region come from autos, according to Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, an interstate association of air-quality control divisions. The national average is 22 percent.

Those percentages strike me as potentially misleading. They could be as much proof of less pollution in the Northeast than of more. If most other states have a higher level of greenhouse-gas emissions coming from other sources, their citizens could be driving nothing but 1950s pickup trucks and still have a lower automobile-pollution rate. Furthermore, I've no idea how this is supposed to function in a free marketplace:

Implementation of the standard depends on the formulation of regulations by the Department of Environmental Management.

The new standard requires that 10 percent of all new autos and trucks be zero-emission vehicles, but it does not specify a target date. ...

The standard requires that Rhode Island automakers sell approximately 14,400 hybrid vehicles and more than 78,000 clean conventional cars before 2011, Auten said. Those amounts are adjusted to mimic the ratios of clean cars sold in California. Sales of hybrid and other low-polluting vehicles can be used as credits by auto dealers to meet the 10-percent zero-emissions standard once a target date is implemented, Auten said.

Ignoring the impression that Matt Auten, a "clean air advocate" for the Rhode Island Public Interest Research Group, has given a target date even though none has been set, I have no idea what this will mean in practical terms. Assuming people don't run out and buy hybrid cars (which they won't), what are manufacturers and dealers supposed to do? Three options come quickly to mind:

  1. They can put hybrid engines in types of automobiles (e.g., large SUVs) for which they are not yet adequately developed, thus raising prices.
  2. They can raise the prices of non-compliant automobiles to try to force customers to buy the hybrids and "clean" cars, which could lead consumers to seek out older used cars, instead.
  3. Or they could lower the prices of hybrid/clean cars, perhaps requiring them to raise other prices to compensate.

Given these possibilities, I'd suggest that it would be more appropriate — more in line with individual liberties — for the government to offer incentives directly, for both clean engine development and individual purchases. But Rhode Island has an institutional aversion to giving back any tax dollars, no matter how noble the cause. So, instead, the solution is recourse to the magic legislative pen. We can only hope that it is more powerful in Rhode Island than in California:

The standard was first adopted in California with the mandate that 10 percent of its cars be zero-emission vehicles before 2012. However, auto-dealer associations staunchly opposed the timeline and the new standard was amended without a target date.
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:29 AM | Comments (2)

The Unexpected Week Makes the Month Unexpected

I was a little more snide than I ought to have been while responding, on April 15, to an AP article about an unexpected increase in the number of new unemployment claims. My hints that the Providence Journal only ran the piece because it was bad news have been made less justified by the paper's running a more sunny piece this week:

Employers added 288,000 jobs to their payrolls in April as the nation's unemployment rate slipped to 5.6 percent, reinforcing hopes for a sustained turnaround in the jobs market that had lagged for so long.

Payrolls have risen now for eight straight months, with 867,000 new jobs created so far this year, the Labor Department reported Friday. The strengthening jobs market comes just in time to aid President Bush's re-election efforts, which were in question a few months ago based on his economic record.

Bush is on track to be the first president since the Great Depression to have lost jobs under his watch. But the hiring gains in recent months have shrunk those losses to about 1.5 million.

One mitigating factor, for my part, is that the previous piece reported an unexpected weekly change:

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.

Whereas the current piece notes an unexpected monthly change:

Revisions to payrolls also showed a stronger jobs market than previously reported. Last month's 308,000 payroll gains were revised up to 337,000. April's showing surprised analysts, who had expected payrolls of about 180,000 to 200,000.

I'm still not sure whether the Projo runs weekly updates, and as the monthly view shows, they don't appear to be particularly useful. Still, hopefully the improving job market will lift my baseline mood enough to temper my suspicions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:59 AM
News Media

Saving Lives? Yes, but What Else?

Frankly, I'm not optimistic that our society can mature quickly enough, and bolster its ethical demands enough, to counter or even significantly mitigate the emotion-drenched choices that technology will allow:

In a growing practice that troubles some ethicists, a Chicago laboratory helped create five healthy babies to serve as stem-cell donors for their ailing brothers and sisters.

The made-to-order infants, from different families, were screened when they were embryos to make sure they would be compatible donors. Their siblings suffered from leukemia or a rare, potentially lethal anemia.

This is the first time embryo tissue-typing has been done for common disorders like leukemia that are not inherited. The results suggest that more children than previously thought could benefit from the technology, said Dr. Anver Kuliev, a Chicago doctor who participated in the research.

The Chicago doctors said the healthy embryos that were not matches were frozen for potential future use. But some ethicists said such perfectly healthy embryos could end up being discarded.

Unmentioned, in Lindsey Tanner's AP report, is that the ethical complications don't end with the frozen and discarded embryos. As difficult as these discussions may be, one has to consider the children who are actually allowed to live because they are of use to a sibling. Sure, most parents won't treat the first child as more important, but this is a dangerous road with too many potential unintended consequences on both the individual and cultural levels.

What happens, for instance, when the practice makes the leap from treating a sibling's illness to treating a parent's?

(via Amy Welborn)

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:29 AM

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:00 AM

Talk About the Weather

Well, this morning didn't bring quite as much of a chill. But it looks very likely to rain... again. I think I'll hold off on the a.m. metaphors. (Hey, it's Friday!)

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:57 AM
Diary & Confession

May 6, 2004

Media Slapping the Coin

Marc Comtois believes his eyes when it comes to John Kerry's Vietnam Swift Boat critics:

But, again, the media obviously felt that the most damning fact was that the Swifties were being helped by supposed Bush dirty tricks surrogates. That was all they had. So, before you let the Democrat spin machine sway you into thinking this is just another right-wing smear campaign, try to see these men, these real Vietnam hero's at this press conference if it airs again. Regardless of who sponsored what, I have no doubt that they feel that John Kerry is not worthy of being Commander and Chief. Neither do I.

The sad part is that the Democrat spin machine (i.e., the mainstream media) has effectively slapped this spinning coin to the table. Search Yahoo! News for "swift boat," and very little comes up. The New York Times has a piece that is rather short, considering the research put into unearthing minor, indirect, and old links to Republican administrations from the past 30 years. The Media Research Center's coverage of the coverage makes it pretty clear that the innuendo-laden dirty-politics storyline was pretty much the standard. My favorite is Dan Rather's pre-break tagline for the upcoming segment:

Coming up next here on the CBS Evening News: Playing the Vietnam card. How an experienced and successful Republican operation made up of veterans is attacking Vietnam war hero John Kerry. We'll give you the 'Inside Story.'

But mostly, they'll just let it lie — that so-called non-partisan media.

The video is pretty well buried, by now, on CSPAN's Web site, but here's a direct link to the Real Media file.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:41 PM | Comments (1)

Abu Ghraib University

Look, I agree that the military, especially, is such that the responsibility for errors and problems climbs pretty easily up the chain of command. But I think Seymour Hersh let slip, on O'Reilly, a major cultural differentiator that speaks volumes about the worldview of a segment of Western society:

I believe the services have a -- look, the kids did bad things. But the notion that it's all just these kids [doing these things]... The officers are "in loco parentis" with these children. We send our children to war. And we have officers like that general, whose job is to be mother and father to these kids, to keep them out of trouble.

The "kids" and "children" talk I'm sure wouldn't be appreciated among the men and women serving our country, and it's a standard talking point of the Left to hammer the terms. The more dangerous implication is that the military — war — is like some campus excursion.

If Americans want to infantilize their sons and daughters as they enroll in ever-elongated academic pursuits, that's fine. I think we've gone too far in erasing real childhood and extending adolescence well into midlife, but I can understand the impulse. However, the error is exponentially more grievous when that ethos is transferred to our warriors.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:53 PM | Comments (2)

Just the First Taste

A California lawsuit gives us a glimpse of litigation to come, should same-sex marriage become a reality:

A San Jose gay couple is suing an Internet-based adoption service after it refused them service.

In a decision issued Wednesday, federal district court judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled that a lawsuit against for discriminating against same-sex couples can proceed to trial. is the largest adoption-related internet business in the United States. Among other for-profit services, it permits prospective adoptive parents to post their personal profiles in hopes of connecting with potential birth mothers. They will not, however, permit same-sex couples to post their profiles.

In 2002, the company refused to accept an application from San Jose residents Rich and Michael Butler, a same-sex couple who have been together eight years and who sought to post their profiles on one of's websites.

Dale Gwilliam, a spokesperson for the company, allegedly told the Butlers that does not allow gay and lesbian couples to use their services.

Represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights the Butlers filed a lawsuit challenging this discriminatory policy under California law, which prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

In his ruling allowing the suit to move forward Judge Hamilton rejected the company's argument that it does not have to comply with California's non-discrimination laws.

Two things disturb me about this — one a long-standing frustration, the other a relatively new consideration. The frustration is with the utter absence of the argument that differentiating between couples based on their makeup is not the same thing as discriminating on the basis of qualities those people possess. In other words, it isn't that the couple is gay, per se, but that the relationship does not contain a member of each sex. I realize that, for homosexuals, that amounts to the same outcome; however, laws pertaining to discrimination have to do with justification and judgment. Should marriage be redefined as any couple, these fundamentally different points of differentiation would collapse into one.

Note that also requires clients to be married, indicating that even that eminently legitimate point of discrimination is being threatened:

Because of varying state laws, not all hopeful parents who would like to be listed on can be listed. For example, we cannot accept people who are not legally married, people who have not completed a pre-adoption home study, or people who otherwise do not satisfy our eligibility requirements. Even though some states allow parents in these situations to adopt, others do not.

The second, relatively new, consideration gives, in many ways, more reason for concern. Although the article quoted above doesn't mention it, is based in Arizona, not California. I'm not an expert on the relevant laws, but it seems to me that the standard that could potentially be set with this case would undermine claims that a federalist solution is possible. Same-sex marriage in a state would open up any organization that wishes to deal with couples from that state to such discrimination lawsuits.

A state-by-state patchwork (for marriage, as opposed to civil union–type contracts) will not stand. Moreover, it isn't but so overwrought to suggest that no organization that resists demands to ignore differences will stand either.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:58 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

Morality, Religion, and Politics in Black and White

Andrew Sullivan is right about the significance of any American Catholic Church action to make a policy of denying Communion to "pro-choice" politicians:

Cutting off people from the sacraments is a drastic step for the church to take; taking on almost all one political party and a hefty swathe of another in a democracy as large and influential as the United States would be a political Rubicon for the Catholic church.

Unfortunately, he doesn't stop there:

I wonder if, under theo-conservative logic, the withholding of the sacraments should be restricted only to public officials. Why not any lay Catholic who publicly dissents from Church teaching on matters of faith and morals? Why not pundits, writers, and, er, bloggers? And why just abortion? Why not those who express enthusiastic support for the death penalty, which is clearly condemned by the Vatican in almost all cases? Why not those who oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment, which is all that keeps us from sliding into the end of civilization, according to National Review? What are the exact lines of demarcation here? I ask, because purges rarely end where they start, and it would be good to read a thorough piece detailing who should be thrown out and who would be allowed by the bishops to stay.

These scattershot litanies of rhetorical questions are certainly a potent weapon. They tempt one into their mire because each point lends itself to easy response, yet they take time to wade through, and lead only to the conclusion that the writer doesn't really care to hear the answers, anyway. For the initial "who else" theme, suffice to say that it's quite a bit simpler to comment on the views of public Catholics, and that the opinions of Catholics who are federal legislators can be more directly and calamitously put into action.

For the "what next" theme, perhaps it will do to suggest that leniency, as well, rarely ends where it starts. What are the lines of demarcation for that? Ought a politician who proposes legislation permitting the post-birth abortion of children who exhibit signs of homosexuality be permitted to take of the Eucharist? As Amy Welborn puts it, "The problem with this is that without nuance, any effort immediately gets boiled down to a checklist." One would think Sullivan's penchant for nuance elsewhere, not to mention his Christian foundation, would overcome the tendency of libertarians to demand universally applicable rules.

The conclusion exposed through whittling the rhetoric down is that Sullivan doesn't fundamentally acknowledge the depth of the Church's opposition to abortion. "I see every reason for the church to make a positive case loudly and often about the moral gravity of abortion." A positive case about moral gravity? Encouraging positive action to oppose the killing of demonstrably innocent human beings indicates an "impulse to publicly shame, purge and purify religion"? To be fair, I suspect abortion isn't Sullivan's primary topic, here; rather those (we) damnable theocons are.

This suspicion finds support in Sullivan's subsequent and related piece on The New Republic's Web site. Most obviously, in attacking Robert Novak et al., Sullivan drops the inclusion of both political parties from his assessment of what the Church is doing:

Catholicism cannot be simply translated into being a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative. It is about faith and morals, not about partisanship. It is also about a stance toward human beings that concedes that we are all human, all sinners and all capable of error. Sincere politicians who differ on conscientious grounds on some matters of faith are not always being bad Catholics. By carefully weighing the issues, by finding the difficult link between their private faith and their public duties in a secular, multi-faith democracy, they are often being good Catholics in a complex modern world.

It's interesting to note that Sullivan believes politicians to be capable of a careful balance on issues that the Church apparently cannot muster. But since the reference is to an ideal, sincere politician, I suppose such an attribute might be found in him, as well. The matter of partisanship comes up again when Sullivan quotes Novak quoting Deal Hudson as saying, "Anytime our leaders allow the life issue to be made one of many issues provides cover for Kerry's effort to attract Catholic votes." Sullivan explains the statement as follows:

The premise of Hudson's remarks is that all traditional Catholics have to vote for a pro-life Republican (since the Democrats are institutionally committed to abortion rights). Any other position must be condemned by the hierarchy and in the most painful personal way--by denying the sacraments to the individual concerned.

Contrary to the parenthetical, Hudson said nothing about Democrats' institutional commitments. If the party position were the determiner, then why would a particular Republican have to be pro-life? Politically concerned Catholics understand not only that an individual is responsible for his own actions, but also that it is critical to insert into institutionally hostile groups believers who will witness to the proper attitude. Sullivan's reinterpretation isn't a small matter. Most profoundly, it allows him to elide from demands on a politician to demands on voters. He concedes that Kerry doesn't appear to be taking a careful, "reluctant" approach to resolving political and moral demands, but in contrast, he presents the Church as acting in a way that it is not:

For the Church to start picking political candidates would be a death-knell to its ability to be a trans-political religious organization. Separating the Church from electoral politics is in fact a defense of Catholicism from the depredations of politicized religion that has so infected the Protestant right, which is now a de facto branch of one political party.

Nobody in the hierarchy (that I've seen) has declared Kerry unfit for office or insisted that his Catholic supporters should cease to take Communion. Sullivan, lover of nuance to complexity that he is, reduces the options for everybody (except politicians) to two: either the Church must offer consequence-free suggestions, or it must act specifically against any politician who differs with any of its teachings, from capital punishment to "regressive tax policies"; either Catholic voters must place abortion in the same category as every other social issue, or they must use abortion as an unadulterated litmus test.

The latter point allows him to go one step further and, by lumping abortion in with capital punishment, pull President Bush into the dispute. In the context of the actual question with respect to handling John Kerry, this makes absolutely no sense. Bush is not Catholic, and Catholics are not being told how to vote. At most, conservatives in the Church are suggesting that Kerry oughtn't be allowed to portray himself as a Catholic in good standing — some for political reasons, yes, but also because Kerry's activities and the Church's silence about them has the effect of distorting what its moral position is. (And if Catholic voters could only vote for Catholics in good standing, Bush would be out of the running from the start.)

This distinction between endorsing a policy and endorsing the endorser of a policy comes up again (and not just by Sullivan) with respect to Rick Santorum's support of Arlen Specter. I'm as disappointed as anybody in the sequence events in Pennsylvania, but I've been bewildered by the currency that statements such as the following from Sullivan have had:

Didn't Santorum effectively urge voters to support someone who favors abortion in some cases against a candidate who opposes it in all circumstances? Shouldn't the Vatican be refusing to grant the sacraments to Santorum because of his deviation from the official all-or-nothing line? Wasn't he giving voters Catholic "cover" for voting for an abortion supporter?

First, it must be noted that "all or nothing" is Sullivan's insistence; for the Church, it's closer to "for some, under certain circumstances." Second, he glosses over the degree to which a point that he makes toward his own position applies to that of his opponents, as well. If a politician can vote in support of abortion given a larger context of issues, surely voters can vote for a politician despite a given policy disagreement. I'd argue that voters — once removed from the actual issue and twice removed from an actual abortion — have considerably more room for judgment.

One gets the impression that Sullivan believes only politicians can be trusted with balancing difficult factors. Or else, that actions that have political ramifications must be taken for political reasons and aligned with the rules of politics, even when they are founded in religion. That approach to life and society strikes me as neither Christian nor American.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:20 PM | Comments (1)

Backing Their Man

One almost has to laugh. The AP has chimed in on John Kerry's post-Vietnam activities in a piece by Calvin Woodward titled, "1970s FBI File Pegs Kerry As Moderate":

The FBI, closely tracking the anti-war movement in the 1970s, concluded John Kerry was a glib, moderate figure in a Vietnam veterans group that took a radical turn around the time he left it, documents show.

The FBI file on Vietnam Veterans Against the War says the organization swung toward "militant and revolutionary-type activities" but accuses Kerry, now the Democratic presidential candidate, of little more than charisma.

Don't misunderstand me: this is certainly legitimate news that ought to be added into the public debate over John Kerry's background. But my impression is that, for folks reading only the mainstream press, this news is the debate. There's no sentence, for example, saying, "The release of the FBI's documents comes just as veterans who served with Kerry in Vietnam have publicly questioned his fitness to serve as Commander in Chief and called upon him 'to provide a full, accurate accounting of your conduct in Vietnam.'"

Yeah, I know. Too much to ask.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:36 AM

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:12 AM

A Chill in the Air

The smells and the quality of the light, in early morning, betoken the full onset of spring. A mist drifts across the golf course along which I walk toward home. Nonetheless, there's a chill in the air, streaked across the sensations like the fingers of a winter that won't let go.

Similarly, certain aspects of my career hint at warmer days than I've yet to experience. The increase in people Googling my name, specifically, evokes mixed emotions. Some number, surely, are related to jobs for which I've applied. Nobody's called for interviews yet.

Perhaps I should put a disclaimer at the top of this page: "The views expressed by this blogger do not mean that he is hateful or evil, nor do they indicate that he is an angry or otherwise disagreeable coworker."

Strange that the greatest challenge to a convert to Catholicism and conservatism — having left behind truly hateful ideologies and a misanthropic outlook — should find the greatest challenge to be proving his goodwill. If I am rejected by friends and potential clients or employers because I don't hold appropriate policy views, I'm inclined to plead unfair prepossession.

Although, it certainly falls to me to find ways to convey my softened attitude along with the harder ideas.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:11 AM | Comments (2)
Diary & Confession

May 5, 2004

To Rest the Brain

I had to put in a bit of extra effort to meet a day-job deadline today, so I wasn't able to get to the four posts that I've got lined up to write. Normally, I'd try to get one of them up, at least, before heading off to bed, but the dog still needs a walk, and I'm going to attempt to capture that elusive six hours of sleep tonight.

Tomorrow: Thursday. A day of freelance and catching up. Worrying, too — but that's every day. As is prayer and hope.

Goodnight. God guide you through your slumbers 'till the stage is set for morning.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:06 PM
Diary & Confession

A Quote to Run With

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, of Knight Ridder, is the latest to report on the intriguing story of the Thulfiqar Army ("Thul Fiqar al Battar" in this piece). Nelson gets us an inside view:

Since mid-April, Haidar and scores of other young men from Najaf have gathered nightly in the city's sprawling cemetery to attack members of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. Only a few gunmen are targeted each time to prevent big firefights that might injure civilians, said Haidar, who spoke with Knight Ridder on the condition that his last name not be used.

"If we capture them and they swear on the holy Quran they will leave Najaf and never come back, we let them go," the 20-year-old furniture maker said. "If they resist, they are killed." ...

Najaf businessmen, some of whom Haidar and others say are financing the resistance movement, say there's no choice but to fight back. Al-Sadr "is just a child and he's running everything," complained one shop owner, Mohammed Hassan, 45, who sells women's sundries in the main bazaar. "We haven't been able to get our goods from Baghdad since his men took over our city. They stop the trucks at checkpoints and steal everything." ...

Yet the young men have a major tactical advantage over Mahdi members, many of whom are from nearby Kufa, Baghdad or southern towns. Thul Fiqar fighters are hometown boys who know every inch of Najaf, including the hundreds of pathways in the cemetery, which is the largest Muslim burial ground in the world. This cemetery is where they've concentrated their attacks against al-Sadr's gunmen, who go there at night to monitor American troop movements in the distance.

This is the stuff of popular history books and movies. Me, I'd be happy if this quotation were the stuff of mainstream media coverage:

"The Americans made us happy when they got rid of Saddam Hussein," Haidar said. "We're happy to return the favor by getting rid of the Mahdi Army."

In a different world, that would be a headline.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:54 PM | Comments (1)
Middle East

The Info in Rhode Island and Around the World

I'd hazard a guess that Jill Dau, of Cumberland, Rhode Island, doesn't read Friends of Saddam, a blog devoted to the unraveling oil-for-food scandal. I'd even go so far as to suggest that she doesn't read Instapundit. Here's part of a letter that she wrote to the Providence Journal that shows why I'm willing to make such gambles on the information sources of a person whom I don't know:

Isn't it time for America to transfer power to the United Nations? Our arrogance continues to paint bigger targets on American backs.

(Just to clarify: she seems to be limiting her prescription to our handling of Iraq, although she may be among that crowd, chiefly Democrats and other liberals, for whom the advice might be more broadly applicable.)

There are only two possibilities, as far as I can tell. Either Ms. Dau hasn't come across good-sized portions of the relevant information, or she's willing to place such a pivotal nation as Iraq in the hands of an organization that's apathetic about genocide, so much so that it's impeding efforts to investigate corruption that facilitated Saddam Hussein's work in that area. I'll pick the charitable option.

After all, a quick search of the Providence Journal's online archives yields only two abstracts of pieces that deal directly with the oil-for-food scandal this year — "Annan-gate," a 96-word editorial from March 21, and "U.N. 'help' for Iraq," a 436-word editorial from last Wednesday. To be fair, I don't read the printed version of the paper, and it's possible that the news or editorial department ran a story from a different source, such as the AP. However, it's also fair to say that mainstream media coverage of the scandal has been woefully meager. For example, there's nothing currently on the ProJo's Web site about secretive memos. There's also nothing, as it happens, about the human-rights credentials that the U.N. is willing to grant to Sudan.

Nonetheless, I have to wonder whether it is possible for the sort of person who would take the time to write to a newspaper not to have heard a hint of such scandals. I guess it is, particularly given the human tendency to overlook sparse tidbits that might tilt a pilaster of one's entire worldview. It's quite a bit easier to construct a comfortable model for international policy if there's a pure and infallible organization to shoulder every burden.

Somehow, a letter from Albino Conte, of Johnston, Rhode Island, seems related in ways that flow just below the surface of the different topics:

I was amused by the minuscule April 13 article, "Award for abuse victims," buried on page A-3, about the millions of dollars paid out by the Lutheran Church for sexual abuse. If it had been the Catholic Church, it would have been front-page news.
Posted by Justin Katz at 7:28 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

A Little Twist in Scandinavia

In 1998, Andrew Sullivan wrote, in Love Undetectable (p. 162):

In lesbian culture also, many of the alleged pathologies most closely associated with gay men seem to be absent. Personal competition sometimes cedes to an almost stifling emphasis on consensus and conformity; loving relationships are often the rule rather than the exception; sexual intrigue and the linkages between friends and lovers are complex and long-lasting. Here is a culture of extraordinary stability and variety, a monogamist's dream of political and social community which somehow has not found its champions among the family-mongering religious right.

Although I remain curious about what Sullivan meant by complex "sexual intrigue," the key point here is the notion of hyper-monogamous lesbians forming classically perfect communities. In all of his writing on the topic that I've read, Sullivan seems to take the feminizing effect of women on society as defining the ideal, which could expand into a broad topic of itself. More specific, however, is the recurring rhetorical contrivance that lesbians will somehow cancel out any harmful tendencies among gay men should same-sex marriage become a cultural reality. From a piece in the August 5, 2001, Sunday Times of London:

In Vermont only a few thousand such marriages have taken place, with two thirds of them between lesbians. These lesbian marriages are more monogamous than most heterosexual marriages because, by and large, women are less prone to philandering than men.

Given this commonplace (with which I've been inclined to agree — except for the strange idea that one can be more monogamous than monogamous), a summary, published by the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, of a study of divorce rates among Swedish same-sex marriages is astonishing:

The study found that gay male couples were 1.5 times as likely (or 50 percent more likely) to divorce as married opposite-sex couples, while lesbian couples were 2.67 times as likely (167 percent more likely) to divorce as opposite-sex married couples over a similar period of time. Even after controlling for demographic characteristics associated with increased risk of divorce, male same-sex couples were 1.35 times as likely (35 percent more likely) to divorce, and lesbian couples were three times as likely (200 percent more likely) to divorce as opposite- sex married couples.

In contrast (apparently) to Vermont, 62% of same-sex marriages in Sweden were between men. That near-reversal points to the first obvious disclaimer to any analysis in the context of the American debate: cultural differences likely exist even between the corresponding subcultures of the Sweden and the United States. The second obvious disclaimer, at least for me, is that suggestions, at this point, are purely speculative, and in-depth research for such factors as couples' attitudes and practices will be necessary.

However, if I were among a group brainstorming possible explanations for this surprising statistical outcome, I'd suggest looking at precisely the gender differences that would lead one to expect different results. That is to say: perhaps lesbians do take commitment and monogamy more seriously than gay men.

It could be, in that case, that men just don't bother to get divorced when they split up, whereas women want a clean, official break. Or perhaps Swedish gay men marry for reasons that don't flow directly from the relationship itself — whether benefits or some sort of social standing. That would accord with the widely held opinion that gay male marriages would be more likely to be open. In that case, diminished pressure for monogamy could actually serve to limit divorce rates. (Although at a rate much higher than opposite-sex marriages.)

A verboten intimation could follow a conclusion that, among gay men, a lowered bar is less likely to fall. The possibility can't be dismissed, although it surely will be, that women do take their interpersonal commitments more seriously, but that something either in the current homosexual subculture or in the nature of same-sex relationships makes unmodified marriage less stable.

Theoretically, the difference could very well result entirely from the inability to "become one" in the person of a mutual biological child. Or the unthinkable may, in fact, be true: that the ideal isn't to be found entirely in feminization, but in the balanced interplay of the sexes. Of course, if the a priori principle is that there is no such thing as an "ideal," then distinctions of lasting/fleeting, stable/unstable, balanced/imbalanced, coherent/incoherent are all gobbledygook anyway.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:37 PM | Comments (4)
Marriage & Family

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:02 AM

Nevermind the Rumbling

Even without reference to the reality that it's politically shrewd for supporters of same-sex marriage to dampen the dispute at this time, one ought to approach dismissive admonitions that controversy is unmerited with a high degree of skepticism. In the case of Jeffrey Rosen's "The Gay Marriage Anti-Climax. Yawn.," the image that comes to mind is of a man pointing toward a layer of accumulated soil on a volcano. Only by closing one's ears to the rumbling is it possible not to notice the underlying turmoil.

Opponents of gay marriage fear that, after May 17, same-sex couples will flock to Massachusetts from other states, get married, and return to their home states demanding recognition of their new marriages. These fears are unfounded, thanks to a provision of the Massachusetts marriage law that refuses to recognize marriages celebrated in Massachusetts if they take place between parties domiciled in a state that does not recognize the marriage as valid. This provision--designed to prevent out-of-staters from evading their own local marriage laws--means that a same-sex couple from New York traveling to Massachusetts for the weekend to get married should be turned away at the altar. And, despite the assurances of the New York attorney general that his state will recognize any valid Massachusetts marriages, the marriage would be invalid in New York even if the couple managed to return with a marriage certificate. Since the marriage can't be valid in Massachusetts, it can't be valid in New York.

Gabriel Rosenberg, among the most circumspect advocates of same-sex marriage across whom I've come, takes a somewhat different tone:

There are other interpretations of the law, though. Attorney General Reilly expressed the opinion that the 1913 law only applies to couples from the 38 states that have passed DOMA legislation expressly prohibiting same-sex marriage. That is his opinion would still allow same-sex couples from New York, Connecticut, and the like to marry in Massachusetts. This is quite an important distinction, because for example, New York's Attorney General Spitzer has issued an opinion that while local New York officials should not issue licenses to same-sex couples, they should recognize those marriages lawfully entered into elsewhere. We see here a rather dizzying scenario for determining whether the same-sex marriage of New York couples entered into in Massachusetts is valid. It's valid in NY if it was lawful in MA, and it's lawful in MA as long as it would not be void if contracted in NY.

The salient point is that only the whim of a handful of officials is required to undo all of the guides and structures that Rosen claims as balms for the anxiety. In Massachusetts, at the source of the problem, it seems very likely that at least some town clerks will hand out official documents that will essentially become litigation licenses for same-sex couples from other states. Some have declared as much to The Boston Globe. (What a thrill of power for them!) Meanwhile, state officials are hinting at legal repercussions for mutinous townies. Even so, Rosen probably wouldn't think it matters:

And, even in the unlikely event that the legislature bows to the tourism industry [which will seek a marriage boom], a well-settled body of law says that states don't have to recognize the marriages of their own residents who have traveled to another state to get married for the purpose of circumventing a strongly held public policy in their home state.

Here Rosen is drawing on the work of law professor Andrew Koppelman. Professor Koppelman has been writing about this comparison at least since the Hawaii Supreme Court almost kicked off the same explosion in the mid-'90s. Rosen quotes from the professor's book, The Gay Rights Question in Contemporary American Law, to bolster his assertion that "well-developed judicial precedents, dating back to the anti-miscegenation era, will guide courts in their effort to carve out a moderate path." However, in a 1997 article for Quinnipiac Law Review (reprinted, in part, in Andrew Sullivan's Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con), Koppelman highlights a case that cuts against the promised precedent:

The earliest case involving an attempt to evade a prohibition on interracial marriage, Medway v. Needham, arose in Massachusetts in 1819. A mulatto man and a white woman, both domiciled in Massachusetts, had gone to Rhode Island, where interracial marriage was legal, in order to evade their home state's prohibition of their marriage. The [Massachusetts] court upheld the marriage, emphasizing, as modern authorities do, the importance of certainty and uniformity with respect to the existence of a marriage. A contrary rule would involve "extreme inconvenience and cruelty"; the rule it adopted "must be founded on principles of policy, with a view to prevent the disastrous consequences to the issue of such marriages, as well as to avoid the public mischief, which would result from the loose state, in which people so situated would live."

Koppelman goes on to note that the court expressed the necessity of limits — having to do with matters that would (in the court's words) "tend to outrage principles and feelings of all civilized nations" — and to explain that the case "was criticized by others, was never followed in any miscegenation case, and was later overruled by statute." But that's not the end of the story. In the brow-furrowing way of these debates, a name familiar to anybody who read the above-linked Globe article about town clerks pops up again. Mary Bonauto, legal director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, has had her eye on Medway at least since the Hawaii episode:

In Massachusetts, our legal precedents, traditions and history do not support discrimination against marriages that are valid where licensed and certified. As a choice of law matter, states now typically recognize each other's marriages if the marriages are valid where contracted. This is often true even when the specific type of marriage at issue is forbidden in the home state. For example, in Massachusetts, the "validation rule" has operated to validate out-of-state marriages which would have been invalid marriages if licensed in Massachusetts, including those between: couples of different races (Medway v. Needham, 16 Mass. 157 (1819)); marriages between closely related people (Sutton v. Warren, 10 Metcalf 451 (1845)); under-aged couples (Levy v. Downing, 157 Mass. 73 (1892)), Commonwealth v. Graham, 157 Mass. 73 (1892)); various couples who remarried during the "nisi" period following a divorce (Vital v. Vital, 319 Mass. 185 (1946)); and common law marriages (Boltz v. Boltz, 325 Mass. 726 (1950)). Taken together, these cases confirm that marriage is a unique and important status which states are loath to undo once certified.

It's relevant to note that the Medway court actually mentioned incestuous marriages as outside of the acceptable bounds of its ruling, a restriction that seems to have been loosened just 26 years later. Surely Bonauto isn't the only homosexual activist with this shaft in her quiver. Moreover, the case hasn't just popped up in the context of importing marriages to Massachusetts. Again with reference to Hawaii, in 1996, Nebraska Attorney General Don Stenberg responded to a query from Senator Jim Jones citing a Nebraska case that, itself, cited Medway v. Needham to validate a law-evading out-of-state marriage.

What will happen when same-sex marriages — procured licitly or otherwise — are thrown to the judgment of courts is difficult to say. It can be said, however, that Bonauto and Rosen both are in a position of relying on one old law to be heeded while another isn't. Compound this across the various state governments of the union, with activist judges and civil servants thrown into the mix, and it isn't exaggerating things in the least for those who wish this mammoth cultural decision to be made by the people to stifle their yawns and get to work.

(Links regarding Mass. town clerks via Marriage Debate blog.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:31 AM
Marriage & Family

May 4, 2004

Getting Their Heads 'Round Right

Don't miss Deroy Murdock's latest on NRO. After pointing out some of the helpful things that Westerners are not doing in Iraq (because they've been killed while doing them), he writes:

Whatever Coalition soldiers and civilians could do differently (and some, as we now know have done things that deserve — and will result in — criminal punishment), remember this as smoke twirls like tornadoes above Iraq's streets: We are the good guys. Our enemies are the bad guys, and they are as bad as bad gets.

Iraqis who want what we offer — at a mundane minimum, the opportunity to eat freely in peace with lights on and toilets that flush — should decry those who toil to deny them even that. Decent Iraqis should identify these butchers to Coalition forces so they can be located and either arrested or shot. Only thus will Iraq stabilize itself before power flows from allied to Iraqi hands June 30.

One can understand the suspicion among Arabs. They haven't had much undistorted experience with folks who approach the world as we do in the West, and there are enough deluded people in our own ranks decrying our exaggerated or imagined iniquities to taint even the face that we put forward. Those people, on the other hand, have no excuse.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:07 PM | Comments (1)
Middle East

Up the Hill

Most readers of this blog will have seen this news already, but I thought I'd post it for any of my fellow New Englanders who happen to check in for one reason or another; many of them, if conversations are a gauge, will find it difficult to believe:

Smaller-than-expected tax refunds and rising individual tax receipts will pare back federal borrowing significantly for the first half of this year and could reduce the $521 billion deficit projected for the fiscal year by as much as $100 billion, Treasury and congressional budget officials said yesterday.

The Treasury Department's borrowing estimates may prove to be more good news for President Bush on the economic front, as opponents attempt to make his fiscal stewardship a campaign issue. The $184 billion the government is now expected to borrow through June is a 27 percent improvement from Treasury's February projection of $252 billion, the department said. ...

All of this indicates that the improving economy is beginning to slow a three-year slide in overall tax receipts.

"The 5.5 percent average [economic growth] pace in the latest three quarters was the largest since 1984," said Mark J. Warshawsky, assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy, in a statement to the department's borrowing advisory committee. "With the assistance of tax cuts, growth has become self-sustaining."

Reporter Jonathan Weisman leaves the best part (from a conservative's point of view) for the very end:

Last week, lawmakers in both parties voted overwhelmingly to make permanent Bush's tax cuts for married couples, a bill that would cost the Treasury $105 billion over 10 years. For the next three weeks, the House has scheduled successive votes on more tax cuts totaling hundreds of billions of dollars.

Why don't we cut some spending while we're at it?

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:57 PM

Songs You Should Know 05/04/04

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

"Gimple the Fool," Mozaik, Psychedelic Jewgrass
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Beyond Words

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:08 AM

May 3, 2004

Promoting Thoughts on Censorship

Nick Schulz, editor in chief of Tech Central Station, has continued his pattern of requesting that some of the better posts in the blogosphere be submitted to him as articles. Such is the case with Paul Cella's piece therein, slightly modified (I think) from a must-read blog post suggesting that complete freedom to drag our culture toward the stained sheets of prurient insanity is actually a perversion of our Constitution.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:39 PM

Marching and Dancing (And a Little Dragging, Too)

I'm delayed in noting the second installment of a scientific, photographic inquiry by Bill of INDC Journal. Worth a look, especially if you could use a laugh. (Macroglossius lunarius afrikanusbadcreditus... ha!)

A bit less funny is his photo-rich account of the "pro-choice" rally that ended in a bloody foot for one pro-life crasher. This exchange, in which Bill engaged with a would-be censor as he chased after the forcible removal of the pro-lifers trying to get pictures, is creepy on many levels:

Me: (with quite a bit of aggression) Get your f***ing hands off of me right now, and yes, I can take pictures!

Her: Are you with THEM?!

Me (Pushing past her and continuing to snap away): NO, I'M NOT WITH THEM!

Her (Continuing to follow me): You can't take pictures of me, I've gotten death threats, been on death lists!

Me: I don't want to take pictures of you, and you're going to be on another one in a second if you don't get the Hell away from me ...

Had I the presence of mind, I think I'd have suggested to the woman that a large portion of my generation has been on death lists. And many will never know how close they came to being included.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:26 PM

Crossword Clue: Liberals Know It When They See It

Paul Vincent of Bristol, Rhode Island, has broken the seal of the unspeakable in a letter to the Providence Journal:

One of President Nirschel's responses to the negativity engendered by the creation of the [whites-only] scholarship was to establish a lecture series treating all the related issues -- an idea that, in my opinion, all reasonable people would agree was excellent. However, when asked if conservative speakers would be welcome, the president answered yes -- provided they were "thoughtful." Mr. Nirschel didn't say whether such a stricture would be applied to liberal speakers, but -- count on it! -- it won't be.

Yes, political correctness -- by which I mean sympathy for left-leaning attitudes and policy prescriptions -- is in the saddle at Roger Williams University, as it is on most campuses. So sure am I of this that I will make the following assertion -- only a guess, but take it to the bank: Al Sharpton, an unreconstructed race hustler (only the utter cravenness of the Democratic National Committee allowed his serious participation in the presidential primaries), would be welcomed as a speaker to this lecture series with open arms; by contrast, David Horowitz -- author of Left Illusions and an articulate opponent of the slavery-reparations movement -- would be well advised not to wait by the phone.

I can hear President Nirschel's opinion of Horowitz now: "He's too unthoughtful"!

Not know enough about Mr. Nirschel, I won't place bets as to the likely reception of such folks as David Horowitz. Broadly, however, it's accurate to suggest that "thoughtfulness" is one of those vague criteria that can substitute when there is no justification. Applied to all sides of a debate equally, one can trust that it's likely meant as a measure of productivity — allowing discussion to move forward. Applied only to conservatives, it presumes at least a greater inclination toward unthoughtfulness on their part, or at least that "forward" is a predetermined direction.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:05 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

More Non-News Related to the U.N.

Craig Henry has some questions about a Palestinian member of the U.N.'s police force in Kosovo who attacked a group of his American colleagues, killing three and injuring eleven. Here's one of his questions:

Why does the UN impose heavy censorship in Kosovo? More importantly, why does the US media tolerate this? After all the whining about Pentagon news management it turns out that they accept outright censorship from Kofi Annon.

Here's mine: How much longer can this wall of gloss maintain public support for a corrupt, unelected body with aspirations toward global sovereignty?

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:54 PM
International Affairs

Hearts Open, Closed, and Unaware

Okay, I'll be honest about it. Annie's reflections on her experience attempting to inject a little truth in the minds of those marching for abortion brought me to tears. I won't attempt to siphon from the emotion, for this post. Go read the whole entry. However, I do want to draw out a particular aspect that relates to something from my Saturday-into-Sunday post about abortion and birth trends. I suggested that subsequent generations — or segments thereof — will lose their sense of the profundity of the "choice" of abortion; here's Annie:

I silently made eye contact with as many people as possible, women and men. The older, middle-aged ones, had their eyes glued straight ahead for the most part. But almost all the young women, even of high school age, looked at my sign as they walked by on that sidewalk, laughing among themselves and their boyfriends or girlfriends. When my sign caught their eye, they then reflexively looked to see who was holding it. After our eyes met, a few quickly looked away, not wanting to know, but most just stared at me a long time in shock. A lot of brows furrowed as they walked away, no longer laughing; they'd never even thought it was possible, I suppose, that a woman would think twice about her abortion, could really regret having done it.

I think the understanding of the travesty is written deep down in us. Given our natures, though, the saddest part is that the politics of the thing will carry many through the act. What then?

One woman, maybe about 30ish, started screaming at me, at the top of her lungs, "I CHOSE!! AND I'M PROUD!" over and over and over again. The others around her took up the chant, some verbatim, some saying instead, "I CHOOSE!! AND I'M PROUD!!" The veins were popping out on her forehead and neck, her face was beet red, and she was hunched over at the waist as she shrieked out the words at high volume, glowering at me, for at least five minutes straight. If there is a definition of "frothing at the mouth," that was this woman at that time.
Posted by Justin Katz at 10:43 PM

The Thulfiqar Army: Linked to Iran or Soccer?

FYI for Instapundit readers: if you find this layout difficult to read, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

Most readers following the blog world's surfing maneuvers on last week's wave of dourness from the mainstream media will have come across the Belmont Club's take on the supposed "retreat" from Fallujah:

Although the appearance of the Fallujah Protection Army (FPA) and its effects still remain to be seen, the mystery of it origins has been solved at last. It appears to be a creature of the Marines themselves, tricked out in Iraqi uniform. This would go a long way toward explaining the kind of training Marines were providing to Iraqis in southeastern industrial area of the city. They were training locals who will be assigned police duties. ...

If this interpretation proves to be accurate, it will have flowed directly from the basic operational requirements of Valiant Resolve. The goals of that operation would have been to root out enemy cells in Fallujah without massacring everyone in the city. This had to be accomplished against an active resistance schooled in the methods which brought the Russians to grief in Grozny. All with the final goal of wresting control of Fallujah from its gang leaders into the hands of an American-controlled Iraqi administration.

Yesterday, Belmont Club found some supporting evidence for the thesis (although nothing's conclusive yet, of course). As an afterthought, he mentions the Thulfiqar Army.

The what?

Instapundit readers will have come across that mysterious group's name by way of a piece by Colin Freeman in The Scotsman. The bulk of Western news-readers, however, would only have seen the name, at first, in the ninth paragraph (of twelve) of a John Burns article from the Tuesday New York Times:

In another development the Americans were watching, reports from inside Najaf said the growing anger of residents there against Mr. Sadr and his men, who have sown a pattern of lawlessness since their uprising in the city began this month, had taken a startling new turn, with a shadowy group killing at least five militiamen on Sunday and Monday.

Those reports, from residents who reached relatives in Baghdad by telephone, said the killers called themselves the Thulfiqar Army, after a two-bladed sword that Shiite tradition says was used by the patron saint of Shia, Imam Ali, the martyred son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. The group distributed leaflets in Najaf threatening to kill members of Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army unless they fled Najaf immediately, according to accounts.

One Najaf resident said some of Mr. Sadr's militiamen were shedding the black clothing that has been their signature. The same resident said that he knew of two killings of Mahdi Army members on Sunday and that three others had been killed later on Sunday or Monday.

Burns mentioned the group again on Wednesday, in the second half of paragraph ten, as a tangential explanation for the clothes on some Mahdi corpses. Although some other papers picked up Burns's pieces, I spent the weekend amazed that this story wasn't getting more play. Being as objective as I'm able, it seems to me that this Thulfiqar Army is news — intriguing news. Perhaps Time magazine's just-released 550 words on the subject, by Hassan Fattah and Meitham Jasim, mark the first wisp of mainstream interest, rather than the last gasp:

Plenty of people have an interest in seeing al-Sadr and his ragtag army cut down. The cleric has little widespread support among mainstream Shi'ites. But al-Sadr's rise has alarmed senior Shi'ite clerics, who view him as an upstart demagogue. Al-Sadr's troops have regularly clashed with the more powerful Shi'ite militia known as the Badr Brigade. Grand Ayatullah Ali Husaini Sistani, the most prominent Shi'ite leader in Iraq, has ordered all Shi'ite factions to avoid further confrontation with al-Sadr's men, fearing it would lead to fratricidal Shi'ite violence, but, Iraqi intelligence sources say, Thulfiqar could be a splinter faction of the Badr Brigade working independently. Those sources think Thulfiqar may also be receiving support from Iran's intelligence services, which may fear that al-Sadr's anti-U.S. militancy could jeopardize the expected establishment of a Shi'ite-dominated government.

The introduction of Iran's intelligence services to the plot would be interesting, indeed, with much broader implications for the entire region. In early April, Rowan Scarborough reported in the Washington Times that Iran was supporting al-Sadr:

The United States suspects that his goal is to create a hard-line Shi'ite regime in Iraq modeled after Tehran's government. Military sources said Sheik al-Sadr is being aided directly by Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which plays a large role in running that country, and by Hezbollah, an Iranian-created terrorist group based in Lebanon.

One of the sources said these two organizations are supplying the cleric with money, spiritual support and possibly weapons. "Iran does not want a success in Iraq," the source said.

"A democratic Iraq is a death knell to the mullahs." Sheik al-Sadr upped the ante during the weekend by calling for his 3,000-strong militia, the Army of the Mahdi, to begin attacking coalition forces. His fiery words touched off attacks throughout southern Iraq.

Cox & Forkum even drew a great cartoon to that effect, providing multiple quotes and links, suggesting that Iran is pulling al-Sadr's strings.

I'm sure there are plenty of people with ideological, strategic, and other interests in leaving these threads undisturbed. But they're there, perhaps leading toward something that Sean-Paul Kelley wrote on April 11:

The lines are very clear in Iran. The conservatives like very much to use Muqtada al-Sadr for their own interests in Iraq while Khatami and Muntazeri are absolutely against it. The moderate forces in Iran and Iraq wisely consider the radicalism of Muqtada Sadr as a threat to the establishment of a viable democracy in that country. The bitterness of the radical phase of the Iranian experience is shared by both sides.

Or perhaps the Thulfiqar threads align more directly with a story that Patrick Belton passes along:

[The Al Dura Sports Complex] is the result of neighborhood District Advisory Council (DAC) leaders working together with the US Army First Cavalry Division to determine a project which would most help the area.

... Councilman Saba' Radhi Zubun said, "This will benefit many families in my district. For example, 60 soccer teams will play here in a tournament soon. And there are five schools with over 1,000 children each who can use this facility."

The children liked it as well. A twelve year old named Jafa said, "This is a very good idea. I play soccer, and my brother is on the field right now playing for the Iraqi Police Service team." His friend Mustafa added, "Thank you, American Army!" A soccer game was played between the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) and the Iraqi Police Service (IPS). IPS was victorious by a score of 2 to 0.

Either way, it would be worth some coverage, wouldn't you say? Given a little attention, the group would make for a great detail in one of those shaded boxes — meant to encapsulate events and spur student interest — in future text books... depending on the story historians wish to tell.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:04 PM | Comments (1)
Middle East

Three New Accessories

Well, when a guy can't clean and play daddy for two hours without returning to the computer to find a half-dozen comment spams, action must be taken. You'll notice that commenting now requires you to type in a two-digit code before hitting "Post." (Note: You don't have to type in the code before hitting "Preview," and if you do, you'll have to do it again before hitting "Post.") Thanks to Michael Williams for the example and some direction.

Two other small changes around Dust in the Light are more-standard blog paraphernalia. Above the Confidence Place logo on the sidebar, there is now a permanent PayPal donation button. Just in case you get the urge to help me out, or if you read something that you think would have been worth paying for. (Note: All things being equal, I enjoy selling my books more than just accepting money... not that I'm averse to the latter.)

The other blog usual is the Site Meter logo at the bottom of the sidebar. Ever since I switched the blog to a subdomain, I haven't had real-time stat-checking capabilities for it. More importantly, the numbers aren't so low, anymore, that I'm compelled to keep them to myself.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:50 AM | Comments (1)
Site-Related Announcements

May 2, 2004

A Nation of Female Scofflaws

Ampersand has come to the aid of all of those Catholics who are pro-choice because they believe that's the surest way to decrease the number of abortions. At least, I think that's what he's saying:

For a Catholic to support the pro-life position, she would have to believe that supporting the pro-life position, in the current political climate, is the policy that would lead to the greatest reduction in abortions. But there are legitimate reasons to doubt that's true.

Ampersand quickly shifts the burden to reduction to "a significant degree," which would seem to undermine his argument vis-à-vis Catholics, but let's put that aside. Honestly, I've never before heard it argued that changes in the law would have no effect on the abortion rate; it's certainly not an argument frequently and loudly proclaimed, which ought to be odd, if it's valid, considering the proliferation of "personally opposed, politically support" rhetoric. At the very least, it's downright counterintuitive, so one would expect people who believe it to have ample support. Jumping right in:

Before the Supreme Court's Roe v Wade ruling, American women had somewhere between 200,000 and 1.2 million abortions a year in the U.S.. Although measuring something as hidden as illegal abortions is always difficult, the best pre-Roe scholarly assessment came to a figure of about a million abortions a year ("...prior to the adoption of more moderate abortion laws in 1967, there were 1 million abortions annually nationwide, of which 8000 were legal...." From Christopher Tietze "Abortion on request: its consequences for population trends and public health," Seminars in Psychiatry 1970;2:375-381, quoted in JAMA December 9, 1992).

As has already been pointed out in the comments to a corresponding post, the numbers just don't add up. In the years following Roe, there have been an average of around 1.4 million abortions per year. From 1973 through 1982, the average was 1.28 million; from 1983 to 1992, it was 1.57 million; from 1993 to 2000, 1.36 million. That means that the range of possible increases up to this average, according to Ampersand, is 17% (200,000 more abortions per year) to 600% (1.2 million more abortions per year).

Ampersand has already objected, "Dude, pre-Roe was over 30 years ago; directly comparing the two without accounting for other changes (like population) is meaningless." Of course, it isn't only 30 years later that abortions were so much higher; in fact, they've gone down some. Moreover, considering that he doesn't tell us when, or for what period, his pre-Roe estimates apply, we have no way of knowing whether that is, itself, a thirty-year average, the highest pre-Roe year ever, or what.

But what happens if we account for some of those meaning-bestowing changes? Well, the population in 1980 was 226,542,199, compared with 1970's 203,302,031 — an increase of 11.4%. In 1980, there were 1,553,900 abortions; going with the "best pre-Roe scholarly assessment" of 1 million for 1970, we get an increase of 55.4%. So, abortions increased at roughly five times the rate of the population. Meanwhile, there was actually a decrease in the raw number of child births, so that "other change" doesn't improve the picture any.

This leads into Ampersand's alternative measure:

Another option is to look at what happens to birth rates; an significant increase in abortions should lead to a declining birth rate. So if Roe caused a big increase in abortions, the birthrate in the US would have dropped post-Roe. So what actually happened?

For some reason, he follows with the birth and birth-rate data for 1973 to 1980, and sure enough, both the raw numbers and rate per 1,000 of the population increased — 15.2% and 6.7%, respectively. But if we're looking to understand an event in 1973, the years surrounding it are the relevant ones. Otherwise, we're just showing the trend after impact. How about a figure?

The first two red columns represent significant events in the history of birth control. After the Pill became available in 1960, in 1964, President Johnston pushed through legislation for federal funding of birth control to the poor. In 1965, the Supreme Court ruled birth control a right in its Griswold case. The second set of red columns represents the buildup to Roe v. Wade. Various states began allowing abortion, and the Roe and Doe cases began working their way through the courts.

Although the proximity of events leaves some room for ambiguity, it certainly can't be argued that the birth rate didn't fall coinciding with abortion's legality. Regarding the incremental rate increases that Ampersand shows during the 1970s, it should be noted that the percentage of the population in the 15–44 age group increased 5.5% during that decade (page 57 of this PDF). Since the only way to show a significant increase in birth rate for the '70s is to start the clock in 1973, demographics would seem to have spurred what growth there was.

Next Ampersand moves to Poland:

Similarly, what happened when Poland banned abortions in the 1990s? If pro-life policies reduce abortion significantly, there would have been a spike in Poland's birthrate. But Poland's birth rate remained steady. (See Reproductive Health Matters (Volume 10, Issue 19 , May 2002): "The restrictive abortion law in Poland has not increased the number of births.")

Here's a case in which other factors can't be teased out as easily. Poland first legalized abortion in 1956, and its raw number of births hasn't again reached the level of that year. Births began to recover during the '70s, until 1983, but they've been decreasing ever since. The price of abortions, now underground, has increased by a factor of 10, which (if economists are to be believed) would strongly suggest, of itself, that the number has gone down. Unfortunately, though, Eastern Europe has by far the highest rate of abortion on the Continent, so Poland's law alone can only do so much beyond ensuring that it isn't complicit in a practice in which its neighbors engage.

Ampersand's next tack is to compare nations according to their respective abortion rates. With this data, however, so many other factors come into play that comparisons of raw numbers and rates can only be made vaguely and without much weight. (Comparing trends, however, can be useful for specific investigations.) Nonetheless:

Which countries have the least abortion? Belgium has an abortion rate of 6.8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44. The Netherlands, 6.5. Germany, 7.8. Compare that to the USA's rate of 22.

Okay... but the United States' abortion laws are among the most liberal in the world. As has been discussed in the comments section to Ampersand's corresponding post, there is some variety in the difficulty of acquiring abortions in each European country, often depending upon the age of the fetus. Moreover, fertility rates are so low in Europe that it's difficult to draw conclusions (particularly following Ampersand's previous assertion of a birth-rate/abortion correlation). In Belgium, for example, the fertility rate is 1.62 children per woman (essentially, per couple); the Netherlands, 1.65; Germany, 1.37; and the U.S., 2.07. Perhaps allowing abortions would be a viable option if large swaths of citizens effectively sterilized themselves. (Although not for Catholics.) But Ampersand goes on:

Even better, compare it to countries where abortion is illegal: Egypt, 23; Brazil, 40; Chile, 50; Peru, 56. ...

If pro-life laws are the best way of reducing abortion, then why are the world's lowest abortion rates found in pro-choice countries like Germany and the Netherlands, while some of the world's highest abortion rates are in countries that outlaw abortion?

Apart from noting that, now, pro-life laws apparently must be the best way of reducing abortion for Catholics to be required to support them, I'll admit that he raises an interesting question. For obvious reasons, data is much harder to come by for such countries, so I've only gone so far as to investigate Ampersand's source.

Probably the most significant variable is wealth (not counting the difficulty of determining the data). Comparing the rates of anything between first world and third world nations is dubious. In this context, it's interesting to note that the "Developing regions" group has an abortion rate (per 1,000 women age 15–44) of 34. By comparison, no region comes near the rate in ex-Soviet, abortion-liberal Eastern Europe of 90.

I'm not going to perform an extensive analysis, but just for an example of what might be revealed, consider that Peru's individual wealth is actually a little bit worse than Romania's. Peru has strict rules against abortion, and an abortion rate of 56.1; Romania has abortion on demand, and an abortion rate of 78.0.

Underlying all of these numbers that don't quite fit the premise that he espouses is the logic whereby Ampersand believes that pro-life laws don't make a difference (emphasis in original):

That may seem counterintuitive, but it actually makes sense. Why? Because most women don't have abortions lightly. They have abortions because they are feeling very determined, or perhaps very desperate, and the anti-abortion laws don't seem just to them. When something is desperately wanted by consumers - and when that something is fairly easy to supply - outlawing it won't make it actually unavailable.

I'd find this argument suspect even if the statistics went Ampersand's way. For one thing, breaking the law requires a higher level of determination inherently. Price increases and concerns about the blackmarket would do the same. However, the bottom line — and a particularly Catholic response — derives from the arguments that people actually have about abortion. Like it or not, a central aspect of the debate is whether unborn children are sufficiently human to have rights. In other words, even if they don't realize it, the argument put forward by many (perhaps most) advocates for the "pro-choice" position is whether women should have qualms.

Generation A might have the instilled sense of import, but Generation B will have it less. As for Generation C, Peggy Noonan gives us an indication in an anecdote from a Broadway play, Raisin in the Sun, originally produced in the '50s:

An important moment in the plot is when a character announces she is pregnant, and considering having an abortion. In fact, she tells her mother-in-law, she's already put $5 down with the local abortionist. It is a dramatic moment. And you know as you watch it that when this play came out in 1960 it was received by the audience as a painful moment--a cry of pain from a woman who's tired of hoping that life will turn out well.

But this is the thing: Our audience didn't know that. They didn't understand it was tragic. They heard the young woman say she was about to end the life of her child, and they applauded. Some of them cheered. It was stunning. The reaction seemed to startle the actors on stage, and shake their concentration. I was startled. I turned to my friend. "We have just witnessed a terrible cultural moment," I said. "Don't I know it," he responded.

If some of those audience members somehow gain an inkling that there should be any hesitance whatsoever to have an abortion, perhaps they'll come to find an excuse to maintain their political opinions based on an argument such as Ampersand's. Since it's counterintuitive, if they wish to ground themselves in some kind of morality, including Catholicism, they'd have to research it. If I've done my job, any who read this post will no longer be able to claim that it's "reasonable," as Ampersand asserts, to believe that the law is inconsequential.

Ampersand also adds a bit about a "demand-side" solution to abortion. As he quotes Ono Ekeh:

Pro-life moderates and liberals embrace the “demand-side” approach. This approach seeks to reduce the number of abortions by addressing the social issues that compel too many women to contemplate what would normally be unthinkable. If social conditions were changed so that women were empowered, and if we effectively addressed issues such as health care, child care, family leave, wage inequity, domestic violence and other women’s issues, we could reasonably expect a significant reduction in the number of abortions in the United States.

Although handing off these responsibilities to the government creates a whole category of practical problems, itself, and although I'm skeptical about what seems to be an attempt to repackage feminism as a pro-life strategy, I'm certainly for private sector advocacy and charity on matters that will help struggling people and save lives. Still, it's conspicuous that Ampersand and Ekeh both phrase it as an either/or decision. If the goal is to save the lives of unborn children, who have inalienable rights to those lives, why not reduce demand and restrict supply both?

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:37 AM | Comments (7)

May 1, 2004

An Anti-War Hat Trick

Gabriel Rosenberg commented to my post about the prison photos as follows, in part:

It seems to me that Goldberg is implying that since there was no need to influence government action, there was no need to run the photos. That seems rather odd to me. I don't think influencing government action should be the primary objective of the news media. Rather it should be to report the news. Now that requires making quite subjective decisions of what is news and how to tell the news story.

Actually, I took Goldberg to be applying the sabotage aspect of his comment to whomever handed them to the press to begin with. As for CBS, the point is that, barring some ethical requirement — like exposing a cover-up — its decision to publish is, as Rosenberg subsequently suggests, a prudential matter. In this case, I think the network made the wrong decision, one that will have a cost in both money and lives.

And, indeed, Goldberg has clarified along these lines. He also mentioned something that I'll look into if I have the time (which I probably won't):

CBS had a wide range of options available to it. It chose to do the (second) most sensational thing it could (apparently they had the pictures a while ago and held off at the army's request pending an investigation. Couldn't they have held off longer, pending a trial?) They deserve no praise and they cannot claim they had no choice.

The interesting part is in parentheses. The decision to hold off may very well have been out of courtesy, or even as part of some deal with the military, and I don't know that I'm prepared to attribute this level of coordination of anti-war activity in the media. But still, all in one batch, we've got these pictures, the Fallujah "pull out," and Ted Koppel's roll call of death. If I were trying to define a war effort as an echo of Vietnam, presenting these three events in close proximity couldn't hurt.

During sweeps. While the Democrat candidate's campaign is beginning to flag.

Gabriel Rosenberg has pasted the following in the comment section of this post:

Two weeks ago, 60 Minutes II received an appeal from the Defense Department, and eventually from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, to delay this broadcast -- given the danger and tension on the ground in Iraq.

60 Minutes II decided to honor that request, while pressing for the Defense Department to add its perspective to the incidents at Abu Ghraib prison. This week, with the photos beginning to circulate elsewhere, and with other journalists about to publish their versions of the story, the Defense Department agreed to cooperate in our report.

He doesn't provide a link; I'll look into it when/if I have a chance.

Dr. Rosenberg has placed two relevant links in the comments section. The second, to a piece by William Scott Malone, has the more interesting angle:

But it was Rather's rather disingenuous statement at the end of the segment that set many tongues a wag. As Rather explained it, "with other journalists about to publish their versions of the story, the Defense Department agreed to cooperate in our report." Perhaps true enough on its face, but it was CBS News who had approached Hersh about the story in the first place.

In essence, Rather and crew played it rather well, pointing to "other journalists" as the cause for Gen. Myers to relent not only on his "appeal [for a] delay," as Rather carefully phrased it, but to provide the anchorman with an exclusive satellite interview with the deputy coalition commander, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmit about the abuse allegations in Bagdhad.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:59 PM | Comments (4)
News Media

News to Turn the Nation

Joe Mariani, of Guardian WatchBlog thinks the news media is intent on breaking the stubborn will of the American people to support the President along the many fronts in the War on Terror:

It wasn't enough for the Left when the "mainstream" media made it a point to include the daily US soldier body count from Iraq in every news report in every medium. It wasn't enough when they unapologetically added the number of those killed in accidents in Iraq -- which, frankly, could have happened almost anywhere -- to those killed in combat, just to inflate the American body count further. It wasn't enough for the Left that, for the last half of 2003, the media talking heads almost gleefully announced a second daily Iraq soldier body count, with the tagline, "since President Bush declared major combat over on May first." Support for the liberation of Iraq from dictator Saddam Hussein remained strong, despite the best efforts of the Left to instill an anti-war attitude into every viewer.

Mariani notes various turns of strategy in this effort. Similarly, John Hawkins suggests that it's a pattern of behavior that leads a large portion of the American audience to be suspicious to the point of anger of Ted Koppel's lament-the-lives special:

Put simply, there are a lot of people, myself, who think the left leaning media's coverage of this war has been, largely for political and ideological reasons, lopsided to the point of being despicable. Remembering the lives ended and forever altered by the war is important, but obsessively playing up every life lost, every problem, and dramatically exaggerating every negative while either ignoring or downplaying the reasoning behind the war, what we're trying to do, and all the positive things that have been accomplished, should in no way, shape, or form, be considered to be objectively "reporting the news".

Hawkins believes that a non-sweeps-week production by Brit Hume would be received differently. Mariani asks why the casualties from Afghanistan aren't included in the honor roll. Me, I wonder if anybody in Koppel's crew considered splitting the screen to show pictures of smiling Iraqi children, a captured Saddam Hussein, or soldiers at work helping with reconstruction. The basic idea — names and faces, in this case — doesn't really convey the message of a thing. Presentation, author, and context do that.

Lane Core says the same, with reference to the President's belief that the media does not represent the public:

Journalism is politics by another name. The idea that "the press" represents "the people" is, and always was, smoke & mirrors. The press isn't objective; the press was never objective. The press, in its various manifestations, represents only those people who happen to agree with it. ...

If you follow a story in mainstream media and in conservative media, you'd often be tempted to think they're covering two different stories, the facts presented are so different and their presentation so different.

I agree with Lane that there's nothing wrong with this state of affairs, as long as one can turn to varying sources and find each reasonably explicit about its angle. In fact, that's ultimately a more effective way to dig through to the reality, because the contrast highlights which facts are identical (objectively true), similar (somewhat debatable), or conflicting (subjectively layered).

Of course, the mainstream media will guard the "objective" label on its door like a foreign hooker guards a clean statement of health. For one thing, admitting to partisanship lessens the target demographic (on paper, at least). For another, if the biases were well delineated, there would no longer be plausible deniability or basis for outrage when people point out which side of a dispute, controversy, or war each version of a story helps.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:54 PM | Comments (1)
News Media

Iconography in the Media's Hands

Sheila Lennon writes about those disturbing pictures of American soldiers humiliating Iraqi prisoners. She focuses on the wired man on the box:

There are more photos, and video, but this one photo above -- part scarecrow, part crucifixion -- is the one that sticks. Like the photo of the fleeing girl, her clothes burned off by napalm in Vietnam, it will be the icon for the Iraq war.

Terror? Can the person perched on that box, told he would die if aching muscles give way, be feeling anything else?

The icon for the Iraq war? Only if the members of the media strive to make it so. Only if they discard all those compelling pictures of liberation and falling statues. Only if they never bother to publish pictures of those large sections of Iraq returning to a state of life and freedom that they haven't known since the elders were children. Note Lennon's language: it will be. Not could or might, but will.

The despicable acts of a handful of idiotic soldiers — somewhere around one one-millionth of the total force — have unforgivably given these aging Boomers exactly what they wanted: hope that they can once again defeat the United States military. Pictures of Ba'athist prisoners. Pictures of coffins. Pictures like this one currently on the Providence Journal's main page:

Click on the picture and the next headline softens the message: "Marines Hand Over Positions in Fallujah." Read about two-thirds through the article, after relation of some incidents in other cities and a tally of casualties in April, and the reality shifts a little bit more:

Under the plan, a force of 600 to 1,100 Iraqis, many of them former soldiers from the Fallujah area, are to man checkpoints inside of the city. Marines will remain on or near the city's perimeter and at a later stage conduct their own patrols inside the city.

The fact that the withdrawal, such as it is, and the revelation of those photographs have hit the news at the same moment in time is unfortunate indeed. God help us if the media wins its war.

Jonah Goldberg's comments raise a worthwhile point:

I don't blame 60 Minutes for running them -- though I don't applaud them either. But a person would/could be morally obligated to leak these pictures if the army was covering it up or refusing to investigate. It doesn't sound like that was the case. So releasing the photos isn't prodding the government to do the right thing, it's encouraging millions of Arabs to hate us. That's not whistle-blowing, that's sabotage.

Interesting how reporters pick what numbers to disclose and highlight. The Baltimore Sun piece by Ariel Sabar that Lennon quotes offers only the following numbers:

The Army said yesterday that 14 of the 17 soldiers implicated in an investigation of abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison are from the 372nd. They face either criminal or administrative charges.

In contrast, an AP piece by Salah Nasrawi offers the following:

Six U.S. soldiers facing courts-martial in the abuse allegations have been reassigned in Iraq. Their boss, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, and at least seven others have been suspended from their duties at Abu Ghraib, the U.S. military said.

The six seem to be the central group responsible, and although details are scarce, it would seem reasonable to guess that most of the others either knew of it at the time or found out later and are being punished for not reporting it (or similar offenses). In other words, if it's true that only the six were directly involved, the Sun almost triples the impression of the extent by making reference — without breaking down the numbers — to those "implicated." (That's assuming that the 17 figure came from a reliable source.) On this basis, Lennon declares an emblem to have been born.

Six soldiers out of a group that's currently 138,089 Americans strong. Think of the power of a handful of soldiers to tar the United States! The blame for the disproportionate damage rests centrally with the soldiers, but there's plenty of culpability for exaggerating the incident — declaring it representative, even iconic — to go around.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:15 AM | Comments (5)
News Media

Politicians Without Conscience

Okay, let's get one thing straight. In our system of government, citizens vote for a certain number of representatives, depending upon where they live and what governing body they're voting to fill. Those leaders then vote and otherwise create the laws under which we all live. Unless I've failed to notice it across the decades of my citizenship, there is nothing in the Constitution or the law that dictates what criteria or areas of thought legislators must utilize in deciding their votes. Let me write that again as a blockquote, in italics, bold:

There is nothing in the Constitution or the law that dictates what criteria or areas of thought legislators must utilize in deciding their votes.

If a Muslim politician wishes to align his votes with the demands of the Koran, that is no less objectively valid than an atheist politician's aligning his votes with the policy recommendations of an Ivy League research panel. It may be less valid to voters, but that's why we vote. As long as the Muslim doesn't seek to write the Koran specifically into the law as the determinant thereof or hand legislation over to its clerics, there is no problem.

Do you scoff? Then imagine a legislator declaring that the Ivy League panel would henceforth determine all laws. Does the ridiculous nature of that policy suggestion mean that the politician's source should never be consulted?

Now, one can disagree with the Catholic Church's position on abortion. One can even disagree with the Catholic Church's internal derivation of that position. Such a person would be wrong in both respects, but we are free to be wrong. However, I have lost patience with the argument that it violates some objective principle that the Church declares pro-abortion politicians to be out of communion with their Church and, therefore, not appropriately situated to take Communion.

The straw that sparked this comment was the following from Francis Porretto (emphasis in original):

But it is a lawmaker's sworn duty to argue and vote as he deems best for his nation. That's the burden of office. That's the price of its prestige and perquisites. For anyone to make that burden worse in an attempt to coerce the lawmaker into changing his position against the dictates of his conscience is deplorable. It is morally unacceptable.

It's true that Porretto begins his post by conceding that the Church is "nominally within its rights." But if exercising those rights is to engage in something "morally unacceptable," his disclaimer seems to have little more weight than to state the obvious: that nobody among the hierarchy will be arrested for making such declarations or even acting on them. Moreover, by Porretto's calculus, voting or not voting for a politician based on policy is, itself, morally unacceptable.

Porretto moves on to the reason that the controversy over Kerry and the Eucharist concerns him, even though the Church is acting within its rights (emphasis in original):

But with Cardinal Arinze's pronouncement, we approach a new and ugly turn. We confront the use of the Sacraments themselves to bend elected Catholic lawmakers to their will, by threatening them with amputation from the Mystical Body of Christ, regardless of how well they have cleaved to Church teaching as individuals.

Abortion is not the only subject on which democratic assemblies have diverged from Church teaching.

A whiff of theocratic ambition hangs in the air. It's not pleasant. It recalls Christendom's buried memories of smoldering flesh and charred bones.

Firstly, as I noted in a hastily written comment to a post on Michael Williams's blog, Porretto makes the rather large presumption that the only blameworthy component is the abortion itself. At the very least, such a consistent advocate for abortion rights as John Kerry has facilitated the practice. In doing so, Kerry has taken himself out of Communion, and it is for the benefit of his own soul to present him with a stark moral choice. From what basis does he form his "conscience" if not his faith?

That John F. Kennedy promised to keep his Catholicism so distinct from his Presidency does not mean that he created a legal principle that all Catholic politicians must thereafter follow. If the hierarchical nature of the Church makes it more difficult for a Catholic to claim an office, then perhaps it's better all around that he loses the election.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:36 AM | Comments (8)