June 30, 2004

Shrinking from Death

In the way ideas and life seem often to interact, it just so happened that the very week that I began to find a profound thread in the still-jumbled topic of radical life extension, I witnessed the birth of my second daughter and received news that an acquaintance (not close) of about my age was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia and immediately lost her summer prospects to similarly aggressive treatment.

To be sure, while looking through glass at a roomful of newborns, a parent would prefer to have more pleasant thoughts in his head than this:

There will be progressively fewer children around, but we'll get used to that just as easily as we got used to wearing these absurd rubber contraptions whenever we have sex just in order to avoid having too many kids once infant mortality wasn't culling them any more.

That absurdly disturbing prediction is one aspect of what life will be like in a world of "indefinite lifespans," according to Cambridge University biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey in an interview with Glenn Reynolds. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that a man who believes that children and condomless sex are of equal social significance can nonchalantly declare that life, for an immortal society, "will be very much the same as now... except without the frail people."

Upon reflection, the unpleasant dissonance of such thoughts while pain-faced women shuffled past, with rattled men hovering around most of them as if ready to, at any instant, dive for a catch, was an echo from my self-loathing atheist days. Since we are all doomed to die, the dark thought went, it is ultimately birth that kills us; parents bring their children into the world condemning them to a life spent in knowledge that, eventually, they will cease to be. But what if we come to believe that birth into this world does not require death from it? Well, then we get this sort of thinking:

my universal response to all the arguments against curing [aging] is simple: don't tell me it'll cause us problems, tell me that it'll cause us problems so severe that it's preferable to sit back and send 100,000 people to their deaths every single day, forever. If you can't make a case that the problems outweigh 100,000 deaths a day, don't waste my time.

It ceases to be the nature of life that causes death. Rather, those who prevent, or even impede, the search for the Fountain of Youth become the cause of death. So thoroughly does this frame of mind set in that de Grey feels justified in sweeping away all objections. It isn't even a matter worthy of moral consideration. It isn't even a question. The next step in this logic would be, for example, to state that a presidential administration that stands in the way of funding for such research is thereby sending 146 million people to their deaths, owing to the four-year delay.

This — one needn't be a theologian or novelist to see — is a fanatical religion awaiting adherents. Not only are the claims of other faiths soul-destroyingly wrong, but they are ridiculous superstitions to believe. (To the Orthodox Intellectual, superstition is the sign of the infidel.) "Once [people] realise that we may be able to reach escape velocity within 20-30 years, all these silly reasons people currently present for why it's not a good idea will evaporate overnight." Although I believe de Grey dramatically overestimates the number of converts that he can expect from other religions, I've no doubt that many among the irreligious, or mildly religious materialists, will rush to the laboratory-table alter. When its promise draws near:

The only way to have a sense of proportion about this period is to remember that it'll be the last chapter in what we can definitely call the War On Aging -- people worldwide will readily make the same sort of sacrifices that they make in wartime, in order to end the slaughter as soon as possible.

In context, de Grey is talking about the "staggering" cost of providing "rejuvenation therapies" to everybody, rich and poor, but money isn't the only sacrifice that people make during wartime, and the "War On Aging" won't be purely against a fact of nature. If people are willing to kill to secure a salvation that they must take on faith, how much more extreme will their drive be when salvation is from the necessity of death? Imagine the rabid desperation of people who think there's a clock to beat before eternal life becomes eternal oblivion. Even if nobody stands directly in the way of the research, the pent-up desire will make for a powerful weapon, no matter the ulterior motive for wielding it.

If de Grey's comments are any indication, passions will further be stoked through hints of utopia. Beyond the optimistic view that "adult education" will be adequate occupation to make "life never get boring" (which, if it does nothing else, stands as an example of the academic's myopia), de Grey further prognosticates:

Another important difference, I'm convinced, is that there will be much less violence, whether it be warfare or serious crime, because life will be much more valued when it's so much more under or control.

Broadly speaking, to begin with, will life in fact be "much more valued"? My experience has been that things under our control are more apt to be taken for granted. By this, I mean that the fact of life going on and on will be the norm; people will keep a white-knuckle grip on their own mortality, but the sense of life's preciousness will dull. When natural causes take the lives of the young, we ache more not necessarily because a higher number of years have been lost, but because the death was less to be expected. What our collective view will be when death is never to be expected may not be as easy to predict as it would seem.

It could be that the end of natural deaths will mean that people who don't value others' lives at all will gain control over them; murder may become much more frightening a threat when its outcome isn't inevitable anyway. Violent people, inasmuch as they can be understood in a general way, don't seem to care whether their victims are 20 or 80, so the length of life deprived is not a deterrent. Moreover, a certain dementia will surely be exacerbated when people all ages have a teenager's sense of mortality. And who will risk his own life to save others' when the sacrifice is eternity?

Warfare only translates these difficulties to a grander scale. Won't tyrants perceive this new weakness? When one can tally infinite years in a currency of pills, the barrel of a gun or, for that matter, blockage of the medication will see a rise in premium. Experience and history both teach that people will always exist who do not value life; the advantage of that distinction will only increase to correspond to everybody else's clinging to it.

It may be, I'll concede, that violence will become somewhat less alluring among the general population when it is more a reminder, rather than a distraction and defiance, of lingering mortality. Still, one need only look around modern society to see the possibility that killings would simply become antiseptic and, therefore, forgettable. After all, even now, we kill those with the most life ahead of them and call it a "procedure."

Having laid all this out, I finally come to the aforementioned thread of profundity, and although it has the darkest implications, it also brings a whiff of hope. The apostles of this new religion have found a mythology and symbolism in Nick Bostrom's piece in The Journal of Medical Ethics called "The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant":

Once upon a time, the planet was tyrannized by a giant dragon. The dragon stood taller than the largest cathedral, and it was covered with thick black scales. Its red eyes glowed with hate, and from its terrible jaws flowed an incessant stream of evil-smelling yellowish-green slime. It demanded from humankind a blood-curdling tribute: to satisfy its enormous appetite, ten thousand men and women had to be delivered every evening at the onset of dark to the foot of the mountain where the dragon-tyrant lived. Sometimes the dragon would devour these unfortunate souls upon arrival; sometimes again it would lock them up in the mountain where they would wither away for months or years before eventually being consumed.

That brought to mind another dragon, one who brings forth a beast from the sea and heals the beast to rule over men, who precedes a great whore of a city as well as another beast, an echo of the dragon, about whom it is said:

The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come.

To be honest, I can't help but feel that the modern version of the quest for eternal life on Earth is yet another hopeless endeavor. We don't know what we don't know. Will we get far enough that people will be astonished at a return of death? Or will the prophets of this new religion work enough miraculous signs to enthrall some number of people to wreak another shameful era for humanity and then fade away into history?

Whatever the case, my religion suggests that catastrophe must precede salvation, and that we must eventually choose between either:

Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.


They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
Posted by Justin Katz at 7:51 PM | Comments (10)

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:54 AM

Gambling on Gambling

Gambling, of itself, isn't sinful as far as I'm concerned. Yes, having a somewhat addictive personality, I've noticed the aftertaste of the temptation that it represents. Yes, the first notable scene that I came across upon entering Foxwoods Casino's parking lot in Connecticut when I was in college was an older couple — cusp of retirement, I'd say — crying in each other's arms.

Still, a night of roulette, blackjack, and slot machines, with a reasonable expense cap, isn't wrong or corrosive in the way that a night costing the same amount at a brothel would be. For some patrons, the all-you-can-eat buffet is the more seductive opportunity for excess.

So, I've been more or less ambivalent about the matter of allowing a Rhode Island tribe to build a casino on its land. For one thing, I know families that have suffered the consequences of a gambling addiction facilitated by just the Jai Alai enterprise in Newport, so any state policy toward a full-blown casino can't stand on anti-gambling principle. If the objection is to the greater draw that a casino would have, then it seems to me that regulating size is the logical answer.

For another thing, as much as I don't believe gambling to be an undeniable sin, I'm not comfortable with governments' seeing it as a source of revenue. Whether or not a casino yields a public profit seems to me irrelevant to the yes/no question of whether one ought to be allowed in the state. Of course, as Marc Comtois points out, Connecticut is finding that its casinos are expensive for the surrounding areas. This, however, seems another cause for creative regulation, to pass the expenses on to the company. Making area security, road repair, and adequate employee housing and education direct costs of doing business would prevent shuffling of the bill to local communities that receive inadequate reimbursement from the state government, which collects the revenue.

Perhaps the strongest argument against a casino is that it would attract a bad element from elsewhere and would concentrate Rhode Island's homegrown hoodlums. To be honest, I'm not sure that this wouldn't be true of any major attraction, regardless of its nature. Moreover, I was amazed at the distance that Foxwoods-goers had to travel through town roads to find the joint, so it could be that choice of location and direct access to a highway would answer most of the concerns of nearby towns.

It's probably a flippant attitude to take, but I have to admit amusement at the degree to which this issue traps various parties — many already corrupt — in their own decisions. From what I understand, other gambling facilities have been buying not just legitimacy, but special deals from the state's politicians. For its part, beyond the addiction to revenue from gambling in the form of lotteries endemic among states, Rhode Island has mainlined its fixes from Jai Alai and the Lincoln Park dog track. On top of this must be layered the strange arrangements that America and its states have made with Indian tribes over the centuries.

So, ultimately, I agree with Marc that it is for the people of Rhode Island to decide whether they want a casino to be a partially defining aspect of their state. And it's for the various parties to either regulate or find ways to compete as they're able. Which way I'll vote, I'm not yet sure. Allowing a casino could prove to be a bitter pill of disruption that will help to knock the state back on track.

Sorry if this post isn't as strong and/or clear as it probably should be. As you can tell, I'm still working out my thoughts.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:59 AM | Comments (6)

June 29, 2004

Putting Off Aging

I have a whole post on the move to negate human aging that's been ready to spill out of my noggin for days. I had hoped to do the tipping tonight, but I'm just too tired. Tomorrow... maybe...

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:39 PM
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Redefining and Refusing Nature

Increasingly, the comments to my posts make for better reading than the ramblings to which they append. Such was most definitely the case with yesterday's post about the lack of Christian and conservative engagement in the same-sex marriage battle. The comment debate's interest is largely attributable to the response of Chuck Anziulewicz, and although I'm not sure from whence he came, I'm glad he found his way here with sufficient concern to express his disagreement.

Disagreement on this topic tends to wear a circular rut in the discourse, and tempers rise with each lap. However, Chuck's latest volley stands as evidence that this needn't be the case — that a bit of civility and consideration can move the worn topic to another level. Meriting a spun-off thread, Chuck writes:

As for my life with my partner Greg, I think God understands my heart, mind, and motivations better than any self-appointed moral guardian, and for Him to summarily condemn the joy we have in our commitment to each other seems completely illogical by any remotely human standard.

I am committed Greg, as he is to me. We are both Gay; our mutually shared sexual orientation is as fundamental to our emotional and biological makeup as liking food. We were fortunate enough to have been introduced to each other five years ago (June 29, 1999) by friends who felt that we would be compatible, and sure enough, we are. Since we both take a rather conservative approach to love and relationships, we are monogamous and avoid situations in which we might be tempted to stray. Greg is my love, my life, and my inspiration; he seems to feel the same way about me.

HOWEVER: For the more conservative Christians, none of this matters. There are no moral distinctions to be made between promiscuous Gay men as opposed to couples such as us. It's all simply wrong, wrong, wrong. The Scriptures, they inform me, are clear on this matter: That no matter how righteously I conduct my life, if I remain unapologetic for maintaining my committment to my spouse, God will most assuredly damn me to an eternity of withering punishment.

To avoid this, I am told, Greg & I must end our relationship. We need to put an end to our love for and committment to each other. Gay relationships are simply out of the question, case closed. My spiritual redemption is at stake.

MY CHOICE: Either to continue to do well and good by my spouse, to continue to do everything I can to ensure Greg's happiness and the joy we share in each other's company ... OR to avoid the eternal torments of Hell.

Since the latter of the two seems rather selfish, I'll stay with Greg, thank you very much. No Supreme Being comprehensible by me would punish what we have together. And any God that would punish us because we have chosen to honor our love and committment to each other is not a God that I would wish to ally myself with.

This view of God, although common, resonates like an odd blend of New Age relativism and Book of Judges rejectionism. It's a romantic cliché, in our times, to say such things as "if this is wrong, I don't want to be right," but Chuck might as well have refused to "ally" himself with a notion of biology that renders exhilarating free falls dangerous.

His conclusion is embedded in his premises, so he doesn't adequately weigh the possibility that those "conservative Christians" are actually right. If God is not a therapeutic intellectual device to be constructed, but rather an aspect of reality to be understood, then Chuck's choice could be cataclysmically false. It isn't between ensuring Greg's happiness and feeling the promise of Heaven. Instead, in fulfilling his apparent definition of worldly "well and good" for Greg, he condemns them both.

But that isn't the whole story; Chuck and Greg can secure both the joy that they "share in each other's company" and salvation. They just have to develop a relationship that isn't sexual. Why that should be so — why the seemingly simple pleasure of physical gratification should be an intimacy too far — I don't know. I'm not making up God on the fly to accord with my prejudices, but interpreting revelation, experience, and thought.

We'll probably all agree that love and commitment aren't bad, in God's eyes. Per se, they are unmitigatedly good. However, that's precisely why distortion of their expression is so objectionable. Who would knowingly reject God if sin were tied to sharp, immediate pain? If one believes, as I do, that Hell is self-inflicted, who would choose it if he didn't think he was pursuing something pure, like love?

"Ally," in Chuck's usage, means nothing less than a refusal to believe in God as most Christians believe Him to be. If Christians are right, and if we see God as the One who is rather than the "one I choose," then Chuck has made himself an example — the logic — of how expression of homosexuality expands toward rejection of God, the choice of Hell.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:51 PM | Comments (36)

Moore and More Deception

How much dishonesty is packed into Fahrenheit 9/11? So much that it is spilling out into coverage and opinions about the movie. Here's "film historian and former Journal reporter" Bob Leddy writing in the Providence Journal:

Conservatives hope that the whole Michael Moore business will dissipate in the national atmosphere of short attention spans. And anyway, the film will be seen only by those who already hew to Moore's politics, right? "There's only a very small percentage of Americans that are going to go and see this movie," said David Bossie, head of a conservative group called Citizens United.

Well, maybe. ...

As a movie event, Fahrenheit 9/11 is the real deal, the likes of which were not equaled even by Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. On the first day of its national release (on fewer than 900 screens), Fahrenheit 9/11 took in $8 million. The figure had tripled by the close of the opening weekend.

Note that, grammatically, it is the "movie event" that was "not equaled even by" The Passion. Naturally, the reader wonders what the measure of realdealdom is, and most writers will satisfy that curiosity by offering explanation in the subsequent sentence. At first glance, one might believe Leddy to have done just that, but if his measure is first-day gross, Moore's film would have made the top 10 list, because Passion currently sits at #10, with $26,556,573. That number, by the way, puts Gibson's film at #3 on the list for films that opened on a Wednesday. (Fahrenheit opened Friday.) As for Moore's movie tripling in revenue — well, almost tripling, to $23.9 million — for opening weekend, well, so did Gibson's (and then some), which took in $83.8 million, Friday to Sunday.

The best I can figure, giving Mr. Leddy (an expert, after all) the benefit of the doubt, and seeing how oddly impressed he is that Moore could rack up those figures "on fewer than 900 screens," he might have been comparing Moore's $27,558 per-theater average to Gibson's $27,554. Or something.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:56 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

Songs You Should Know 06/29/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Hasidic Surf" 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 "Hasidic Surf" a listen, and maybe even pick up a copy of Beyond Words from Confidence Place.

"Hasidic Surf," Mozaik, Psychedelic Jewgrass
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Beyond Words

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:31 AM

June 28, 2004

Competitive Dating

Leveraging her perspective as a coastal, urban, lawyer, Christian woman, Kimberly of IrishLaw has taken up the online conversation concerning what women want in men (and why they aren't finding it). One issue that Kimberly notes as false is the notion of competition: "If men embody traditionally masculine virtues, that must threaten women's ability to also be successful, independent, and strong." This dynamic within the job marketplace nicely encapsulates a matter of society-wide self-deception: if masculine qualities are thought to make for success, those qualities must be suppressed as a factor among men and encouraged among women.

One of my wife's friends, arguably the most attractive among them, considers herself to be in competition with men to a sometimes ridiculous degree. A running half-joke between us, for a few years, was that she intended to beat me in an arm wrestle. For that to have ever been possible, either I would have had to deteriorate beyond recognition, or she would have had to take extreme biological measures, destroying much of what is feminine in her physique. (She claimed to have beaten sturdy men in the past, but she blushed when I wondered aloud how many had asked for her phone number afterwards.) It may be harder to admit, because it's easier to deny, but surely this general difference isn't limited to physical attributes.

My anecdote isn't meant to suggest that men don't exist whom my wife's friend couldn't best palm-to-palm, nor that there aren't women who could beat me. Similarly, most careers don't lend themselves exclusively to one gender or another. However, they may require qualities that come more naturally to men or to women. We've grown accustomed to wincing at the notion that our sex or gender might affect who we are in ways that, in turn, limit some choices, but what we seem to have overlooked in inculcating this reflex is that limiting choices can mean expanding others.

In reverse, the more-constructive question isn't whether women can out-male men, but whether womanhood can be made an asset. As Kimberly writes:

Women can be feminine and still be strong and independent; men can be masculine and not threaten the success of others... Was there a way to just be successful women and not act like men? Is there a way for men not to fall into the stereotypes of promiscuity, or the faux confidence of the metrosexual, and be good men?

It's a matter of developing ourselves as who we are, rather than redefining who we ought to be. Therefore, Kimberly puts her finger directly on the problem with an insight that didn't occur to me in this context (whether because of gender or personality is up for debate):

The difficulty, of course, anymore is that it's hard to find the right models for how to be confident women and honorable men. Children who grow up without fathers desperately lack role models for how to become real men, and no matter how loving mothers are or how hard they work, it's hard for women to provide that model.

Mothers and fathers can, through effort, diminish the detrimental effects of a child's lacking a parental mirror, but at parents' incalculably subtle degree of influence, women aren't as naturally suited to the occupation of fatherhood, and vice versa. And it is this very subtlety — indescribable, but detectable — that seems to be the certain something that the questing singles have been at a loss to articulate. In other words, dating and its shifting difficulties, although often portrayed as frivolous, connect with our individual and collective essences.

Hugo Schwyzer, whose thoughts I found via Marriage Debate blog, adds another piece toward comprehension of these tumbling matters of gender, parenthood, friendship, competition, and attraction:

Opposite sex friendships are especially appealing to the young, and not merely because they often offer the "spice" of sexual attraction. What is most appealing is the freedom from the competition and the judgment that so many young men and women feel in the presence of their same-gender peers. But invariably, those who have no close friends of their own sex feel at a loss at certain critical life points. In order to lead healthy lives, we have to work to overcome our own fears about being judged by those of our same sex. We're going to need folks beside us who know what it is like to live incarnate as a man or a woman. What makes me a man is more than my Y chromosome and my genitalia -- it is a thousand thoughts, feelings, experiences that so many of my brothers know so well. Men need each other, desperately.

And if there is one thing I have come to know with near-certainty, it is that men who have other men (not just boys) in their lives to love them and hold them accountable make much better husbands and lovers, fathers and brothers to the women around them.

In that respect, one might justifiably suggest that Kimberly's (and my) appeal to Christ as a male role model is partly, or especially, necessary in a world of androgynous wishful thinking in the service of lust and egos. Far from diminishing the Divine Role Model to a sort of second best, this observation provides some explanation for why there is so much overlap between traditional and religious. If we follow our roles — our callings — to the fullest extent, we will naturally complement each other, and our material world will naturally complement the spiritual one to which we've been so busy building barriers. We deny this, as we have for decades, at our peril.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:02 PM | Comments (5)

Humanity Quantized: A Presidential Candidate "Rocks"

If it stands as an indication that political inclinations can seep into the work of music journalists, John Jurgensen's "In his youth, John Kerry could rock" is also evidence that the two combine poorly:

Forget the photo ops on the snowboard, the hockey skates, the Harley. Never mind the shaggy visage of the rebel Vietnam vet. If John Kerry's supporters still need to prove that their candidate isn't a stiff-necked square, maybe they should be blaring "Guitar Boogie Shuffle" at top volume.

Whether or not this comment applies to Jurgensen, I don't get the impression that Kerry's supporters — at least those not encouraging him to stay out of the spotlight altogether — understand their guy's problem. It's as if they've all succumbed to the blindness whereby the dork doesn't understand that aping Cool exacerbates the image he seeks to dispell. (Believe me, I speak from experience on this one.)

Look at the group picture that introduces his old band's cashing-in Web site; he's the stiffest of a generally stiff bunch. Listen to his bass intro to "You Can't Sit Down" (MP3), which sounds as if it has been badly quantized. As band member Larry Rand (guitar) recalls:

He describes a young Kerry in terms that all of the candidate's acquaintances seem to use: determined, serious, studious.

"We did want him to loosen up, but I'm not sure we were applying that to John Kerry specifically," Rand says. "We were applying that to all of us."

At least on the snowboard, John Kerry could get down.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:19 AM | Comments (1)

Preparing for the Blizzard in August

Chuck Colson wonders why citizens, particularly Christian citizens, aren't being more vocal about same-sex marriage:

I think some don't really believe this is such a critical battle. To them I can only say—wake up and pay attention. This issue has the potential to redefine and, ultimately, to destroy the institution of marriage in this country—and with marriage goes the family. You can't ignore this.

But there are other Christians who recognize the importance of the battle over same-sex "marriage" but are still not speaking up. For many of them, I think the problem is a lack of faith.

Now, that may sound harsh, but I can't think of a better way to put it. A lot of Christians—even some of our most prominent leaders—seem to have succumbed to a "What's the use?" attitude. They believe that the cultural climate has turned so much against us that we'll never be able to stop the advance of same-sex "marriage." And they have heard that we don't have the votes to pass a constitutional amendment in this session of Congress—so they don't even want to urge the House and Senate to vote. Some Christian commentators have sounded a defeatist note.

The factors that Colson names are certainly in effect, as conservative writers Cal Thomas and Max Boot have proven. But I'd suggest that the issue is still distant for most. Whether they are turning away from ickiness or finding it difficult to get their heads around the bizarre shifts of the modern world, most people just don't have a sense that the news is real and that it will have real effects. Imagine trying to explain winter to people who have only known summer; you might find it difficult to convince them to buy snowsuits while they are available at a discount.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:51 AM | Comments (19)
Marriage & Family

The Economics of Bias

Bruce Bartlett has given some thought to the economic aspect of liberal media bias. This isn't representative of the breadth of the piece, but it begins to formulate a response to the economic "proof" that the media isn't too liberal:

Economic theory says that conservative news outlets should have come into existence to serve that market. However, Prof. Daniel Sutter of the University of Oklahoma points out that there are severe barriers to entry into the news business that make it very difficult to start a new newspaper or television network, thus allowing liberal bias to perpetuate itself.

Another answer comes from a study by Prof. David Baron of Stanford. He theorizes that profit-maximizing corporations tolerate liberal bias because it allows them to pay lower wages to liberal journalists. By being allowed to exercise their bias, they are willing to accept less pay than they would demand if they were in a business where bias was not tolerated. Conservatives are perhaps less willing to pay such a financial price.

I'm not so sure about that last sentence. To my limited experience, there are plenty of conservative writers who would pay that price were the offer on the table. Baron's point, it seems to me, is more of an extension of Sutter's. The bias is ingrained among the newsie folks, and the business folks let it remain thus not just because it enables lower wages, but perhaps more because a battle between the administrative and content departments would be hugely disruptive. (I'm sure there is also aversion to shifting an outlet's "voice" too quickly.)

Chris Muir's got cartoon commentary related to this topic.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:47 AM | Comments (1)
News Media

A Growing Call for Usefulness

The Providence Journal ran, last Wednesday, an editorial drawing attention to atrocities in Sudan. Hopefully, its attention is indication that we're in a transitional stage of public awareness that will eventually lead to some form of action. This part — emphasis added — is particularly refreshing:

the United States must shame fellow U.N. members about their cavalier attitude toward Third World genocide, to obtain a resolution warning Khartoum of economic and other consequences if it fails to stop the murder and open Darfur to international humanitarian aid. The United States should also try to persuade the African Union to send forces to protect Darfur refugees from roving Arab militias.

In dire human-rights situations, the United Nations is often useless. Darfur represents a chance for the U.N. -- and the United States -- to integrate rights rhetoric with reality: to cast off a double standard and raise the quality of international relations. It's even more important, right now, than the Gaza Strip...

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:44 AM
International Affairs

The Subtext Revealed

Don't miss Bill's interview with Andrew Sullivan on INDC Journal (even if it doesn't strike you as something in which you'd be interested).

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:42 AM | Comments (1)

June 26, 2004

The Days of the Dad

Apologies for the lack of posts. As you can imagine, things are a bit hectic just now — probably more so than I've indicated. Over the past couple of days, I've barely had time to think; in the days and weeks coming up, I'll have plenty of time to think, but not as much to sit at a computer to write.

This Weekend
We'll be bringing home the baby this morning and will hopefully not discover that we aren't as prepared as we'd thought. At the same time, I've got the usual weekend chores to do. (Although, with the backyard dug up for a new septic system in some places and heavy machinery to do the digging in other places, at least the mowing is minimized.)

On top of that, I didn't get to work as much as I wanted, yesterday, so I'll have some catching up to do before Monday. And something came back to me for final edits (you'll see), which I promised to make before the weekend came to a close.

Lastly, at some point this evening, I hope to take the dog for a nice long walk. Maybe then, he can stop looking at me so dolefully.

This Week
It looks like we'll be closing on the house this Wednesday, which was, after all, the day named in the contract. I've taken a couple of weeks off work in the hopes that it'll leave sufficient time to prepare the house for our arrival — getting done the necessary tasks, such as painting and laying carpet in the playroom, and accomplishing other projects that would be more difficult in a house that's occupied. In other words, I'll be engaging the sorts of activity that leave much mental capacity for thought, but keep the hands away from the keyboard. (Which need only mean that the ideas will spill out all the more rapidly when I finally sit down.)

And Beyond
Hopefully, we'll be settled in time for me to start a new job. (The "hopefully" applies both to the settling and to the job.) While the additional work is looking likely to be part time — bringing my overall schedule to full time — through the summer, autumn will bring sixty-hour work weeks.

Which is all to say that I'll be pretty busy for the foreseeable future. Counterbalancing, I hope, will be the fact that the various contingencies of my family's life will be settled to an extent that we haven't yet experienced. Once the foreseeable future is, well, foreseeable, I intend to sit down and list, prioritize, schedule, and plan to keep everything moving along toward my long-term goals. Blogging, it perhaps isn't necessary to tell other bloggers and readers of blogs, will certainly be a part of the daily itinerary.

In closing, I'd like to note that there's still time for somebody to provide me with a sufficiently large stipend to preclude the necessity of non-writing labor. (Hey, you never know who's out there.) Whatever the case, I thank you all for reading — a gift that lays a foundation of motivation for all that I do.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:09 AM | Comments (2)
Diary & Confession

June 24, 2004

Where I've Been Today

8 pounds, 11 ounces, 20 inches

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:46 PM | Comments (18)
Diary & Confession

June 23, 2004

What's in a Scandal Story

Over among the comments on Domenico Bettinelli's blog, Rod Dreher has been wondering whether it's "outrage fatigue" that has kept the Dallas Morning News's series on the international movements of priests accused of abuse from getting the attention he believes it to deserve. I responded that the problem may be more that there's no real news to the discovery that abuse was (to some extent) not restricted to the United States, and as I suggested might be a problem before the series began, there isn't much investigation about the why to make more of the what worth raised anxiety.

Today's iteration, as the worst so far, provides a good example of the various factors that may be keeping the heavy investment of the DMN from paying off as well as I'm sure the paper expected. Reading it, I couldn't help but feel that the reporters hadn't managed to find as much as they thought their global travels would reveal.

Overall, the story is just odd. The priest, Yusaf Dominic, was young and perhaps not particularly talented. He was ordained in Pakistan — information that immediately derails the mind to more pressing matters — and found his way to London by the early '80s. Thereafter, he moved from country to country again, winding up back in England. In 1996, two young men came forward to accuse him of having molested them in 1984. He was arrested, a priest bailed him out, he went to a "clergy treatment center," and he skipped the country — back to Pakistan. Since then, he hasn't stayed still for long, moving around the world, relying on suspicious cover provided by his home base's bishop.

There's no mention of any further incidents, after 1984, and the Dallas Morning News only tracked down one of the accusers, of whose tale the reporter offers very little to give any sense of the form of the abuse, even in the article's "The human toll" section. The allegation appears to involve a single night, when the boy was nine; to the priest's plea that the accusation is false and had something to do with money, the alleged victim says only, "That's B.S."

As I suggested, there's less here than in the other stories, but they've all had a similar feel of expecting unstated premises to be accepted, as if they all pull up short of something, for whatever reason, and assume the reader will fill in the blanks. In other places, they dig up and point to anecdotes that are difficult to see as damning.

In this vein, today's piece spends seven paragraphs explaining that it "is a crime in Britain even to agree to indemnify someone who is liable for a bail payment." After Dominic skipped the country, the diocese paid the money that the priest who had bailed him out of jail had posted. Maybe the Church officials knew that the action wasn't licit; maybe they did it for some reason other than that the liable priest would have had difficulty coming up with $3,600. I don't know, but none of the incriminating possibilities seem required by the facts.

The most dramatic aspect of the story, which Rod noted in the aforementioned comments, is that a church in Newark housed Dominic during the same summer that the American bishops instituted their "zero-tolerance" policy. But here, again, there simply isn't enough of a concrete nature to get worked up about. We get no specific dates, and we hear that his presence there was, above all, "odd" from an administrative perspective. The diocese apparently sent a background check form to the archbishop in Pakistan, but he never returned it, and Dominic cut his trip at around the two-month mark "because of problems with his religious worker's visa."

In short, the worst we can confidently claim is that there was more confusion around this priest than there ought to have been — including among civil authorities — and he slipped through some cracks. It would seem that the hierarchy in Pakistan played some role in the abscondence, but reporter Brooks Egerton gives the reader no reason to take quotes and insinuations at face value. Before the piece has even gotten rolling, Egerton brags that the "Dallas Morning News tracked [Dominic] down after Scotland Yard failed." Such unnecessary commentary makes it very difficult not to believe that the entire article has been crafted to fit Egerton's preferred storyline, perhaps with visions of recognition and rewards.

All of this — the vague or missing details, the sense of similarity to stories already heard, the distance of incidents in time and place, the lack of internal counterpoise, the wall before the why of the larger problem, and the distrust-instilling heavy hand of the reporter — weighs this series down. It does so much more, in my opinion, than any "scandal fatigue." The experience of reading the stories, multimedia presentation notwithstanding, is akin to hearing one son's bathetic tale of an exotic scrape while finally beginning to catch one's breath after having accompanied the other son to the emergency room. Is that fatigue or perspective?

Terry Mattingly thinks (or appears to think) that the lack of response is a conspicuous silence largely attributable to factors external to the stories themselves and the reportage. As "a cynic might say":

This is not a sexy story anymore. And the Boston Globe owned the old story, two years ago. The Globe has the Brand Name nailed down.

The U.S. bishops have done something and discussing whether they did the right things gets complicated. We are headed into an election year and the sacramental status of Sen. John Kerry is getting the Catholic ink. People are tired of the story and it does not sell newspapers, magazines or books. The Catholic left has reasons to be silent and so does the Catholic right. We don't have sexy art, yet.

These factors come into play to some degree (although I'm skeptical about the brand-name idea), but I still think the minimal splash has more to do with the nature of the series (so far) than with readers' predisposition to ignore or downplay it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:04 PM | Comments (3)
The Church

Balms for a Calmer Afternoon

Ferry Halim has posted yet another beautiful Flash game. I still think he ought to use them to promote independent musicians.

Then, having tempered your mood with animation and clicking, Jan Bussey's photographic reminder that, even as we enjoy the fruits of summer, autumn offers much to which to look forward, as well, will ease you into the proper frame of mind to tackle the challenges of the mere hours until the end of the workday.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:56 AM
Quick Links

Guerrilla Budget Battles

Edward Achorn continues to slip encouragement to Rhode Island conservatives — actually, to anybody who opposes our corrupt one-party government. Yesterday, he noted a relatively small, but hugely symbolic, victory on the part of Governor Carcieri:

When [the doling out of power and money] was over, and the budget passed 49 to 22, House Democrats held a victory party with beer and wine. [Union boss Frank] Montanaro stopped by to celebrate yet another triumph for his special interests.

But the celebrations may have been premature. As Republicans were quick to point out, the state constitution requires the "assent of two-thirds of the members elected to each house of the general assembly" to pass certain spending in the budget. And there are 75 elected members. Forty-nine falls one vote short of two-thirds. ...

In the end, the most powerful politician in the state -- Speaker Murphy -- was reduced to stalling for time, while Democrats feverishly tried to round up a 50th vote. Meanwhile, Mr. Fox railed on the House floor, shouting at foes, as Mr. Caprio put it, "like Howard Dean times 100." When Mr. Murphy failed to scrounge 50 votes, he had the chamber approve the budget anyway and send it to the Senate -- a tactical mistake, surely, since that threw the ball into the Senate's court. ...

Whatever happens, though, Friday's budget maneuvers revealed a flaw in the machine that for decades has been running the state as a wholly owned subsidiary of the public-employee labor unions. Mr. Murphy has rebellious Democrats in his ranks. Governor Carcieri, rather than wave the white flag to more powerful forces, has made it clear that he intends to do battle.

Have I mentioned that the sun has broken through the clouds?

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:18 AM
Rhode Island

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:14 AM | Comments (1)

When the Sun Doesn't Rise on Time

Although temperatures have risen, the clouds and rain and dreariness have persisted in claiming much of each week — at least in perception. The morning into day and day into night offer but blurs, shades of darkness. Still, shades of light remind that it isn't every day, and not forever.

I'm tired today. When time becomes a fog of expectations, one walks a bit farther at the tail end of the waking hours, hoping to sleep under clearer skies. Something resolved; something finished. It's a silly hope, in defiance of all experience. It would be better to sleep, following a schedule, and take tasks up in the morning, refreshed. Why is it such a difficult lesson to learn?

Perhaps because, on those too-rare mornings when the sun shines through and blue spreads across the sky, one glimpses what restful days will be like. In those evenings when the sparse clouds streak above, shades of orangish pink, like sherbet, the taste of memories not yet had heralds the future. Crisp, cool by contrast, although temperatures have risen.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:11 AM
Diary & Confession

June 22, 2004

Feedback Always Welcome

I've gotten some wonderful notes about this blog, lately, which collectively and individually grant a degree of encouragement that those who haven't spent years pouring out words in exchange for preprinted, scissor-cut rejection slips mightn't appreciate.

If that's the case, many readers also mightn't have any experience with the stage at which an author's emotional investment transfers from the individual pieces to Writing itself, from the personal qualities reflected in a given work to the possibility that the work will improve the person. Put more simply, one becomes more open to criticism because the true investment and return rests within the mind, and whatever winds up on paper or on the computer screen is only important inasmuch as it conveys and compounds that value.

What I'm getting at, here, is that, as much good as compliments do me, I'm always open to suggestions about content or execution. If you prefer when I write about something that I begin to write about less frequently, let me know. If the intellectual structure of my posts begins to lose its coherence (assuming you believed it to have been there to be lost), let me know that, too. Whatever comes to your mind to say. My email link is to the left.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:19 PM
Site-Related Announcements

Hypocrisy Is a One-Way Street off Route 66.

Click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column for a simpler page design that may be easier to read.

I've bookmarked this and put it aside. Resolved to post it and decided not to. Thought perhaps a new tone was in order and, now, decided to call a hypocrite by her name. Here's Providence Journal blogger Sheila Lennon on June 17:

As last week's portraits of Bill and Hillary Clinton were unveiled in the White House last week, the former President noted that we need to "return to vigorous debate about who's right and wrong, not who's good and bad." Jarvis quotes Clinton repeating the concept last night.

I'll say Amen to that. I'm weary of hearing political partisans call each other "haters." I'm tired of manufactured outrage.

We're all in this America together. We can disagree about our course, but polarizing attacks on those who don't think like you swears at the idea of the melting pot, of living together peaceably based on our common interests. Demonizing others in the name of God or country diminishes us.

Stirred up by talk radio for ratings and profit, our meaner instincts are a lousy set of values on which to base a fair and just society.

Thus far the various considerations have been enough for me to put aside all of her promotion of the Left's own hate-mongers that I've noticed at least as far back as her glowing recommendation, in February 2003, of a foul-mouthed writer who called a man speaking in support of the war an "Oreo" and a "traitorous black person representing the [pro-war] 'cause.'" Maybe, I reasoned, actually upholding the ideal that others only mouth is the better way to prove the point.

But today, I noticed a post about the reemergence of the protest song — protesting whom, you can guess. Among the links is a Flash video that juxtaposes the Bush daughters and the corpses of the Hussein boys. Lennon also links directly to a song by John Gorka called "Brown Shirts" (MP3), which begins, "brown shirts here in the White House/brown shirts up on the Hill." I was particularly impressed with the lyrical twist that the White House brown shirts "speak of God as their witness, but they would kill Jesus again."

Maybe Ms. Lennon was only "weary of hearing political partisans call each other 'haters'" because it hadn't been put to music yet. "Demonizing others in the name of God or country diminishes us." Right. I'll keep that in mind.

Songs You Should Know 06/22/04

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

"Song for J.W." Joe Parillo, Jazz
Stream (HiFi)
from Sand Box

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:26 PM | Comments (3)

All That's Left Over

I came across a few more items yesterday to which I feel obliged to link, but about which I've nothing significant to add. To begin with something relatively light, Neil Cavuto laments President Bush's unreciprocated niceness when introducing that portraits of the Clintons; when it was Clinton's turn:

He wasn't nearly so kind, and he wasn't nearly so generous. While he acknowledged the president's graciousness, he didn't pass along one compliment, not one kind tit-for-tat. I wasn't looking for him to praise George Bush . . . after all, they are political opposites. But, please! Couldn't you throw the guy a bone, Bill? Maybe acknowledge he responded well to terror after Sept. 11, or that he's kept us safe in this country since that day? Maybe mention something goofy, like commending the president for the nicknames he gives those pesky White House reporters? Anything?

No. Nada. Zippo. Zilch-a-rino. Perhaps the contempt for this president from this former president is so acute, so intense, that he can't find the words -- apparently any words -- to say anything nice. Frankly, I find it classless.

Paul Cella, meanwhile, addresses a different side of an idea that seems to be in the air, lately:

Modern education generally provides only the negative impulse, the impulse to distrust: an unfledged cynicism full of bluster but empty of real substance. This impulse is peculiarly treacherous, and cunning propaganda will readily conquer it; for the skepticism inculcated by modern education will rarely include a distrust of one's own emotions (the doctrine of original sin having been discarded) which comprise precisely the organ at which propaganda aims its contrivances. Moreover, to leave discontented the human hunger for belief in something, to provide no armor against the poison of despair, is simply to make vulnerable young minds. It is no accident that Nazism began as a student movement in an age of disillusionment; or that the ideologists of what Burke so memorably labeled "armed doctrines," together the greatest of modern scourges, bled the ground red with the blood of young skeptics and freethinkers.

It may seem almost a truism to say that wicked ideas are not resisted by skepticism but by good ideas. But it is only a truism because it is a truth that is slipping from our complacent grasp. Skepticism by itself is aimless and emasculated; and it is only by the light of principle that skepticism is armed. It is precisely because I know courage to be a great virtue that I am skeptical of any attempt to denigrate courage practiced. It is because of the doctrine of original sin, which I see so plainly to be true in myself, that I know that power cannot be trusted in human hands. By the light of doctrine, of principle, the world is illuminated; and skepticism is, if I may use the phrase, baptized.

John Leo finds a reflection of this truism in the "under God" issue at the Supreme Court:

Call me a cynic, but I think the liberals on the court didn't want to cause an uproar that would help Republicans in an election year. Better to come up with a soothing but temporary political decision -- restoring "under God" for now while clearly inviting a future challenge that the court will be only too happy to grant once the political coast is clear. ...

To defenders of the "under God" phrase, this is the key point: that the reflexive hostility to religion that now guides much of American liberalism will result in the step-by-step elimination of all these references, most of which, as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and others have argued, are harmless expressions of "ceremonial deism." ...

The strategy is simple: Never take the case to the American people -- use unelected judges and the bullying threat of litigation to force unwanted change. And focus on even dubious marginal issues to create the impression that any religious reference in public is toxic. ...

The battle behind the "under God" issue pits true pluralists against intolerant secularists who are willing to accept religion, but only if it is defanged and totally privatized.

Lastly, I can't help but see something of an indication of our future, should we lose this battle, in a story to which Jeff Miller points:

Young Norwegians can earn a merit badge in sex this summer. The pin, modeled on a popular summer swimming merit badge, is an offer from Swedish-Norwegian sex education group RFSU, also the main producer and importer of condoms to Norway, newspaper VG reports.

The badge, which displays sperm cells swimming in waves, can be won by correctly answering 10 out of 13 questions about sex.

"You need a license to drive a car and you should have a sex certificate that shows you don't take health risks. This is done seriously and with humor and the goal of course is to get more people using condoms," said RFSU manager Tone-Berit Lintho.

Yes, how quickly the phrase "if they have sex" has fallen off the end of that goal. Jeff's quip, if you ask me, is a bit more appropriate in its seriousness and humor.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:54 AM
Quick Links

On Our Dime

A brick wall into which one often runs when attempting to explain conservative policy prescriptions to semi-interested fellow citizens is explaining why government simply isn't well suited for every task that citizens might want, need, or think they need to want. Mostly the difficulty is in conveying the nature of the beast, which ultimately relates to the beasts inside us all. Michelle Malkin explains one example:

When private schools fail, they shut down. When private nursing homes fail, they shut down. But when negligent government social service agencies fail, they stay open, get more money, and claim more victims. The latest horror story out of Washington state involves Suzy Sclater, a woman with cerebal palsy and the developmental abilities of a toddler, who was raped in a state-operated group home for which her mother had helped raise $300,000.
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:24 AM | Comments (1)

Together Again Like 9/12?

In yesterday's Bleat (in the off chance that you haven't read it yet), James Lileks suggests that post-9/11 unity mightn't be reprised in the event of another attack:

Why, I even remember back to the end of 2001, when the general mood seemed to favor bold action to forestall future catastrophe. If we hadn't deposed Saddam, and Bush had won a second term, and there had been a terrorist attack in 05, [Stephen Hayes's] book would be the Democrat's brief for impeachment. BUSH KNEW and did nothing.

And it's not going to get better. I don't think the next attack will bring us together like 9/11. Last time a small portion of the nation went straight to blaming us for enflaming poor Mo Atta and his motley crew; the last three years have seen that poison spread and flourish, and blaming America for the ravings of medieval theocrats is now a legitimate argument in polite society. I'd almost venture to say that a third of the country would conclude that a radiological device exploded in Manhattan would be Bush's fault, because he made the "evil doers" (roll eyes) super-extra-fancy-grade-AA mad.

For the last few weeks I've had this gnawing belief that bin Laden got lucky by attacking during Bush's term. Conventional wisdom says the opposite, because Bush fought back. But he's the enemy now. I ask my Democrat friends what they’d rather see happen – Bush reelected and bin Laden caught, or Bush defeated and bin Laden still in the wind. They're all honest: they'd rather see Bush defeated.

Guarding the Private Cash Well

Rhode Island's union cartel isn't happy about certain noises being made about curbing their power. They're going after the (Republican) governor with deceptive ads:

And so a campaign of ads against the governor has been unleashed. One published recently featured unattractive pictures of Governor Carcieri and slammed him for the pension he receives as a retired corporate executive. What it didn't point out is that the taxpayers pay for public-employee benefits -- not for Governor Carcieri's private pension -- and that most of the taxpayers doing the paying do not receive benefits nearly as plush. Nor does the ad point out that property taxes are going through the roof in many communities, and that elected officials are unable to manage efficiently, in part because of giveaways in contract negotiations. ...

The union leaders say their latest attack was in response to a May 10 fundraising letter by the governor. ... In a state where politicians have traditionally been too fearful to awaken powerful enemies, this talk borders on heresy.

To get rid of the thorn-in-the-side (Republican) mayor in Cranston, their strategy is a bit less rooted in the First Amendment:

The union that represents the city's crossing guards, Public Service Employees Local Union 1033 of the Laborers International Union, sent letters June 1 and June 7 asking union members to disaffiliate from the Democratic Party so they can vote against Mayor Stephen P. Laffey in the Sept. 14 primary. ...

The cards were then delivered en masse to the Board of Canvassers office, at City Hall.

The board's registrar, Jaclyn Caruolo, said most of the roughly 260 cards were dropped off in bunches. The rest, she said, were filled out individually at the office and witnessed by the clerks in the office, who serve as notaries.

Democrat City Committee Chairman Michael Sepe — through his sparkling level of class — evinced the degree to which he is a union stooge:

"I think the mayor right now needs a diaper change after what the unions are doing to him," Sepe said. "What's his problem? Now that they want to get into the Republican primary, you can't be crying about that."
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:08 AM | Comments (2)
Rhode Island

Just Enough to Live On

My first reaction to this news was to wonder what people do with their money:

It takes about $50,000 for a Rhode Island family of four to scrape by with the bare necessities.

No Friday night dinner at Chuck E Cheese's. No trips to Walt Disney World, or karate lessons after school. Just rent, food, utilities, bills.

And they are the fortunate ones.

Roughly half of all families in Rhode Island -- 47 percent -- earn less than $50,000 a year, according to a study being released this morning by the Poverty Institute, a policy and advocacy group at Rhode Island College.

Primary among the discordant details of the article is that the story's central profile, that of April Brophy, doesn't fit the claims of the piece. Apparently, she and her husband were doing just fine on $35,000 — paying for a mortgage, two cars, "a modest savings account." Then divorce dropped her to $14,000 per year, but the state's temporary safety net was enough to get her rolling, even with only a GED foundation to start with. She still relies on state-subsidized healthcare and daycare for her children, but she's making ends meet, earning around $23,000 per year. So why do the state's social workers believe her to require almost twice as much?

The answer opens up all those sticky areas in which different worldviews lead directly to incompatible solutions. The first thing to note, looking at the Poverty Institute study that formed the basis of the article (PDF) is that the $50,000 figure neatly rounds up from just over $48,000 for a two-parent home. More importantly, the numbers are a theoretical sum of various expenses, calculated from separate estimates; they therefore do not take into account the sorts of decisions that people make to stay comfortably afloat.

For instance, the $391 per month for transportation strikes me as high. The $650 per month of medical assumes, at the least, an extremely poor benefits package at work (especially for jobs supporting that level of income). Not surprisingly, the biggest chunk is the $1,215 per month ($14,580 per year) for childcare. These few factors go a long way toward explaining how the Brophys survived before the divorce. Merely mom's staying home with the kids increases the income value of $35,000 per year to $49,580. A job that completely covers health insurance (like public school teacher in Rhode Island, ahem) adds another $7,800-plus of value.

And that is where the policy differences really begin to come into play. To isolate one factor, the high income ceiling for subsidies for childcare encourages double-income families. A family with two parents and two children can make $42,413 and still receive $9,588 from the Rhode Island taxpayer (if they pay the maximum co-payments, however that works). A family like the nuclear Brophys, making $35,000, has incentive, not for the mother (or father) to stay home and save $14,580 on daycare, but to work at least part time.

With the system as it is, the taxpayer reward for having two incomes exacerbates the job shortage and keeps wages down. It doesn't seem insignificant that the income that the Poverty Institute claims families to need is in the range of what might be thought of as the subsidized baseline. Meanwhile, encouraging parents to put their children in daycare inflates the demand for childcare providers, which raises the price. A similar (albeit more complicated) dynamic comes into play with the free or cheap healthcare that Rhode Island offers to all children whose household income is less than 250% of the national poverty level (or a little over $47,000 for a family of four).

All of these various policies are debatable at the individual level and become a mess of causes and effects, incentives and side-effects, in the broader view. Trying to solve them through ever-expanding giveaways, however, will tend make the problems worse. Unfortunately, the urge to do just that is all-pervasive — strangling Rhode Island from every angle:

Along with protecting the subsidies for struggling families, Gewirtz says the state should demand higher-paying jobs from companies that move to Rhode Island.

"The best way out of poverty is a good job," Gewirtz said. "A lot of times we give tax breaks to companies that promise to bring jobs, but they are often poverty-level jobs. There needs to be more accountability."

Apart from the interesting tidbit that the jobs Rhode Island attracts are in the range in which employers find the government covering much of what they would have to offer to secure workers, the extent of belief that a state can just force higher incomes is astounding. Demand higher-paying jobs. Accountability for creating the wrong types of employment. For companies that move to the state. Something tells me that the number of such companies would continue to decline.

Rhode Island, in short, is approaching calamity from two directions through its urges toward socialism. Driving away businesses while pushing the publicly funded benefits for citizens ever up the income scale will eventually create a state attempting to subsidize everybody with revenue from nobody.

This is the first post of a new "Rhode Island" category.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:08 AM
Rhode Island

June 21, 2004

Sticklers for the Rules

In a piece extolling dogma, Jonah Goldberg touched on a reality that has come up here, in recent weeks, in the context of discussions between liberals and conservatives (broadly defined):

And this is where my renewed faith in dogma comes from. Without getting too deep in the weeds, dogmas are simply values or principles that cannot be proven, but that we accept as true or divinely decreed (and therefore true). Chesterton and Hayek explain to us that the right dogma is just as liberating — if not more so — as bad dogma is oppressive. For example, you could never be a first baseman on a baseball team unless everyone else, on both teams, accepted any number of dogmas uncritically. Everyone would have to agree that it's worthwhile to play the game in the first place. Everyone would have to accept that the umpire's decisions are final. Everyone would have to accept that the rules were clear and applied to both sides equally. Everyone would have to agree that cheating is both wrong and deserving of punishment when found out. And so on.

Now, I would wager that very few baseball players can give you very articulate and knowledgeable explanations of why these things are all so. But I would also bet that most baseball players are certain these things are true nevertheless. In Anthony Lewis's world, these people are enemies of decency and humanity. But in reality it is exactly the opposite. Without an unthinking agreement to play by the rules, you could have five first basemen all squabbling over the bag. You could have ties settled by fistfights. Indeed, you could have horrendous bloodshed. As Hayek noted, society's adherence to traditional morality guarantees the most fundamental freedom: freedom from getting your ass walloped by everybody else. (Okay, I'm paraphrasing).

Careful What You Wish For

After a short break, the Providence Journal news department has returned to its advocacy for same-sex marriage to be brought to Rhode Island. Here are the circumstances of the latest effort:

Massachusetts Governor Romney and Attorney General Tom Reilly cited the law -- which some say was originally written to be used against interracial couples -- in denying marriage licenses to out-of-state gay couples.

After gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts last month, several city and town clerks openly defied the law and issued the documents to nonresidents anyway, until Reilly ordered them to stop or face penalties.

"The governor simply can't dust off this law to discriminate against gays and lesbians," Michelle Granda, a lawyer for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which represents the eight out-of-state couples, said at a news conference yesterday.

Gotta love the "some say" clause thrust between the actors and their action. It isn't until paragraph twenty-five — just before sixteen paragraphs describing the parties to the lawsuit against the law — that we find hints that the law hasn't been dormant since the pre–civil rights era: "Issues such as whether they were cousins or if they were married to other people could make their marriages illegal in Massachusetts." For how much longer?

Wendy Becker, one half of a professorial lesbian couple and "a teacher in the social work department of Rhode Island College... completing her doctoral dissertation in law, policy and society at Northeastern University," clarifies the objective:

We want our kids to know we love and support each other in the same way as their friends' parents do. And we want them to grow up in a world free from discrimination based on anything.

Silly question: What isn't allowed in a world free from discrimination based on anything?

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:35 AM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

What He Did to His Own, He Would Do to Us

Anybody who either 1) has doubts about the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime or 2) still believes Ted Kennedy and his ilk to be admirable should read Nick Schulz's description of and commentary about the short Ba'athist torture video:

I must confess that in recent weeks I had begun to harbor some doubts about a war I had supported. And I was not the only war supporter to begin second-guessing recently. We doubting Thomases had been perhaps most perplexed at President Bush, steadfast in the wake of mounting Coalition deaths, the Abu Ghraib scandal, and other bad news. Did this man not see what we were seeing?

There is no doubt that he had. But President Bush — along with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has also remained resolute despite withering and unfair criticism at home — had also seen things that we had not. Seeing this footage helps one better understand the mindset of President Bush and of his stalwart British ally and explains their resolve in the face of tremendous difficulties and setbacks. Seeing these films and ones like them out there, will, I believe, make any fence sitter shed his doubts about the appropriateness of destroying Saddam's regime. If anything, they make one wonder, almost shamefully, how and why it took the civilized world — or at least part of that world — as long as it did to rise up against it.

Although I haven't come across any examples, yet, I'm sure somebody, somewhere has already objected that this is yet another shifting of justification for the war. The strategy of those who opposed the war (and continue to oppose the Bush administration) is to pull apart all of the pieces of the other side's argument and prance around between them so as to obscure the fact that they can't conclusively knock down a single one. Just over a year ago, in an edition of my since-discontinued Just Thinking column, I wrote the following, which is still, surprisingly and sadly, applicable today:

Before the war, the administration's appeals to the human atrocities in Iraq were often dismissed as lip service. Even those who attributed some degree of sincerity to them tended to move discussion on with a "yeah but." Plenty of regimes abuse their people, the argument went, why attack Iraq? Now that the extent of those atrocities is being revealed in heart- and gut-wrenching detail, some post-war-anti-war advocates require reminding that President Bush mentioned the humanitarian crisis in every speech in which he made the case for war. He did so to illustrate the loathsome nature of the regime. He did so in the context of enumerating the many United Nations mandates at which Hussein had thumbed his nose. And he did so as a simple matter of moral principle, apart from international relations.

The atrocities are bad enough, Lord knows, to condemn the regime. But it was their combination with shadowy terrorist connections and proven ambitions to procure WMDs that made war a necessity — even in defiance of an international effort to maintain inside deals with the monster. A dictatorship that would order prisoners to have their hands hacked off a knuckle at a time is one that would gas one of its own villages is one that would work with terrorists to deliver blows to a hated nation of free people.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:14 AM | Comments (3)
Middle East

Conflicting Ambitions

Patrick Sweeney disagrees with the notion that some American bishops are making noises about John Kerry's receiving communion "to curry favor with the current Pope, or a possible future Pope, Cardinal Arinze." And to be honest, I don't even see that as the clear message of the piece by Joseph D'Hippolito to which Patrick is responding. On the one hand:

Such concerns provide an opportunity for ambitious prelates to curry favor with Rome. Tom Roberts, editor of the liberal National Catholic Reporter, cites Newark Archbishop John H. Myers as an example.

"Myers fits this papal administration's template for upward career mobility," Roberts wrote. "Staunchly conservative, he is a prolific pastoral-letter writer, a soldier in a campaign against the prevailing culture and someone for whom, given the nature of those letters, there are no unanswered questions or shades of gray."

But on the other:

One Catholic state senator said he would leave the church. Gov. James McGreevey, a former altar boy, said he would neither receive communion publicly nor let the church influence his positions.

Myers retreated.

"We have an understanding that I won't personally criticize [the governor]," Myers told the New York Times. "And we are working together on a lot of issues, like providing social services to the poor and helping people with HIV."

In other words, Myers chose retaining influence with politicians to asserting the Vatican's position.

If Joseph's point were entirely that bishops are acting from some motivation other than doctrinal fidelity, I'd suggest that he's being a bit too cynical, but that he raises legitimate points for discussion. He takes his argument a step farther, however:

The controversy ignores the fact that the number of abortions has been declining in the U.S. through private initiatives, such as a greater emphasis on abstinence. Since constitutional or judicial changes appear unlikely, private-sector solutions offer the greatest hope.

One can't tease apart private initiatives and the Church's actions vis-à-vis public figures; Joseph misconstrues the purpose of denying communion to Kerry. The move is (or would be) primarily an assertion of Church teachings. The action that requires public rebuke, in other words, is less Kerry's actual votes than his flaunting of vocal support for abortion in contravention of what adherence to his religion requires. The focus with which Joseph closes his piece misses the heart of the matter:

Suppose all the American bishops ordered the priests under their authority to deny communion to Kerry. Suppose those priests complied. Given Kerry's ideology and voting record, would he really forsake his views on abortion for the faith he claims to profess?

More importantly, would one unborn child be saved?

He's right, in the paragraph before this, that many bishops could probably offer more public support to groups that pull on the positive side of the struggle against abortion, and priests could stand to speak more about sexual and reproductive morality. Even so, rebuffing Kerry at the altar, in its way, itself supports these groups' efforts by making the Church's position clear and reaffirming not only that opposition to abortion is required of us all, but also that it is an important call to answer.

Would one unborn child be saved by such decisive actions? Absolutely.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:58 AM | Comments (10)
The Church

Worthy Worthies

If you haven't perused Lane Core's Blogworthies entry for the week, I recommend doing so. From church singing to terrorists and oil.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:24 AM | Comments (1)
Quick Links

June 20, 2004

Does It Start with Wrongful Death Suits?

Look. I'm not going to express the first thought that came to mind when I read this front-page article from the Providence Journal, because if I did, I'd be sure to raise ires all over the place. Nonetheless, that at which we laugh today tomorrow can bring our tears:

BEAVER, the animal psychologist who is president-elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association, says that years ago, the dog was "the protector of the farm. Then it became the dog in the backyard; now it's the dog in the house. And as we are living closer to them, their relationships with us become much closer."

And as the culture has changed, legislatures and the courts are now starting to amend the way they look at companion animals. Historically, courts have allowed a pet owner who brings a lawsuit to recover only the "market-value" of the animal. But in 2000, Tennessee became the first state to pass a law giving a pet owner the right to collect damages for loss of companionship. Two years later, Illinois passed a similar law. A bill has been introduced in the Colorado legislature to allow people to seek damages of as much as $100,000 for loss of companionship of a pet.

Ah-hum. Read the whole article for a more-thorough sense of how creepy this could get.

Martin Grace quotes the part of the Projo piece that hints at the leap from "clearly... not a relative" to, well, I guess to "close enough."

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:14 PM

June 19, 2004

Mainstream Fiction, Informed by Faith

Andrew McNabb is among the best writers of fiction whom I've had the good fortune to know personally. He writes extremely well, of course, but more than that, he infuses his work with the perspective of a devout Catholic. The majority of his stories, at least that I've read, aren't explicitly religious in nature, but that sense is there, as it ought to be in life, undergirding the plot.

Offering encouragement to all unknown Christian writers, Andrew has begun to place his stories where his perspective is arguably most desperately absent — among the nation's many "literary reviews." Latest of these successes is the short story "It's What It Feels Like," in Potomac Review. (Note that the quirks of formatting were probably the doing of the Web master, not the author.)

I had the privilege of critiquing this piece at our writers' group, before Andrew moved to Maine, and I think it's among his best. One need only have heard the audible reaction of the writers when Andrew's reading had wound toward the final scene to know that he had reached a level above us. Somebody, somewhere among the Catholic bloggers recently asked where the Flannery O'Connors of our day could be found. Well, here's one.

Here are all of Andrew's stories that I'm able to find online:

"The Reluctant Preacher" in The Redwood Review
"A Night at Dorian's" in The Adirondack Review.
"A The Bronwyn Tale" in The Redwood Review

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:51 AM

A "Panel" with One Voice

It's edifying to know that the draw of Salve Regina University, in Newport, RI, is such that its panel on "War, Law and Human Rights" can attract three speakers who are so intelligent that they've all come to the same conclusion:

[David Scheffer, the U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes during the Clinton administration] spoke yesterday afternoon at Salve Regina University's Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy during a panel discussion entitled "War, Law and Human Rights: What Way Forward?"

He was joined by Christophe Girod, North America chief of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg, a professor of international law at the Naval War College.

They talked about international humanitarian law and how it applies to the war in Iraq and the United States' campaigns against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. To varying degrees, they all raised concerns about the administration's attitude toward international treaties.

No doubt, any students in attendance learned that higher skill — so crucial to success — of nodding wisely. Girod suggested that the United States is undermining international law; von Heinegg thinks the administration's reading thereof is "an abandonment of values." As one might expect, Scheffer, "the lead U.S. negotiator during the formation" of the International Criminal Court, thinks we ought submit ourselves to its jurisdiction.

I really wish I had the time (and wherewithal) to attend these things.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:03 AM | Comments (2)
International Affairs

Abuse, Anger, Pain, and Pulitzers

Well, Rod Dreher has succeeded in whipping up pre-release buzz in the Catholic blog neighborhood for the bitter fruits of the Dallas Morning News's year-long investigation of the Roman Catholic Church abuse scandal around the globe. One reporter has already been on NPR, and the paper is apparently looking for prominent nationwide coverage.

Whether or not DMN timed the story for this effect, and I believe Rod that it didn't, it surely won't be lost on the major media that the news comes at a time when the devotion of the Democrats' presidential candidate, John Kerry, to the teachings of his Church is being questioned and at a time when the Church stands as one of the central supports of such moral issues as abortion, genetic research, and same-sex marriage. As Lane Core suggests, interested parties might want to register with DMN's Web site before the lines form.

Fr. Wilson — who is, if I'm not mistaken, good friends with Rod — wasted no time, after Friday's Morning Edition, in defending the newspaper from recriminations that hadn't yet been made:

How rude of the Dallas Morning News to look under the bed at the chaotic mess that had been swept out of sight. It is still common to hear a certain type of Catholic sneer at the reporting on the Scandal with dismissive references to the 'anti-Catholicism' of the Boston Globe or the Dallas Morning News; "You know, Father, they're no friends of ours. They hate the Faith," I've heard time and again.

Surprising that the DMN reporters, given their extensive exposure to the life of the Church and the antics of our fathers in God, aren't edified into the full communion of Holy Mother Church, isn't it?

Yes, I'm sure the news department was overflowing with weekly Mass-goers and on-the-cusp converts in the mid-'90s. Equally, I'm sure the 200 priests will be placed within the proper proportions, with some admirable, if not heroic, profiles of other priests to leaven the impression. I'm sure the data will be carefully and clearly delineated along lines of degree — not inflating the worst incidents through inadequately qualified inclusion among broader statistics — and drawn along an accurate timeline. And I'm sure some effort will be made to give an full sense of the victims — how many were seven and how many were seventeen, for example. In short, we can only wait and see whether the DMN reporters — and all of the other reporters around the world — will give some indication of awareness that the bad tidings that they bring will be painful to the core of millions of people.

To be sure, we Catholic believers must accept this trial. If it is meant for us to live through painful times, then let us grit our teeth and get on with it. If we must express our faith through an acrid fog, let us plunge in. Hopes are high that this is all just part of expelling the stain of dark days from the Church. Mark Shea calls it "the Great Enema." Domenico Bettinelli adds a sound effect: "The giant flush you hear is the Big Enema going global."

Personally, as much respect as I truly do have for all of the above, and admitting that they are much better informed on matters pertaining to the Catholic Church, I'm not, well, I'm not optimistic. Taking them as a group, it hasn't seemed to me that the bishops, with a "zero-tolerance" policy and an investigatory commission, have behaved, thus far, in such a way as to suggest that the information that is apparently forthcoming will push them over some edge of responsibility.

I come to this conclusion for two reasons. First, the actions already taken have not suggested full cognizance of personal culpability in acts supremely offensive to God. There has been a bit too thick an aversion to consequences. Second, from a worldly perspective, strong stands on principle generally require either absolute confidence of blamelessness or proximate exposure of something that will really reorder one's life for the worse.

As appalling as it may be, I don't think any number of indications of administrative malfeasance — even directly attributed and undeniably proven — will spur institutional response. We live in a Western culture in which people believe that it absolves Pontius Pilate of blame to portray him as only having crucified our Lord out of cold political interests. Credibility will be lost, yes, but position and prominence can be preserved through a knee-high wall of extenuating circumstances.

If there is to be a purge, the deeper cause of the corruption will have to come bubbling to the visible surface. And as Rod Dreher notes in a comment to a different post on Bettnet.com (Jun 17, 04, 12:01 pm), the media is complicit, this time, in keeping the matter submerged:

... your comment did bring to mind something a Fox News staffer told me at the Dallas bishops' meeting two years ago. I told this person that Fox should find and interview Michael S. Rose, whose "Goodbye Good Men" had just come out, and who could illuminate a key aspect of the scandal that most media wouldn't touch. The staffer told me that they had orders from the very top of the network not to touch homosexuality in their reporting from Dallas.

For Catholic laypeople, the pervasive infiltration of sin into the Church would bring the outrage. For the public at large, for whom the acts, if consenting, would be largely ignored or excused, the hierarchy would have been proven guilty of the greatest crime known: hypocrisy.

Without a public revelation about the why, more of the what of the long-running abuse scandal will be about as effective as airing unwashed linens. The neighbors will gawk, but the only people shamed will be those who must walk among them.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:04 AM
The Church

June 18, 2004

The Apathy That Just Doesn't Want to Know

Yesterday, the Providence Journal ran a letter by West Warwick Republican Town Committee chairman John Clarke that begins with this utterly unsurprising anecdote:

Last night, I had a long conversation with one of my neighbors, a registered Democrat named Paul, who expressed his support for a casino because "it will bring jobs to Rhode Island." When I tried to explain that the jobs that a casino brings tend to pay poorly and that a casino does not bring wealth to the community, all he could counter with was his concern for jobs.

Paul wants to do right by people. He probably began voting for Democrats years ago because they ran on a platform promising to do just that. And now that Democrat rule is strangling the state, it probably makes his head hurt a little think about having to separate political rhetoric from the real effects of policy.

Such is the environment that allows a state senator to blurt arrogant asininity in response to constituent concerns that Rhode Island is driving out the sort of people who will help its economy to grow. As Mr. Clarke says:

Senator Alves, as chairman of the Finance Committee, is doing his best to ensure that the talented people who could fix the "no-good-job" problems that he and his party have created in this state stay away.

It is an embarrassment to the people of Rhode Island -- and especially the people of West Warwick who voted for him -- that Mr. Alves is complaining that he is tired of hearing from high-wage earners. He would do well to recognize that those people invest in businesses and create jobs.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:33 PM


The two groups that come a-knockin' fairly regularly at my door: Jehovah's Witnesses and the Sierra Club. The latter has an odd method of conversion: "The best way to stop the current administration from destroying the world is with a check."

By way of confession, I admit that I couldn't help but smile inwardly as I allowed the two young college men to stand on my front steps and run through their entire pitch, punctuated with slaps at the mosquitoes that infest our little corner of the island. When I was in college, students majoring in fields related to the environment assisted some organization or other to rehabilitate the marshes that line much of my neighborhood's waterfront.

Where's the scythe-handed Bush administration when you need it?

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:14 PM
Diary & Confession

Newdow Wants the Outside In

I've forgotten where I came across the link, but I wanted to note Samuel Huntington's exploration of atheists' outsiderness in America:

Although the Supreme Court did not address the question directly, Mr. Newdow got it right: Atheists are "outsiders" in the American community. Americans are one of the most religious people in the world, particularly compared with the peoples of other highly industrialized democracies. But they nonetheless tolerate and respect the rights of atheists and nonbelievers. Unbelievers do not have to recite the pledge, or engage in any religiously tainted practice of which they disapprove. They also, however, do not have the right to impose their atheism on all those Americans whose beliefs now and historically have defined America as a religious nation. ...

... if increases in non-Christian membership haven't diluted Christianity in America, hasn't it been supplanted over time by a culture that is pervasively irreligious, if not antireligious? These terms describe segments of American intellectual, academic and media elites, but not the bulk of the American people. American religiosity could be high by absolute measures and high relative to that of comparable societies, yet the secularization thesis would still be valid if the commitment of Americans to religion declined over time. Little or no evidence exists of such a decline.

Unfortunately, it is the folly of fanatics that they insist that reality conform to their own preferred history, present condition, and future state.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:11 PM

Studio Matters Notes & Commentary

Maureen Mullarkey's latest Notes & Commentary essay is "An American Original," reviewing Guy Péne du Bois at James Graham & Sons. (For art samples, click the exhibition names.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:30 PM
Visual Art

When Separation of Powers No Longer Means Balance of Power

And why is it so important to have groups in government who aren't most observable in their amity? Well, here's one reason:

In the closing rush of this year's legislative session, Rhode Island Chief Justice Frank Williams is seeking to boost his power by trying to cut out the governor from decisions about the judiciary's annual budget request. He calls this a "separation-of-powers" issue -- that the judiciary should be able to do what it wants without the governor having a say.

The unelected, office-for-life judiciary wants to slap away the hands of one of the branches of government — the most individually visible office — from its purse strings.

He wants his request for money to go straight to the General Assembly, without the filter of the governor. So a chief justice would have much more power to cut deals with legislative leaders. Some 28 percent of House members are lawyers, and many of them argue in front of state courts regularly. They could conceivably get a better deal for their clients if they funded the judiciary to a chief justice's specifications.

Moreover, he or she would apparently set the salaries of judges, conceivably using that authority to reward and punish, without any check on that power, since state judicial appointments are for life.

As the Providence Journal editorial notes, this fall, Rhode Islanders will have the opportunity to vote for a popular amendment to increase the amount of weight the governor has in the balance of power. These last-minute grabs would not, presumably, sit well with the voters, and if more — and more vocal — representatives of the governor's party were in place to be presented with the hasty proposal, an editorial would not have to be the news breaker.

I'd say "unbelievable," but it's really not surprising that there's more:

Some last-minute changes sprung on the public with little debate would put financial control of the public colleges directly in the hands of the General Assembly. A member of the Board of Governors for Higher Education since 1997, Michael Ryan, called the proposal "the most troubling document I've seen." Jack Warner, commissioner of higher education, said the change would undermine a "bedrock principle of education" and erode protections against its being "politicized."

One wonders what's slipping through...

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:20 PM | Comments (2)

A Stark Choice for State Voters

On Tuesday of this week, Edward Achorn wrote about Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey's maneuvers at the state Republican convention last Thursday, which I mentioned (with some video footage) last Friday. (I emailed the link to Mr. Achorn, with whom I periodically attempt to make contact, but he hasn't responded.) Achorn assesses the situation thus:

Well, it suggests Mr. Laffey is trying to do more than clean up the financial mess in Cranston. He is trying to put his stamp on the party and change the political culture of Rhode Island.

That irritates some people.

For one thing, it enrages the Republican establishment, small as it is. The country-club set, moderate and pragmatic, is convinced that the GOP in Rhode Island will always be on the losing end of the big battles. It will never compete in the General Assembly, which is overwhelmingly powerful at the state level. The best that the GOP can do is to play nicely with the Democrats -- and with the source of the Democrats' dominance, the public-employee unions -- and quietly claim a gubernatorial, Senate or mayoral seat from time to time. Like the small child of a raging alcoholic, establishment Republicans gingerly avoid giving offense, seeking to smooth over troubles and improve their lot in tiny increments.

Mr. Laffey is more inclined to punch the bully in the belly, and take his chances.

The key issue for Rhode Island voters, right now, is breaking the white-knuckle grip that a single party and the groups whose interests it primarily represents have on state government. The simple question, for the Republicans, is whether they'll benefit from that electoral desire by being the same politicians with different buttons on their lapels or by being contentiously distinct. I think the latter; at this level of domination, increased Republican representation won't threaten the Democrats' key issues, but it will send a message and insert a natural alarm, of sorts, for objectionable goings on in the state house.

I'll go further, though, and declare that I don't think the people of Rhode Island are as supportive of the Democrats' ideological positions as most people assume — whether on government, social, political, or any other issues. There's tremendous apathy, here, and apathy is a quality that comes in degrees. One can be apathetic and simply not care, or one can care, with the apathy obstructing inquiry and thought.

By bringing their differences to the public's attention, conservatives can spark thought among those who care. And by making confident noise in a polity accustomed to skulking whispers, they can perhaps spark inquiry among even those who don't think the people who run our state are worthy of attention.

Be it known to anybody in Rhode Island who stumbles across this blog that I'm willing to help as much as I'm able. For some reason, however, it's proving difficult even to find takers for that assistance when I actively offer it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:53 PM | Comments (1)

Rejecting Emotional Blackmail Through Love and Belief

Although they state overconfidently the genetic predetermination of homosexuality, Rabbi Marc Gellman and Msgr. Thomas Hartman offer some firm and fair guidance for those whose religions hold the choices of family members to be sinful:

First of all, we must have courage to say what we think is right.

Your granddaughter had courage, just like Tom's brother, in confronting a pious Catholic family with a life choice that violates the clear and unambiguous teachings of the church. But her announcement is not the only act of courage called for in this ongoing discussion. Your courage is also needed to tell her, with equal love, that you cannot accept the choices she has made.

The second virtue we must all have if this deep spiritual and moral thinking about gay marriage is not to descend into bitter vituperation is humility. You must find a way to say no to your granddaughter's decision to have a commitment ceremony without saying no to your love for her.

The old cliché of disapproval's precipitation of disownment would, in many ways represent an easier model to follow, just as inherently affirming passivity would be in the other direction. We oughtn't forget that people can change, though, and inasmuch as it is possible, we want change toward truth to be an appealing one.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:40 AM
Marriage & Family

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:01 AM

A Job for the Sexy Man

Star Parker, president of the Coalition for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE), sees the ACLU and — if I may coin a term — other ACLUddites as in ideological competition with her organization:

My constituency is the poor, particularly the African-American poor, and I have a far different sense of what this community's problems and needs are than does the ACLU. ...

As the civil-rights movement became politicized by ACLU-type liberals, values and personal responsibility were displaced by victimization politics. The result has been a social catastrophe in the African-American community. Thanks again to ACLU-type liberals, public schools that black children are forced to attend have purged all traditional values from education and, as a result, children have no clue why they are there and what the point is in education. These children are already most likely severely disadvantaged by coming from broken homes, also the product of the political purge of traditional values.

Acknowledging that it's on the same Web site, I can't help but wonder whether a piece by Maggie Gallagher indicates that a movement is afoot:

Hear, for example, the extraordinary remarks by Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., at a recent Brookings Institution conference on marriage and the black church. Calling attention to the low rates of marriage among African Americans, Norton warned:

"My friends, we are seeing a sea change in African-American life. It cannot continue or we will not continue as a viable people. I just want to put it as starkly as I can. We've got to get the attention of our community and our country. It is impossible to overestimate what has happened to our community in only a single generation or two and what might then happen in my son's generation if it continues at this pace."

She said it. I didn't. When the marriage idea becomes weak enough, the very idea of perpetuating ourselves as a people is called into question.

Gallagher goes on to suggest — predictably, but no less correctly for being so — that increasing the number of church-going men will do much to remedy the problem. You can read both of these women's articles for specifics, but I want to leap to a different topic that's come up, of late, because I think there's a larger point to be made, pivoting on this passage from Gallagher's column:

Men are supposed to model for their children the love of God, for their wives, the love of Jesus Christ. Men who recognize a critical "masculine" role in family life are probably freer to enter into stereotypically "feminine" realms, such as emotionally expressive family life. If you want to turn men into good family men, you have to tell them that men matter to women and children.

Brace yourself for a bit of a cultural atmosphere shock. Although the topic feels a bit less weighty than the matter of fatherless children in poverty, consider Marilyn Zielinski's complaint:

I think almost any man can be sexy, can become a good flirt, can learn to attract women, if he is truly willing to. Like most social skills, the general principles aren't that mysterious, and are quantifiable if you pay attention.

... But most men don't really want to be sexy; they want sexy to be them.

Essentially, Ms. Zielinski's assessment is that men don't give any indication that they care enough about potential mates to improve themselves. They settle in to who they are, and the opinion of a hypothetical future spouse isn't sufficient motivation to become someone better:

Instead, single men in my experience behave as if the only life possibilities are being the way they are, or acting. The idea of growth and change don't make the radar.

I don't think that's as true as Zielinski suggests. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that it is more true than she supposes. She notes single females' openness toward asking themselves, "What am I doing wrong?" The answer, to my personal experience, is usually pursuing the wrong guys. Although it's often my advice to single female friends, I'm not necessarily talking about looking for hidden diamonds by observing a table of men and gravitating toward the quiet-but-not-shy one in the middle of the group. Look at Zielinski's examples of some men's deficiencies: don't listen, don't have a "real job," boring, not fashionable.

As one of Eugene Volokh's male friends writes, it's not surprising that men seek to conform to the ideal that they've observed women to want. Volokh's friend concentrates on success/money/power, but one can find a modern male stereotype developed in response to each of Zielinski's complaints:

  • Don't listen: Phony ponytail man.
  • Don't have a "real job": Cocky career guy.
  • Boring: Pointless rebel dude or artsy male.
  • Not fashionable: Mirror-seeking dandy.

Of course, as Volokh himself notes, for "professional coastal urban women," the demand is that these all be layered on top of success. Nonetheless:

Those women also want more: A certain kind of behavior, attitude, whatever it is that they see as sexy (still a mystery to me, by the way).

Lastly, Geoffrey Murry chimes in with the gay perspective, approaching the same conclusion from a slightly different angle:

I find it is often a man's resoluteness in the face of what I shall call here adversity that makes him sexy. It is his adamantine surety of place as he strides into a room that makes him noticed. Were he to be engaged in the constant questioning of himself that Marilyn suggests, I reckon it might be more difficult for him to pull this off. ...

The straight man (the metrosexual and Marilyn's dream men aside) rarely goes to this length, and it is the imperfection in his appearance that gives it the veracity of the virile.

Dare I suggest that the conclusion to which all of these people are gravitating is that rich women want what poor women so desperately need? The educated professionals of Volokh's correspondence will likely reject the idea, including protestations from the women (for all I can say) that they are most definitely not interested in such men, but that need only mean that the oversight is mutual between the seekers and sought. Aren't the women looking for a certain mold of the religious man?

It's difficult to see because our culture has disconnected the markers from the substance. As a consequence, women isolate the various qualities and misconstrue their import. Men respond by donning the shadow of real self-improvement.

Volokh notes the seemingly unattainable state of being in which one adjusts "oneself so successfully that it looks like one isn't trying to adjust oneself at all." I see ultimately the insouciance of manifest self-improvement as it derives from a focus on something higher. Men will not lose motivation if they are striving for the approval of God, rather than of a woman, and yet, if that God demands a sacrificial devotion to the woman, the man will listen, will see through her eyes, and will seek to provide for her.

The key, therefore, is a sense of responsibility that transcends contractual obligation and a faith that challenges will be met. The same view must permeate couples' lives that becomes flesh and blood in the form of the child begotten (not made) through them. Men and women need to remember that they matter to each other, not as mutual prey, but as mutual support toward a state of grace. And in this way, they bring vibrancy to an impotent culture flaccid with displaced victims.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:44 AM | Comments (4)

June 17, 2004

Unexpected Time

I hadn't realized how quickly and thoroughly expectations can be set. In those few hours last night that I thought the morning air would be inhaled by all four members of my household, my sense of the subsequent days aligned with the rest of my life.

Strolling around the maternity ward with my wife, between exams to see if dilation was progressing, an unanticipated level of stress swept over me. Up-to-now was done; from-now-on had come. I slipped into the wave and let it pass. (For her part, my wife is blessed with a natural and easy acceptance of events that I lack.)

Today, in a way, feels like a day that shouldn't have been. We stagger-stepped between past and future, and it's difficult to slip into the present so as make it productive. I've so much to do, but everything feels like waiting.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:12 PM | Comments (3)
Diary & Confession

The 9/11 Commission's Iraq/al Qaeda Statement Enters Phase 2

In April 2003, I noted the truth by repetition strategy of creating "common knowledge." In September, I described the mechanism whereby true statements are transformed into a pattern of deception. A sort of in between strategy — which I think I've described before but can't find just now — is to add layers of spin until an untruth is common knowledge. The 9/11 Commission's suggestion about links between Iraq and al Qaeda has already entered its second phase of spin.

The statement itself, the context of which seems to overstate what can be said to be "apparent," is simply: "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." From this, the Associated Press reported:

The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks found "no credible evidence" of a link between Iraq and al-Qaida in attacks against the United States, contradicting President Bush's assertion that such a connection was among the reasons it was necessary to topple Saddam Hussein.

Note the contorted language: "a link between Iraq and al-Qaida in attacks." What does that even mean, grammatically? What it means, in practice, is that the reporter, Hope Yen, was trying to find a way to reconcile the first-paragraph declaration of a Bush "assertion" with the sixth-paragraph admission that:

[The Bush administration] stopped short of claiming that Iraq was directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks but critics say Bush officials left that impression with the American public.

Be the difference between giving critics an impression and making an assertion what it may, "no evidence of cooperation" has become "no evidence of a link," something that the commission's document (PDF) clearly disproves:

The Sudaneses, to protect their own ties with Iraq, reportedly persuaded Bin Ladin to cease this support [of anti-Saddam Islamists] and arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Ladin in 1994... There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after Bin Ladin had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.

Nonetheless, the layering continues. Today, the AP blurs all distinctions between ties, links, collaboration on specific projects, and so on, and presents the commission's statement as evidence that one of the president's justifications for war has been undermined:

The independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks said Wednesday that no evidence exists that al-Qaida had strong ties to Saddam Hussein - a central justification the Bush administration had for toppling the former Iraqi regime. Bush also argued that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, which have not been found, and that he ruled his country by with an iron fist and tortured political opponents.

Although bin Laden asked for help from Iraq in the mid-1990s, Saddam's government never responded, according to a report by the commission staff based on interviews with government intelligence and law enforcement officials. The report asserted that "no credible evidence" has emerged that Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 strikes.

Bush said Saddam was a threat because he had not only ties to al-Qaida, but to other terrorist networks as well.

Now, "cooperation on attacks" is made to cover everything from vague "strong ties" to specific involvement "in the Sept. 11 strikes." Everything but the carefully worded claim that the commission actually made. In this way, the president can always be said to have premised the war on something that isn't proven.

Recollections may differ, and I'm not going to go in search of contemporary statements, but my sense is that the pattern hasn't changed from the very start, with "critics" saying that the president premised the war on specific involvement in 9/11, and the administration clarifying that the War on Terror is more broadly against a network of groups and states and that Iraq was part of it. When information comes out indicating a lack of links, the accusations of the "critics" grow broader. When information comes out indicating some communication, the claims of the "critics" become more specific. When pressed, the media throws up the "impression" screen.

At what level of the process, I wonder, is it necessary for mutually reaffirming delusions to give way to active (and despicable) deception?

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:03 PM
News Media

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:55 AM

Talk About Boggling the Mind

One has to wonder what Andrew Sullivan believes conservative positions to be:

Let's list a few: the WMD intelligence debacle - the worst blow to the credibility of the U.S. in a generation; Abu Ghraib - a devastating wound to to America's moral standing in the world; the post-war chaos and incompetence in Iraq; an explosion in federal spending with no end in sight; no entitlement reform; a huge addition to fiscal insolvency with the Medicare drug entitlement; support for a constitutional amendment, shredding states' rights; crusades against victimless crimes, like smoking pot and watching porn; the creeping fusion of religion and politics; the erosion of some critical civil liberties in the Patriot Act. I could go on. Is there any point at which a conservative might consider not voting for Bush?

It looks like he thinks "conservative" means "small-government liberal"; as with his morphing of Ronald Reagan into his own image, rather than trace the intellectual processes whereby people with whom he shares some opinions branch away from him, he ignores the division. More significant, however, are the first few in his bill of accusations. Here, it isn't that conservatives aren't concerned about faulty intelligence, America's moral standing, or setbacks in war, but that they don't buy the anti-Bush spin that Sullivan has been so keen to promote of late. Consider his subsequent post, in response to a New York Times piece about a single captured terrorist who apparently slipped through the cracks for a few months in Iraq:

Besides, the reason that the suspect was regarded as so important, apparently, was because he "possessed significant information about Ansar al Islam's leadership structure, training and locations." And yet - here's the mind-blowing part - he was only interviewed once in "one cursory arrival interrogation"! Here's a military desperately trying to get information on the insurgency; they go to extraordinary lengths to sequester a key informant; they do something that is "deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine, and in violation of international law," according to the Taguba report; both Tenet and Rumsfeld sign off on this shady business; and then ... nothing! It boggles the mind. Here we have two features of the Iraq occupation that we have slowly come to see close-up: the violation of settled military ethics and international law, authorized by the highest authorities, and complete incompetence.

Actually, this is spin on top of spin. Apart from whatever twists the Times put on the story — and I love the reporters' concern that a terrorist who would otherwise be actively attacking our troops is "still languishing at the prison" — Sullivan ignores the timeline, exaggerates the implications, and diminishes the role of the CIA in order to get more directly at Rumsfeld.

A quick review: the prisoner was captured in July 2003, and CIA officials interrogated him in "an undisclosed location outside of Iraq" until October. At that time, George Tenet requested that Rumsfeld hold the prisoner in military detention in Iraq, and Rumsfeld agreed to do so, with lawyers signing off on the decision at every step down the chain of command. In January, the CIA asked about the prisoner (whether as routine procedure or with the intention to interrogate him [again], we don't know), but his location wasn't immediately available. Either before or after this point, the military police sent requests up the chain of command for guidance, which presumably would have ultimately come from the CIA, and by the end of May/beginning of June, Rumsfeld's top intelligence aide, Stephen Cambone, personally contacted the CIA "to request that the agency deal with the suspect or else have him go into the prison's regular reporting system."

In summary, a terrorist who had been interrogated for about four months fell into the gap between the military and the CIA for a few months thereafter. Only a person whose standards for military efficiency, while actively fighting insurgents and rebuilding a distant country, are impossibly high for ulterior reasons would hyperventilate over this single incident. Of course, Sullivan would suggest that this incident is representative, but with a news media actively seeking out any and every lapse, oversight, or extreme act, any endeavor, let alone one as massive as a war and occupation, could be painted with similar hues of incompetence.

The interested observer can only opine that Sullivan would not wish his own professional activities to be treated with the same degree of scrutiny and inflation. Indeed, he lashes out with arrogant defensiveness when it's suggested that he's been working around "an extremely significant silence":

Pace Jonah, I have been quite clear in this blog that, in my judgment, no self-respecting gay person could vote for Bush; and I consider myself a self-respecting gay person. In my first response to the FMA, I wrote that "[t]his president has now made the Republican party an emblem of exclusion and division and intolerance. Gay people will now regard it as their enemy for generations - and rightly so." I wrote in a fit of hyperbole on March 3 that Kerry "will get every gay vote and every vote from their families and friends." Get the drift?

He hasn't been so clear, apparently, as to prevent Glenn Reynolds, who is closer to Sullivan than to Goldberg on same-sex marriage, from being surprised at the news that Sullivan "rejected Bush's candidacy last month." I guess the fact that Reynolds wasn't aware of Sullivan's piece in the Advocate indicates a condescension that is "insulting to gay people," as well.

Of course, Goldberg's comments were entirely from the point of view of "readers of Sullivan's site," and as Sullivan admits, his "pieces are written for a specific audience." The question that Goldberg is not alone in having, in light of the Advocate piece, is why Sullivan has allowed his blog's audience to believe that his mind wasn't made up about "who's the better candidate for the next four years." Personally, I'm inclined to agree with a comment by Sage to my post on this topic last night:

I am of the opinion that Sully has kept his game of hokey-pokey going for so long because the Daily Dish is such a cash cow for him. It remains so only so long as he gets to play the enigmatic "conservative." The moment he is recognized as just another gay advocate, he loses his status as the maverick, the non-partisan, the invincibly honest intellect.

So, Andrew, do we get the drift, yet?

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:41 AM | Comments (3)

June 16, 2004

Caught in the Conflict

Well, well, well. I'm certainly anxious to see how Andrew Sullivan attempts to wriggle away from the tidbit that Jonah Goldberg has dug up:

As even moderate readers of Sullivan's site can attest, his positions of late have been something of a moving target. I get lots of conjecture from our mutual audiences about "what's going on" with Sullivan and it varies in persuasiveness. Whatever his motivations, no one who reads his stuff can deny that he's moved increasingly into the anti-Bush camp, often for reasons that don't seem powerful or at least persuasive enough to match his pro-Bush conviction from, say, this time last year (See my "everyone into the pool" post below).

But I must say I was surprised to discover this link from the gay magazine The Advocate. It seems that Andrew had been unequivocal about his opinions on Bush in that publication but not in his blog

Even Glenn Reynolds thinks it a significant enough find to merit a link, so it isn't just a social conservative thing. Of course, it's not much of a surprise to those who've been watching Sullivan over the past year or more, but perhaps the truth will spread.

Until very recently, even many of those who vehemently disagree with Sullivan about homosexuality have thought his analysis of other issues to be worthwhile. It seems to me reasonably clear, now, that the list of topics upon which he can be taken seriously as anything other than a gay advocate — even if the issue is not comprehensibly related to homosexuality — has dwindled to the point of nonexistence.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:41 PM | Comments (4)

Things of More Importance

Just so's you know, it's looking like tonight might end in the maternity ward for the Katzes. Posting, that is to say, might be light.

Oops... even as I type.

Talk to you later.

Well, we jumped the gun. At least we got a dress rehearsal.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:57 PM
Diary & Confession

Living Forever Minus One

In a follow-up to "How Long Should People Live?," Glenn Reynolds addresses some of the concerns that I'd raised. Most significantly, he reins in the discussion, giving the range about which he's talking:

Short of immortality, though, it wouldn't be surprising to see people's healthy lifespans extended well past the century mark. A doubling of the biblical threescore-and-ten is certainly not beyond reason. But would such an accomplishment be a blessing, or a curse, from society's standpoint?

For my part, I was responding to lives' being much longer than that, considering that Reynolds's first piece spent the first few paragraphs talking about the reversal of aging. The second concern to which Reynolds responds is meatier, engaging in, rather than just setting the terms of, the discussion:

... perhaps a dramatic lengthening of lifespans would yield stagnation and resentment. Older people would entrench themselves in their positions, while juniors would fester with no real hope of getting ahead. Progress would dry up as creative minds wasted their best years in uncreative apprenticeships, under the sour scrutiny of their elders. The result: a dull, uncreative gerontocracy.

Suggesting that "we've pretty much done that experiment already," with no ill effects, Reynolds points out that life expectancy has increased by thirty years since 1900. The lesser tweak that I would apply to that statistic is that, given the history of the last century, a good portion of that gain has probably been among the groups less likely to have access to leadership positions in which to settle.

Data by economic class is understandably difficult to come by, but breakdowns by sex and race (PDF) offer a suggestion of what might be found. From 1900 to 2000, women gained 3.4 more years than men did; blacks out-gained whites by 8.9 years. I don't think I'm assuming to much to suggest that the poor/rich split would be at least that large. In other words, the entrenchment "experiment" hasn't been run to the degree that a similar gain over the next century, to 103 by 2100, would entail — let alone Reynolds's outside number of 140.

More significantly, perhaps, there are at least two substantive differences in the decades of life that have been gained versus those that would henceforth be gained. First, most of the improvements thus far have had to do with illness and basic health, not deterioration, and one need only look to Ronald Reagan to see that human beings are capable of active, creative contribution to society through their seventies. Will the same be true when a 100-year-old has as many years left as a 70-year-old does now? Second, even if capability increases with life expectancy, not only would new generations face a longer wait for existing career vacancies, but the number of people who would live to the age that once was "old" would increase tremendously. Not only would 70 become 100, but the number of 70-year-olds would explode.

The notion of making younger generations wait longer ties into an indication that these profound changes open holes even as we try to grasp certain aspects. Note the parenthetical:

One might object to longer lifespans on other grounds -- perhaps Leon Kass's argument that death is a "blessing," and that the finitude of life is what inspires us to achieve great and daring things. And maybe that's true (though the young are famously unreflective of death, and yet also the ones most likely to attempt great and daring things).

As I asked last time, how long do we want adolescence to extend? Do we really want 40-year-old teenagers? This problem overlaps with the previous: if careers are going to extend outward at the high end, we'll have to find some maturing occupation for those at the other end. Put differently, I'm not sure how much responsibility there is to go around, and I have to confess apprehension about the type of adults who would emerge from post-post-post-graduate education regimes.

All of this converges in a threat to the only irreducible requirement that Reynolds mentions: "I think that the fear that longer lives will lead to more rigidity and less creativity is unlikely to come true, at least so long as we continue to embrace democratic capitalism." Whether we add decades to early life or late life, or both, we end up with large segments of society that require some degree of public support and wield significant political force.

Reynolds mentions increasing turnover among CEOs, second and third careers, and older law-school students, but surely that's an exclusive cut of society. Will those over 65, representing nearly half of the total population, accept late-life careers handing out stickers at Wal-Mart, or will they attempt to rig the system in their favor? Perhaps society could attempt to buy off the older half with promises of healthcare and retirement subsidies, but somebody's going to have to manage the social scheme. At some point, as the elderly are displaced, the power will shift to the younger population, who may see the bribed seniors as an unjust drag on the system. Herein lies one potential source of the "death aplenty" that Reynolds mentions.

I've only offered a handful of issues that came quickly to mind, but many more exist, and some that will emerge are impossible to guess from our current vantage point. At the end of the day, it seems to me that dramatic economic and cultural adjustment will be an inevitable consequence of rapid increases in life expectancy. That democratic capitalism will survive the transition is by no means ensured. Neither is our humanity.

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

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:01 AM

Pedophile Checkers

I've been intending to note Gabriel Rosenberg's response to my post that pointed out two "of the trail markers along the slippery slope that supporters of Lawrence assured us did not exist." One of those markers was a footnote in an ACLU brief that referred to teenagers' "well-established" right to make personal decisions about sex and marriage. Rosenberg quotes a sentence from the first paragraph of the footnote and writes:

Note that this is still an equal protection argument. Under federal law there is generally two ways in which an equal protection claim can force a heavy burden on the state to justify its unequal treatment of individuals. One way is if the differential treatment was based on some suspect classification like race, or in this case, gender. That is the main argument being made here. The other way, though, is if the subject matter of the unequal treatment concerns a fundamental right.

We're dealing with shades of rhetoric, here. I merely claimed, following the Kansas Attorney General, whom Clayton Cramer quotes, that this is a glimpse of an argument that may be brought into play later in the culture wars. Here's the paragraph of the footnote that Rosenberg doesn't provide (see sheet 23 of this PDF):

In addition, the exclusion in the Romeo & Juliet law must satisfy heightened scrutiny because it provides gay teenagers with differential access to a fundamental right. While a teenager's constitutional rights are more limited than an adult's rights, and while the state is more likely to have a significant or compelling state interest that justifies intruding upon a teenager's rights, it is well established that teenagers — including gay teenagers — have a due process liberty interest in being free from state compulsion in personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships and sexual intimacy; it is also well established that laws that burden a teenager's liberty interest must be narrowly tailored to advance a compelling governmental interest unless they advance "a significant state interest that is not present in the case of an adult."

Returning to Rosenberg's post, I was pleased to see that frequent commenter Ben Bateman had already made the core of the rebuttal that I intended to offer:

The concern is not that the ACLU is literally arguing for legalizing pedophilia in the Limon case. It doesn't work like that. It hasn't worked like that. The point is that footnote 4 attempts to introduce the foundation for a future move to legalize pedophilia. If a court agreed with and cited the above quote as a correct statement of law, then it would be much easier for some future court to extend that logic just a little further and conclude that laws against pedophilia aren't narrowly tailored enough, don't meet a rational basis test, or whatever excuse they want to use. ...

I think you're too smart not to understand how that language could be used to legalize pedophilia. You just don't think that the courts would actually do it. And just like in Lawrence and Goodridge, the courts won't tell you that they're going to do it until they've done it. So I guess you won't believe it is happening until it has already happened.

I would add that the subsequent citations in the ACLU footnote claim precedent for two points. First, that "minors have liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Second, that Lawrence established "that liberty interest in personal autonomy includes matters of private, intimate conduct and protects gay people just as it protects heterosexuals."

Responding to Ben, Rosenberg admits that he thought Lawrence "would be [decided] on equal protection grounds and expressly not overturn" Bowers v. Hardwick, a case upholding sodomy bans. It seems to me that much the same move is coming together for age-of-consent laws. As much as he insists on keeping the footnote in context, Rosenberg ignores the other "marker" in my post, which pointed to a comment in a judge's dissent to a statutory rape case involving a mentally retarded adult. The judge wrote:

Expert testimony at trial also suggested an invitation to apply one's own moral framework to JH's sexual choice. In explaining why JH's consent was not valid, the prosecution's non-medical expert on sexually abused, mentally retarded individuals testified that whereas JH sees "sex" as merely a physical act, "If you ask, you know, anyone else what sex was or what intercourse is you see an entire picture. You see the candles, the wine, the dating, you know, whatever else goes on. With her sex is just one quick spur of the moment thing."

That the state may not burden a particular sexual choice out of distaste or disagreement is the central holding of Lawrence.

Now look back at the precedent in the ACLU footnote. The first confirms minors' due process rights; the second specifically extends those rights to include sex, which, in essence, is the expanded ruling that Rosenberg hadn't expected in Lawrence. They may not, ultimately, prove necessary, but we can add in a couple of other factors to give an idea of areas from which the "unthinkable" ruling might come.

Consider, first, the possibility that the judge's dissent in the adult rape case may someday be vindicated in another ruling elsewhere. Consider, second, parental consent laws for abortion; the ACLU footnote lumps procreation and contraception with intimate conduct. In 1990, Hodgen v. Minnesota, the Supreme Court found that a state could only require notification of both parents if a court could bypass the requirement. Justice Stevens opined:

The State has no legitimate interest in conforming family life to a state-designed ideal by requiring family members to talk together. Nor can the State's interest in protecting a parent's interest in shaping a child's values and lifestyle overcome the liberty interests of a minor acting with the consent of a single parent or court.

So, if Lawrence is found to invalidate laws that step in when mentally retarded adults consent to sex, mental capacity (much less maturity) becomes less rational of a basis to render consent legally impossible, the bias being construed as merely inapplicable "distaste or disagreement." Justice Stevens diminishes "a parent's interest in shaping a child's values and lifestyle" in comparison with the child's liberty interests in the context of abortion. And the ACLU lashes contraception and procreation with sexual conduct, while arguing that minors' due process rights cover "private, intimate conduct."

Suppose a case like the Kansas one for which the ACLU submitted its brief reaches the Supreme Court. Hop, hop, hop. Lawrence Jr.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:45 AM | Comments (4)

June 15, 2004

Boxers or Briefs?

So, anyway, umm. Although, usual problems notwithstanding, it is generally upbeat and fair, I'm not sure how I feel about the following from Time's piece about bloggers:

We may be in the golden age of blogging, a quirky Camelot moment in Internet history when some guy in his underwear with too much free time can take down a Washington politician. It will be interesting to see what role blogs play in the upcoming election. Blogs can be a great way of communicating, but they can keep people apart too. If I read only those of my choice, precisely tuned to my political biases and you read only yours, we could end up a nation of political solipsists, vacuum sealed in our private feedback loops, never exposed to new arguments, never having to listen to a single word we disagree with.

On one hand, it's an acknowledgement of blogs' growing influence and legitimacy. On the other, it evinces some of the lingering distaste of big media folks for blogs.

If "some guy in his underwear" can, through time spent blogging, effect real change in this country's leadership, how is that indicative of his having "too much free time"? It seems pretty fruitful to me. Moreover, I wonder how many readers — particularly bloggers — had to stifle laughs at the notion that the major media sources don't offer just such "feedback loops," made worse by their facade of objectivity.

A comment from Joel persuaded me to reread the article, and I agreed that I was initially too harsh in my reaction. I've edited the post accordingly.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:20 PM | Comments (1)
Bloggers Blogging

An Obfuscatory House of Cards

Lucia of Alas, a Blog, has responded, in three separate posts, to my criticism of an earlier post in which she put forward the theory that some improving trends in American family statistics have been a positive result of advocacy for same-sex marriage. Some folks, in her comment sections, have suggested that her effort is more satire than argument, and she hasn't disabused them of the notion.

That may be the case, although it would represent a disproportionate effort on her part, if you ask me. For my part, since Lucia has been cordial in private email, I'm inclined to pursue the most charitable interpretation. (I'll leave it to others to decide whether satire would, in fact, be the charitable interpretation.)

It seems to me that the distinction is largely irrelevant, anyway. If her essays represent a sincere argument, then they ought to be rebutted as such. If they don't hold up as if they were sincere, then they fail as satire, as well. And herein lies my difficulty: I'm not sure how to respond in either case. In some places, it is as if she's just taken the first link of a Google search as evidence. In other places, it's as if she didn't read what I wrote.

Here's the point from her original post to which I most specifically objected:

A careful look at the campaign for same sex marriage in the US shows that its principle themes are to promote responsible parenthood and long term commitment. Advocates of same sex marriage like Jonathan Rauch and court cases like Goodridge vs. Massachusetts stressed both themes. This important message seems to be getting out; American parents seem about to reverse the long term trend of forgoing marriage.

The largest flaw that I see in this theory is that responsible parenthood has by no means been a principal theme of the campaign. As I wrote at the time:

The first thing to note is that one must look carefully indeed — some might say narrowly — to believe that the principal themes of the same-sex marriage movement have been as Lucia describes.

Note that I wrote that one must look narrowly, not "define the themes too narrowly," as Lucia rephrases in her first response. Be that as it may, Lucia does nothing to disprove either accusation. Instead, she offers this (emphases in original):

The way I define a "principal theme" is related to how I categorizes the numerous campaigns operating simultaneously under an umbrella or parent campaign. In this context, the campaign for same sex marriage falls under the parent campaign for gay rights. I see the assertion of the right to marry as the one of the principal themes of the parent campaign for gay rights. Other themes in the parent campaign include the right to nondiscrimination in employment and housing, and decriminalizing gay sex. Looked at individually, many of the themes of the parent campaigns are themselves campaigns, which we could call child campaigns. Each child campaign has its own principle themes.

The campaign for gay marriage as a child campaign, has its own principal themes which distinguish the child campaign from the parent campaign. Promoting long term commitment and responsible parenthood number among the principal themes of those advocating legalized same sex marriage.

I apologize for my candor, but this is just obfuscatory nonsense, which Lucia employs in order to notch up the theme that she wishes to declare as principal. If the central declaration on behalf of same-sex marriage is the rights-based theme, the fact that it is the central declaration for every campaign under the "gay rights" umbrella does not make it less principal to this one. This is particularly true in light of the observed effect that Lucia proposes, a cultural one having to do with the message that people are hearing for this specific movement.

This accords entirely with Stanley Kurtz's ideas, which Lucia mistakenly characterizes as follows (emphases in original):

Dr. Kurtz seems to think one of the principal themes of those advocating same sex marriage is the idea that parents should not be married, or that unmarried parents are preferable to married parents. Right or wrong, his theme and mine are equally narrow, and being excessivly narrow is the flaw Mr. Katz finds in my choice of theme.

That strikes me as a dramatically distorted paraphrase of Kurtz's argument. He argues that, as an underlying necessity of the rights-based assertions, the effect of SSM advocacy is to disconnect the presumed ability to conceive mutual children from marriage, which is supposed to lock biological parents into child-rearing families. But once again, the flaw to which I pointed is not that the theme is excessively narrow, but that Lucia must have looked narrowly to see it as central, not to mention that her evidence post-dates the effects that it supposedly had — all of which she only proves in attempting to address the complaint as she phrased it.

For the "love and commitment" theme, she cites Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch, providing (without citation) a single line from Sullivan. I'm willing to concede that this theme has been significant with these two authors (although still subordinate to civil rights). Nonetheless, as far as I know, Rauch didn't enter the scene until after the window of influence for Lucia's theory, and even Sullivan has admitted that his argument has represented only part of the internal debate among homosexuals:

... there has been a long debate among gays about marriage rights and those of us who took the conservative position, despite enormous pressure and vitriol from our peers, have largely won the argument.

I'm not in a position to put a date on that ostensible victory, but I will point out that Sullivan's first book on the topic, Virtually Normal (which was groundbreaking at the time) didn't come out until 1995, and that he had not declared the battle even "largely" over by the time of his Same-Sex Marriage: A Reader in 1997. But my point put more emphasis on the idea of parenthood, and to this Lucia offers the following (see her post for the links):

Sullivan discussed the need to unite gays and lesbians with their own children, the importance of marriage as a place to nurture children, and the benefit of providing a stable home headed by a married couple in at least three articles available on the web, published in 1989, 1997, 1998. While promoting his book, Jonathan Rauch observes ".... marriage is the best environment for raising children and wonders why conservatives don't seem to consider the 28 percent of homosexual couples with children." He reiterates the importance of marriage to children here.; he laments the trend toward unmarried cohabitation particularly when children are involved here.

With one exception, every single one of these articles falls after the beginning of the trend that she's following. And here's the entire appearance of this "principal theme" in the one exception:

Since there's no reason gays should not be allowed to adopt or be foster parents, it could also help nurture children.

One sentence. With a "could." Every one of the Sullivan articles cited is equally brief on the matter. Rauch's comments are all from the '00s, as are the blogs that have emerged "recently." Sorry, Lucia. That won't do. It certainly doesn't justify the subsequent racial aspersions with which she closes the first post.

Frankly, the execution and end of part one make me hesitant to bother going on to the second, but as I suggested, I'm taking Lucia at her word that she's not simply wasting my time. First, she responds to my mention of "welfare reform in the '90s":

Justin Katz is correct; I did not consider that the 1995 deceleration might have resulted from The 1996 Welfare Reform Act, signed into law in late August. Women who became pregnant the day the bill was signed would give birth in May 1997, contributing to the 1997 birth statistics. In any case, one might expect a somewhat longer time lag. After all, it is possible that co-habiting couples might spend a few months deciding to marry and then a few more planning their wedding.

It's difficult to know how to respond. First, I didn't mention the specific act. If we're going by the actual enactment of laws, then same-sex marriage is entirely outside of consideration for a trend starting in 1995. (Judicially imposed SSM in Hawaii never went into effect.) Since attitudes and arguments are more significant to this discussion, here's the third promised law in the "Contract with America," which was released as part of the Republicans' 1994 campaign:

THE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT: Discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by prohibiting welfare to minor mothers and denying increased AFDC for additional children while on welfare, cut spending for welfare programs, and enact a tough two-years-and-out provision with work requirements to promote individual responsibility.

The Republicans won the House and took over in 1995. That year, the percentage of births out of wedlock overall actually dropped (PDF), despite an increase among white non-Hispanics. Now, I'm not stating that the election or the results thereof should receive the full credit for the shift. However, I will stress that — if there's at least loose alignment between welfare and race, on one hand, and socially liberal family theories and race, on the other — the group about which Lucia is apparently talking, "co-habiting couples," has had very little to do with the overall trend. More significantly, the group that did drive the overall trend would have been that most affected by welfare reform.

Thereafter, Lucia offers a barrage of points that all miss my characterization of a "boost effect," which I described thus:

For example, I've suggested that the debate itself can cause a healthy boost in marriage statistics, as those inclined to support traditional marriage strengthen their own. If same-sex marriage is in the news and a person opposes it — for whatever reason, but using traditionalist rhetoric — that person is less likely to devalue his or her own marriage.

This is one of the instances in which I question whether Lucia was reading the post that I actually wrote, because she declares, "I thought that general theory was precisely the one I suggested!" Obviously, a negative boost and a positive boost are substantially different.

She writes of SSM advocates' describing "the numerous advantages of marriage, and how marriage benefits children," although she's shown no evidence that this was a principal theme in the relevant timeframe. (And no evidence as to why blacks and Hispanics would be so disproportionately persuaded by the arguments.) She writes that the "pure joy of watching happy people marry often causes people to value marriage," although not a single gay couple had been married, yet, and marriage rates were falling. And to top it all off, she quotes Gabriel Rosenberg arguing (recently, I presume, although there's no direct link) that the terms of the debate should be changed to make the argument akin to that which she says has been "principal" all along.

She then goes on to do to the opposition to SSM what she did to those who support it, anachronistic elevation of specific factors:

If the eight messages I found were the dominant themes of opposition to SSM during in the nineties, as they currently seem to be, it is unlikely opponents' arguments contributed to the deceleration in the non-marital birth ratio. More likely, it would lead to an acceleration. So, I find idea that the deceleration in the non-marital birth rate was due to the themes promoted by the opponents of same sex marriage highly unlikely. It seems fortunate to me that people listened to the advice of advocates of SSM who said marriage is valuable, and all parents should be married.

This is deceptive on every level. Every single one of the pieces that Lucia cites is too recent to apply. Most of the linked points are presented within larger arguments or are made within the context of specific aspects of the debate. Moreover, none of them conflict with my characterization of the boost effect. If the majority of Americans oppose marriage — which the majority most definitely did in the '90s and still do — then having the threat of decadence laid out will make them move away from that which they oppose. A straight man's statement that gay men should not be able to marry because they will not be monogamous is another reminder that he, himself, should remain monogamous.

Last point on part two, and then I'll moving on (emphasis Lucia's):

Katz provides lengthy direct quotes wherein Dr. Kurtz speculates as to the various stages involved in destroying matrimony as an institution. Dr. Kurtz finally concludes "this will result in a rapid increase of out-of-wedlock births as a result of loosening sexual and marital mores and laws".

Suffice it to say that Dr. Kurtz's theory which predicts a rapid increase is not supported by the US data which shows a factor of four deceleration in the rate-of- change in out-of-wedlock births during the American campaign for sex marriage.

All I can say is that Lucia completely missed the point. Moreover, the quoted conclusion was actually my rephrasing of the first stage. (Although it might not have been clear to what I was specifically referring, it should have been clear that it was my writing.) Here's what I wrote:

Generically, this will result in a rapid increase of out-of-wedlock births as a result of loosening sexual and marital mores and laws. At some point, this levels off, if only for a time. His argument is that separating the notions of procreation, parenthood, and marriage kicks off another increase. ...

Given the various arguments, or even just looking at the chart that accompanies Kurtz's "Going Dutch?" piece, the question is whether the trend up to [the issue's coming to the public's attention over the past year or so] does in fact represent a reversal, or merely a temporary plateau.

Let me be more clear: Looking at Kurtz's chart, and reading his argument, what he is saying is that loosening sexual mores cause an increase in out-of-wedlock births, which we've seen in this country. At some point, this can level off, as it did in Kurtz's chart for the Dutch and as it is currently doing in the U.S. Next, according to Kurtz, as advocates for SSM argue that the mutual creation of children is not central to marriage, another increase begins, this one steeper and perhaps fatal to the institution. We have yet to see this in the United States, and those who oppose SSM hope to avoid it altogether.

As I said, Lucia has a third post, which just went up this afternoon, but I don't have the energy to give it a thorough review. To be honest, my confidence that she isn't playing games with me has decreased significantly since I began to respond. Suffice to say that she cites me, of all people, arguing that effects of changes in the law will be delayed, in order to suggest that:

Because of this delay, one would expect 1995 would be first year when the birth rate might be unambiguously affected by the 1993 Hawaii ruling. That is precisely when the transition became evident, and supports my contention that the transition occurred after the Hawaii Ruling which brought the pro-family pro-commitment message of those advocating legalized same sex marriage to national attention. American's listened and responded.

Now, apparently, her argument isn't that the points made on behalf of SSM affected out-of-wedlock births, but that a specific ruling in Hawaii did so. The first problem with the new tack is that Lucia does not address why subsequent events in the opposite direction — e.g., national DOMA legislation in 1996 and the amending of Hawaii's constitution in 1998 — had no apparent effect. Second, she ignores that Baehr v. Lewin did not make the argument that is central to her theory, instead confirming my assertion that the principal argument for SSM has been rights-based:

The result we reach today is in complete harmony with the Loving Court's observation that any state's powers to regulate marriage are subject to the constraints imposed by the constitutional right to the equal protection of the laws. If it should ultimately be determined that the marriage laws of Hawaii impermissibly discriminate against the appellants, based on the suspect category of sex, then that would be the result of the interrelation of existing legislation.

In sum: having raised numerous objections to her argument, and with the underlying sense that I may have been had in doing so, I reject Lucia's assertion that it "is now up to the opponents of same-sex marriage to show why we should believe them when they say that same-sex marriage will weaken American marriage as a social institution." Her move has not been successfully made, whether it's sincere or satirical.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:59 PM
Marriage & Family

Effects of the Vast Minority

You've heard all those arguments about how 2–5% of the population couldn't affect the marriages of the rest? Well, Michael Sellitto disagrees:

As has been posted here before (I believe), and the media covered, there is a small, but growing, group of heterosexual couples who choose to not get married because their gay and lesbian friends cannot marry. They feel that getting married would be uncomfortable and distasteful, given the lack of equality for their friends and family.

At the same time, the "gays don't need marriage" crowd are doing a great job convincing straight couples--who automatically get more common-law protection than same-sex couples--that they (opposite-sex couples) don't need marriage either. Why should opposite sex couples feel the need to marry when they see their gay and lesbian friends told that they do not need marriage to protect them or their children? ...

A federal marriage amendment would only exacerbate these issues. Straight couples who were iffy before the FMA would be pushed over the top to being completely uncomfortable taking part in "marriage" when their friends and family are written out of the US Constitution.

Apparently, knowledge of and admiration for same-sex couples — with children — is so pervasive that we will become a nation of socially liberal activists! I know absolutely nothing about Mr. Sellitto, but it seems to me that his argument is indicative of the tendency among social liberals to believe that, not only are their beliefs universal, but the circumstances in which they personally form and apply those beliefs must also be universal. To simplify in context: because heterosexual couples whom one knows are so supportive of gay acquaintances and their claims to marriage rights that they might be willing to forgo marriage for themselves, such protests will become a significant trend.

I'm going to go out on a limb, here, and suggest that it simply is not the case, and never will be, that the majority of people in this country are close to such families. Moreover, it seems plausible that many of those who are and who approve will be those who also support corrosively permissive rules for heterosexual marriage. Couples who see marriage as little more than a contract are couples for whom marriage can be a cultural and political statement.

More importantly, if demographics are to be believed, the people most in need of a strong cultural message for marriage — those less inclined toward nuclear families and less able to absorb the repercussions of eschewing them — will be the least likely to know any poster families for the gay marriage movement. If that's the case, the less well-off will receive not the marriage-affirming message that Sellitto argues would accompany experience with married same-sex couples, but the cultural message that marriage isn't about families so much as couples.

To the (limited) extent that the anti argument actually is that "gays don't need marriage," it suggests that homosexual relationships don't beget children. In every particular, their families are a matter of direct choice. As I've written several times:

A strong cultural expectation of marriage is most important for those whose behavior makes marriage preferable even though it mightn't be what they would choose in a void. A couple whose members thoroughly commit to each other purely as a matter of choice — considering that commitment to be absolutely binding (as Sullivan believes all marriages should be) — are in no need of a public institution, or at least the "spouses" need it less. To get to the point, marriage isn't meant to be a choice, strictly speaking, because those who would choose it don't require incentive, and the real benefit of marriage isn't the perks, but the familial structure for children.

In the context of "strong cultural expectation," note something that Sellitto slipped into his post: "straight couples--who automatically get more common-law protection than same-sex couples." Inasmuch as only 16 states recognize common-law marriages, I'm not sure that Sellitto is correct in his assertion (and common-law marriages differ from marriage only in the method of entrance).

Assuming he's talking about something else and characterizes it correctly, however, his insinuation seems to be that all cultural acknowledgments of sexual difference ought to be erased to the point that presumptions about same-sex relationships ought to be no different than presumptions about opposite-sex relationships. For "common-law protection" to extend to gay couples, regardless of relative frequency, two men living together must evoke the same legal and cultural reaction as a man and a woman living together. Supporters of SSM may not have a problem with that, but the position is a radical one, with tremendous consequences for society.

If this Michael Sellitto is the same as the New Yorker who wrote to Russ Maney of Snitch Newsweekly, however, debate about cultural consequences isn't likely to bear much fruit:

If you look back in time, almost all of the great men of history were essentially raised in same-sex environments. The wealthy class would send their men off to boarding schools where they lived with other boys and were taught by men. All of their developmental years were spent almost exclusively with males. And, call me crazy, but I have a lot of respect for the Founding Fathers, and I think they were pretty successful.

In a world in which the history of boarding schools is legitimate evidence that children don't do better with a parent of each gender perhaps it does make sense that an amendment confirming the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman would spur men and women to abandon marriage.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:35 PM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

A Classic Strategem

You don't get much clearer examples of a certain strategy of rhetorical activism than this. Andrew Sullivan writes:

Jonathan Rauch evaluates Virginia's new law, forbidding same-sex couples from even setting up their own private contracts to protet their relationships:
Before Thomas Jefferson substituted the timeless phrase "pursuit of happiness," the founding fathers held that mankind's unalienable entitlements were to life, liberty and property. By "property" they meant not just material possessions but what we call autonomy. "Every man has a property in his own person," John Locke said.

It is by entering into contracts that we bind ourselves to each other. Without the right of contract, participation in economic and social life is impossible; thus is that right enshrined in Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution. Slaves could not enter into contracts because they were the property of others rather than themselves; nor could children, who were wards of their parents. To be barred from contract, the founders understood, is to lose ownership of oneself.

To abridge the right of contract for same-sex partners, then, is to deny not just gay coupledom, in the law's eyes, but gay personhood. It disenfranchises gay people as individuals. It makes us nonpersons, subcitizens. By stripping us of our bonds to each other, it strips us even of ownership of ourselves.

Americans have a name for the use of law in this fashion, and that name is Jim Crow.

Yet the social right finds nothing wrong with this. And no anti-gay marriage conservative has condemned it.

Completely ignored is the fact that conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage don't agree with Rauch and Sullivan about the law's breadth and effects. This is a classic political move of which Sullivan makes frequent use — casually treating a matter of dispute as if opinions are unanimous in order to engage in ad hominem through imputation. The "social right finds nothing wrong with this" because they don't believe that "this" is what's in play.

I'm not going to repeat my opinion about the Virginia law in response to Rauch, because both sides are now simply repeating themselves. Rauch, however, is doing so not to persuade, but as a call to action. The Washington Post headline of his piece is "Virginia's New Jim Crow." He declares that awaiting the judiciary's opinion "could take years." That being the case, people around the country ought to give the legislature "some help in recognizing its error," through boycotts and media pressure.

Then Rauch brings up another incident that actually represents the current cultural struggle much better than he realizes:

... when Rhea County, Tenn., tried to ban gays from living there, it became a national laughingstock and hastily backed down.

Of interest, in this comparison, is not just the suggestion that Virginia, despite legitimate disagreement about what it has done, ought to become a place of derision. It's also that Rhea County provides an example of a case in which there was no disagreement, and yet Sullivan, among others, attempted some of his same tricks.

The significance of Rauch's comparison goes still deeper. Yesterday, Jeremiah Lewis noted another story out of Rhea County:

Judges have once again called upon the fallacious and errant "Separation" argument to support activism concerning religious activities in conjunction with government-sponsored programs and institutions. Here, a voluntary Bible class has been deemed in violation of the separation of church and state because it teaches the Bible as a religious truth.

Seventy-nine years ago, the Scopes Monkey Trial raised the question of whether it ought to be legal to teach evolution in Rhea County. Now, a three-judge panel of a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the county's schools cannot teach the Bible as if religious claims about it are true. Perhaps social conservatives can muster some small gratitude to our opponents for having the patience to allow the courts to work their magic on that issue.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:47 PM | Comments (1)

Victory Sans Enthusiasm

Byron York gives me the impression of a silent star, at National Review. His reporting is solid, his writing interesting, and I don't think he often sparks the amount of discussion that he deserves. Yesterday, he highlighted an interesting dynamic in John Kerry's base of support:

... the sense of excitement was everywhere at the Campaign's three-day conference. It was clear that the activists of the left believe they have the Bush administration on the run.

But for all the excitement about the victory they anticipate, the participants couldn't muster very much excitement for the candidate who is supposed to make it happen. At event after event, speakers were just as likely to say something lukewarm or even critical of Sen. John Kerry as they were to praise him.

The media can't keep up the wall-to-wall negative spin about the Bush administration indefinitely — or at least it can't do so without losing people's attention, if not the last vestiges of its own credibility. Perhaps more importantly, the Democrats aren't going to be able to maintain their candidate's optimal persona as a strong jaw that never opens.

I'm persuaded that much of the discontent with President Bush, on which the liberal activists are pinning their hopes, is in a direction away from Kerry, not toward him. Iraq, the economy, immigration, big government, and so on are all areas in which Kerry will only multiply Bush's ill-conceived positions. Voters know that, even if they grumble about wishing it were not so.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:58 AM

Songs You Should Know 06/15/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Long Way Home" by Mr. Chu.

"Long Way Home" Mr. Chu, Hard Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:05 AM

June 14, 2004

But for a Law Degree

Last week, I noticed that the Liberty Counsel has picked up a strategy for fighting Goodridge about which I've been wondering for some time:

When the Massachusetts court bypassed the legislative and executive branches to change state marriage law, it upset the separation of powers in the state and violated the plaintiffs' rights, under the "guarantee clause" of the U.S. Constitution, to have a republican government, said Mr. Staver, who with other conservative lawyers represent 11 Massachusetts lawmakers and a Boston resident.

Back in February, that argument occurred to me in reaction to Jonathan Rauch's continued assertions that a state has a right to allow its judiciary to be activistic. As I wrote in an email exchange with a conservative writer:

If there's even a guarantee that citizens' state governments will be representative in nature, then there might be room to argue that it is not an affront to federalist principles for the federal government to take action should a judicial oligarchy begin to form. ...

If it is a positive duty of the U.S. to ensure state-level representative democracy, then Rauch's amendment would arguably go against the federal side of the federalist principles that he purports to value by enshrining the notion that the people of a state have a right to hand over their government to a judiciary.

I can't become the King of Rhode Island, even if initially elected to the post, and the Massachusetts legislature can't vote to hand its authority over to the Catholic Church. Therefore, it's a short step to conclude that the Massachusetts legislature can't abdicate its authority to the state's unelected judges. One can argue that the threshold hasn't been reached in Massachusetts, but it's becoming clear to me that there is a threshold.

That, in itself, is an important point to bolster, not the least because advocates for same-sex marriage, for all of whom the courts are a central mechanism, will attempt to wrench it loose, as I found in extended discussion with Gabriel Rosenberg in comments to a post the next day.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:17 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

Accepting the Limits of Time

We're still searching for the Fountain of Youth, we humans, and given that they are less and less a silent constituency, it isn't surprising that secularists are leading the charge. Last week, Glenn Reynolds took up the cause.

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what his argument is with respect to Americans' desire for radical life extension. He notes that "although a few bluenoses sniff at such efforts to hold back the clock, it's pretty obvious that an awful lot of people feel otherwise." On the other hand, the ideas that "human beings are somehow bad, and that death is somehow good... are, [he's] sure, fairly widespread," without even exhausting the "room for the willies."

So, bottom line, are people for it, or are they creeped out by the idea? Or is it that the government should make people pay for the technology before they want it so they can realize that they really do want it when it's a done deal? I'm not sure, but if somebody of Glenn's politics is arguing that the government should fund something for the reason that nobody will voluntarily contribute enough money, the topic merits investigation.

Perhaps one reason pharmaceutical companies aren't investing in research for this prize is that they believe that their chances of maintaining the ability to sell — at a profit — would be next to nil. Could such a technology withstand the pressure to provide it to all? I won't pretend to have a basis even to guess how that would play out, as an economic matter, but it is very easy to imagine the manufacture and distribution of the product becoming a central focus of our society.

Viewed at that level, it seems to me that Reynolds misconstrues the substantive objection. It isn't that "death is somehow good," but that it simply is. To humanity, mortality is central. It isn't that living through the last days of loved ones and facing the inevitability of our own doesn't "suck," but that it makes us who we are. As true as it may be that we continually change who we are, changes of the magnitude about which Reynolds seems to be speaking raise an important question: how inhuman are we willing to become to become superhuman?

As a man of faith, I believe loss thereof to be the greatest threat of all, and the potential for eternal life on Earth certainly changes the immediacy of seeking eternal life with God, to say the least. Michael Williams suggests that, "since many Christians believe in what is called 'eternal security'... the chances of any individual eventually accepting Christ go way up as they live longer." Without delving into Michael's theology, with which I disagree, long, highly manipulatable life begets a frame of mind. Suffice to say that believing that one cannot become "unsaved" in a life that extends toward forever is a perilous combination.

Whether explicitly or implicitly, however, many people don't accept such arguments from faith. Nonetheless, as often is the case, something inadvisable for reasons of religious faith also manifests perniciously in other ways, and the potential for turmoil socially and culturally with radical life extension is tremendous. Will emotional and intellectual adolescence, for example, extend into our fifties? For how long would people work? If you think the AARP is powerful now, imagine the first decade during which there are more people — more generations — over 65 than under! What happens when society's various leaders — in government, in business, in scientific fields — live forever? What will the ambitious folks who would have risen to fill vacated positions do, and how inextricable will the prejudices of their elders become?

Even the premises of Glenn's own argument lose their substance in the presence of their conclusion. Consider his assertion that "birthrates have a much bigger impact on population growth than life expectancies." It makes sense that this would be the case, because births compound, within the count of living people, while deaths do not. For one thing, as far as I'm aware, longevity, not being the consequence of immediate action, doesn't vary as much.

More significantly, even if a generation is born that will live for an additional ten, or even twenty, years, it will not overtake the previous generation. In other words (just picking a number), if the average life expectancy for the parents birthing a new generation now is 80, and the next will live to 90, the previous will be gone long before the subsequent reaches even 80. In contrast, ultra-longevity means, essentially, that birthrates would compound indefinitely. All births would effectively represent one continuous generation.

Simple economics provide additional reason for concern: the more of something we have, the less value it has. This applies to years of life. One reads of survivors of traumatic events who take each day to be a gift. If those gifts stretch out beyond our sight into the future, how precious will each be?

I suspect, too, that we'd become more hoarding of our lives as a whole. The more emphasis we put on mounting years, the less we'll sacrifice for others, but the more we'll demand. Without the tangible inevitability of death, anything that conceivably impedes our lives is elevated by lack of comparison. Perhaps this will be limited to health issues, adding fuel to the ideological conflagration currently consuming the tobacco industry and with sparks stinging fast food; I'm inclined to predict that it will extend to the incidentals of life, those lesser things that we hoard, as well.

This ties into a second point, one that belief in God makes more poignant, but that can ring true without it. The ills of a society already pawing around in dark to fill its emptiness can only be exacerbated when there is much, much more emptiness to fill. The depreciation of each year may inflate the perceived value of diversions, benign and malignant.

I don't share Clayton Cramer's emphasis on death as an escape from the future. Still, the potential is tremendous for communal corrosion when individual desire effects fundamental changes to what it means to live. We who choose, one day, to forgo the waters of material eternity may be justified in having as our epitaph: "Mourn not for me, but for yourselves."

When such decisions are a reality of life, we will make them individually, and I don't think I'd support laws setting life limits. Governments could institute any number of policies toward that end, and experience suggests that they would tend to be arbitrary, unjust, and indicative of nothing so much as unequal influence. In the meantime, at the very least, our government oughtn't be used to make objections irrelevant in retrospect.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:54 AM | Comments (7)

June 13, 2004

Nice Aim

Not surprisingly, James Lileks captures the essence of the Reagan haters extremely well. You'll have to read his piece to understand my title, but this part, addressing a point more succinctly made than many have done, brought back a memory from a few years ago:

He was heartless! He didn't talk about AIDS at first — as if the people at risk would have taken sex tips from a 72-year-old they didn't like. As if a presidential order clearing Needle Park and shutting down the bathhouses would have met huzzahs.

In summer and fall 1999, working in Massachusetts, I periodically had lunch with a gay coworker. After one lunch, he bought a newspaper on the way back to the office and was perturbed by a story about a police raid on a Boston bathhouse. Having never had such places described to me in terms that went much beyond "creepy gay hangouts," I asked for details.

Upon hearing his explanation, I gave a little laugh and said that hatred of homosexuals mightn't be the first rational motivation to infer on the part of the officers. His facial expression suggested that he'd never heard such an opinion, but he let it go, and we went back to work. No, I don't think many huzzahs would have been forthcoming for President Reagan had he taken that approach. The erroneous view that would whipped back at him is still with us.

On other aspects of Reagan's presidency, some media types have suggested that they missed much of what went on during his administration, and it seems likely that he'll be remembered well by history. On that count, however, Lileks suggests that Reagan — the first president for whom "open contempt for a sitting president was no longer sole property of the intelligentsia" — might have been the last to benefit from the leaven of years:

No doubt George W. Bush also waits content for the judgment of history; if he wins a second term and secures the peace, he may think he'll go down in the books like Reagan.

But history isn't written by the victors anymore. History is written by the historians. By the people who write masters' theses with titles like "Janet Jackson and Abu Ghraib: The Inappropriate Breast and Postmodern Paradigms of Oligarchical Media Meta-themes." Such bright minds are more likely to bury Reagan than to praise him, and drape the headstone with garlic just in case.

Note that I'm not sure whether there's a typo or an imperfectly honed point in those two paragraphs. If even Reagan is going to be "buried" by historians, then President Bush is most definitely going to "go down in the books like" him, but not in a way that admirers of either would like.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:39 PM

Poking Around the Neighborhood

Simply because I've picked up the habit of procrastinating so as to hold off sleep (a habit that I hope to break any day now), I thought I'd see what I could find on the Rhode Island blog scene. Predictably, it wasn't a particularly uplifting endeavor. Lot o' liberalism — bitter, vicious, curse-laden liberalism.

One poor girl, whose blog I've come across before, has cameras around her apartment for viewing by any random Internet user. A slogan, of sorts, is at the top: "I was going to write something witty and thought provoking here. Then I realized that you probably got here by searching for porn, and you won't care if I'm witty or thought provoking, only that I show my tits." A negative sort of evidence, I'd say, of the good that we could do if we'd take interest in others and encourage them toward loftier and more-rewarding activities. But there are so many who need just that.

When I finally found what looks to be a conservative RI blog, it turns out that the author, Stephen Blythe, is an angrily lapsed Catholic. Here's Reason 2 (of three) giving the Catholic Church "a clue as to why the numbers are dwindling in this country":

I recall the time when I was becoming an adult in the church and actually started paying attention. It seemed that the first twelve Sermons of the year were devoted to money and how we (the Sinners) weren't giving enough.

"You think nothing of going to McDonald's and dropping $10 and then come to church and put $1 in the collection basket." That was a common church talking point.

So not only were we sinners... but cheap sinners to boot. No one likes being called cheap.

The other two points are matters of legitimate concern, and with some tweeking of emphasis and specifics, I might agree. Still, the assaulting tone suggests from the outset that the route to discussion, if it is open at all, is laced with barbs. Stephen's father quit going to church because it instituted Eucharistic ministers, and one of them was "the biggest whoremaster around." I'm not sure what to make of that.

Despite it all, I managed to end my stroll on an encouraging note, courtesy of a blogging couple. In a post about Reagan's passing, we learn that, last year, Paul Griffis gave his wife, Lisa, Peggy Noonan's When Character Was King. And she liked it.

Not all is perfect, of course. (Who would want it to be?) Paul indicates that he's considering becoming an official libertarian — perhaps meaning a Libertarian:

Federal and state government spending is going up. More and more laws, some of them are truly stupid, are being passed every day. And I truly feel as if I can see a socialist government ruling America in the near future.

What should I do?

Do I try to change the party from within? Do I throw my hands up in digust and quit? Or do I have to change parties?

I don’t know. It is, something that I am seriously thinking about.

Hang in there, Paul. There's enough hope that changing the Republican Party from within will prove the more practical solution that we can still admit that it's probably the only possible one.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:22 AM
Bloggers Blogging

June 11, 2004

Rather's Got It Right

Although John Hawkins disagrees with him about the appropriate amount of coverage devoted to Ronald Reagan, Dan Rather had one thing right:

"There is other news, like the reality of Iraq," said the "CBS Evening News" anchor. "It got very short shrift this weekend."

Consider something to which Drudge currently links, from the World Tribune's "breaking" section:

The United Nations has determined that Saddam Hussein shipped weapons of mass destruction components as well as medium-range ballistic missiles before, during and after the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 2003.

The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission briefed the Security Council on new findings that could help trace the whereabouts of Saddam's missile and WMD program.

The briefing contained satellite photographs that demonstrated the speed with which Saddam dismantled his missile and WMD sites before and during the war. Council members were shown photographs of a ballistic missile site outside Baghdad in May 2003, and then saw a satellite image of the same location in February 2004, in which facilities had disappeared.

Apparently, both CBS and ABC so filled their space with Reagan news (and Rush's divorce as well as fire-safe cigarettes) that they didn't have room to mention this latest revelation.

As a comment to this post, Joe Marier asks the significant question, "Who the heck is the World Tribune?" Simply put, I don't know. Drudge has linked to the site before, and I was able to independently confirm their information, as I can this time. This post was meant primarily as a jibe at Dan Rather and Peter Jennings, however. Had I thought this to be truly significant information, it would have merited a post of its own.

The reality is that this particular item is yet another of those indications — mounting, to be sure — that are only suggestive of WMD activity. The information to which the World Tribune refers is part of UNMOVIC's quarterly report (PDF), and the document admits that "no official information was made available to UNMOVIC on either the work or the results of the investigations carried out in Iraq by the Iraq Survey Group, led by the United States of America, nor did the Survey Group request any information from UNMOVIC." Still, the report attempts to align what information is available to the public with its own investigations. Some items of interest:

... following a visit of IAEA to a scrapyard in Rotterdam [in the Netherlands] to investigate increased radiation readings, it was discovered, through photographs taken at the time, that engines of [Iraqi] SA-2 surface-to-air missiles were among the scrap... They are the type of engines used in the Al Samoud 2 proscribed missile programme. ... Company staff confirmed that other items made of stainless steel and other corrosion-resistant metal alloys bearing the inscription "Iraq" or "Baghdad" had been observed in shipments delivered from the Middle East since November 2003. ...

In addition, the Commission is aware from comparative analysis of recent satellite imagery that a number of sites previously known to have contained equipment and materials subject to monitoring have been either cleaned out or destroyed... It is not known whether such equipment and materials were still present at the sites during the time of coalition action in March and April of 2003. However, it is possible that some of the materials may have been removed from Iraq by looters of sites and sold as scrap.

The report goes on to describe Iraq's "procurement network that operated from 1999 to 2002, the period in which inspectors were absent" from the country. As has become frequently the case, much of the concrete information has to do with illegal missiles, rather than WMD, which primarily arise in the context of dual-use equipment. Regarding the images that the Tribune mentions, the document says, in an appendix:

While sites in Iraq were being monitored for updates through satellite imagery, it was detected that some sites subject to monitoring by UNMOVIC had been cleaned up and equipment and material had been removed from the sites... In other areas, whole buildings that had previously contained equipment and materials subject to monitoring had been completely dismantled.

And, indeed, a photograph from May 2003 shows about a dozen buildings that were completely gone by February 2004, leaving only marks on the ground where they had been. As I said, this is merely suggestive information, and various considerations mitigate or increase its implications. For example, depending on the building materials, moderately sophisticated looters could have taken the buildings down to sell as scrap, although that doesn't mean that the Ba'athists didn't use such activity as cover. On the other side of the balance, one must place the reality that UNMOVIC is an organization locked out of an investigation that continues work with which it had previously been charged, as well as the U.N.'s involvement in the Oil for Food scam.

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

An Important Shade of Prejudice

This afternoon, Ramesh Ponnuru opined:

I didn't much like President Bush's eulogy. The best example of the kind of false note he struck was the following line: "He believed that bigotry and prejudice were the worst things a person could be guilty of." I doubt that Reagan believed that proposition, and if he had, his holding of that view would not have been praiseworthy. I am sure, on the other hand, that Bush believes this proposition, or thinks that he does.

However, in his tribute Lane Core quoted something similar from Reagan's debate with Bobby Kennedy:

Now, I happen to believe that the greatest part of the problem lies in the hearts of men. I think that bigotry and prejudice is probably the worst of all man's ills the hardest to correct. ...

... people in positions like ourselves like the Senator and myself, like the President of the United States, can do a great deal of good, perhaps almost as much as proper legislation, if we take the lead in saying those who operate their businesses or their lives on a basis of practicing discrimination and prejudice are practicing what is an evil sickness.

A couple of hours after the original post, somebody emailed Ponnuru pointing out that President Bush's sentiment was a direct quote from one of Reagan's letters. Personally, I think he put it better in the debate — in subtle, but extremely important ways.

In the formulation from the debate, Reagan's notion of "ills" and the view toward correction makes of prejudice an error to be righted. And that accords with Reagan's subsequent prescription of public pressure. The formulation that Bush quoted puts forward the idea of prejudice as an action worthy of guilt, to be punished. This is the difference between culture-honing argument and hate-crime legislation, which ends specific discussion and encroaches on the next point and the next, until it's a crime to disagree on tangentially related matters.

I like to think that, had the question been put this way to Ronald Reagan, he'd have clarified in the direction of his debate statement. But then, I'm biased.

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

Reagan in His Own Words and His Own Image

As so often seems to be the case, Lane Core is covering an area that I feel guilty for letting slide.

Today, he's compiled a tribute consisting of texts, pictures, and links to more. From a 1976 radio address:

Sometimes it's very easy to get very glib about how the decisions we are making will shape the world for a hundred years to come. A few weeks ago I found myself faced with having to really think about what we are doing today & what people like ourselves will say about us.

On Wednesday, as well, he posted a bouquet of poetry in memoriam.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:02 PM | Comments (1)

Out with the Old, in with the New

(Click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column if you find this layout difficult to read.)

Just so you know what you're looking at, here, I thought I'd offer a quick explanation. This post, from the spring, experiments with a format that I'd like to do more often. Herein, I managed to catch Mayor Stephen Laffey's Big Line from the Rhode Island GOP convention, footage of which I haven't seen anywhere else.

That's an advantage of blog-style video reportage: quality can be compromised for expediency. When the crowd starts to murmur or the protestors outside begin to drown out the speakers, you can grab the camera from the bag; people also aren't (yet) as apt to put on a false performance for a home camera. Unfortunately, a corresponding disadvantage is that the coverage must be self-directed and (for now) self-financed. That's why I haven't managed to make a practice of it. Maybe when I've gotten blogging up to part-time-job status...

As I suggested in the context of Edward Achorn's belief that Rhode Islanders' displeasure will, at some point, break through their political apathy, the motion might already be forming within the state's GOP. Voters need someone else for whom to vote, after all, before they can overthrow inadequate leadership.

For that reason, it is only more fitting that remembrance of Ronald Reagan permeated the RIGOP convention on Thursday — from Chairwoman Patricia Morgan's misspoken request for "ayes" from all who wished to endorse President Reagan's bid for a second term to Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey's likening of his view of the RIGOP's prospects to Reagan's optimism about the fall of the Soviet Union. (Both of which seem laughably improbable as predictions.)

For some idea of just how mired this state is in its political system, consider that I had no idea that the speeches related to internal controversy were of any more significance than what might be found in a high school student senate until the highest high point of the evening. Even then, I didn't get a sense of the magnitude of the shift until I read Scott MacKay's explanation in the Providence Journal.

Video: Scott MacKay (3sec). Windows Media

According to MacKay:

In what some Republicans saw as his first foray into making a run for statewide office, Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey spearheaded a move at the Republican State Convention last night to depose Michael Traficante, the former Cranston mayor and longtime Republican stalwart, from a top party post.

Traficante was set to run for reelection as national committeeman, a position that carries an automatic seat to the Republican National Convention, when people close to Laffey at City Hall discovered that Traficante had disaffiliated from the Republican Party.

Mayor Laffey has raised eyebrows across the state by cracking down on precisely the sort of degeneration in his town that infects the entire state and much of the country — taking on everything from "political patronage" crossing guards and gas pump inspectors to ACLU attacks on Christmas displays. Not surprisingly, the mayor — the only key figure who, despite being the most bustling politician in the room, offered a lurking blogger so much as a quick "hello" — with his somewhat wild eyes and candid language, looks to be the focal point for the incipient revolution. From MacKay:

"Out with the old, in with the new," said Laffey in a campaign speech supporting Robert Manning, a 51-year-old retired banker from Charlestown, who was installed in Traficante's place.

Video: Stephen Laffey (28.6sec). Windows Media

A former head of Citigroup Japan, Manning reminded the crowd that the Rhode Island Republicans are the 15 in the 85/15 split — and for a reason. Now the beneficiary of an upstart movement, he enters the scene as a representative of change.

Another such representative is Dave Rogers, who is running a second time against Patrick Kennedy for my district's seat in the U.S. Congress. As I believe is appropriate for a national candidate, Rogers's persona is less incendiary, and in his speech, he made a point of his intention not to settle into a political position (approximately): "Patrick Kennedy says he's never worked a day in his life. This won't be my first job, and it won't be my last."

I've implied before that Rogers is running against images and stereotypes that Rhode Islanders' believe about themselves and about conservatives. So, it is fitting that he's more approachable and less forward than Laffey and is inclined to make self-effacing jokes about the arrogance of having had to nominate himself the first time he ran. (This is by no means the best part of his speech, but for the below-mentioned reasons, I didn't film the rest.)

Video: Dave Rogers (18.5sec). Windows Media

All considered, and admitting that I am a political naif, I couldn't help but see, in the burgeoning movement within the RIGOP, reason for more hope for my state than I've yet been able to muster. I also couldn't help but notice the irony of different groups' relative roles. While, inside the Cranston Knights of Columbus building, a quiet revolution was beginning, with the intention of returning a balanced political system and sensible government to Rhode Island, outside, the activists marching on the street, drawing honks from passing cars, were protesting for bigger government and expanded benefits for a limited few.

Video: Protesters (30.1sec). Windows Media

As MacKay touches on, the marchers were private child-care providers who are trying to be defined as public employees in order to gain some of the benefits that come with that status in this state. In Spanish and English they exploited children and chanted ill-fitting clichés; "No justice, no peace" translated into the circumstances meant "no free healthcare, no peace."

If the rumble within the political party that is euphemistically called the "minority" in the state of Rhode Island continues to grow, perhaps we'll end up with justice, peace, and prosperity to boot.

Readers who are new since then — which means most of you — may not know it, but for a brief while last year, I was a blogosphere video star. The video blogs (vlogs) that I made during that time can be found on the main page of Timshel Arts, under the heading "Timshel TV."

There are only four, two of which deal with the idea of vlogging, because when the curiosity viewers began to dissipate, even the ego boost wasn't enough to justify the hours it took to create a few minutes of a pseudo-polished movie. As I concluded in my very first, very skeptical vlog about the medium, for the foreseeable future, content-rich blogs will be about the extent of the movement. And even that hasn't really materialized.

This post represents a new experiment that I hope to pursue more regularly in the future (assuming I manage to maintain the time without going into bankruptcy or having to sell my video camera). Call it a multimedia blog, a v-blog (a post that integrates video with standard blogging), or whatever, the idea is that, where possible and fruitful, I'll use video in much the way INDC Journal uses photographs (here's Bill's coverage of the Reagan casket procession).

Let me admit that this initial v-blog isn't very good. It took a good 10 minutes of listening to the protesters outside for me to realize, "Hey, this is what I carry around this video camera for." Not having any defined purpose for filming, I didn't brave the sidewalk in the midst of the protesters.

Moreover, regarding events on the inside, I went to the gathering almost entirely to meet with somebody involved with one of the campaigns and had no idea who anybody was, let alone what controversies were bubbling under the visible surface. And again, not having a set purpose for filming, I didn't give much thought to positioning, camera steadiness, and the like. I didn't react quickly enough to catch most of the significant moments, anyway, and I had to leave early.

In short, this post is more an experiment than anything else — an invitation to you to comment on the technology of the thing, strategies for future efforts, and so on. Please offer any thoughts that you might have in the comment section.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:18 PM

Rhode Island: A Feudal State

In a Providence Journal column, Edward Achorn quotes one of the Democrat senators in the Rhode Island legislature, Stephen Alves:

After 14 years up at the state house I am getting tired of high wage earners complaining about taking care of others, over the last decade we have lowered our tax structure (which benefits high wage earners the most) and decreased services to our poorest and yet the complaints continue.

I guess until we have a 2 class system of the haves and the have knots (at the rate we are going we are almost there) people will continue to complain.

Achorn calls this "garbled thinking," and worse than that, it's garbled thinking directed with arrogance toward a citizen who had written to Alves expressing concern about the direction in which Rhode Island has long been heading. One wonders if this state's rulers are so confident in their constituents' apathy and so full of their own power that they forget that the entity that they govern is only one of fifty in America. As Achorn points out (perhaps hoping that it just hasn't occurred to the poor deluded senator previously):

It's simple economics -- simple enough for many politicians to comprehend. Jobs create the tax revenues that help provide for the poor and other government services. Jobs nurture the middle class. And "hard-working low-income" people benefit from greater opportunities to get good educations and well-paying jobs. The government will never have enough money to help them live well simply by raising taxes through the roof and redistributing wealth.

That is because people have options to locate businesses and live elsewhere -- which is exactly what they do. They aren't the ones "complaining," because they're not even here. The ones complaining are those who love Rhode Island enough to stick it out and fight for something better for themselves, their children and their state.

Achorn is surely correct that, at "some point, Rhode Island voters will wake up and realize the feudal model is not working for them or their children," and I'm inclined to think that point has nearly been reached. The avalanches that ultimately bring down long-accumulating mountains of political phlegm start with fissures along outcroppings. Although I'm entirely unacquainted with internal RI Republican dynamics, it was obvious to me last night that a rupture has begun there, and hopefully the momentum of that shake-up will carry through to the general politics of the state.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:39 AM

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:22 AM

The Right to Abuse

Craig Henry points out the first peep of an — shall we say — unforeseen consequence of the Supreme Court's Lawrence decision. Clayton Cramer explains (bold added):

For all that supporters of Lawrence talk about love, commitment, and relationship, the fact of the matter is that by scrapping all notions of sexual morality between adults, Lawrence is opening the door to scrapping laws intended to protect an adult with the mental capabilities of a child from exploitation by a guy who barely knew this woman. Does anyone find it unlikely that the same reasoning won't be applied to strike down child molestation laws (as the ACLU has already tried--and failed--to do)?

The internal link goes to a post that highlights a footnote in a man-boy statutory rape case in which the ACLU opined that "teenagers have a well-established 'liberty interest in being free from state compulsion' in making personal decisions about sex and marriage." With these two arguments, we glimpse some of the trail markers along the slippery slope that supporters of Lawrence assured us did not exist. (Note, particularly, the conflation of "sex and marriage.")

This is the danger of activism — and ultimately legislation — through the judiciary: laws created by a legislature can discriminate in the scope of their terms; the application of them cannot. So, when the judiciary rejects or redefines the stated scope, the flimsy wall of words is breached. The sad, human truth, I suspect, is that we've so lost our sense of what "discrimination" means that many of those pushing to strike sodomy laws in the courts probably didn't realize that they were doing so.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:18 AM | Comments (1)

June 10, 2004

Joining the Blogging Game

Another pro has set up shop in the blogosphere: Michelle Malkin. The graphic at the top of the page is certainly appropriate; I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping to stay on her good side... and her pen's.

I note, however, that she's already posting about trips and time off. Beware, Michelle. The Blog will claim enough of your time without your showing it the obeisance of signing out when you step away on day 3.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:37 PM
Bloggers Blogging

Back from the Lurking

Well, the RIGOP convention reminded me why I generally avoid such gatherings. It isn't much fun being the unknown lurker. Legislators, candidates, business leaders, movers, shakers, reporters... nobody gave any indication of realizing that they were in the presence of Rhode Island's (probably) biggest conservative blogger!

That's alright, though; the lack of recognition was mutual. I saw some vaguely familiar faces, put some other faces to names, shot some footage of protesters ("No contracts, no peace!"), and so on. If any of my video turns out to be usable, I may try to work some of it into a multimedia blog post, which is something of which I hope to do more in the future.

Mostly, the evening felt like a first time — the one that has to be gotten out of the way so subsequent efforts can be more productive. I was slow with the camera and shy about using it; I didn't know anybody and didn't know what to say when I met them. (Hey, this is why I'm a writer.)

So, whatever posting I do won't be very informative and may seem like a rough draft. But not to worry about the record of this event — the real media folks were on the scene:

I didn't even have a notepad.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:20 PM
Diary & Confession

Political Steps

I'm off to run a few errands and then attend my first-ever political event, an RIGOP conference. I'm not sure what to expect, but especially given the fact that I'll soon be a Rhode Island homeowner, the reality of my financial situation, and the reminder of Ronald Reagan, it's something I feel compelled to do.

I'll be back later tonight, perhaps with pictures, perhaps with tales.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:01 PM
Diary & Confession

Spider-Man's Political Following

An email to Jonah Goldberg recalls another nugget from the Reagan Years that appealed to young'ns like myself:

Reagan once said that in reading the newspaper, he would read the comic page first, and the first strip he would read was Spiderman. The media, of course, implied that this was further proof that Reagan was a simpleton.

It could be a sign of the times, or it could indicate two standards of treatment, but Rhode Island's attorney general, Democrat Patrick Lynch, hasn't to my knowledge been called a simpleton for this:

Lynch, who took office last year, is now preparing to install a new plaque [on the outside of his building] that declares: "With great power comes great responsibility." The words are from Stan Lee, the 20th-century American comic book pioneer who created Spider-Man.

Lynch said he was inspired by his 6-year-old son, Graham -- an avid Spider-Man fan who tugged on his father's pants and said those words moments before Lynch's inauguration in January 2003.

The attorney general, by the way, has been using his own substantial influence to knead same-sex marriage into Rhode Island law. Perhaps the question of whether homage to Spider-Man is treated superciliously or appreciatively hinges on what responsibility the great power is purported to require.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:31 AM | Comments (4)

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:10 AM

The Price of Time and the Cost of Thinking

I'll tell ya: Ronald Reagan's passing has rushed a gust of the enthusiasm he brought to the country while he was in office through my thinking just when I needed it. All of the recounting of his confidence, rooted in faith that everything had purpose, sure does resonate with a guy on the edge of panic about his livelihood.

I'm going back and forth about whether to trek across the state to attend the GOP convention. (Those to my south and west should feel free to laugh at the idea of "trekking" across Rhode Island.) Something's telling me to go. I'll try; there's so much to get done, and I find myself grasping at my hours as at fool's gold.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:09 AM
Diary & Confession

June 9, 2004

The Depth of the Blogosphere

I'm falling behind on things, and tomorrow looks to be busy. So, herewith, a swooping effort to catch up.

First, a question. How profoundly unsuperficial is blogosphere discussion? Reader Ben Bateman thought it worth the effort to make a comment that certainly merited promotion to a post. Now, Marc Comtois has picked up the thread, replete with some historical perspective:

This idea of Truth = Power reminded me of something. The historian Bernard Bailyn based much of his theory on the origins of the American Revolution (eloquently stated in his Ideological Origins of the American Revolution) as a war between Power and Liberty. The founders believed that these two entities were naturally opposed to each other. They believed that the more power granted to anything; the President, Congress, the police, the military, the less liberty that will be enjoyed by all. The old cliche "The Truth will set you Free" leads me to believe that Truth = Freedom. Since Freedom is essentially liberty, could we then conclude that the old problem defined by the founders, Liberty vs. Power could be restated as Truth vs. Power? If Bateman is correct, and liberals equate Truth with Power, we now have a Truth vs. Truth battle.

(N.B., of course, that "cliché" is also Gospel truth.)

This level of discussion, in turn, shines the bright light of contrast on a phenomenon that Joanne Jacobs observes:

Jennifer was an English teacher who knew too much. She got in trouble for explaining that a line in Merchant of Venice was referring to a Bible verse.

Somehow a "persecution complex" doesn't seem quite as much of an extremist ploy. Dennis Prager certainly doesn't think so; regarding the removal of the cross from the L.A. county seal:

What we have here is an American version of the Taliban. The ACLU and the supervisors are leftist versions of the Taliban -- attempting to erase the Christian history of America just as the Muslim Taliban tried to erase the Buddhist history of Afghanistan when they blew up ancient Buddhist sculptures in their country.

Los Angeles County is the largest county in America. If it allows its past to be expunged by a vote of three to two, America's past is sure to follow. If you want to know what happens after that, ask any student of the Soviet Union.

That might go a bit far. Removing a seal through litigious intimidation is substantially different than blowing up statues. Terrorists don't sue and petition. They do stuff like this:

A bomb exploded evening in the central Italian city of Bologna during a European election rally attended by Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini, wounding six people, the Ansa news agency reported.

The crude device was placed under an electoral campaign vehicle just a few metres from the platform where Fini, leader of the National Alliance, a member of Italy's ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, was making a speech, according to Ansa.

I wonder how many Europeans are privately linking this attack to Spain's capitulation.

Speaking of links, I can't think of a segue, but Tuesday's cartoon from Chris Muir is very much worth a look, if you haven't already seen it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:53 PM | Comments (4)
Quick Links

Sidestepping the Constructive Objection

It's really too bad. Although he found a more direct quote than anything in the speech that I cited in response to him, Andrew Sullivan doesn't bother to engage the more purposeful and potentially constructive aspects of the objection. He sidesteps:

"Society has always regarded marital love as a sacred expression of the bond between a man and a woman. It is the means by which families are created and society itself is extended into the future. In the Judeo-Christian tradition it is the means by which husband and wife participate with God in the creation of a new human life. It is for these reasons, among others, that our society has always sought to protect this unique relationship. In part the erosion of these values has given way to a celebration of forms of expression most reject. We will resist the efforts of some to obtain government endorsement of homosexuality." - Ronald Reagan, July 12, 1984. That's a useful reminder to me not to get too carried away by Reagan's differences with Bush-style conservatism.

Why won't he explore the disparity between the position that he would have wished for Reagan to take and what Reagan did, in fact, say? As Rod Dreher once asked himself, "if we liberals were wrong about [communism], and Mr. Reagan was right, what else did the old man know that I didn't?"

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:13 PM | Comments (2)

Self-Correcting Dictators?

Referring to the power inherent in being the final word on the meaning of the Constitution, Cal Thomas objects to the action of San Francisco U.S. District judge Phyllis Hamilton, who declared the partial-birth abortion ban unconstitutional:

Numerous polls have shown that when the procedure is accurately explained, 70 percent or more of respondents oppose it, with some calling it manslaughter. But a single federal judge can change the will of a large majority of the people and their elected representatives. This is what dictators do.

Thomas notes that other districts are currently considering whether to do the same. If they do not, the Supreme Court will have to pick between the rulings, and it's hardly ensured that the justices will do the right thing and uphold the ban. Whether or not this is the specific issue that will force the final statement, the progress of the fight over abortion and the increasing scrutiny of the judiciary among the general public will eventually force the Court to declare the law clearly.

It's beginning to look like a number of these loose threads are finally reaching their end, and the time of vacillation and inconsistency with them. Vincent Phillip Muñoz argues that the creepy Michael Newdow may have forced just such a resolution with his "under God" in the Pledge case. If you share my general views, aversions to Muñoz's conclusion might take some thought to overcome, but I think, ultimately, I agree with his call for clarity:

This leaves the Court with only two intellectually honest options.

If it insists on maintaining its precedents, it should strike down "under God" as an impermissible "endorsement" that "psychologically coerces" religious practices. The decision would create a political firestorm, but the Court has the duty to articulate a clear and consistent interpretation of the Constitution regardless of popular will.

Alternatively, the Court could "fess up" and admit that it has previously misconstrued the meaning of the First Amendment's ban on religious establishments. The Founders meant to prohibit things like the employment and appointment of clergy by the state, limiting public office to members of the established religion, and the licensing and regulation of dissenting religious ministers. Given this background, the Court could admit that its endorsement and coercion tests have long been off the mark. It then could adopt a more historically accurate test that would allow the Pledge.

I don't foresee much more public tolerance for intellectual dishonesty in the handling of these issues that strike to the core of who we are as a nation. Moreover, it's nigh time to determine whether the people of the United States will accept rule from the bench. If there's to be a civil war of sorts over the power of the judiciary, let's get to it before its raging troops wreak more fundamental damage to our societal foundations.

The "if" is tentative. Our system still has mechanisms that can defuse the hostilities: judicial appointments. And as Cal Thomas says, victories on that preliminary front are now of utmost importance.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:40 PM

Wanting Less of the Least Bad

Although his post is worth reading for points made within the range of its argument, Paul Craddick's thoughts on the inevitability of atrocities in wars extrapolates in an interesting way:

What I mean to say is this: it's a basic principle of explanation that what is common to two things cannot explain what is different about one of them. If both an in-the-main just(ified) war, such as World War II, and a more controversial one such as the one at present in Iraq can exhibit shameful behavior by its participants, then - to the extent that there's an isomorphism between the misdeeds in both cases - that behavior cannot render one unjust yet not shake our esteem of the other. ...

The truth might be closer to Augustine's view in Civitas Dei, in which the gulf between the earthly city and its divine counterpart can never really be closed. Or, as a secular writer once put it, "war usually doesn't involve a clash of right with wrong, but of wrong with greater wrong."

This has a broader parallel in an aphorism my father must have recited to me a thousand times: "representative democracy is the least bad form of government." The point, at least as I take it, is that the ideal would be for people to have no need of being ruled by other people. Since matters ranging from practical to idealistic preclude such an outcome in this world, the emphasis is to be placed on "small government." Here, a definitional complication arises: a government can be "small" in multiple ways.

For most people, "small" in this context is a measure of expense or reach. A small government is restricted in the amount that it takes from us and/or in the amount that it imposes on us. In a way of looking at it, more of those tasks that might be considered matters of governance are left to individual sovereignty; each of us is our own siloed participant in the collective government.

Another way of looking at government smallness is to measure it by the number of people wielding its official power — its concentration. Using the yardsticks of cost and reach, if the central government is too restricted (too small) in its power to impose its will on the sovereign individuals, the "government" actually consists of everybody (too big), and the threat becomes tyranny of the majority. Using the yardstick of concentration, if the range of people wielding official power is too small, they will seek to expand that power in order to siphon off resources and impose more of their will on everybody else.

This is simplistic, of course. However, I think it offers a passable summary — albeit within deliberately narrow terms — of the premise of representative democracy. Remaining simplistic, one could say that, in their capacity as active participants in government, the self-sovereign citizens wield their power only periodically, and only in circumscribed ways. Meanwhile, those directing the centralized power can only do so for a limited time, and with accountability to everybody else. In other words, representative democracy is least bad because mankind must be governed, and this system attempts to balance all of the ways of adjusting the relationship of rulers and ruled.

(Obviously, the American system seeks to divide power in many other ways — by branches of government, by levels of government, by facets of the broader society. I'm just attempting to get at the basic idea to which those specifics are added.)

Getting back to Paul's above quotation, what seemed interesting enough to justify all of this rambling (at least before I began) was that many of the people intent on lashing the nation that represents the "lesser wrong" in terms of war atrocities are also the people who wish to move away from the "least bad" form of government. Those flattening the range of government torture — from naked pyramids to paper shredders, from being intimidated by a dog to watching your child's body be eaten by one — are also those intent on expanding the breadth of government.

I've only been thinking about this today (and it's been very hot in my office), but I wonder if there might be something to this line of thinking that runs across the differences that Paul cites between reactions to WWII and to Iraq. The government of the United States has expanded dramatically since the '40s, both in size and in the areas of life into which it reaches, and the political party that is currently in the hotseat is the one at least ostensibly interested in reversing that trend.

Why would socialists (expensive, long reach) find common cause with fascists (few rulers, expensive, long reach) when trying to stifle a domestic push back toward a more limited representative democracy (many rulers, less expensive, short reach)? Well, I'd say it has something to do with the government yardstick that I left out of the socialist parenthetical.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:39 PM | Comments (1)

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:01 AM

A Swing Vote of Faith

A few days ago, Earl took a look, on Catholic (?) Kerry Watch, at the interrelation of divisions among Catholics and the implications of their political strength:

... the battle in the pews to defend the Holy Eucharist from CINO politicians and activists whose "cafeteria" selections dump the Catholic doctrines of the sanctity of life and marriage into the garbage along with the aborted baby reflects the battle at the ballot box.

In pondering theology, lately, it has seemed to me that our tendency is to separate spiritual and material worlds too drastically. Now that I'm a believer, the axioms that "you just have to have faith" and "faith is something you believe regardless of the world" make even less sense to me than they did when I was an atheist.

If the spiritual level of the universe is real, it will affect the material. Things that are immoral don't necessarily lead to tangible harm, just as things that yield a tangible benefit are not necessarily moral, but we shouldn't be surprised when we can trace moral corruption to dreadful wrongs.

Moreover, the mechanism isn't always simple cause-and-effect, and insistence on the primacy of such direct explanations usually loses sight of the personal — the effect on us. How could the marriages of a tiny minority affect the institution itself? By way of the larger society. How could legalized contraception lead to legalized cloning? Well, by way of us — our emotions and the blend of compassion and selfishness, ability and flaw.

Voting represents a pivot point for various intersections of morality and policy. And it isn't surprising, as Earl writes, that the battles "waged for the soul of our Holy Catholic Church" and for "the head of our nation" are part of the same war.

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

June 8, 2004

Andrew Sullivan's Straight Line for Reagan

Click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column for a simpler page design that may be easier to read.

Yesterday morning, I bookmarked a Reagan speech to which John Hawkins linked on his main page, my intention being to read it while I ate lunch. Before that break had arrived, a layer of dispirited frustration had coated my general sense of loss as a result of Andrew Sullivan's telling and predictable emphasis while writing about Reagan. From his initial reaction:

he paid respect to religion but never turned Republicanism into what it is today - a repository for sectarian scolding

Expanded the next day, first in context of the Texas GOP's platform:

If you want to know why someone who loved Ronald Reagan can no longer support the Republican Party, then the extremism of George W. Bush's own party in his home state is Exhibit A.

Then, answering the question, "What does Reagan's legacy demand of us now?"

... he would not have played the anti-gay card that Karl Rove has; and he would never have recast his party into one where only fundamentalist Christians are ultimately, fully at home. Unlike Bush, Reagan was a man of ideas, an intellectual, a man who had thought long and hard about the world and developed keen ideas about what was needed to fix its problems. ...

It is a long road from [Reagan's benign, chuckling steeliness] to the dour cynicism of Karl Rove and joyless puritanism of John Ashcroft. There was always the old Democrat in Reagan's new Republican, a deep sense of civility, a wry sense of humor, a faith leavened with skepticism, a conservatism informed by liberalism's faith in the future. It is not too late to rescue this legacy from the clutches of today's acidic, sectarian GOP. But time is running out.

As did Ramesh Ponnuru, I saw this as an instance of the manifest and active desire of some "for a Reagan in their own image." The dispirited frustration mentioned above was not unlike the feeling a child has when, throughout the course of playing a game, his cousin simply claims all of the pieces for himself. There is no effort, on Sullivan's part, to take Reagan as common ground with those who oppose same-sex marriage and thereby to pursue understanding and resolution.

So then I ate lunch and read Reagan's 1984 remarks at an ecumenical prayer breakfast in Dallas:

I believe that faith and religion play a critical role in the political life of our nation -- and always has -- and that the church -- and by that I mean all churches, all denominations -- has had a strong influence on the state. And this has worked to our benefit as a nation.

Those who created our country -- the Founding Fathers and Mothers -- understood that there is a divine order which transcends the human order. They saw the state, in fact, as a form of moral order and felt that the bedrock of moral order is religion. ...

George Washington referred to religion's profound and unsurpassed place in the heart of our nation quite directly in his Farewell Address in 1796. Seven years earlier, France had erected a government that was intended to be purely secular. This new government would be grounded on reason rather than the law of God. By 1796 the French Revolution had known the Reign of Terror.

Is this merely an example of what Sullivan means when he writes that Reagan "exploited the religious right"? If so, his exploitation was thorough, gigantic, apocalyptically cynical.

The truth is, politics and morality are inseparable. And as morality's foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related. We need religion as a guide. We need it because we are imperfect, and our government needs the church, because only those humble enough to admit they're sinners can bring to democracy the tolerance it requires in order to survive.

Recall that, last June, Sullivan declared the Republican party mere steps from imposing theocracy because Bill Frist called marriage a "sacrament" that overlaps with the "legal entity of a union between... a man and a woman." Taking that as the measuring scale, Sullivan has a Lewisian choice: Ronald Reagan was either a wicked liar or a "theocon," by the Daily Disher's definition.

Now, Sullivan could point to Reagan's calls, within the speech, for tolerance of all religions and even of non-religion. Although requiring quite a reach to same-sex marriage, that would raise a valid field of discussion, essentially addressing whether such tolerance necessarily draws a distinction between Reagan and Frist — whether Reagan's insistence that we "mandate no belief" would have made the transition from private practice to public institution, or whether he would have sided with traditionalists in this instance of applying "moral teaching to public questions."

It would go beyond my knowledge, into presumptuous dishonesty, were I to claim to know. However, one needn't have extensive understanding of Reagan's views to observe that Sullivan assumes, as is his wont, that there are no exits before support for same-sex marriage from opposition, for example, to laws barring homosexuals from teaching in public schools. This simplistic progression is fine, as a personal belief, but a public intellectual ought to be able to trace the thinking of the other side in all of its complexity. Instead, Sullivan claims for his policy preference the inevitable cloak of "modernity," about which Reagan "was definitely more easy-going... than the current Republican leadership." But modernity, whatever its definition, changes from decade to decade.

Sullivan cites the public school example in his reply to Ponnuru. Widening the gap between the two issues is that California's 1978 ballot initiative Proposition 6 included, as public homosexual conduct, "advocating, soliciting, imposing, encouraging or promoting of private or public homosexual activity." As part of his statement against it, Reagan wondered whether even opposition to the proposition, if it had passed, might be considered advocacy. The distinctions are manifold. Surely there are people who opposed or would have opposed Proposition 6, then, who also oppose public recognition of same-sex marriage, now, and I'd argue that Reagan would have been among them.

In his speech at the prayer breakfast, Reagan traced the judiciary's assault on public expression of religion, beginning with the 1962 case in which the Supreme Court "banned compulsory saying of prayers" and expanding from there, until:

Today there are those who are fighting to make sure voluntary prayer is not returned to the classrooms. And the frustrating thing for the great majority of Americans who support and understand the special importance of religion in the national life -- the frustrating thing is that those who are attacking religion claim they are doing it in the name of tolerance, freedom, and openmindedness.

Such arguments are very much in line with those presented against same-sex marriage — particularly judicial imposition thereof. Isn't there direct route from Reagan's stated position on public religion in 1984 to opposition to SSM now? Aren't there lines crossed between standing up for homosexual teachers in 1978 and advocating for the redefinition of marriage now? Of course. Many conservatives — including myself — drew the line on the tolerant side of the sodomy issue.

Reagan expressed one more truth, on that August morning in 1984, that Sullivan seems to have forgotten:

When John Kennedy was running for President in 1960, he said that his church would not dictate his Presidency any more than he would speak for his church. Just so, and proper. But John Kennedy was speaking in an America in which the role of religion -- and by that I mean the role of all churches -- was secure. Abortion was not a political issue. Prayer was not a political issue. The right of church schools to operate was not a political issue. And it was broadly acknowledged that religious leaders had a right and a duty to speak out on the issues of the day. They held a place of respect, and a politician who spoke to or of them with a lack of respect would not long survive in the political arena.

Can Andrew Sullivan not step outside of his advocacy far enough to see, from a social conservative's perspective, the differences between America now and the America that watched Ronald Reagan leave office? Let alone the California of 1978. I think he can — or at least he once could — but that it requires a proximity of sympathy that his activism precludes.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:36 PM | Comments (13)

Don't Encourage the Wackos

Although the reasoning is sound, albeit approached from a different angle than I take, a point that Eugene Volokh and Cathy Young make about the cross on the L.A. county seal indicates a lamentably pervasive sentiment. Volokh writes:

Cathy Young has a very good column on this in the Boston Globe. "When secularists go after a tiny cross on a county seal or Christmas decorations at a firehouse, they lend substance to the 'religious persecution' complex -- and play right into the extremists' hands." Indeed.

Note the two groups placed in opposition: secularists and extremists. One might similarly say that, "when religious people advocate for mandatory, prominent crosses on every county symbol or Christmas decorations in every public building, they lend substance to the 'separation of church and state' complex -- and play right into the extremists' hands." If the extremists on one side are portrayed merely as impractical secularists (and run no less prominent an institution than the ACLU), are religious people wrong to be concerned about their activities? Put differently, if the persecution is, in fact, lent substance, does reaction to that substance really represent a complex?

Such biases according to worldview are natural, and I'm certainly guilty of them myself, but that doesn't mean that they aren't worth pointing out and, perhaps, correcting. Young does refer to "secularist zealots," but immediately thereafter, she describes the following "exaggerated perception [that] is exploited by religious extremists who really would like to undo the separation of church and state":

Many Americans today believe that secularist forces in this country are implacably hostile to all things religious, particularly Christian, to the point of wanting to purge our culture and our history of all traces of Christianity.

Exaggerated? Only if everybody on Young's side is taken to be objective and reasonable by default — no matter what over-zealous moves they make.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:23 AM | Comments (1)

Songs You Should Know 06/08/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Captain Bigshot, Pt. 1" by Victor Lams.

"Captain Bigshot, Pt. 1" Victor Lams, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Robot Love

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:11 AM

On the Arts List

Owing to my loose association with Maureen Mullarkey, my P.O. box and email have been finding their way onto the mailing lists of visual artists. I almost feel deceptive, considering my scant activities in this area, as well as my politics. Still, I enjoy and appreciate being included, and it's recently occurred to me that links from Dust in the Light might make the artists' effort worthwhile.

The latest postcard came from Ken Kewley, who's got quite a number of samples on his Web site. The use of color and shapes isn't entirely to my own tastes, but the pieces are well enough done to reward perusing and pondering nonetheless.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:09 AM
Visual Art

June 7, 2004

The Opportunities for New Concepts Online

From the maker of that intriguing Samarost Flash game that made the Internet rounds a few months ago comes a new game called Quest for the Rest. It's only got three levels, but the more interesting innovation of the thing is that it's intended as a promotional tool for the pop/rock band The Polyphonic Spree. Hey, if I've got money when the CD comes out in July, the game might have gained the band a customer.

Makes me wish I had the time to do more toward learning Flash than periodically intending to plan to pick up the thick book that I've got teaching the program! Other bloggers are more knowledgable about the ins and outs of the marketing world, but I think Flash games would be a great way to introduce potential customers to pretty much any form of independent artist, or even artisan, whether their trades involve music, literature, or visual works.

When I've periodically dreamed of acting like a businessman, I've thought to hire Ferry Halim to design one of his beautiful games for Timshel Arts, or for some specific work in the future. You know... someday.

(via Shiela Lennon)

Incidentally, I'm aware that large companies — and major productions (e.g., the Harry Potter movies) — have already hit upon the idea of using Flash games for promotion. However, to my experience, they are so focused on getting the promotional message across that they undermine the strengths of the medium.

In the game mentioned above, the Flash designer and the band are essentially on an equal level. The designer was free to express his own style and to run with an idea that was only thematically connected to the band in a superficial way. ("Help the three lost members reunite with the rest of their group...") In this model, the client gives a purpose to the game, but the designer gives the game its ability to ride the waves of Internet preferences and word of mouth.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:42 PM

That Ol' Classified Nausea

It's been a while since perusing classifed ads stirred that low, vague sick feeling in my stomach. Something about the blend of possibilities and impossibilities, the visions of what a day might entail and what just wouldn't fit within the hours or the energy, is like a graphic description of one's life being churned.

I'd go to the job fair that the Providence Journal is hosting this week, but its title is clearly exclusionary doublespeak — Diversity Career Fair. A fair, to turn a phrase, not apparently meant for the fair, as the picture on a promotional brochure confirms. What would the HR folks from the 31 participating companies say were I to approach their booths? The last fair was for healtcare workers, the next (in September) for medical/bio-tech, and the following (in October) for "workforce." Medical industry. Labor. Or minority.

The DNC, by the way, is hiring activists to "work to defeat Bush." Call Sarah or Kirk.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the local papers had an ad for a job doing exactly the sort of work I'd like to do with exactly the sort of company with which I'd like to do it — and within a mile of the house to which I'll soon be moving. My wife called from work to tell me about it, and I immediately contacted the company. The receptionist gave me an email address to which to send my résumé, and I did so as soon as I'd crafted a temperately acquisitive introductory note.

The very next day, I emerged from the shower to find that the woman to whom I'd directed my note and résumé had left me voicemail requesting a return call. The receptionist took a message. I haven't heard back. Maybe she's on vacation. Maybe she contributed to this blog's recent visitor totals.

What gets me about the columns upon columns of available jobs is that, at this point, I'm willing to do just about anything. Still, pulling against that willingness is the recollection of too many times in the past that I've made the rushed decision to take a job and found that it adequately answered none of my needs or desires.

But what are needs and desires? Last night, I saw the second half of a documentary about the battle of Iwo Jima. It certainly made a triviality out of the difference between a job as assistant manager at a record store and one as an editor or graphic designer at a multimedia firm.

I think there might be a fishing-boat dock not far beyond the company that hasn't called me back. I have experience.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:02 PM
Diary & Confession

June 6, 2004

Wrapped Up

And this concludes the experiment that began below with "The Intention of Posts to Come."

Whew. Think I'll take a break. Now I can get to those emails that have been piling up. In the meantime, I'd be interested to hear anybody's thoughts on the fifteen or so posts below, either individually or collectively, whether on content or process.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:37 AM | Comments (2)
Bloggers Blogging

Mr. President for All Time

Click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column for a simpler page design that may be easier to read.

People in the thin slice of the American population that was born within a year or two of 1975 may have a unique view of Ronald Reagan, if my experience is common (as appears to be the case).

When he was president, I didn't have a strong reaction to Mr. Reagan. My father liked him; Phil Collins apparently did not. His presidency arrived at that point in my development when the divergent pulls and pressures of family and youth society hadn't yet come into conflict. The feeling was that this was how life should be, with adults admiring the president and the adolescent crowd (slightly older than me) and those who appealed to it rebelling.

I had a book, during Reagan's tenure, that was about American presidents generally, called Mr. President. On the cover was a picture of the current president working at his desk in the Oval Office. Mr. President — Ronald Reagan. The book has since been updated, but to those of my age, the Gipper was integral to the formation of our sense of the meaning of "president."

I remember how President George H.W. Bush felt sort of like a substitute. As if Reagan had founded the presidency and was now retiring, handing it over to a man who, as good as he might be, wasn't really the president. Like a new author taking over a long-running series of books, or a new actor being thrust into an established role. The role had been redefined, now inauthentic, so that Mr. President did not mean Mr. Reagan.

I imagine there's a sliver of the population for whom this sense is true of each president, larger for those who serve two terms. What a great blessing to have formed one's idea of President with the image of Ronald Reagan. For us, he hasn't really died. He's timeless, definitive.

God keep you in peace, Mr. President.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:32 AM | Comments (2)

The Clash of Forces in a Post-Christian World

As a comment to my post linking to his TCS piece on war in Sudan, Andrew Morse poses some questions:

As I was writing the Sudan piece, I had some thoughts that you may be better suited to run with. From a purely political perspective, there is no reason why Sudan cannot be stable. The climate is not so harsh that people are fighting one another to get the means needed for basic survival. There is a fairly strong semblance of regional/local organization. There is a bunch of competing interests, with no one group able to gain an overwhelming edge, ala the Baathists in Syria or Iraq. So why has civil war grown out of this situation, as opposed to some sort of civil pluralism?

As best as I can figure, it's because of the absence of a simple idea: loving thy enemy.

If the idea of loving your enemy is indeed the missing piece, the ramifications are frightening. Is this planet truly headed to some kind of post-Christian era? If it is, will the idea of loving your enemy disappear from the general population? And if that idea is disappearing, is the war in Sudan a relic of the past, or a harbinger of the future?

As a Christian believer, I don't foresee an entirely post-Christian future as a matter of faith. Happily, that faith corresponds with my intellectual suspicions.

A core support of the belief that we can move beyond Christianity is that we don't need it. To believers, obviously, the effort is doomed as a matter of reality; to deny Christ, one must submit to an ever-expanding series of delusions, or at least distractions. To non-believers and quasi-believers, distractions are the central requirement — distractions not from the reality of God, but from the reality of death and meaninglessness. However, perhaps the more relevant requirement is to construct a system of belief that either makes morality moot or creates some other plausible basis for it.

Mootness of morality, in its turn, requires either infinite intricacy of exceptions or stubborn cessation of questioning at some arbitrary point. Similarly, the option of an alternative basis for morality, also being arbitrary, must expand essentially toward God or stand rigid on a "just because." Within Christianity, a strain exists that corresponds to post-Christian notions, and it is exactly "love thy neighbor" (or "love thy enemy") that facilitates it, as an excuse against action — "love" as worldly indulgence.

All of these approaches carry a more basic requirement, rooted not in our intellectual life, but in life itself. The prerequisite for a post-Christian society, ultimately, is that no threat can reach such a point of urgency as to necessitate struggle. This applies to our love for ourselves and our battle with sinful and dangerous urges; a post-Christian view cannot exist where the consequences of laxity are intolerable. On the level of whole societies, the fallen nature of mankind will result in the need to fight, kill, die. But will an ideology that shies even from making others feel ashamed — indulgent love — think anything worthy of death? No, and people will need one that can meet a mortal threat.

Back when folks could say such things, when I was in either grade or middle school, a history teacher explained that Islam, taught a certain way, is the perfect war religion. Submission to God is coupled with eternal rewards for forcing others to submit to God, or killing them if they refuse. From a Christian perspective, this fanaticism is like an insurmountable desire, justifying the gravest sin. The First Commandment is "thou shalt have no other Gods before me."

In the modern West, the most corrosive tendency is to fight for the acceptance of base urges. The greatest sin is to strive to redefine sin as neutral or as virtue, to make a god of desire. In the case of radical Islam, the god is God. The sins involved in imposing the religion are not just neutral, not just virtues, but commandments themselves. Allowed to spread, this ideology will win by its disproportionate determination.

One can imagine those who oppose the war to push back this conflagration, or who are using events for political gain, thinking that they will (or would) fight for what they believe in if it proves necessary. If the neocons turn out to be right about the necessity of war, then these people will support it when it becomes clear. The truth is, however, that they assert this at a safe distance, across which lie skewed ideas of what is real in the world. When the fight becomes sufficiently palpable, they will cave, because whatever lust they had — whether a lust for political power or for aberrant sex — will not be as strong as the lust for Allah's reward.

So, Sudan. "Relic of the past" and "harbinger of the future" bleed together in our cyclic history. Perhaps Sudan is the past reasserting itself as if intending to become the future. If that past isn't folded into our present while still limited in its geographic scope, then it will be the future. I don't think that will happen, but neither do I believe this to be the worst fight to come. Radical Islam is a stark enemy to battle. Even if it advances beyond the boundaries I would predict, the result will be dark days, but not permanent darkness, because freedom would be understood by contrast.

The real threat will arise when "love thy enemy" is not a missing piece, but a hollow talisman. A large segment of Western society is living off the moral capital of its Christian roots, getting away with immorality, but that won't last through generations. As lust and greed begin to seep through seemingly caulkless boards, society will sink to a point at which a critical mass seeks to right it. Others will fight back. There is no half-sunk; sin becomes addictive, requiring ever greater acceptance, placing ever greater demands not only on the sinner, but on those who would deal with him.

In this respect, liberals themselves have done the most to undermine their, and our, greatest strength: discourse. Without an a priori value placed on honest, frank, and intellectually open discussion, right and wrong become a matter of power, which in this case means strength of desire. Sins breed strong desire, and they expand in definition. We're already seeing human life being cast as a commodity. At some point, traditional ethics will transform, for some, into a mortal threat worthy of death, but in the name of life. This will infuse the post-Christian ethos with a mortal cause, a motivation, making it anti-Christian.

For those who hold fast to faith, the time of that threat's manifestation can be filled with more promise than despair. Still, we are called to work against it. And we've more immediate concerns, anyway.

Speaking of struggling, I did with this post. In a nutshell, what I was trying to say is that post-Christian ideologies are unstable and weak. If they are dominant for multiple generations, the society will crumble. More likely, in our case, they will face an external threat and will either submit or make recourse to Christianity (or another established, strong religion, such as Judaism).

What we're getting in Sudan and the Middle East, according to my construction, is a view of a pre-modern clash of cultures. The southern region of Sudan is largely Christian, as I understand, and was assisted by Christians around the world, particularly in the United States. What if, to be somewhat ridiculous, southern Sudan had been populated by post-modern relativists? I'd say that, if sheer lopsided power doesn't stop the expansion of radical Islam, it will overwhelm nations that don't have — or reclaim — firm, transcendent belief in God.

The more significant danger, in the long run, will be a turn of events that infuses post-Christianity with motivation on the order of belief in God. The lingering sense of charity and inalienable rights will be perverted in such a way as to justify drastic measures to expand. It's easier to fight an enemy who declares his hatred for you; it's more difficult to fight one who speaks in terms soothing to the Western ear.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:18 AM | Comments (26)

June 5, 2004

Deliberate Ignorance in the Service of Self-Justification

Ocean State Blogger Marc Comtois quotes some comments about the United States' "losing the peace" in post-WWII Europe. He then suggests that certain people consider lessons from history — even the facts of actual, flesh-and-blood current events — to be absolutely irrelevant:

The media and much of the elite academics did not want this war. They view war throught lens of Vietnam and can conceive of nothing good to be gained from war. They hold rhetoric dear and can conceive of no situation in which force is necessary. Failure to persuade is never the fault of the intransigent antagonist, it is always the failure of wronged protagonist. Deep in their hearts, they hope for failure in Iraq so that they can say "I told you so."

And if all works out as well as it will if such people fail in their schemes, will they understand — just as deep in their hearts — what their breathtakingly selfish pessimism says about them? Or will they just throw another layer of paint on the cracking edifice?

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:07 PM | Comments (9)

An Agenda That Makes the Story Sting

I gave much more thought than usual to whether to post something that I found on Lane Core's blog. I thought. I researched. Wrote a paragraph. Thought some more, and decided that I just didn't have the time or energy to offer the commentary that would have made the effort worthwhile. But here it is, from the New York Post:

An ugly tug of war is raging over the fate of a 6-year-old boy being raised by a gay couple who won custody of the child in a landmark decision in 2000.

Gays hailed the ruling as a major victory for same-sex couples, but the boy has since become a troubled kid who punches his teachers and repeatedly says he wants to kill himself, according to an expert's report requested by his school. ...

He punches and kicks his teachers, hits and bites himself, curses and says he wants to kill himself as often as twice a month, according to the new report, completed in January by NYU's Child Study Center.

It also says he repeatedly kisses and touches classmates inappropriately and once ran around naked.

One tangential thought that I had was that it might be useful for some law blogger to make a practice of keeping tabs on the subjects of "landmark decisions." As we've seen pretty explicitly in Massachusetts, the plaintiffs and first-movers aren't accidentally in their positions; they are often as much argument as vehicle, themselves. It would be interesting, therefore, to know how things work out for them. What ever happened, for example, to Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade? (Yes, I know.)

The reason I decided not to mention the story in the Post was that I've seen similar stories involving heterosexual parents, and teasing out the points that I wanted to make would have been a sticky process. The reason that I'm mentioning it now is that, via Marriage Debate Blog, I came across a profile of another son of homosexual first-movers — this time in the Boston Globe:

Having lived together for 27 years and having been the first gay couple to obtain a license to marry in Massachusetts, Marcia Hams and Susan Shepherd were standing in front of a minister at the First Church in Cambridge May 23, and, at long last, they were declaring in public the love they had been told cannot exist.

Alongside them was their son, Peter, who is 24, a senior at Merrimack College, and after all the years of political posturing and the months of wrangling about the Supreme Judicial Court decision, the ceremony seemed blissfully spiritual.

A day later, sitting at the kitchen table of the home in Cambridge where he's now living with his mothers, he described what it was like to grow from boyhood to manhood as the son of lesbians and to attend the wedding of his mothers. With gay marriage in its third week here, some attention has been focused on the impact on children and on the subtleties and complexities in the unusual family model that Peter Hams has lived with since infancy.

"It felt cool to be reminded how much they love each other," he said about the wedding of his mothers, "but at the same time, I was troubled, too, because I wondered: In a world with so many problems, why is everybody making a damn fuss because two people love each other? My mothers are not giving guns to terrorists, and they're not selling drugs to kids, and they're certainly not destroying the sanctity of anything, and so the thought occurred to me -- what the hell is wrong with people?"

The unsettling part of the piece — unless I somehow missed or didn't register something in its near-3,000 words — is how little of real interest we learn about Peter Hams. There were some weird moments when he was young; having lesbian mothers presented some practical difficulties for the young hockey player (e.g., no parents with locker-room access); he's dyslexic and has to work particularly hard for his grades; his preppy boarding school roommate barely reacted when informed. That's about it.

Nothing on his love life, or on his relationship with his biological father, once he'd found out who it was. Nothing on his relationship with his extended family. What was his adolescence like? Nothing. A perfectly constructed picture of normalcy. And that's what's so peculiar.

As I said, I've read stories about abusive straight families. What I don't believe I've ever read, however, is a 3,000-word essay in a major newspaper about the difficulties and compromises of a normal, straight family. I also don't believe I've ever seen a similar story with the theme that the family is different, but that it hardly mattered.

The treatment of the same-sex marriage issue is one of the twin derelictions of duty on the part of the media. In the case of the war on terror and in Iraq, it is the hopeful side that has been excised. In the case of gay marriage, matters that raise legitimate questions are allowed to drift away. For one example, I've been intending to follow that local story about the lesbian foster mother charged with molesting a 15-year-old girl in her care. The one problem has been that I can't find a single mention of the case published after it broke during the first week of April (when the Providence Journal refused to report that the woman is a lesbian).

Policies built on a constructed reality will fall when they must stand against real life. The tragedy is that those most hurt are those least involved in the charade, which refuses to tarnish certain "major victories," while translating other wins into calamity

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:51 PM
Marriage & Family

The BBC Looks the Other Way

Surely you've seen this:

Just before the war against Iraq I began to receive strange calls from BBC journalists. Would I like information on how the leadership of the anti-war movement had been taken over by the Socialist Workers Party? Maybe, I replied. It was depressing that a totalitarian party was in the saddle, but that's where the SWP always tries to get. Why get excited?

Oh there are lots of reasons, said the BBC hacks. The anti-war movement wasn't a simple repetition of the old story of the politically naive being led by the nose by sly operators. The far left was becoming the far right. It had gone as close to supporting Ba'athist fascism as it dared and had formed a working alliance with the Muslim Association of Britain, which, along with the usual misogyny and homophobia of such organisations, also believed that Muslims who decided that there was no God deserved to die for the crime of free thought. In a few weeks hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, would allow themselves to be organised by the opponents of democracy and modernity and would march through the streets of London without a flicker of self-doubt. Wasn't this a story?

It's a great story, I cried. But why don't you broadcast it?

We can't, said the bitter hacks. Our editors won't let us.

Don't believe for a second that it's just in England, just the BBC, or just the groups named in this instance. Anybody who's been on a college campus in the past ten years will know that this story is merely a single barb of a pervasive vine poking through.

(via Harry's Place)

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:40 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

Spinning the Pope

"The threat of international terrorism remains a source of constant concern," Pope John Paul II said in a statement prepared for President George Bush's visit to the Vatican. "It has seriously affected normal and peaceful relations between states and peoples since the tragic date of 11 September 2001, which I have not hesitated to call 'a dark day in the history of humanity.'"

The Pope did allude to "the unequivocal position of the Holy See" with respect to the war in Iraq, as well as "deplorable events... which have troubled the civic and religious conscience of all." However, he expressed hope for peace in the long-beleaguered country and in the Holy Land. Pope John Paul also acknowledged the work of America and American organizations, generally, in "overcoming the increasingly intolerable conditions in various African countries." Making specific reference to Bush, the Pope cited the president's "commitment to the promotion of moral values in American society, particularly with regard to respect for life and the family."

That's how I would have summarized the Pope's statement to President Bush. The AP report that initially inspired this post has long been updated to other topics, and I don't care enough to go in search of it. Suffice to say that it did not mention the statements about terrorism or September 11 or Africa or respect for life and the family or moral values.

It did, however, highlight — multiple times — the "apparent reference" to Abu Ghraib. As Patrick Sweeney notes, regarding the Pope's speech from the 2004 World Day of Peace Message, the full message of the Holy Father — particularly what he means when he uses the phrase "underlying causes" — is not generally considered necessary to convey in media reports.

I remain perplexed by the Vatican's belief in the United Nations. There are a wide range of possible interpretations — from very unflattering and cynical to overly justifying. More often than not, I lean toward believing the Vatican's position to be a mixture of not seeing what the hierarchy higher ups don't want to see and believing that some positive encouragement and responsibility can transform the U.N. into the type of international organization that the Vatican believes the world to need.

Even if I'm correct, I disagree. But it oughtn't be forgotten, as we read summaries of statements, that there's almost always more to what the Holy See says than filters down to us through the press.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:24 PM
International Affairs

Credibility Is a Precious Coin

Jeff Miller's got two back-to-back posts that are well presented together. The second quotes from a piece by Illinois pro-life activist Jill Stanek:

During a recent interview, I mentioned that I believe one of Planned Parenthood's objectives is for girls and women to engage in illicit sex as often as possible, so as to increase the odds they'll get pregnant and have to abort.

The show host was flabbergasted. I was flabbergasted that he was flabbergasted. I reminded him that Planned Parenthood makes the bulk of its deadlihood - hundreds of millions of dollars every year - from abortion.

My theory was obviously over the top in this guy's opinion. The interview ended abruptly.

I agree with Jeff that Stanek's rhetoric about "monsters" isn't particularly helpful. As Jeff suggests, even the most fanatical of abortion's supporters are just tragically misguided human beings. It does us, them, or anybody in between no good if we lose sight of that. Important points become blurred by the heat. One such important point in Stanek's piece is that a great many of the core advocates for abortion have a stake in the industry's survival.

In the other post, Jeff notes a more subtle, bureaucratic instance of dishonest dealings on behalf of "family planning," quoting:

The report, entitled "Working from Within: Culturally Sensitive Approaches in UNFPA Programming," is a 32-page examination of [United Nations Population Fund's] efforts in nine countries to change laws and establish what it calls reproductive rights and health - an ambiguous phrase that is used throughout the report and is never defined but in UN parlance includes abortion. In its section on Brazil readers are told that one lesson to emerge from UNFPA's work in the country was that the Catholic Church was not a monolith and that essential to fighting Church teaching was identifying dissenting Catholics. "Within the Catholic Church, certain progressive branches exist, including the Communidades Eclesiais de Base, whose Catholic clergy understand the harsh realities of the country's poor and are ardent advocates on their behalf."

At some point, it comes into question whether it is advisable — even moral — to work with certain groups even where goals overlap. Credibility is a precious coin for evil.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:46 PM

A Blue-State Conservative Personal Ad in Verse

Just the other day, I was thinking that I hadn't done my poetic exercises in a while. Well, John Derbyshire has given me an excuse. Here's the result:

A Conservative Medium in a Blue State
by Justin Katz

Although the sympathetic ears are few
For conservatives in states that aren't red,
Embracing our beliefs, we can't be blue.

On street corners and blogs we speak what's true
And rive atrophic shibboleths when said,
Although the sympathetic ears are few.

Even as baneful policies sail through
And savings sums and household gross are bled,
Embracing our beliefs, we can't be blue.

Exposed and marked with nonconformist hue,
We sacrifice for words that might be read,
Although the sympathetic ears are few

Dishing ideology cordon bleu
Shrews force-feed each indoctrinating shred.
Embracing our beliefs, we can't be blue.

In social spheres we are the last taboo;
we seek companionship through ads instead.
Although the sympathetic ears are few,
Embracing our beliefs, we can't be blue.
Posted by Justin Katz at 4:19 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

Upper Crust Second Class?

There's just something about this instance of a successful white male Oxford and Harvard graduate journalist quoting a successful white male Georgetown graduate politician:

The president decided to trot out a constitutional amendment to remind us, even though we are already reminded daily, that we are second-class citizens. In case we harbored any illusions that we were equal, he wants to write this into the Constitution.

It is only by my own fault (with perhaps a touch of misfortune) that I am not a successful white male Ivy League–level graduate something. Having thereby gained the view of the state to which I've providentially slipped, I find these tones of put-upon deprivation jarring, to say the least. That many more Americans could languish in Andrew Sullivan and David Catania's degree of "second class"!

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:56 AM

Biting at the Mirror

Because the lines that others had quoted from it seemed to hint at either subterfuge or publicity-seeking, I hadn't bothered to read, much less comment on, disgraced ex–Times chief Howell Raines's bit of advice for John Kerry. Perusing it on Lane Core's blog, however, I note a few statements that are particularly interesting in light of other pieces that I've read lately.

Although many commentators have focused on Raines's bluntness with respect to Kerry, the most remarkable thing about the piece — "remarkable" being a measure of size, not surprise — is the degree to which the condescension and snobbery fairly ooze through the pores in one's monitor. Ours is "an electorate schooled to respond to simple messages"; "greed will make folks vote for Democrats if it's properly packaged." If this piece can be taken at face value, it appears that Mr. Raines has learned nothing from his downfall. In his attempts to manipulate the simple, greedy American public, he transformed the New York Times into a discredited rag, and now he would have the Democrat candidate for President follow the same course.

In his smarmy arrogance, he does, however, reveal what many conservatives have sensed beneath the disingenuous arguments of leading liberals. This something is the classic tendency to describe one's opponents by looking in the mirror. Consider:

Kerry has yet to learn to do what Bush and vice-president Dick Cheney do when they're in the hot seat. They take over the interview even when they have nothing to say and nothing to sell.

Big mike, no message. That's an interesting observation, coming from a man in the process of advising a party whose biggest problem is that it is defined most starkly only in opposition to the other's ideas.

Americans aren't antagonistic toward the rules that protect the rich because they think that in the great crap-shoot of economic life in America, they might wind up rich themselves. It's a mass delusion, of course, but one that has worked ever since Ronald Reagan got Republicans to start flaunting their wealth instead of apologising for it. Kerry has to understand that when a cure is impossible, the doctor must enter the world of the deluded.

The elite self-avowed "corporation-bashing" hater of business believes the possibility of individual economic advancement to be an illusion. I don't know much about Raines's background, but I get the sense of an old-money snob standing in the corner, with his veins cracking through his powdered skin, sneering at the nouveau riche. Perhaps the poor can never become wealthy, in his view, because they can never become the only type of rich that counts.

Projecting onto conservatives his own emphasis on deceiving the deluded fools who, unfortunately, have at least the power of the vote, Raines insinuates — as a truth so obvious as to require no analysis — that the Laffer curve is merely legerdemain. The idea that confiscating too much of the income for which people work will discourage them from working is taken as a self-evident deception. (Perhaps the missing analysis is that we filthy masses will work because that's what filthy masses do.) The lesson that Raines draws from this analysis is astonishing, from a certain perspective:

It means that he must appeal to the same emotions that attract voters to Republicans — ie greed and the desire to fix the crap-shoot in their favour.

From a supporter of the party of big government! The party of leg-up affirmative action and class warfare. The party of identity politics and give a man a fish so that he'll have to come back to you for a fish tomorrow. Of government benefits for illegal aliens and of abortion on a whim.

Now, it is absolutely true that — to many conservatives' objections, including mine — part of President Bush's strategy has been to absorb some of the votes on offer for big government bribery. That, however, is only a problem from the President's political right. What Raines and his ilk have apparently concluded, as they seethe to the President's left, snarling as he moves toward them, mirror in hand, is that liberals must do more of what they've tripped themselves up by doing too much.

By interpreting the Republicans', and conservatives', success as the product of false promises and appeals to the worst in people, rather than the best, some liberals conclude that they've simply been attempting to buy off too few people. In response to conservative advice that retirement preparation be a matter of individual risk and individual reward — founded on a faith in the American system and the American economy — Raines slaps some lipstick on an aging (toothless) redistributionist whore and calls her a "pot-of-gold retirement" that is "as secure as Cheney's investment in Halliburton."

One wonders, though, with the Rainses' giving no indication that their wealthy is up for grabs and with economic possibility's being seen as a delusionary lie, from whom the wealth is supposed to be redistributed. Indeed, one could argue that citizens' beginning to wonder just that is among the larger problems that liberals currently face. The simple electorate has begun to notice that, when asked "who will pay?," the Democrats have really only been holding up a mirror. And Raines's advice? Hold the mirror higher.


I'm not done with the various somehow-related posts. I just didn't expect them to take this long to put together, and I need to get some sleep.

I'll pick it up again tomorrow (today).

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:18 AM
Bloggers Blogging

Communicating Nose to Wall

Ben Bateman responded to this post in a way that deserves elevation above the comment section:

The communication gap runs deeper than most conservatives realize. The gap between right and left has grown to the point that they're effectively separate cultures. The problem is not just that right and left begin the discussion with different premises and arguments. Right and left don't even agree on how the discussion itself should work.

Western Culture has specific ideas about how we should resolve disputes. It starts with the idea that truth exists, and every reasonable person's goal is to act in accordance with it. The trouble is that people disagree about what the truth is on any particular subject. So we try to move closer to truth through intellectual discourse. We present facts and arguments. We try to persuade the other side and at the same time leave ourselves open to being persuaded. Ideally, we don't care whether our side wins or their side wins; what's important is that one side, and usually both sides, are better off from the effort because their opinions moved closer to truth.

This idea of intellectual discourse is one of the proudest achievements of Western Culture. It's so axiomatic to conservatives that they have trouble imagining how anyone could reject it. Yet it's almost unique to Western Culture. Most cultures do not share it. They believe that the side with more power will—and should—prevail in a dispute.

And a growing number of Americans agree with some form of that view. For decades it has been fashionable for academicians to deny that truth exists at all. They have convinced a great many Americans of that view, despite its obvious internal contradictions. A natural consequence of that idea is to destroy the traditional understanding of intellectual discourse. If truth doesn't exist, then there's no point in pursuing it. For these people, everything is about power, including conversation.

If your only goal is power, then it makes sense to pretend to engage in traditional intellectual discourse. Doing so softens up your targets and makes them more receptive to what you're going to say. But that doesn't mean you're actually participating in the discourse in the sense of opening your own mind up to what the other side is saying. You're like a missionary in darkest Africa: You're glad that the other side will let you try to convert them, but converting to their view is simply not possible.

Most liberals don't consciously agree that there is no such thing as truth, but they often believe it subconsciously or hold views that amount to the same thing: Truth is defined by whoever has the power; truth exists but we can't know anything about it; truth exists but it's different for each person; or truth exists but it doesn't matter in a moral sense. These and many variants amount to the proposition that truth doesn't exist. The mind's capacity for self-deception is limitless.

The painful conclusion for conservatives is that there's no point pretending to have a traditional intellectual conversation with someone who doesn't share your idea of what an intellectual conversation should be. They are not part of your culture; they have rejected it. They have embraced the much more primitive and historically common idea that the only important goal is power. If facts will get them power, they're happy to embrace them. But if the facts are inconvenient, then lies, half-truths, and personal insults will do just as well.

To keep your sanity as a conservative debating liberals, you need to be ready to rise above the specific topic and look at the conversation itself. You need a clear idea of the rules of traditional intellectual discourse. If the liberal you're talking to won't abide by those rules, dump 'em and find another one. As conservatives desperate to preserve the country, we don't want to admit to the depth of the divisions within it. We would like to imagine that every reasonable-sounding American shares our cultural traditions, especially those as fundamental a intellectual conversation. But the fact we can no longer ignore is that a great many do not.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:16 AM

Lots of Space, but Nothing to Say

In an entry (which is worth reading on its own merits) about the media's and others' disregard of history, Marc Comtois quotes a perspicacious observation by Peggy Noonan:

It occurs to me that all young people who graduate from elite American universities now want to go into communications. It's a whole generation that wants to communicate. ...

I see no sign they are going to start thinking anything truly unusual for their time and generation--that religious conversion can be a wholly beneficial and life changing event, for instance, or that breaking with liberal orthodoxy might be the beginning of wisdom.

It must leave them finding it a challenge to speak of their beliefs in an interesting way. They often seem to fall back on attitude--wit, irony, poking fun at the thick-witted--in place of sustained thought, or meaning. And still they want to communicate for a living. I think of this problem as "big mike, no message." They are trained in the finest points of communication, but when they turn on the microphone, they have nothing serious to say.

Marc mentions Bill Maher as typical and suggests:

The problem for these new graduates is that, while they are aware that spouting tired clichés won't set them apart and get them noticed, they don't have the means, the intellectual or critical training, to question the "liberal orthodoxy" they were taught in academia. All of their training has been one-sided. Conservativism and tradition have been chastised, belittled and demonized. How could any thinking individual even consider them?

Both Marc and Noonan refer to the necessity of "Deeply Held Beliefs" for powerful communication, but I think a lack of it is more extensively relevant than either implies — as a cause as well as a difficulty. What the big-mike-no-message type wants, as evidenced in practice, is not so much to communicate as to declare — to proselytize. That urge, paradoxically, results from a lack of belief.

There's a self-defeating neurosis that I've noticed in myself and others whereby one mimics a behavior that follows from an understanding or quality that one lacks. Since the quality does not derive from the behavior, the person begins to feel as if everybody is similarly faking it and forecloses the possibility that the content exists apart from, let alone prior to, the medium.

They speak because they wish to hear, but in speaking so persistently, they can hear only themselves.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:08 AM

Can't Beat 'em Join 'em

Although the post has a diction suggestive of a tongue in the cheek, Lucia of Alas, a Blog, has put together a more serious parry to Stanley Kurtz's arguments about cultural correlations with respect to marriage in Northern Europe:

Today, the family is reviving in the US. In the mid-1990’s, the sky high American illegitimacy rate seems to have ended its mad ascent after nearly tripling in the years between 1970 and 1993. Yet, since the campaign to legalize same sex marriage has built up steam, the rate of increase in non-marital births has slowed dramatically. This is no coincidence.

A careful look at the campaign for same sex marriage in the US shows that its principle themes are to promote responsible parenthood and long term commitment. Advocates of same sex marriage like Jonathan Rauch and court cases like Goodridge vs. Massachusetts stressed both themes. This important message seems to be getting out; American parents seem about to reverse the long term trend of forgoing marriage.

The first thing to note is that one must look carefully indeed — some might say narrowly — to believe that the principal themes of the same-sex marriage movement have been as Lucia describes. The principal theme of the advocacy has been rights-based. The "conservative case" has added a layer concerning the stability of relationships, yes, but not parenthood. In his extensive advocacy throughout the late '90s, Andrew Sullivan, who is widely regarded as the most visible "conservative" advocate for SSM, focused on marriage in terms of the adults involved in it.

Even Rauch, in an extended online debate in August 2001, never mentions parenthood. If he does so in his new book, then that effort — just like Goodridge — comes after Lucia's window of analysis. A message cannot "have gotten out" before it was presented.

Putting anachronisms aside, however, Lucia doesn't address arguments that are already on the table to explain the trend that she observes. For example, I've suggested (here, for one) that the debate itself can cause a healthy boost in marriage statistics, as those inclined to support traditional marriage strengthen their own. If same-sex marriage is in the news and a person opposes it — for whatever reason, but using traditionalist rhetoric — that person is less likely to devalue his or her own marriage. So the statistics that Lucia cites could be similar, in dynamic, to an observation from Stanley Kurtz when Andrew Sullivan sought to compare divorce rates in Massachusetts and Texas: "Sullivan is actually holding up the marital behavior of Catholic opponents of gay marriage as a model."

Another argument that Kurtz has put forward is that there are various apparent stages in the demise of marriage. Although the stages might vary in degree and timing for each culture, for Northern Europe Kurtz gives two:

In the early stages of parental cohabitation, the first child is treated as a test of the relationship. Many couples break up shortly after the first child is born, but many also marry. Yet as parental cohabitation grows more popular, people lose the impulse to marry at all. They have two and even three children without marrying, and many stop marrying altogether. This second stage spells the end of marriage itself. That's why it has to work against deeper cultural resistance than "experimental" first-child out-of-wedlock births.

Generically, this will result in a rapid increase of out-of-wedlock births as a result of loosening sexual and marital mores and laws. At some point, this levels off, if only for a time. His argument is that separating the notions of procreation, parenthood, and marriage kicks off another increase.

And of course, just as Kurtz has devoted much ink attempting to tease out other factors that affect marriage in Scandinavia, Lucia must contend with largely unrelated phenomena. Perhaps most notable is that U.S. out-of-wedlock births began to slow their increase around the time of welfare reform in the '90s. Since that time, overall births decreased among blacks, and out-of-wedlock births decreased among women under 20 (PDF).

Restricting ourselves to the SSM movement and out-of-wedlock births, however, the correlation isn't that strong. Lucia doesn't provide a link to her source, but it looks as if the year following the first SSM court case, in Hawaii, out-of-wedlock births jumped up. Moreover, the issue didn't really come to the public's attention until just the past year or so. Given the various arguments, or even just looking at the chart that accompanies Kurtz's "Going Dutch?" piece, the question is whether the trend up to that point does in fact represent a reversal, or merely a temporary plateau. Time will tell, but my assessment is that Lucia is only half right here:

There is hope yet. If we continue discussing same sex marriage, and enacting it more widely, Americans may once again remember that people raising kids had best be married.

The key to saving marriage will be to broaden the discussion of SSM and then, ultimately, to reject it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:32 AM
Marriage & Family

June 4, 2004

As If He Has Something to Say

How audacious of Stanley Kurtz to keep on researching, writing, and publishing as if he's got something to say about marriage in Northern Europe. I don't know that I've ever seen a writer's work on a particular topic more frequently declared debunked, and yet, he keeps on writing. Well, that's because he's constructing a more thorough argument than the debunkers have been willing to address:

As we've seen, the upswing in the Dutch out-of-wedlock birthrate coincides with the enactment of registered partnerships and gay marriage. A diligent search for alternative explanations, such as access to contraception and women in the workforce, yields nothing that correlates well with the rise of out-of-wedlock birthrates in the Netherlands. Both opponents and supporters of gay marriage linked the willingness to embrace same-sex marriage with increasing social and legal acceptance of cohabitation rather than marriage for couples with children. Although pinpointing cause and effect raises particular challenges when studying the intricacies of human social life, there are now at least strong indications that Dutch gay marriage has contributed significantly to the decline of Dutch marriage.

Perhaps there is an alternative explanation. But it is up to those who wish to argue that gay marriage has not undermined marriage in the Netherlands to provide a more plausible reason for the last seven years of Dutch marital decline.

Of course, everybody knows that this stuff has been deconstructed so thoroughly and quickly that even new points are "destroyed" before they've even been made. On that basis, it's understandable that Andrew Sullivan finds no need to do otherwise than mock:

You can, in fact, draw a direct connection between the liberalization of marriage laws in Liechtenstein and this collapse in marriage in Japan. And the turning point came at exactly the moment that Richard Hatch won "Survivor," putting another nail in the coffin of heterosexual marriage.

(An increase of snide comments over substantive reply to Kurtz has actually been a long-term trend for Sullivan. At each stage, Kurtz makes an argument, Sullivan provides some sort of reply, Kurtz addresses that reply, and Sullivan lets it drop, only to ratchet up his efforts simply to discredit Kurtz through ad hominem.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:53 PM
Marriage & Family

The Intention of Posts to Come

Because a set of subsequent posts are intended to be related, I thought to make a note at the beginning — as of instruction.

One aspect of blogging that often seems to lie just beneath the surface, but that seems, nonetheless, to be underutilized, is the way it organizes ideas. Each post is a distinct entity, much like a column. However, because they are shorter, and because they tend to follow on each other more rapidly, they can draw forth underlying themes less deliberately — almost accidentally, as a consequence of what is on the writer's mind, or of a coincidence of reading. When a writer with broader ambitions spots these themes he may hammer them into a longer piece, whether a column or a long post.

It seems to me, though, that there ought to be an intermediate practice. Sometimes one can sense connections without having yet uncovered them. This, in itself, can be "content" worth presenting to a reader. Deliberate ambiguity has certainly been the star of literature for quite some time, usually premised on the faith that the author has an answer that he's trying to convey obliquely. I've come to believe that the big secret is that authors often, perhaps usually, don't have any answers; they've just learned the forms and phrases that give the illusion of depth. Perhaps it's only ego that discourages a more honest, more participatory, strategy, whereby the author effectively asks his readers, "Help me out here."

This has just been a circuitous and self-indulgent way of declaring that I sense, but cannot articulate, a thread running through several items across which I've come today. So, rather than attempt to describe, from one to the next, what Big Theme I think I'm excavating, I'll just post the findings in a deliberate order and allow this announcement to stand as a sort of general indication that I see something more here, and an invitation to readers to help me begin to piece together what it is I'm looking at.

It may be something big. If ideas are like islands in an archipelago of belief, it may be that we sometimes get brief views of the meaningful placement of each in a larger reality. Then again, maybe it's just Friday night, and I haven't the wherewithal to think it through.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:41 PM
Bloggers Blogging

Being Fair and Offering Both Sides of the Abortion Debate

Opinion page editors, it seems to me, could stand to publish more of the argumentation by people who support abortion. No, that wasn't a mistake; I truly do mean those who support abortion. Consider a piece by Glenn Woiceshyn, of the Ayn Rand Institute, in today's Providence Journal:

"Partial-birth" abortion, most commonly known as intact dilation and extraction (D&X), is designed primarily to be used in the case of five- and six-month-old fetuses that are dying, malformed, or threatening the woman's health or life. The procedure involves pulling the fetus from the womb, except for the head, which is too large to pass without injuring the woman. The head is then collapsed to allow removal. This procedure is designed for the maximum protection of the woman.

The late-term alternative to D&X, one that doesn't require partial removal, involves dismembering the fetus in the womb before extraction -- a much riskier procedure.

The astonishing thing is that Woiceshyn believes touching up the procedure with tortured, passive language like "the head is then collapsed" will make people see it in a neutral fashion. Sorry, Glenn, but no description of what partial-birth abortion actually entails will be able to avoid placing the reader's mind in the womb. Body out; head in; crush head. Does it squirm? Can the doctor feel the child's muscles moving?

Woiceshyn wishes to push the term "D&X"? Fine by me. It sounds, to my ear, like something sinister out of a sci-fi story. Death and... X. At best, it sounds like a pesticide, which might actually be what Woiceshyn intends:

If a woman has no right to her own body, then by what logic does a fetus (which, by definition, is a biological parasite) have a right to the woman's body?

If only all supporters of abortion would be so clear! Legal, safe, and... rare? Why? It's only a biological parasite, after all. But let's stress that that's "by definition," you understand; we're being clinical here. We don't want folks thinking — or imagining — back to their own biological parasite days. We don't want to fall for the pro-lifers' trick:

"Fetal rights" are a gimmick to destroy a woman's individual rights. Tragically, many "pro-choicers" have conceded the "partial-birth" debate to the anti-abortionists and accept a ban as a compromise (and merely quibble about its scope). Such "pro-choicers" have apparently been hoodwinked by the anti-abortionists' strategy of emotionalism and evasion designed to disguise their deeper purpose.

Ah yes, emotionalism and evasion. Interesting aversions to put forward in an essay that has the following as its second paragraph:

When abortion was illegal in America, many women died or suffered serious medical problems from either self-induced or illegal "back-alley" abortions. Women streamed into emergency rooms with punctured wombs, massive bleeding, and rampant infections.

Even in his recourse to emotionalism — which readers will spot, even if he denies its existence — Woiceshyn lobs the ball. The more accurately he describes the terms of the debate, the more he contributes to its resolution in life's favor. Pro-lifers, he correctly explains, see a partial-birth abortion ban as a point of leverage from which to further limit abortion. If one rejects dilation and extraction, how can one possibly accept dismemberment and extraction? Woiceshyn's fear — which we on the other side can only hope proves true — is that the people of America will follow the logic of their emotional reaction to infanticide through to conception.

Pro-abortionists' answer, therefore, is to apply the ol' D&X to emotion itself. Pro-lifers' "professed compassion for the fetus apparently leaves no room for considering the woman's health and happiness." And Woiceshyn's response to this falsehood is to leave no room to consider the fetus's very life. It's a stark choice between life and "health and happiness." To choose the latter (vague) goods, one must conclude that the life is of no more than incidental value. If it is given any value at all, there will emerge some degrees of health and happiness that do not supercede it. And if we grant that what it is determines the value of an unborn life, rather than Woiceshyn's preferred attribute of where it is, then we must admit that it is what it became at conception.

I have to say that Mr. Woiceshyn's piece has granted me more optimism about the future of this issue than anything I've read in a while. The struggle to maintain an impossible argument — impossible if one is intent on denying its evil — is manifest. The more people read such pieces, the less they'll be able to ignore what both logic and emotion lead them to conclude.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:44 PM

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:13 AM

Legislation Through Litigation

Even apart from the explicit attack on Christianity, that the ACLU has succeeded in dictating modifications to the L.A. county seal makes me furious. It went without even a fight! Well, if government by litigation is going to be the standard, the people of L.A. county should threaten to sue for disenfranchisement and violation of due process rights. Something.

That some sort of response wouldn't lack for public support, location notwithstanding, is indicated by the fact that the case has even James Lileks taking the Christian-conservative side, unprompted (emphasis in original):

Imagine if the seal had two female mythological symbols of Peace and Progress, holding hands, and a religious group sued because they said this was a clear example of the state promoting lesbianism. "But, um, historically and allegorically, that's not what it's about." Don't care! We're offended! We bleed, you heed: Take it off! No one would give them a second thought, nor should they. But when the ACLU musters a phalanx of lawyers to erase a historical symbol from the city seal, the burghers quail. The burghers fold. In the end the national anthem is John Cage's "4'33," which gives everyone an interval of empty silence in which they can construct their own appropriate sentiments.

Lileks wonders who "can look at world where some madmen want to shove a crescent down our throats and decide that the most important thing they're going to do is take the crosses off the city seal." The answer is ideologues with an agenda that is larger in scope than defending the sensibilities of two heterodox, but vocal, citizens in a county.

As I said when I first noticed this story, such ideologues need only twist an issue around to phrase somebody's desire in terms of rights, and no democratic principle can stand in the way. We're seeing it with the erasure of Christianity from the public square of the United States, we saw it with abortion, and we're seeing it again with same-sex marriage.

It's probably true that arguments about disenfranchisement would be wide of the mark. But this isn't too small of an issue to bring into the voting box; a spine that proves absent for relatively minor matters is more likely than not to be just plain absent.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:12 AM

June 3, 2004

The Form Call for Individual Effort

The editorial page of the Providence Journal, by far the best part of the paper, gave Rhode Island GOP finance chairman Robert Manning the space of a column to send out the call for candidates and volunteers:

The solution, we are told on all fronts, is to elect more Republican legislators, who will restore balance in the General Assembly, ensure effective debate, support Governor Carcieri, and begin to roll back the worst of the abuses created by years of unchecked Democratic power.

Simple, right? Well, no, it isn't. The reason it isn't simple is that the whole process for identifying, recruiting, training, funding, and supporting Republican candidates in the state atrophied badly during the 1990s. People just assume that we always have fully enabled political-party machines silently humming away in the background, ready to come to life every two years, with pre-minted candidates, who spout the party line, buy tons of media space to tout their personalities or issues, and serve up clear choices to the voters.

Well, it ain't so -- certainly not yet in Rhode Island.

I'd looked into the functioning of the party before, even going so far as to seek out its Web site, but this piece inspired me actually to make contact. At the end of it, Manning provided readers with a phone number and an email address. Choosing email, I spent a little while coming up with a concise introduction for myself and sent it off. A little while later, what looked like a form note arrived in reply, instructing me to call the number from the piece.

I will, probably tomorrow, but I'm hesitant to risk being roped into volunteering substantial time. Acknowledging something from the introduction I had made would certainly have accelerated my response. Redirecting people whose preferred method of communication is email merely makes the first impression one of disconnection. A person makes contact in certain way for a reason, and offering the option, while declining to accord, as much as is reasonably effective, with that person's area of comfort makes the effort feel more like responding to a pitch than joining a movement.

Manning's op-ed presented the Republicans as the rebel party, fighting back against the establishment. If its leaders wish to attract the individuals to step forward and stand against the odds, it would behoove them to develop, from the very first contact, a sense of community, camouflaging with personal interest the impersonal processes by which they operate.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:20 PM | Comments (1)

A Parting Shot

Wendell Powell, formerly of Cranston, had one last thing to say to the state of Rhode Island as he packed his bags:

I doubt there is any other collection of a million souls in this country who are as politically passive about being repeatedly raped as are the taxpayers of Rhode Island. As a couple, both of us on the north side of 65, with relatively high retirement income, we can no longer justify to ourselves (or our potential inheritors) paying an incremental $9,400 per year in combined state income and property taxes over what we will pay in Tennessee.

Of course, a surplus of citizens "on the north side of 65" is one of the difficulties that we face, politically. But I think Mr. Powell and his wife were probably not of the sort that we should prefer to lose.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:46 PM

Filtered Through the Filthy Lense

The blogging duo over at Banterings has taken up the topic of modest clothing. Gary notices that the hipsters at Seventeen magazine have the fashion-world version of the libertine's inability to understand the abstentious. The internal blockquote is Gig Solif Schanen, fashion editor of the magazine, addressing a trend toward less-revealing clothes among some girls:

We like to call this new girl Miss Modesty. It's such a different feeling but still very pretty and feminine and sexy. It's just a little more covered up. It's kind of like a sexy take on a librarian. I think people are tired of seeing so much skin and want to leave a little more to the imagination.

Uh, hello? What are you talking about? You're completely missing the point! It's not another way to look sexy. "Sexy" is the problem. Just let them be girls. Of course, if Seventeen magazine were to see the light it would be the end of their magazine.

That's a bit like the nutrition editor at a fast-food industry magazine calling a trend toward home cooking "the new unhealthy." "It's kind of like the glutton's take on a nutritionist."

Two posts later, Banterer Nick points out a company in Utah called Modest by Design. It may be that I haven't been shopping for a while, mostly just wearing what's given to me, but the men's line, at least, looks pretty standard. Still, the company's name alone is a selling point; perhaps they should brand their clothes more conspicuously.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:57 PM

The Reader's Writing Being Read by the Writer

No doubt, the majority of bloggers will empathize with my usual experience. Whenever somebody puts together a post about favorite blogs, or most influential blogs, or undeservingly obscure blogs, the rest of us read it with a mixture of hope and expectation of disappointment. Unless the list maker is in our general neighborhood of the blogosphere, we know it's very unlikely that we'll be included. Still, we also know our own blogs to be greatly deserving of attention, so we look nonetheless, perhaps taking a moment to rub away the sting of exclusion.

Well, scanning John Hawkins's poll of "conservative opinion makers" regarding blogs that they "actually read," I had to rub my eyes rather than my ego. I'm still not convinced it wasn't some sort of mistake (emphasis added):

Michelle Malkin -- AtlanticBlog, Blackfive - The Paratrooper of Love, The Command Post, The Corner, Dust In The Light, Israpundit, Joanne Jacobs, Jihad Watch, Kausfiles, KellyJaneTorrance, Little Green Footballs, Medpundit, Powerline, Steve Sailer, Sgt. Stryker's Daily Briefing, Shark Blog, Andrew Sullivan, Tacitus, View from the Right

Well, thank you, Michelle (if I may), for the boost to my motivation. This is why, after the better part of a decade sending out manuscripts, two years of writing a mostly unpublished column, and almost two years of blogging, I'm still willing to exhaust every avenue and accept various trade-offs to maintain some writing time, even as life picks away at it.

Incidentally — you know, just in a general way for all readers — anybody who happens to have written a book that I've been intending to buy for a while need have no qualms about sending me a copy — or even better, suggesting a book trade. If the one I receive is autographed, and maybe with a short personalized note (or whatever), I'd probably run right out and purchase the copy that I'd intended to pick up, anyway, so as to keep the signed one pristine.

Just a thought, you know, for anybody who happens to read this.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:05 AM | Comments (4)
Bloggers Blogging

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:12 AM

Beating the Dog That's Still in the Cage

Carroll Andrew Morse seems to be becoming Tech Central Station's guy for pieces about third-world governments gone wrong. His latest explains why the ruling regime in Sudan has turned so harshly on a subsection of the subsection of the country over which it still has almost entire control:

The agreement ending the north-south conflict sanctions the possible secession of southern Sudan. Though neither major rebel group in Darfur -- the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) or the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) -- advocates separation or even federation for western Sudan, there is little affection for the Arab-dominated Khartoum government amongst the black African majority of western Sudan. In this way, the situation in western Sudan today parallels the situation in southern Sudan of two decades ago. The all-out war against the civilians of Darfur is a desperate attempt by Khartoum to prevent northern Sudan's east-west rift from evolving into the full-blown partition of Sudan's north-south rift.

Unnatural despotism must always beat against the area of least submission, lest it shift toward humanity's natural balance of liberty. That is why there is no bargaining for incremental allowances of dissent; they are only safe until the next-most-resistant line falls.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:04 AM | Comments (1)
International Affairs

June 2, 2004

Soon to Be Chastised?

Yesterday, Jay Nordlinger ruminated

Again, I am sort of amazed at the speed with which life can move.

I, for one, will not wear the label of bigot or hater because I oppose — or certainly have doubts about — homosexual marriage, and I invite others to reject that label as well. (I doubt that many of my readers have much trouble.) I believe that you can be perfectly compassionate and understanding and sympathetic without endorsing gay marriage — because, in the view of some of us dinosaurs, marriage is a specific and peculiar thing, not a free-for-all.

But I will say once more: In some circles, at least, this debate has turned nasty and perverse very quickly. You think you're a perfectly liberal-minded fellow; you would fight furiously the menacing of gays anywhere. But you wake up to find you're Torquemada just because you're not willing to upset a definition of marriage that has existed since the dawn of time.

Reading that, I thought of a letter in the Providence Journal the day before, by Judy Logan:

Before we legislate for full acceptance of homosexual behavior, I think we should wait until more facts are known. Is there any physiological evidence that a homosexual person is made differently from a heterosexual? Is there conclusive evidence that homosexuality is not a learned behavior? A study done in 2001 by two University of Southern California sociologists concluded that while children raised by gay parents show more empathy for social diversity, they are more likely to explore homosexual activity themselves. Is it possible that homosexuality is a result of a chemical or hormonal aberration that could be addressed medically if more research were done in this area?

I think we need more facts before we redefine the institution of marriage.

I wonder how Ms. Logan was, and continues to be, met on the streets and in the public and private spaces of Rhode Island since she was brash enough to publish such sentiments. Presumably she had some inkling of what to expect; I don't think the right-thinking diktat is evolving more quickly than a newspaper's letter-publication cycle.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:47 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

What Ought and Oughtn't Be Obvious

In keeping with the snowballing theme of difficulties in communicating across certain divides, the rainbow-sash communion rejection debacle provides another example:

Rainbow Sash Movement spokesman Joe Murray was among those denied communion in Chicago. He said members wearing the sashes should be seen no differently than a uniformed police officer or Boy Scout seeking communion.

"What we saw today in the cathedral is discrimination at the Eucharistic table, and that shouldn't be happening," Murray said. Those denied communion returned to their pews, but stood while the rest of the congregation knelt.

Police officers and Boy Scouts who wear their uniforms to Mass are not thereby challenging a core moral teaching of their Church. Such a challenge is exactly the purpose — not just an incidental implication — of the sashes. The objective of drawing attention to the activists and what they are doing at that particular moment of the Mass indicates that their focus is skewed. That they would disagree suggests that the gulf is wider than simply what can be traced by the surface issue.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:37 PM | Comments (1)

Shades of Purple

It looks like Ilya Shapiro has come up with the notion of Purple Politics, as well, although his version varies somewhat from mine. Marc Comtois summarizes Shapiro:

I'm pretty confident that Shapiro is a Libertarian, and that is what he means by being not RED or BLUE but PURPLE. A mix of both, the classic fiscal conservative, social liberal, but not a moderate. I'm sure we differ on various issues, but the larger point is that those of us who like our "culture" sometimes risk a bit of harassment from those who share our fundamental political beliefs, which in turn cause fits of near-apoplectic disbelief among our colleagues in academia or "society." I think being part of Purple America is fun, myself. It's fun not being easily pigeonholed, after all.

The gap that Marc uncovers by tagging Shapiro as a libertarian is — if libertarians who read this will forgive me a generalization — typical of folks of that persuasion. It's often a self-congratulatory ideology... truth through contrarianism... the best of both worlds... thought of a higher order. As Shapiro puts it:

In the wake of the 2000 presidential election, one of the most bitter, close, and bizarrely concluded votes in American history, the colors became an important part of socio-political discourse in this "50-50 nation." Yet we are finally starting to transcend them. Purple Americans, among others, defy political and cultural stereotypes, and thus confound the conventional wisdom of the media, pollsters, and pundits.

Unfortunately, thorough thinkers can't long straddle this line. In an attempt to do so, Shapiro puts Red and Blue in entirely different aspects of life — values and tastes, respectively:

I gather that I am not alone in sensing a certain disconnect between my cultural and political affinities. That is, I am a cosmopolitan conservative, residing in that nebulous region distrusted by both coastal elites and the populist sages of the heartland, Purple America.

Purple America is not so much a place as an idea, or more precisely a confluence of values from Red America with tastes from Blue America. It believes in personal responsibility, discipline, civil society, spontaneous order, ordered liberty, and that the best thing government can do is not get in the way. Yet it craves independent films, fine cigars, Belgian ales, and South American fútbol -- along with a good baseball game (preferably without the designated hitter).

Phrased like this, of course it's possible to see a blend as not only possible, but preferable, as the marriage of good sense and good taste. But Red and Blue aren't defined thus. Although I can't currently find it, I've linked, in the recent past, to an essay arguing that the schism of fine tastes from common values is a relatively modern event in our country.

Not too long ago, the elite would have been among the pews with the average folk. Elites might have preferred wine to beer while having a picnic, but both blue and white collars would have been found beneath faces frowning upon certain lusts being indulged in the bushes. It reduces conservatives to rough buffoons to believe that, as a class, they reject high culture as high culture, not because it is currently served with a subtext that they find abhorrent.

Red and Blue are all about values, not whether one privileges values. This is where Shapiro's separated feet start to slip away from the line:

[Purple America] couldn't care less who sleeps with whom where, just that its tax dollars aren't used to subsidize or photograph the event. ...

Purple America demands independent creativity grounded in a solid moral core, and its inhabitants develop an inevitably thick skin, being attacked for its Godless "hedonism" on one side and its politically incorrect "insensitivity" on the other.

Does he demand a solid moral core, or does he not care whether people behave morally? When he proceeds to give examples, he reverts to the values/fashion distinction; "Godless 'hedonism'" isn't an accusation generally thrown at people who wear Italian clothing. Now, I haven't read enough of Shapiro's work to make concrete statements from my limited observation within this one piece, but it seems to me that he overlooks the deeper differences between the sides in the culture war.

There are real disagreements about values, and what makes each stereotype accurate, in its way, is that those values are applied across a range of issues more or less consistently. For example, in the conservative view, it matters what people do, whether or not it is federally subsidized. Shapiro apparently empathizes, because he claims on behalf of Purple America belief "in personal responsibility, discipline, civil society, spontaneous order, ordered liberty, and that the best thing government can do is not get in the way." Yet he apparently wishes to deny a practical consequence of that collection of principles: that some other structure than government must ensure responsibility, discipline, and so on. Believing in small government doesn't mean that we can "care less," but that we must care more.

The danger, a particularly libertarian one, of seeking to transcend the political order is that it leaves one with no independent ground on which to stand. Those who fall prey to the temptation are no less easily pigeonholed for the fact that they are floating.

Reaching Those Who Can Be Reached

A couple high-profile posts have evoked comments of the sort that aren't often made on Dust in the Light. Since comment-area diatribes tend to be condensations of broader views — whatever those views may be — I've been impressed once again, in a discouraging way, with the impossibility of wading through differences to common ground on which to build agreement.

With patience, one can often see that the erroneous opinions are honestly held, and rooted in good motivation. Unfortunately, seeking to follow the trail of good will requires greater devotion of time than is reasonable when dealing with someone whom one doesn't know in some other context. But then what? Encountering recitations from the ideological breviary of the other side, the temptation is to fisk, point to point, but that's a bit like trying to stride through a brier patch.

Consider Angie's May 25 09:25 p.m. comment to this post:

Russia invited democracy. We did not have to force it down their throats. Maybe in time the Middle East would invite it too. Time.

How does one respond? Decades of multinational foreign policy have been rendered moot by a three-word sentence. There is only waiting, and in the case of Russia, by that worldview, waiting paid off. Why not, then, Iraq?

If you have a health problem, doesn’t the doctor run lots of tests before suggesting surgery? What was the urgency to take the most extreme route possible?

Of course, if some sort of gangrenous infection is creeping up your arm, you'd rather the doctor make an educated guess about its origin and cure at some point (particularly if the healthcare system is state run, with all the delays that entails). And how is a careful — surgically executed — war to remove a dictator who was clearly malignant "the most extreme route possible"?

The conclusion to which this progression of thought leads is one that conservatives find themselves continually repeating, as if in frustrated amazement: such folks as Angie are following a patchwork method for understanding interactions. Each view of an event — as history, as current events, and as likelihood — is bent to fit the frame. Look to the very next comment, from Tim:

Europeans are not against america, but against the war. We all agreed Saddam had to be removed, i think you will find few europeans that would think otherwise, but there are other ways than war.

One could point out that Europeans associated with the Oil for Food program were especially against war for reasons not directly related to feelings about America. More on topic, however, is the idea that there's some way to remove a heartless tyrant, who is already grooming is blood-thirsty sons to continue the reign, than by war. Normally, I'd suppose that he means to invoke the ideal of diplomacy, in which case the goal would be less the regime's removal than its reform, but then I'd be at a loss as to how to explain the thought that follows (note that the "you" is another commenter, not me):

And talking about corrupt ties to "evil" countries. The Moore movie you mentioned at the end of your blog did open a few eyes on the connections Bush's family has with Bin Laden's family. And wasn't it mr Blair who recently visited mr. Khadaffi himself.

So, now pursuing diplomacy toward reform with Libya is an indication of corruption. That's a considerable spin beyond the simple omission, on the part of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, of war's role in that success. When those who fetishize diplomacy see a particular leader's interaction with another, unsavory, leader as proof of underhanded dealing, they are doing more than putting together a patchwork; they're refusing to secure the pieces of that patchwork in order to allow them to be refit as necessary.

The danger of such intellectual structures was brought home to me in a different post, about the anti-war ex–staff sergeant Jimmy Massey. In a May 26 10:35 a.m. comment defending his or her native Canada, somebody using the nametag "Withheld to prevent persecution" offered this:

Did you know that your country was found guilty of committing war crimes by the UN? Your government ignored the order to stop their state sponsored genocide and pay reperations and stepped up their campaign, officially allowing the targetting of "soft targets" (civillians, residential buildings, etc). Did you know that your country used Iraq, Iran, and other middle eastern countries as pawns in a diabolical game of chess with Russia throughout the Cold War? Did you know that the newly chosen ebassador (read: leader) to Iraq, Mr Negroponte formed CIA trained 'Death Squads' responsible for the unlawful detainment and deaths of tens of thousands of people? Did you know that Daddy Bush killed 200,000 Iraqis in Bahdad in 1991 including the infamous "highway of death" in the last days of the slaughter when US pilots shot into the backs of retreating soldiers? Did you know your government has now twice overthrew the democratically elected Aristide (won last election with 94%) and installed a war criminal who has since been murdering dozens of Haitians every day? Did you know that in the 1950's, the US sponsored a coup in Guatemala overthrowing the democratically elected leader, resulting in the death of over 120,000 peasants? Did you know your gov't overthrew a democratically elected leader in Iran, resulting in the death of 70,000 civilians and a brutal dictatorship that lasted decades? Did you know your gov't sponsored a coup in Indonesia that killed 800,000 Indonesians? Did you know that since the 1970's (it continues today) your gov't has sponsored a campaign of terror in South Africa that has left 1,000,000 dead and mutilated Africans? Did you know thatyour gov't actively covered up the genocide taking place between the Hutus and the Tutus in the mid-1990's to prevent UN involvement until it was too late, resulting in the death of over a million people (a common tactic was shooting the men in the legs so they couldn't get away, herding women and children of the village into churches, burning down the churches and then going back to finish the men)? Did you know in the 1970's your gov't sponsored a coup to overthrow the democratically elected leaders of Chilli, resulting in the death of over 30,000? Did you know the US waged war on the people of El Salvador, killing over 80,000 "soft targets"? Did you know that between 1954 and 1975 your country shot, bombed, and napalmed over 4 Million civilians in IndoChina?Did you know the US military and the CIA are directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Sudan, Brazil, Argentina, and Yugoslavia?

I don't think there's a single topic about which I could rattle off such a litany, which suggests to me that this 1) took quite a bit of time to write and/or 2) came from a bullet-list somewhere. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the comment is the reckless lack of thought made evident when Withheld goes on to total the atrocities for which the United States is responsible as on the order of the Nazis, Stalin, and Genghis Khan combined. If he actually believed this, he would be morally obligated to seek to topple the United States, not just to grouse about "filthy Americans."

There are those who do follow through to the moral implications of such rhetoric, although they more often seek to undermine than to topple — corroding foundational ideals rather than attacking the proclaimedly diseased outgrowth. Is that the method of removing a regime without war of which they speak? It certainly is no less damaging. In fact, I'd say that it is the most extreme route possible, akin to burning the patient alive.

And the existence of people — some prominent, albeit thinly deceptive — who are actually pursuing such an end at this very moment, from within the freedoms, liberties, and good intentions of the country they despise solidifies the necessity of seeking to reach those who can be reached, who are not so far gone.

But how?

Getting Over the Hump

It is Wednesday, after all, and therefore my first day back to actual work since the long weekend. I've currently got 17 items to which I intend to link and on which I intend to comment, and I'm only halfway through my daily online reading routine... but there's high-tech market research that needs editing.

This earning money thing is a real pain. Life would be so much easier if the government would just dole out money according to need, and each person could work according to his or her particular abilities. That way, I could sit around and blog all day — which is surely where society most needs my talents applied. (If only the darn capitalists realized it.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:31 PM
Diary & Confession

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:07 AM

Confirming the Memory

Memories of events that really happened and memories of dreams that we had long ago can blur together. For those who've spent much time writing fiction, the pitfall of lunacy is far too easy to imagine: what was life and what was plot? Well, one memory that I've always questioned, based on the facts therein, has been confirmed.

In my early double-digits, I went to piano camp in Vermont, and one memory from that time is of everybody walking around with their blankets wrapped around themselves. Sitting on the stairs, sitting on the screened-in porch, like cloth cocoons with heads sticking out. Since it would have been summer, however, the memory carried a touch of implausibility when it resurfaced in my twenties.

Well, it's almost summer in Rhode Island, now, and it's pretty darn cold. Guess I should trust my rememberer.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:05 AM
Diary & Confession

June 1, 2004

Judging by the Joyful

The crucial question seems to be this: Are there two sides to the gay-marriage story? Is this a case in which mainstream journalists -- as opposed to reporters at places such as Salon.com, Out and some sections of the New York Times -- should attempt to find some kind of balance between those in favor and those opposed? Or, in the view of the press, is this officially a battle between the enlightened and the bigots?

Terry Mattingly posed these questions last week, addressing an opposing question, from Ron Kampeas: "How do you avoid upbeat wedding coverage?" Mattingly justifiably wonders whether there are any "journalists in U.S. newsrooms who could even imagine what this story looks like from a morally conservative point of view." That tack, however, still leaves recourse to Kampeas's line of rhetoric:

Should a wedding be covered like a campaign rally, with every second graf a reminder of "why this might be wrong." How do you fact check a wedding? How many people, even among the opponents of gay marriage, could be counted on for pertinent nay-saying quotes in wedding coverage?

The whole discussion misses the more prominent aspect of bias in coverage of Massachusetts's same-sex marriages. One doesn't have to dig up quotations from protesters to balance a piece about an event, just as one doesn't have to include activists' quotations to impart bias. As I've touched on before, the key to balance, and to giving due credence to the "other side," in this case is to show couples that illustrate the concerns of those who object, not just those who further the chosen image of the activists.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:15 PM
Marriage & Family

A Would-Be Dictator on the Op-Ed Page

Rhode Island's own Carroll Andrew Morse has been keeping tabs on events surrounding Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez:

There is an active debate within the Venezuelan opposition whether the petition and referendum are meaningful or if they are diversions intended to frustrate and dissipate the energies of the opposition. There is a fear that cooperation with a referendum procedure amidst the campaign of intimidation against petition signers, the belief that votes will not be counted fairly by the CNE, and the confusing and contradictory rulings of the TSJ might only give an aura of legitimacy to an election that is unfair.

I've been meaning to note that Chavez managed to place his side of the story in the Providence Journal:

Venezuela's National Electoral Council -- a body as independent as the Federal Election Commission in the United States -- found that more than 375,000 recall petition signatures were faked and that an additional 800,000 had similar handwriting. Having been elected president twice by large majorities in less than six years, I find it more than a little ironic to be accused of behaving undemocratically by many of the same people who were involved in the illegal overthrow of my government.

The National Electoral Council has invited representatives of the Organization of American States and the Carter Center to observe a signature verification process that will be conducted during the last four days of this month. That process will determine whether the opposition has gathered enough valid signatures to trigger a recall election, which would be held this August. To be frank, I hope that my opponents have gathered enough signatures to trigger a referendum, because I relish the opportunity to once again win the people's mandate.

Personally, I'm inclined to believe Andrew, although it's certainly edifying to read the foreign leader's spin. (Dare I say "propaganda"?) The two pieces make for an interesting comparison — and a potent reminder of the real value of a free press.

Perhaps the Providence Journal should pick up one of Andrew's several pieces explaining what Mr. Chavez leaves out.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:57 PM
International Affairs

The Weed Puts Down Thick Roots

Somebody, somewhere, must have written a knock-off of the "Ugly Duckling" story, one involving a plant that everybody took to be a weed, but that turned out to be an alluring blossom. If not, perhaps I'll write one — a sort of metaphorical autobiography (albeit, perhaps unduly optimistic).

In the most (knowingly) risky financial move of my life, my growing family is extending its roots more deeply in Rhode Island. Rather than continue to write checks for rent that is, essentially, the mortgage payment for the house in which we live, we thought it best to grab the low interest rates and pay our own mortgage instead. Thanks to a 0% down loan and a little up-front help from family, and barring unforeseen problems, June 2004 will be the last month in which my wife and I are not home owners.

Although the decision has an undertaste of recklessness, against the significant financial risk must be weighed the risk of living in an old house about which I've many health concerns — soon with two girls, a fiddling two-year-old and a newborn — that somebody else must be pushed to maintain. Another counterbalance is the monthly drain of almost as much money through rent to no accumulating purpose. How hopeful it will be to view our largest monthly expenditure as an investment rather than an expense. How refreshing it already is to know that any work done to improve our living space will have the added benefit of improving the investment!

This morning, I went to the house for its inspection, and no big-ticket problems came to light. Everything is in great condition, considering our price range, and the inspector, while checking the roof, confirmed what I had suspected: a second floor will one day have a water view.

This afternoon, I came across Edward Achorn's column in the Providence Journal suggesting that the state in which I'll soon own property is, itself, a fixer-upper:

THE JUNE 2004 issue of Bloomberg Wealth Manager warns well-to-do people, once again, to avoid what the publication calls "tax-hell Rhode Island."

Indeed, Rhode Island is the worst place in the country -- ranked 51 among 50 states and the District of Columbia -- for people who wish to keep some of their wealth. ...

Rhode Island does a good job of splitting apart loved ones. Because its tax and regulatory structure chokes off new jobs, children often must move out of state for work. And because it is one of the worst places for retirees, elders often move far away, taking their spending power with them.

But this evening, Ramesh Ponnuru granted me a much needed draft of hope by rattling a cup on my behalf. Therein lies the tenor or my metaphor (although I smile to express something so dopey yet so pretentious): the seed from a way of thinking that thrives elsewhere blown by life's circumstances to foreign, often hostile, land.

Well, Rhode Island, I'm here to stay. Best get used to me — us. We may be weeds to your eyes, but we'll bring health to the state, even if you've defined illness as proper.

Regarding the literary merits of this post: Hey, whaddaya want? It's been an unusually busy day, and after a long weekend...

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:17 PM | Comments (2)

Songs You Should Know 06/01/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Eve's Lament" by Rosin Coven. This song is from the band's new CD, Menagerie. I hope to write a review in the near future, but suffice, for now, to say that I'm simply amazed that people of my general age range write such musically compelling pieces. If you've a taste for darkly artsy songs, be sure to have a listen and take a look.

"Eve's Lament" Rosin Coven, Arthouse Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:01 PM