July 31, 2004

Who's Got the Problem?

Michelle Malkin directs attention to a Mark Steyn column in which Mr. Steyn quotes an interesting reaction to Governor Schwarzenegger's comment, "If they don't have the guts to come up here in front of you and say, 'I don't want to represent you, I want to represent those special interests, the unions, the trial lawyers, and I want them to make the millions of dollars,' if they don't have the guts, I call them girlie men":

Up in Sacramento, they weren't happy. The governor's remark was 'as misogynist as it is anti-gay,' complained Mark Leno, a San Francisco assemblyman and chairman of the legislature's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus. 'By playing to certain voters' discomfort with gender and sexuality, the governor has exposed himself as a divider, not a uniter.' 'Blatant homophobia,' agreed state senator Sheila Kuehl, also of the LGBT Caucus. 'It uses an image that is associated with gay men in an insulting way, and it was supposed to be an insult. That's very troubling that he would use such a homophobic way of trying to put down legislative leadership.'

Apart from the pro forma outrage, the comment that I italicized seems a good example of that sort of modern thinking that gets reality exactly backwards. How is it that the man who is basking in his strong masculinity and mocking a presumed lack thereof in his opposition is playing to "discomfort with gender and sexuality"? It would seem that the governor is more comfortable with those concepts than are the whiners and that his comment would appeal to voters who are similarly secure in their belief that men ought to be men.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:38 AM | Comments (5)

Quietly Accepting the Opposition's Received Wisdom

Over in the miniblog in the left-hand column, Into the Ether, I noted that Al Sharpton may very well be the first black Democrat whom I've heard speak in support of Clarence Thomas's position on the Supreme Court (albeit it, in a backhanded way). This quiet acceptance of previously rejected emphases to make politically expedient points seems to have been in the air at the Democrats' convention. Lileks caught John Kerry tapping into it:

"I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as President."

This really intrigues me. I agree that Vietnam was a defense of the United States, inasmuch as we were trying to blunt the advance of Communism. So: only Nixon can go to China. (Only Kirk can go to Chronos, for you Star Trek geeks.) Only Kerry can confirm that Vietnam was a just war. This completely upends conventional wisdom about the Vietnamese war, and requires a certain amount of historical amnesia. Why does this get glossed over? The illegitimacy of the Vietnam war (non-UN approved, after all) is a key doctrine of the Church of the Boomers; to say that service in Vietnam was done in defense of the United States is like announcing that Judas Ischariot was the most faithful of the disciples. Imagine if you were a preacher who attempted such a revision. Imagine your private thrill when everyone in the congregation nodded assent. The past was more malleable than you had ever expected.

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

Inadvertent Voting and the Thrust of a Movement

On the Marriage Debate Blog, which is increasingly must-reading material for those interested in the issue of same-sex marriage, a current topic of discussion involves the likely repercussions for religious organizations should same-sex marriage become the law of the land. As part of a rebuttal to Anthony Picarello's description of some areas in which religious organizations may be compelled to pursue First Amendment lawsuits, Barry Deutsch writes (with an internal blockquote from Picarello, ellipsis Deutsch's):

Second, resisting churches may face targeted exclusion from public facilities, public funding streams and other government benefits. [...] For example, religious groups have already been excluded from public contracts. New York City has passed a law requiring any contractor doing more than $100,000 in business with the city to extend health benefits to same-sex domestic partners. Groups such as the Salvation Army--which has provided the city with millions in contract services for the needy--will be excluded from participation in those contracts because of their religious convictions.

Again, so what?

No one is denying the Salvation Army the right to their religious convictions. However, neither the Salvation Army, nor anyone else, has a right to be free of all consequences for their decisions.

Voters are free, through their elected representatives, to set up rules regarding who the government will and won't sign contracts with (within Constitutional limits; voters are not free to make a "this city will never contract with Jews" law). All employers - religious or otherwise - can set their hiring rules so that they qualify for government contracts, or not. But when the Salvation Army or any other employer freely chooses hiring rules which exclude them from government contracts, then that's their own decision, and they've freely chosen to suffer the consequences.

The first thing to note — after chuckling at an SSM proponent's appeal to voters' rights — is that Deutsch has cut out the more difficult example of the Boy Scouts' experience, in which the Supreme Court's affirmation of its First Amendment rights with respect to hiring gay leaders was hardly the end of the story for the group. Yes, he is right that the Salvation Army has simply run into the consequences of its conflict with a direct statute (and many Christians have applauded the organization's willingness to stand up for its principles), but that case is just an example, not the totality of the reasons for concern.

Indeed, discussing such possibilities now is not an attempt to make a legal argument that religious organizations should have "an absolute pass from employment law," as Deutsch puts it, but an effort to persuade citizens and lawmakers that the innovation of same-sex marriage will have far-reaching and largely unintended effects. For example, consider the variation of the argument involving religious organizations' inability to offer health insurance just to heterosexual married spouses should marriage become de-gendered. In this case, the public will not have "set up" the rules in which the organizations are tangled — especially if the law is changed at the command of a judge.

More deeply relevant, however, is that Deutsch intellectually elides an entire aspect of the debate with his parenthetical "within Constitutional limits; voters are not free to make a 'this city will never contract with Jews' law." The constitutional limits are the question. In effect, a law saying "this city will never contract with groups that recognize only opposite-sex marriages" is to say "this city will never contract with Catholics" (for one).

Deutsch may or may not choose to wade into the morass of conflicting rights and discrimination (which, after all, was the context for Picarello's statements), but it would be of questionable consistency for same-sex marriage advocates to start touting the difference between explicit discrimination and discrimination "in effect." This is particularly true for an SSM advocate who has attempted to argue that opposition to SSM and bigotry are related by definition.

As is often the case with the posts of bloggers who support same-sex marriage, I found the comments to Deutsch's entry to be instructive.

Joe Buck's comment begins with a point that's worthy of debate: that the conflict, at least in the case of health insurance, stands as an argument for a single-payer system. While I would strenuously oppose the "single-payer" aspect, I do believe that healthcare ought to be dislodged from employment packages. But then Buck's alternative suggestion relates to a central problem with the movement for SSM: "Or, they could allow the employee to name any person (say, a mother or a brother or a friend) to receive medical benefits." More broadly applied, that's a mandate for the dissolution of marriage.

Next, Steve Duncan turns up the flame on his rhetoric:

Another 4 years of Dubya and the same sex marriage debate will be moot. We'll be discussing whether the corpses of gay people are better disposed of through incineration or burial in trenches. This is truly a gang of evil, vile, murdering thieves we're saddled with.

It isn't entirely clear how far into the society Duncan extends inclusion in this "gang of evil, vile, murdering thieves," but suffice to say that I don't suspect he'd much object to legal penalties for groups that discriminate against homosexuals. It's easy to justify regulation of what one considers to be evil.

And lastly, unless I'm misreading the intent, Echidne seems to offer one way in which such penalties could be instituted:

It's interesting that because we don't have civil rights laws about individuals as consumers the religious institutions can and do decide which services should be available for all. Think of Catholic hospitals and their policies about vasectomies and abortions. In fact, it's sort of curious that the federal laws provide no protection for discrimination when we act in the role of consumers.

Maybe this is what should be corrected, rather than a further reduction of the protections via the manipulation of employment protections?

Whatever the merits of Picarello's legal argument, I can't say I blame my fellow social conservatives for being concerned about the directions in which the "gay rights" movement could break if it achieves erasure of distinctions in the public institution of marriage.

Immediately upon shutting down the computer last night, it occurred to me to question Deutsch's assertion about an organization's right to withhold benefits from the spouse of "a divorced and remarried woman." Is this true — not as a matter of organizational policy, but of law? I'm not so sure; for one thing, I wasn't aware that divorcees represent a constitutionally protected group.

Whether it's true or not, it oughtn't be true. Perhaps the differing perspectives, here, have to do with political leanings and one's belief in the wisdom of endowing government with broadly and deeply reaching regulatory powers to enforce, through labor laws and the like, a regime of life choices that must be considered acceptable.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:17 AM
Marriage & Family

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:04 AM

[Insert Boilerplate]

Here and there, I've been hearing echoes of a feeling that I've found difficult to suppress while attempting to gather information. Perhaps it's a general mood among conservatives, especially, that is exacerbated in my case by the various life matters with rightful claims to more time than there is in a sleepless day. But I have no more patience for template-driven political chatter.

I think the final straw, for me, occurred when I had O'Reilly on in the background as I unpacked boxes late at night and the gravelly voiced Democrat spokeswoman Susan Estridge told one of those personal stories that make the abortion debate so difficult — one of those that would require slow and painful discussion in order to tease out political conclusions.

Understandably, O'Reilly wasn't in a position to walk down such paths with Ms. Estridge, but what bothered me about the segment was that the story was told — and the emotions were unearthed and displayed on national television — for the purpose of defending a Planned Parenthood t-shirt reading simply "I had an abortion." Something about the combination of the specific topic, the near-tears anecdote, and the accompanying "safe, legal, and rare" slogan made the whole discussion seem a pointless, scripted exercise.

There have been other examples — such as Rhode Island's Democrat attorney general spending five minutes of radio airtime dodging an obvious line of questions as if he were lying, not because he was lying, but because he was trying to emphasize his disagreement with the governor on a matter about which he substantively agreed — but they're all just too tiring to recount. I can't escape the feeling that the health of our nation depends largely on our finding new sources for information and new venues for publicly accessible debate.

If Pundit D and Pundit R are going to do little but read from lists of talking points, citizens are just going to tune them out... and take it as an excuse not to challenge their own preconceptions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:01 AM | Comments (1)

July 30, 2004

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:43 PM

Unheralded... but Right (Perhaps)

When I requested his entrance into the debate about the constitutionality of the Marriage Protection Act, Eugene Volokh emailed that he lacked time and expertise to comment appropriately. Subsequently, it appears that either his interest was piqued or the sheer number of inquiries made some sort of comment expedient.

Anyway, although he doesn't mention my take, I'm glad to see that the professor agrees with me:

People would still be able to assert their federal constitutional rights -- just in state courts, which are also required to follow the U.S. Constitution, rather than in federal courts. (Recall that the Constitution doesn't even require Congress to create subordinate federal courts at all, and, as the quote above shows, specifically authorizes Congress to limit even the Supreme Court's appellate authority.) My understanding, from what Gary said, is that this is the majority view among leading federal courts scholars.

Of course, Mr. Volokh also notes that the very fact that the issue would fall to the state courts is problematic for those who oppose same-sex marriage in that state courts could rule it unconstitutional in their own states, putting pressure on fellow judges to rule in harmony and leaving no overriding recourse, except constitutional amendment(s). Whatever the case, the wisdom of the act seems to me a murky judgment to make; if we're presuming that judges are more likely to rule in favor of same-sex marriage than not, then I incline (somewhat) toward at least requiring the rulings of no fewer than fifty courts — that are subject to varying degrees of regulation by fifty-one legislative bodies.

Still, I agree that "if you really want to make sure a statute isn't invalidated, a narrowly tailored constitutional amendment... is indeed the first-best alternative, especially when it seems like it could well be politically plausible." Word on the street is, however, that the Senate won't even let the Marriage Protection Act through, so I'm not sure why an amendment version would fare better.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:28 PM
Marriage & Family

July 29, 2004

Managing Technical Things Too Early in the Morning

Clicking the "Get Msgs" button on my email software has become a bit of a nervous tic, as I skip from program to program getting things done, so I often manually check my mail more quickly than my automatic settings — five minutes, I think. Such was the case this morning, when I was surprised to find that 62 messages had arrived during the mere minutes since my previous click.

As it turned out, they were all identical spam that had been sent to random email addresses at "timshelarts.com." My email being the default, they had all come to me. So I reconfigured my account to send all messages that are addressed to nonexistent addresses to a "blackhole." Apparently, "jkatz@timshelarts.com" was actually a nonexistent address.

Upon discovering my confusion, I brought that email address into existence, and it is now functional. However, if you sent me any mail, made comments to any posts on my blog, sent trackback pings to any posts on my blog, or otherwise directed a message my way via email between about 10:15 a.m. and 12:20 p.m. this morning, please resend any direct notes and, if you'd like, draw my attention to any comments or trackbacks.

Sorry for the disruption.

I just remembered that I can check all recent comments and trackbacks myself, so only regular ol' email and responses to the online forms scattered around timshelarts.com have slipped by me.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:45 PM | Comments (1)
Site-Related Announcements

Those Coveted Slots

In March, Rhode Islander Donald Hawthorne did some comparative math between increases in state aid to our educational establishment and a moderate family budget. Let's just say that I wouldn't be inclined to complain, much less proclaim a crisis, if my employer told me that budgetary considerations required that my promised $15,000 annual raise would have to be reduced to $14,250.

Last week, Mr. Hawthorne listed some of the benefits of being a public employee in Rhode Island, for reader comparison to their own deals:

The unions say they represent working people. Test that claim with this nonfiction test. If you are a working person or retired working person, has your work environment included:

Annual salary increases up to 12 percent?

Automatic increases simply for showing up, not based on merit?

Additional longevity bonuses, just for showing up?

No-layoff provisions?

Seniority valued more than expertise or organizational need?

Zero co-payments on insurance premiums?

Eleven weeks of paid time off per year?

A pension equal to 60 to 80 percent of your salary for the rest of your life, starting immediately after retirement and with as little as 28 years of service, regardless of your age?

Today, state- and local-government employees and teachers receive some combination of the above terms, paid for by working people, single parents, and retirees, many of whom earn nothing close to those terms.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:27 AM
Rhode Island

Polygamous Routes

Marty McKeever notes a story about a new Spike Lee movie, She Hate Me, that I had noticed, but was too busy to give due consideration. Here's "lesbian author and sex educator" Tristan Taormino, whom Lee hired to keep the movie real through "Lesbian Boot Camp":

"At the very end of the film, Spike purposely leaves the Jack-Fatima-Alex relationship ambiguous," she said. "It's clear that the three are all co-parenting the kids, and [lesbian couple] Fatima and Alex are very much a couple. But it's not clear what their relationship to Jack is. To me, the end is a radical vision of our future, a future where the heterosexual nuclear two-parent family is not the dominant model."

Suggests Marty:

Keep this in mind the next time a gay marriage advocate tells you they won't support polygamy. Not only will they support it -- gay activists will be the driving force behind it. Even two committed lesbians know that children need a daddy...

People approaching this issue from various angles will react differently to Marty's prediction. Those who would claim that he's being absurd should consider the Canadian case that I pointed out in March 2003, in which a lesbian couple went to court to have the biological father of their child certified as a third parent. To be fair, I should mention that, as Stanley Kurtz reported the following month, judge David Aston turned the group down, despite having declared his desire to do otherwise.

Whatever the outcome of further appeals in this case, Judge Aston's legal thinking isn't likely the end of the story. Apart from jurisdictional boundaries, he acknowledged the "slippery slope" argument: "If a child can have three parents, why not four or six or a dozen? What about all the adults in a commune or a religious organization or a sect?" If anything, this barrier need be only temporary; it isn't difficult to imagine a court taking the intermediary step of opining that a family can reasonably include the two married parents and then a third, biological, parent. See? There's no need to go beyond that compassionate recognition of real families for the benefit of the children involved. (Until a lesbian couple has a child with a donated sperm and a donated egg, and/or until the principle of "actual parenthood" gains sufficient legitimacy to be inserted into the law.)

As for the likelihood that the average same-sex marriage advocate will stand in the way of multiple parenting and polygamy, well, I think Marty's commenter "Wilma" provides an opportunity for insight:

What nonsense! Gays and lesbians have the same affection for committed, two person relationships as heterosexuals do. Polygamy is condemned because it is denigrating to the women involved.

This ludicrously jumbled thinking will unravel with the first tug on emotional strings. Leaving aside the undemonstrated assertion about homosexuals' institutional "affection," the explanatory sentence undermines the point. As Marty subsequently suggests, the obvious question is how a biological father's inclusion would be denigrating to his two spouses. Wilma responds by applying the difficulty of "shared affections," which plainly wouldn't apply in a scenario defined by the women's lack of affection for men; it also takes into account neither gay male couples and their lesbian egg donors nor polygamous relationships made up entirely of women or of men.

Immediately, it is clear that traditional arguments cannot hold in a new world in which homosexuality has been declared as no more significantly different from heterosexuality than a minority race is from the majority. This is true even when homosexual activists are the ones attempting to make the traditional arguments. And experience leads me to believe that, when reality forces folks like Wilma to address the illogic of their thinking, they will merely discard the old points in exchange for enlightened acceptance of the new paradigm.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:58 AM | Comments (11)
Marriage & Family

The Day That Fox Mattered

Brent Bozell wrote something that caught my attention in a recent column about hatred of Fox News and a "documentary" that has emerged as its crystallized form:

When Fox News debuted in 1996, liberals couldn't contain their laughter at what they considered a sophomoric challenge to the dominant media. Then Fox became a pest, the proverbial gnat that wouldn't go away. Ultimately -- almost overnight -- Fox overtook its cable competitors and became king of the hill. Fox became a menace on the media landscape that should have been aborted before birth, a blatantly biased and bullying blight on America.

One would have to check ratings numbers and the like to confirm this, but my sense is that the exact "overnight" was that from September 11 to September 12, 2001. All Fox stations plugged into Fox News for a few days, and I can't be the only American who realized immediately that the network offered a chance to keep up with events without having to sift through agenda-driven distractions and to bite lips over inane liberal commentary. Personified, I couldn't stand to turn, for information about the horrific history unfolding, to the smirky, perky face of Katie Couric.

Thereafter, I went through the not-very-easy process of requesting that Cox Communications, my cable provider, carry Fox News in its regular line up. After calling several employees of the company, I finally learned that the pick-up had already been scheduled for some time in December (as I recall).

I don't know whether a wave of similarly persistent customers brought about that change after 9/11, although it's entirely possible, because it took me about a week of remotivation and effort to make my request. But just think about that: almost instantly, I realized that I could trust Fox News more than I could any other station. What does that say about the news sources with which we'd been living for the previous decades?

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:23 AM | Comments (3)
News Media

Covering the Coverers

I've been meaning to note — and really should before it's too late — that Earl Appleby has been covering the DNC convention. From day one:

"I'm committed to seeing Bush out of office in November and want to do what I can to help," says Jeralyn Merritt, a Denver defense lawyer who writes the TalkLeft blog. "To me the purpose of a convention is solidarity and getting strength from each other and renewed commitment to a joint purpose. I am a cheerleader. I am a partisan. I am an advocate. My goal is to get everyone else stirred up."

You've stirred me, Jeralyn. Just what we need, fawning coverage of a liberal convention by bloggers whose left-wing pap makes Dan Rather look objective. And how do we tell the convention bloggers from the delegate bloggers?

Day two looks at some of the first impressions of those bloggers, and day three pokes around St. Blogs for reaction. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:03 AM

July 28, 2004

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:22 AM

A Generation with Stuff to B**** About

I upset more than a few acquaintances, a while back, by voicing the theory that, as an underlying cause, Kurt Cobain killed himself because he realized that he didn't have the talent to make the kind of music that he wanted to make. I mention this less to evoke ire or agreement than to show that I'm not defending a personal hero when I suggest that Marc Comtois is a bit hard on Nirvana's deceased front man. In tandem, Marc is a bit hard on the generation in which we are both included (although I think I'm closer to its tail).

I recall that, even as a huge Beatles fan, I never really understood Sting's described experience of hearing "Love Me Do" for the first time. Sitting by the pool when the song came on the radio, he and his friends spontaneously began to dance, and they knew that something new had arrived. Although Soundgarden and Alice in Chains had paved the way for the Seattle bands, it was Nirvana that managed the big breakthrough, and I imagine the feeling of hearing the band for the first time was much the same — albeit expressed with moshing rather than dance.

I was sitting in my leather swivel chair, attempting to study for finals, chatting with my friend Rich on the telephone, when the video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" came on the computer monitor that I had wired to receive cable TV. We both stopped talking. Something new had arrived.

Marc is entirely correct that Pearl Jam was a better band in just about every respect, but it is perhaps for that very reason that Nirvana claimed the movement. I've never taken the time to explore the specifics as a matter of music, but the aptly named "grunge music" caught something that other genres couldn't reach. It was full of angst, yes, but it was an angst in contrast to the direct aggression of other variations of hard rock. It was almost like '70s singer/songwriter meets heavy metal.

The added element, which Nirvana personified, might be as simply characterized as having to do with confusion. That's why it was such a big deal — a "cool" thing — that nobody could understand what Cobain was saying. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" centered around unintelligible vocals expressing indecipherable lyrics, over chords distorted beyond recognition. Even Cobain's hair, granting mere glimpses of his face, was part of the message.

So, certainly, both those who "got it" and those who didn't are justified in suggesting that the generational experience to which grunge was the soundtrack was frustration at having nothing to be angry about — adolescent energy without anything on which to focus. That analysis is justified, yes, but I'm not so sure it's accurate. Marc, for example, in listing some issues from which Gen X was free, overlooks the entire range of society from whence derived the angst:

This is especially because Cobain's fan base was mostly comprised of a generation that had nothing to REALLY get upset over (like in the past with "The Bomb" and "Vietnam" or now with "Terrorism") so they focused on those aspects of Pop culture that made them feel like part of a larger "movement." The cynicism and "reality" espoused by Cobain, et al spoke to a generation that really didn't have much to b-i-t-c-h about. The Berlin Wall had fallen down, Communism was kaput, Clinton was president and believed in a place called "Hope," etc. Self-righteous angst influenced by postmodern relativism became the new "it" thing.

The fact that the Boomer Generation still largely controls the public discussion is likely contributing to a lethargy of revelation, so our entire society is still a bit confused about the source of all of that angst. But I submit that its real — and legitimate — origin was precisely that area of revolution for which geopolitical turmoil offered cover.

My generation was the first to grow up in a culture in the process of dismantling itself. Divorce, abortion, an ever-increasing emphasis on sex coupled with an epidemic of a mysterious and deadly disease, relativism, ingrained opposition to organized religion and other sources of moral ballast, among many others across the spectrum of daily life. And yet, we were not offered the opportunity to be angry about the sources of our pain and confusion, because they continued to be promoted as good things. There was nowhere to turn for rebellion, because it was rebellion that ailed us, although we did not see it then, and many still do not see it now.

But I think the lengths to which Gen X collectively took its angst woke many of us up, and even here, Cobain played his destined role. He died at twenty-seven, like those Boomer martyrs Jim, Jimi, and Janis. As I recall, his mother lamented that her son had "gone and joined that stupid club." Much more profoundly than breaking the first-name pattern, Kurt claimed the list not through the symbolic excesses of the Sixties, but in a violent suicide... probably resulting from the drug culture that grew out of those excesses.

Moreover, if I may revive my theory, his limited talent furthers the shift. From the selfish point of view of the popular culture, his wasn't the death too soon of the guitar genius or the classic voice or the (debatable) poet rocker. He was spent — too much the personification of the zeitgeist to redefine himself.

The trend that he did die too soon to fulfill was the reclamation of those priorities that had been sold to his generation as inconsequential choices. He married young for a superstar. He had a daughter. Would the man who wrote "I wanted a father, but all I got was a dad" have failed to live up to his responsibilities? His suicide — the ultimate parental failure — provided one answer, cutting through the jumble of drives and desires in a final rejection of them all.

But his generation may yet provide another, more hopeful answer. Marc asks:

If the predominance of teen pop and rap are an indicator of what sells, could this mean people of my generation, the old looking-for-a-reason-to-be-angst-ridden Gen Xers are simply not paying attention? If not, what are we paying attention to?

In the sense that he means the questions, Marc's answer is, essentially, "the news." He answers in a slightly different sense, just before that, when he implies September 11 as our cause. These observations are probably correct, but for my part, I think it covers more of the truth to suggest that we're paying attention to growing up, to tracing our parents' path back toward home, picking up that which they discarded along the way so that we can stop feeling "stupid and contagious."

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:02 AM | Comments (4)

Strolling Temptation Aisle

Jeff Miller notes something that has only recently begun to attract my attention, so to speak:

It use to anger me the amount of skin displayed on magazines as you approach the checkout lane or what I call "temptation aisle." Taking possession of my eyes looking neither right or left like I was being sung to by the sirens. I read a tip on a Carmelite list serve where they suggested instead of getting angry that to spend the time praying for the publishers and those involved.

I do wish that stores had a policy that posters and full sized advertisement displayed would have to conform to the same clothing standard as the shoppers.

Of course, it's an "old man" thing to be stunned by magazine covers, although I'm far from old, yet increasingly stunned. Also of course, that characterization is a component of the movement that Jeff calls "the slutification of our socieity." Really, not so many decades ago, the magazine covers that now stand at child's-eye level at the checkout counter would have been considered little short of pornography. That the magazines are ostensibly geared toward women just makes their marketing that much more bizarre.

Praying for the publishers might be one way to redirect one's thoughts upon noticing the defined curve of some starlet's inner thigh, but there are plenty of others who could use those prayers. Perhaps it's being a father — perhaps it's being a father of girls — but I find myself reacting like an antiquated feminist. All those full-color glossy photos, those interchangeable heads above interchangeable figures, they're just bodies. To the extent that they're actual people, they are actual people consenting to be just bodies.

A thinking person might be forgiven for noting the big-budget facilitation of profitable psychoses, phobias, and complexes. A religious person is sure to be forgiven for seeing something more sinister, even, than unethical pursuit of corporate revenue.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:32 AM | Comments (1)

July 27, 2004

Songs You Should Know 07/27/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Smile on Me Surfman" by You.

"Smile on Me Surfman" You, Alternative Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

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

Jurisdiction, Confidence, and Exceptions

Josh Chafetz declares — with a bit more confidence than circumstances (or the law) merit — that the Marriage Protection Act, already passed by the House, is unconstitutional:

Congress cannot strip the federal judiciary of the ability to hear or decide any question pertainint to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, the Defense of Marriage Act. Sorry, guys.

As you can probably glean from Chafetz's response to it and its name, the Marriage Protection Act specifically removes the Defense of Marriage Act — defining marriage for federal purposes and affirming states' right to reject the same-sex marriages of other states — from the federal judiciary's jurisdiction. And as you can glean from the fact of the act, many in the U.S. Congress apparently disagree with Josh's constitutional analysis. The reality is that the question of Congress's power over the judiciary is very much open to debate, with legal precedent to support both claims, right down to varying interpretations allowed by the Constitution itself.

Before I delve into that mire of nuance, however, it might be helpful for me to ease into the discussion by addressing a burden that Chafetz supposes those who disagree with him to have:

People who disagree with me also need to explain the Eleventh Amendment. After all, the Eleventh Amendment is just a jurisdiction stripping measure. (It strips diversity jurisdiction rather than federal question jurisdiction, but I can't see why that would be relevant.) If Congress can constitutionally strip jurisdiction at any time, then why go to all the trouble of passing a constitutional amendment for the purpose? To put it differently, if you disagree with my analysis above, then, assuming the Eleventh Amendment hadn't passed, why, on your theory of Article III, couldn't Congress simply have passed the Eleventh Amendment as an ordinary statute? And if they could have, why didn't they in the first place?

The first paragraph of an annotation from Chafetz's own source for constitutional text points the way to a response. Not only did the Eleventh Amendment follow a Supreme Court assertion of jurisdiction (thus being reactionary rather than preemptive), but it dealt with a matter of "original jurisdiction," around which the Constitution does not provide for congressional regulation.

Already, you see, we're in the thickets of legal jargon. Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution lists the matters to which the judiciary's power "shall extend" and describes the form of jurisdiction — original or appellate — that the Supreme Court will have. Cases falling under original jurisdiction go directly to the Supreme Court, and Congress has no statutory power; those falling under appellate jurisdiction reach the Supreme Court through appeal, "with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make."

Although the case that sparked the Eleventh Amendment had to do with matters of assumpsit and process about which my knowledge is too limited to comment, the need for the amendment in order to accomplish its end is clear. Cases "in which a State shall be Party" fall under original jurisdiction, so for Congress to remove cases in which a state is the defendant against citizens of another state or a foreign state, as the Eleventh Amendment does, the Constitution itself had to change. In contrast, claims against DOMA — with the U.S. government as defendant — would fall under appellate jurisdiction.

Now, consider the conclusion of the above-mentioned annotation:

There thus remains a measure of doubt that Congress' power over the federal courts is as plenary as some of the Court's language suggests it is. Congress has a vast amount of discretion in conferring and withdrawing and structuring the original and appellate jurisdiction of the inferior federal courts and the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court; so much is clear from the practice since 1789 and the holdings of many Court decisions. That its power extends to accomplishing by means of its control over jurisdiction actions which it could not do directly by substantive enactment is by no means clear from the text of the Constitution nor from the cases.

Even here, the Marriage Protection Act seems to fall on an interpretable line. I continue to believe that DOMA is constitutional, and I'm not at all persuaded that the least accountable branch of the federal government ought to be empowered to demand an interpretation at odds with those expressed by the other two branches, particularly if subsequent iterations of those branches reaffirm the constitutionality of the law through a removal of jurisdiction.

That, however, is more a political assessment than a legal one. To come to the objective conclusion that the Marriage Protection Act is constitutional, one must clear the highest hurdle that Chafetz notes:

People who disagree with my analysis above have, I think, an obligation to explain why Art. III, sec. 2's statement that the federal judicial power "shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority" doesn't actually mean that the federal judicial power shall extend to all such cases.

The crux of Chafetz's preceding analysis is that the Constitution extends powers to the judiciary as a whole, such that "some federal court is given jurisdiction over those questions"; where appellate jurisdiction is impossible, it transforms into original jurisdiction. At the very least, one can opine that, had that reading been their intention, the Founders could have phrased the concept in much more direct terms. As it is, hinging on the phrase "shall extend," I don't think the language justifies such a sweeping interpretation.

As I see it, Article III, Section 2, is structured to describe the reach of the judiciary and then to specify how that reach applies. The jurisdiction of the only court created by the Constitution extends to Set A inalienably and to Set B subject to regulation and exception. Chafetz emphasizes that "shall extend" is different from "may extend," but as important a distinction as that may be, it does not mean that "shall" is equivalent to "under all circumstances and with no exceptions." That the Constitution lists all areas of reach need mean only that the Court's jurisdiction over them is meant to be the negatable default, not that it is sacrosanct.

It would certainly have obviated this debate had the authors included language saying, essentially, that appellate jurisdiction becomes effectively null when there are no lower courts or when the lower courts exist with limited authority. On the other hand, it would have been similarly helpful for the authors to have included language clarifying Josh's contention that the reduction of jurisdiction to appellate is contingent upon the existence of other federal courts. Even something as simple as "the supreme Court shall maintain original Jurisdiction" would have sufficed.

I'll concede that the matter is legitimately arguable, and it will be interesting to see what happens should the Supreme Court assert jurisdiction over a statute that claims to be free of its jurisdiction. But given the legitimacy of debate, which no honest disputants can deny, I'm inclined to err in the direction that favors the two branches of government manifested in hundreds of elected officials, rather than the one with nine life-tenured judges. Frankly, I continue to marvel at the general inclination — which I see as anathematic to the spirit of our representative democracy — to err in the other direction.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:40 AM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

July 26, 2004

A Natural God

This cartoon, by Dan Lacey of Faithmouse, is a bit dated in its specifics, but its message remains relevant:

The view that actuality is destiny pervades our culture, as a balm of simplicity for dealing with life's problems. Theologically, it's Oprahfication, tangling in knots with the merest tugs of thought. If the fact that God created one's desires (supposing that's how it works) renders those desires inculpable, how does one determine the direction of growth? If God made us whom we are meant to be, whom ought we to become?

Reader Mike S. directed my attention to a piece by Gina Dalfonzo about the infantilization of Christianity — about Churches' attempts to be "seeker-friendly":

As Vicky Thompson, the author of Jesus Path: 7 Steps to Cosmic Awakening, recently told the Detroit News, the new trend is "saying not that Jesus is my savior, but He's my best friend and buddy. . . . We have a huge population of unchurched people [in America], but often, they aren't leaving spirituality behind. They still have a desire to feel a spiritual connection, but on their own terms. They're embracing Christ, but from a different viewpoint." A church that believes it has to water down its message so that people can find Christ "on their own terms" is the kind of church that, in trying to please everyone, winds up pleasing no one.

That last sentence, if I'm reading Dalfonzo's meaning correctly, is misdirected. It isn't so much that taking pieces of what each person wants creates a whole that answers nobody's needs, but that our "own terms" aren't adequate ones through which to find Christ. The sciences invent words and languages for a reason; although it is helpful toward learning heady concepts to associate them with something a bit more tangible and a bit more comprehensible, such analogs are merely examples that must be left behind to truly understand the ideas before us.

I can't help but think it has something to do with an underlying sense, even among the most spiritual, that religious stuff just isn't real in the sense that scientific stuff is. As I've written before, the idea of "Jesus as my pal" makes Him more a reflection of ourselves than of Truth. A soothing story. But if God is God, His demands aren't always going to align with our whims, and He isn't always going to be comprehensible. If He "is who is," then He isn't what might be thought of as the "soft spot" of Nature, the ever-relenting comfort in a harsh reality.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:06 AM | Comments (4)

July 24, 2004

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Fantasia in C Minor, Opus 64," by Zona Douthit.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:26 AM

What Is and What Should Never Be

In the comments to this post, supporters of same-sex marriage — namely Gabriel Rosenberg and Mark Miller — continue to argue about the likely subsequents according to their own personal views concerning the whys and hows of their cause. Gabriel, for example, notes that if "you base your support on SSM on the right of the individual not to be denied equal protection on the basis of their sex, then there is no inconsistency in supporting SSM, but not polygamy or incest."

This is an argument that should be directed at supporters of SSM, not opponents. How many times must those opposing SSM explain that it is not only the nature of the change being sought, but also the method and thinking being brought to bear that threaten the most harm? At this time, with the logical and practical tack being taken by those advocating for SSM, it is incumbent upon anybody who would prefer to keep polygamy, incest, self-marriage, and so on out of the American norm and to bolster the principles enshrined in the institution to oppose that movement.

As things stand, even out to the edges of support for same-sex marriage, there's a clear mandate for it to be inserted into the law no matter the method. This has been among my central complaints from the very beginning — that those who wish to tear down barriers within marriage are reckless in their tearing down of the institution itself as well as presumptions and standards in the law and our governing system.

This problem can be seen in the negative, as well, with the only possible objection to any and all strategies from the SSM movement being seen as bigotry. It's an easy way to dismiss the other side's points, and it facilitates high self-esteem for those leveraging it. But it also blinds supporters to ramifications of their righteous demands.

The questions to which the fight comes down are whether it's more important to protect the institution or to be on the side of same-sex marriage, whether marriage is worth taking the position that is emotionally more difficult to ensure that the strength of the institution — if eventually expanded — justifies the struggle to grant it to gays or is worth risking so as to be on the "right side" of a civil rights issue, and whether maturity demands that what may be the wrong side wins for the right reasons or intellectual tricks and emotionalism free the movement of its consequences.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:07 AM | Comments (16)
Marriage & Family

July 23, 2004


Well, it had to happen eventually. I just got home from emptying and cleaning and freeing of garbage the old house. And I've got just enough energy to collapse. I guess the three weeks of labor have caught up with me at last. At least everything is here, now, and can be dispersed and organized as time and energy allow.

Thanks, again, for comin' 'round.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:37 PM
Diary & Confession

The Backless Closet

I just took a picture to show you the giant pile of stuff that very nearly fills my basement. The idea was to give you a visible explanation for my light posting. Unfortunately, I don't know where, in that pile of stuff, my USB cable is.

One or two more carloads, and everything will be out of the old house — an achievement that I intend to accomplish this morning. I'll be back later; thanks for you patience.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:14 AM
Diary & Confession

July 22, 2004

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Review: The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression," by Len DeAngelis.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:50 PM

The Media Head Fake

So a report that nuclear missiles had been found in Iraq was pretty quickly refuted. Although coverage has been limited, a quick look at Yahoo!'s news search suggests that the refutation was reported more prominently than the possibility of discovery.

Probably very few supporters or, especially, opponents of war expect to find anything as clear as mounted nuclear warheads. Moreover, just as few supporters hinged their support on such a tremendous find. However, the blip does provide an opportunity to observe one way in which the media shapes the news.

As we've seen with many of the fool's gold finds for the Bush Lied! prospectors, massive reportage of a claim or finding gives the public a sense that something is, or at least could be, true. The subsequent retractions or substantial rephrasings, usually more subdued, are rarely enough to right the gut feeling of citizens whose politics are mostly decided at that level.

Sadly, the gut has increasingly reigned supreme even among those who are supposed to be better informed — hence the opinion among ostensibly respectable people that Michael Moore's film illustrates some underlying truth, even though it is built entirely upon falsehood, that "the confusions trailing Mr. Moore's narrative are what make 'Fahrenheit 9/11' an authentic and indispensable document of its time."

In an informational climate in which the charges of one side are shouted, while the rebuttals and other charges of the opposite side are whispered, who wouldn't be confused?

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:02 PM | Comments (1)
News Media

July 21, 2004

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:29 PM

Not So Dramatic a Leap

Thanks to reader Mike S. for pointing out this factoid courtesy of NRO:

In 1983, a Vermont legislator named Elizabeth Edwards introduced a bill to allow a 65-year-old woman to marry her 86-year-old maternal uncle, despite incest laws banning the match. Edwards, a Republican (only in Vermont, kids!), figured that incest laws were primarily about preventing defective offspring, and her neighbors Ramona Crane and Harold Forbes were too old to bear children. "They're a super-neat couple who don't have any money, and they just have each other, and I think they should be able to get married if they want to," Edwards told United Press International for a February 23, 1983, story.

I see nothing in Ms. Edwards's thinking that does not apply to same-sex relatives of any age. Once again, those who would rearrange our thinking about marriage to include couples involving one sex have to address the claims of those who prefer other forms of sex, as well as those who have no intention of having sex at all.

If they want to argue that there's some social good to be derived exclusively from recognition of gay sex, that's fine. They can argue the point and bring it to their fellow citizens. But leveraging the courts to declare various new rights is not an adequately subtle a mechanism. If they really do believe as many SSM advocates are content to claim, then it seems to me increasingly clear that they ought to be on the other side for the time being — until the circumstances, the rhetoric, and the strategies have shifted.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:13 PM | Comments (10)
Marriage & Family

Forgoing Forgoing

I had intended to put off my standard weekly series until next week. However, as the previous post proves, a reader request was sufficient for me to change my mind, even though the Song You Should Know is a day late. (Not to say that I'm not sometimes a day late anyway.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:30 AM
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Songs You Should Know 07/20/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Keychain" by Dan Lipton. Even if you never take the time to listen to a Song You Should Know, make time for this one; it's my favorite from a truly fantastic CD.

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:22 AM

A Step Too Far

One final response to the comments to that post, and then I'm considering myself caught up and going to bed. Tomorrow, I'll return to my search for blog-worthy material, hopefully having to do with other topics than same-sex marriage.

Jon Rowe writes:

[Polygamy, incest, bestiality,] & Homosexuality each wholly distinguishable phenomenon. The only thing they have in common is being frowned on by tradition. But equally has interracial couplings. Thus, homosexuality is no MORE logically related to these things than are interracial couplings. The bottom line of my point is examine each on a case by case basis.

There are various ways to argue against this point, but most relevant to the discussion, I'd say, is that there's an extra step required for same-sex marriage to follow interracial sex and marriage. To allow such activities for couples of differing race, all that was required was to assert that there was no significant difference between the races. Self evidently, therefore, there is no significant difference between the type of sex or the form of marriage indicated.

The same is not true for homosexual couples. In their case, it is patently absurd to argue that there is no significant difference between the sexes (although some try to argue just that). The equivalence that must be added to the mix is between the types of sex. And therein lies the step too far.

As Jon had already relied upon in a response to Ben, we still consider the difference between humans and beasts "profound," so — without intermediary steps — the leap from interracial to interspecies is too long to be plausible. However, to include homosexuals in the same category as heterosexuals, one must argue that the totality of gay sex is no different from the totality of heterosexual sex. I find the necessary level of equivalence for this comparison to be laughable, but those who would make it must illustrate why one form of non-heterosexual-vaginal sex is significantly different from another — not only in theory, but in the terms in which homosexuality is actually being "normalized" (e.g., with reference to "choice," "consent," and "privacy").

Another, more-common approach is to argue that the form of sex is not relevant to marriage. In this case, the difficulty of differentiating other forms of sexual relationships reappears. Additionally, one must explain why the presumption of sex continues to matter at all — a line of thinking that is likely to open the way for incestuous marriages.

A related problem has accompanied the gay movement, as a civil rights movement, all along. Unless gender is seen as no more significant than skin color, homosexuals are defined by what they do and how they live their lives. Striving to change laws and customs to include them loosens the strainer for behavior, choices, and lifestyles in a way that merely declaring nonexistent a distinction by a specific quality does not.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:17 AM | Comments (20)
Marriage & Family

When Allies Turn Out to Be Enemies

Whether it is deliberate or not, it has seemed to play out that some advocates for same-sex marriage take up the task of arguing the points, during which process they wind up making the clarifications and even concessions inherent in discussion. Then other advocates push the issue in a conflicting way, and the arguers merely adjust their rhetoric to incorporate the current circumstances or ignore what's been done and said.

Gabriel Rosenberg provides a largely symbolic example when, in response to my objection to the term "life mate," he offers alternatives that I might find more culturally satisfying. The point that he manages to sidestep is that his inclination was to use the phrase "life mate." Another advocate for same-sex marriage, James Trilling, referred to his own wife as a "life partner." In Massachusetts, the marriage license is for Parties A and B; in San Francisco, it was for Applicants 1 and 2. The response that my pointing this out is meant to spur is not a search for language that will placate me, but an appeal to other advocates to change their emphasis.

Indeed, I'm coming to think that many of those who argue on behalf of same-sex marriage should, if they mean what they say, be actively opposing the cause as it is currently constituted. Jon Rowe (esquire) argues that same-sex marriage will not allow incest, polygamy, and whatever to slip in after it because gender-based classifications involve "suspect classifications" and must overcome "intermediate scrutiny," while other categories can be excluded with just a "rational basis."

Let's put aside the fact that Jon is seeking to comfort his opponents by arguing that there's "just as much logical legal distance between" between SSM and further innovations as he is attempting to leap to reach SSM in the first place (from racial discrimination and "strict scrutiny"). The whole argument will be mooted if courts continue to do as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court did in creating same-sex marriage for that state: it found that restrictions against same-sex marriage did not pass a rational basis test with reference to sexual orientation. Much of the argumentation of Jon's fellow SSM supporters is the rhetorical equivalent of the court's judgment. Shouldn't he oppose them in their efforts?

If the movement for this fundamental change — which many of its supporters will admit carries a certain risk — takes a tack that increases risks, shouldn't those who honestly seek to preserve the institution in question oppose them? Even to the point of supporting some form of Constitutional Amendment, if necessary?

Frankly, I can't help but conclude that many, even most, SSM advocates want the recognition — the normalization — of marriage for homosexuals more than they want to preserve a healthy institution. As Ben Bateman wrote:

Perhaps we can stop the sexual liberation juggernaut at gay incest (very unlikely), polygamy (unlikely), bestiality (somewhat unlikely), or pedophilia. I hope so. The question is: Will many of today's SSM supporters, who are riding the juggernaut, hop off in the future and help fight it? I'm skeptical, if for no other reason that today they refuse to think seriously about where it's headed.
Posted by Justin Katz at 1:53 AM | Comments (24)
Marriage & Family

Mrs. Dad

In a comment exchange about discrimination by gender in, yes, that same post, Gabriel Rosenberg writes:

I do not get upset when men are turned away as surrogate mothers provided that women who cannot carry the child are also turned away. I do not get upset when women are turned away from a sperm bank, provided that men who cannot ejaculate or also turned away. In these cases the line is not being drawn on gender, but rather on the ability to do something. As I noted, in the marriage case it is not the inability to procreate that is the cause for refusal.

At a certain point, it seems to me, matters of discrimination come down to identity. Can a woman be a husband? A father? Of course not, and in neither case is the inability limited to the matter of procreation. If it is the identity that is under attack, we move toward Prof. Rosenberg's next paragraph:

It is not irrational at all for you to suggest that men make better male role models, and if you are looking for a male role model I would suggest you find a man. Being a good male role model is not a legal requirement of spouse. And some people might prefer to find a person who is a good role model as a human being--a person who models what a human being should do, and not what certain gender roles should be.

Ah, how we go 'round and 'round in this debate. Spouses may not be required to be "good male role models" in order to marry, but it is currently the law — rightly so — in most places that one of the two who enter into the relationship culturally most full of the potential to land the members in the central-role-model position of parents be a male role model. Those "some people" who prefer other arrangements are free to make them, but society is "looking for a male role model" in one member of each married pair. Moreover, society would confirm that intention if allowed to vote on the matter.

This would be particularly the case, I imagine, were the question phrased in these terms. Perhaps the public could be made to see the extreme underbelly of the ideology that same-sex marriage will usher in. The example embedded within the professor's quip is of a world in which one cannot impose views about "what certain gender roles should be" because the society demands that we ignore what the gender attributes actually are.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:15 AM | Comments (22)

A Cataclysmic Assumption

The previous post was, in part, in response to this comment from Chuck Anziulewicz:

I've heard that one before. Always guaranteed to get a knowing chuckle from a conservative audience. I even heard Michael Medved say it on his program: "Gay people have EVERY right to get married ... as long as they get married to someone of the opposite sex!" (wink wink, nudge nudge)

The thing is, Michael Medved claims to know plenty of Gay people, so he knows how patently absurd such a statement is. He knows it isn't that simple. Yet he continues to say it. Why? Because it draws a chuckle. He has a talk show, the line is almost a joke, so why not have a few yucks at the expense of Gay people. He knows better, yet he panders to the ignorance of those in his audience who DON'T.

Why would you want to do this, Justin? You're married to a woman. You have kids. I'll ASSUME that you've never felt physical attraction to any other men. WHY? Because you are heterosexual. THAT is your sexual orientation, am I correct? It wasn't something you made a cataclysmic decision about, am I right? When you were going through puberty, did you say to yourself, "Gee, now that I'm becoming an adult, I guess I'll have to decide whether I want to be Gay or Straight. Hmmm, most people are Straight, and most people think homos are yucky, so I guess I'll just be Straight!" No, I don't think that was the case. I suspect that, like everyone else, your sexual orientation was just sort of AUTOMATIC, something you arrived at without much conscious decision. Please correct me if I'm wrong. ...

You are an intelligent guy, Justin ... which is why your contention that Gay people should simply marry people of the opposite sex is so insulting.

Chuck is wrong about the intent and, I'd wager, reception of my suggestion that homosexuals are not excluded from marriage. It isn't a laugh line; it's a sincere argument. What did make me chuckle, however, was the way in which he faulted Medved for oversimplification and then proceeded to oversimplify the mechanism of personal formation. Do many components of identity really come down to a decision?

Not to equate them, but the only three that I can immediately draw from my own experience have been to become a non-smoker, not to run away from an increasingly certain commitment to my then-girlfriend/now-wife, and to allow myself to believe in God. Note, however, that all three of these decisions were made as an adult and were renunciations of aspects of my identity into which I'd slipped during my formative years.

I can't speak for Michael Medved, but as far as I'm able to say, the point to which Chuck has failed to grant any credence is that many of those who oppose same-sex marriage really do privilege the family type indicated by marriage rather than the sexual relationship of the spouses. We really are defending an institution rather than a prejudice. We are not saying that homosexuals should marry people of the opposite sex (although it would make for an interesting discussion), but that they can. It's a legal question of discrimination, and a social question of priorities.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:25 AM | Comments (26)
Marriage & Family

July 20, 2004

The Credibility That Dare Not Speak Its Name

I remember one afternoon, during my late-mid teens, when about a half-dozen of us gathered in B's finished basement to watch a porn video, as rough-edged boys with easy access to a major city are particularly apt to do. Like most such films, the plot was superfluous — smut about filming fictional smut — and followed a predictable pattern of scenes.

When the obligatory "two women in the Jacuzzi" scene rolled around, L expressed disgust and requested that we fast forward to the next scene. It shouldn't surprise anybody who's kept abreast of the culture for the past couple of decades that none of the other adolescents in the room were willing to second L's motion.

About five years later, R's slut of a girlfriend — known among a separate group of my acquaintances from a different town for impromptu Jacuzzi scenes, so to speak — promised him a special surprise for his birthday. When R proved too drunk to follow the two young ladies up the stairs to his bedroom, if memory serves, L was among those encouraging him to sober up quickly.

There are, of course, multiple explanations that one could offer for L's apparent change of attitude. One could even quibble about whether it actually represented a change at all. But I place the two scenes side by side to illustrate how a person's reaction to the same sexual activity can change from disgust to arousal, at least in the expression of that person's opinion and suggestions for action.

In arguing about same-sex marriage over the past few years, I've found one foundation of individuals' positions to vary wildly in substance, but very little in the confidence with which they state their opinions: the immutability of the sexual orientation. I've seen folks on both sides, with the correspondingly antipodal lessons, argue everything from complete choice to genetic destiny. That assessments vary so widely in conclusion as well as perceived implications suggests to me that there is something mixed up with this issue that most everybody is content to leave out of the realm of public consideration.

I've made no secret about the fact that I went through a number of emotionally torturous years. During that time, I was usually lonely, confused, and lacking in a sense of self. Although I would have chosen different experiences, and although I intend to do my utmost to prevent my children from repeating mine, those years did grant me something that I've come to consider invaluable as a thinker, writer, and person: glimpses of directions in which my life could have gone had a single variable been changed.

As the case in point, I can begin with a specific man who was a rare friend to me when my world was crumbling and imagine him having inclinations and intentions that he did not have. From that relatively minor shift in circumstances, I can trace the accumulation of a lifestyle, as the identity that he'd helped me to form expanded to include more people — perhaps an entire "scene." As I'd thrown that identity against whatever visions my parents had of me and my future, forcing them to come to terms with their own feelings about my revelation, whether the clash preceded wrenching turmoil or some form of approval. Actions and declarations and bonds and associations might pile up to the extent that any other life would seem on the other side of and inaccessible except through repetition of those torturous years.

Now, some straights will note that, even in equivalent turmoil, the path that I've described was never a possibility for them. And some gays will insist that I'm describing a transition to something only superficially associated with their orientations. I've no reason to doubt either the sincerity or accuracy of any such statements. But I wonder how many people have some degree of a similar sense. How much might this be an unstated factor in the decisions that people make with respect to same-sex marriage?

To be sure, in some fronts of the battle, the causes and permanence of homosexuality are irrelevant. Even so, the discussion might find new routes toward resolution were people to break through their apparent confidence about the nature of homosexuality and openly discuss the bases for their opinions — both research and personal anecdotes.

Of course, mirroring the multiplying barriers to recantation of sexual identity, possible conclusions of such a line of thought will likely preclude its actually being followed. If sexuality is somewhat fluid, for example, then it becomes even more legitimate for society to single out a particular lifestyle and family type for special approval. More generally, there are as many motivations to deny or assert any given theory as there are personalities.

Despite natural reluctance, some light needs to shine into this corner of the debate. With key activists in the same-sex marriage movement citing (in certain venues) the increased sexual fluidity of children of homosexual parents as a positive development, it behooves we on the other side to raise the standard of personal honesty. The law must not be allowed to lead dramatic changes in our culture under circumstances in which an underlying something remains unspoken.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:45 PM | Comments (7)

July 19, 2004

A One-Principle Morality

Too many points beg reply among the record-setting (for this blog) sixty-two comments to this post from last week for me to incorporate them into a single entry, so I'll address them discretely as I'm able throughout the evening and, if necessary, into tomorrow. With this first, although in response to a relatively late comment, I'd like to address an all-too-common misunderstanding of the way in which our government works.

Exhibiting the tendency of those who hold certain views to declare a radical libertarian opinion about the governmental ideal to be the system that we currently inhabit, Bill Ware writes the following:

Our nation was founded on the basis of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The government is only empowered to restrict our liberties to the extent our actions harm (take away the liberties of) others. When Judge Kennedy says that the Supreme Court cannot base it's decisions on traditional (religious) morality, this doesn't mean that all our morale principles are cast aside, that anything goes. All our laws based on civil morality remain in full effect. Laws based on religious beliefs that have no civil justification are unconstitutional.

As a summary of American representative democracy, Bill's schema of "religious morality" versus "civil morality" is incorrect at just about every level. To begin with, the sole principle that Bill ascribes to "civil morality" is that only actions that "harm our citizens" are legitimate targets of the law. Furthermore, Bill makes absolutely no distinctions between the various branches of government.

The first problem that arises out of these two factors — concisely describing exactly the loose rigging that threatens to knock our civil ship off course — is that very few actions are so simple as to fall easily into a straightforward harm/benefit model, and the elite, unaccountable judiciary is a poor mechanism to make the call. This is true even with issues that allow a reasonably clear picture of direct harm, such as that at hand, same-sex marriage.

We've all heard, ad nauseum, the rhetorical trope, "how does it affect your marriage if two guys tie the knot." But those who oppose the innovation are concerned about a different kind of harm — a social one that mightn't affect individuals until long after the barrier has been leveled. A country with future-visibility of the current generation will quickly find itself lost at sea, and the central complaint about the judiciary's power grabs has been its adherence to such whims.

It's become more than a little frustrating to have to explain such fundamental principles of our government, but it must be stated as often as necessary that our system is not so simple, and that the judiciary is not so powerfully endowed. Except in the reckless regime that Bill's ideological company would insert, it just is not true that the "government" is only empowered to regulate against harm, as defined by secularists. It is also not true that judges are charged with assessing harm and conforming the law to its avoidance.

Self-government means nothing if citizens cannot decide the appropriate bases by which to govern themselves and each other. Unless they conflict with explicit boundaries imposed at a higher level of government, referenda and legislation can do anything, for any reason, that the voters support. Unfortunately, for practical purposes, the judiciary has made itself the last stop for imposition from above, leaving the other branches less and less option than to legislate through Constitutional Amendment.

So, suppose the United States Congress were to pass, and the states were to ratify, a Constitutional Amendment granting the right to define marriage to each state. In that case, a state could define marriage as between a man and a woman, and the law would plainly not be unconstitutional. This would be true despite Bill's theory about harm and "civil morality." If it has any meaning, "civil morality" simply indicates those moral ideals that we all have in common — as proven through democratic political expression — within the civil sphere.

To the extent that I agree with Justice Kennedy, as Bill paraphrases him, it is on the point that the Supreme Court cannot base its decisions on traditional morality when the law requires conflicting action. It must, under those circumstances, refer litigants to the branch of government involving those people who acquire their positions through these things we call "campaigns" and "elections." The problem, rapidly advancing toward calamity, is that judges haven't been so neutrally disposed toward untraditional morality.

Perhaps it will take the judiciary's ruling in ways that finally breach the limits of such folks as Bill for those citizens to realize that they've been asserting theory as practice only because the theory better facilitates their preferences. Somebody coined an applicable phrase for this phenomenon, but so as not to run afoul of the rhetorical morality of Godwin's Law, I'll leave it unstated.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:49 PM | Comments (26)

Up and Running Staggering

Well, we're in the house. We've slept in it — and hard, because we're all so exhausted. All of the big, U-Haul-requiring things are here. The two-and-a-half year old is excited about the move (through which she's made out perk-wise), and the dog might only be pestering us because of the humidity. The Internet guy came this morning, the cable guy is coming this afternoon, and the phone guy will come tomorrow.

We're off for lunch andto Home Depot (again). Today will be a blend of working, more moving, setting up, and, yes, blogging. Stay tuned.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:45 PM
Diary & Confession

July 18, 2004

A Funny Thing About a House

I'd always wanted a hammock. The sense that I'd formed of them, as a boy, was an odd blend of Sunday lounging and Nineteenth Century adventures at sea. The two had particular appeal to me, for reasons that I won't go into right now. Related, perhaps part of the desire was the feeling that a hammock was something that went in one's own backyard, and I grew up in apartments.

My parents finally brought me a hammock for my birthday, last year, and I set it up almost immediately. Fifteen minutes of mosquito bites, and I decided to return to it when I didn't have company. Shortly after our visitors had left, I moved the hammock to another side of the yard, and that time, I made it through a half-hour of bloodletting before I rolled the thing up and put it in the shed until... well, until tomorrow, when I'll move it to my new yard, where I expect to find swaying over grass — grass that I'll own — much more relaxing.

But it's a funny thing about a house.

The one in which I sit right now is the first that my wife and I have inhabited for more than a year and a half, and the mosquito infestation is only one aspect that I'll be happy to leave behind. In the backyard, we've a double-shed, the older portion of which has long been lost to local cats, ever since I boarded up the opening between the two to stop the crapping on items that we actually use. Indeed, the entire backyard has proven unusable owing to a combination of failed septic and poor drainage. None of which has freed me from the dozens of hours of raking each year.

The difficulties of the house itself would take more time to describe than I care to devote. Some quick examples, perhaps.

Despite months of professional tinkering, the heating system still smells of exhaust when it's on, and in any case, it forces air from the disgusting crawl space beneath the house. The electric system is frighteningly old. When I mounted a flag at the front of the house a couple of years ago, I discovered that the screws could practically be pushed in like thumb tacks, raising questions about the house's wood. Our landlord, when he lived here, covered the window that had been in the shower, so the bathroom is a box, and after the motor went on the ceiling vent, the room would fill quickly with steam, which sets off the poorly placed fire alarm in the hallway. We'd leave the door open, but the bathroom offers a direct line of sight to — and through — the large picture window in the living room. (Of course, before the motor went, it had been a problem because our landlord had wired it to the light switch, and it was much too loud for a tiny house with sleeping children.) The stairs to my attic office are so narrow and so steep that anything moderately large that cannot be dismantled also cannot be brought up, and even those items that can pass through the space are difficult to maneuver through the awkward turns. Moreover, the stairs creak terribly and are on the other side of a thin wall from by daughter's room, so I've had to learn where and how feet must go to minimize the noise. In the summer, when the door at the bottom swells in its frame, the care is often to no avail.

Still, up those stairs is the office in which I designed and published my Just Thinking book and two literary reviews. Where I've written columns and built up this blog. Periodically looking out of the window over the backyard, I've traced the seasons idly as I've formed my thoughts. Before our first child was born, my office had been downstairs, in the room that is now mommy and daddy's bedroom, where my wife interrupted my workout to tell me that the World Trade Center was on fire, and I spent the day stepping from office to living room to gather information from Fox News in order to convey it to family and coworkers who could not access any media.

And it had been in the living room in which inadvertently brushing my wife's stomach made me wonder whether she was pregnant, and in which we later confirmed that she was. That's when I moved my office upstairs, and it was in the new bedroom that my wife interrupted my sleep to tell me that her water had broken and mere days would bring an occupant for the room that we had prepared, in which I had been sitting during the evenings reading the first Harry Potter book to see what all the fuss was about.

We've fed children, eaten dinner, watched movies, had gatherings, changed diapers, loved, and lived in this house for almost exactly three years. Three Christmases. Three Halloweens. Eight birthdays. We know where the uneven floor in the hallway and kitchen will make the loudest sounds. We can navigate the entire house in the dark.

Over the past few days, as I've paused in my renovations of the new house, I've thought what a pleasure it will be to live there, and it will. It's a good house for a young family, and there's no way that family — our family — could remain in the one that we're leaving. Nonetheless, now, taking a breather the night before moving, I can't help but think that I'll miss chasing the dog around the yard 'till I'm cursing mad because he won't stop barking because he can see my wife across the street on her parents' deck. I'm finding it difficult to recall that walks — the thousands of walks — along the water were often too cold, too pest-ridden, or too windy to pay much attention to the lapping of the waves.

It's tough to leave an island, even when moving no farther than up the hill on the other side of the river. It's tough to leave a house, even when the move is the best possible option under the circumstances' totality. And it takes time to make a new house feel like home, although I'm sure the hammock will help.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:50 AM | Comments (1)
Diary & Confession

July 17, 2004


I know I've been promising, in the comments sections, another substantive post tonight, but as you can see by the time stamp, it's rather late. I have made several small pages of notes, but I devoted other time to processing pictures of the house for the benefit of my long-distance mother.

I'll try to organize and polish my notes for a post tomorrow (rather, today). Promise.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:34 AM
Site-Related Announcements

July 15, 2004

Ripping Weeds from New Hope

I'm trying to come up with a title for the house, but my mood is such that I've been hovering around House of New Hope, or other similarly corny possibilities. Consequently, I've concluded that I should hold off on purchases of signage until my mood changes some.

When the floor guy showed up unexpectedly for work today, I decided to spend the remaining two hours before lunch attacking the overgrowth around the house, including various weeds that have sprung up from the very midst of our hedges. One thorny sprout weaves itself through various branches, and as I discovered when I'd untangled the thick stem, its strategy for laying roots is similarly pernicious.

Even with my risking the use of such force that success might fling me backwards, the roots would not budge. However, looking closely, I found that the plant actually ran along the ground, an orangish red color, laying superficial roots throughout the soil beneath the hedges, and with the sacrifice of some dirt, the beast was easily removed.

Whatever it might actually be, hereafter, on the property of New Hope, the plant's qualities determine its name. What else could thorny vine-like sprouts, green enough to blend with most foliage, that entangle themselves with the insides of healthy bushes and whose reddish underpinning runs wildly throughout the earthen foundation, laying superficial roots wherever they can find soft soil — what else could it be but Creeping Socialism?

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:19 PM
Diary & Confession

July 14, 2004

Chutes Down the Slippery Slope

In the comments to this post, Mark Miller writes:

The argument that the basic rationales between allowing SSM and incest are the same is just old and tired. I agree that allowing SSM is moving the line - but that doesn't mean that I support NO LINES. ...

It follows the same logic as to why hunting animals is legal but hunting humans is not, why owning a gun is legal but making bombs is not, why we chose to attack Iraq but we won't attack North Korea, why contraception is legal although it has an effect on procreation, why having sex with a 14 yr old is rape but with a 18 yr old is not .... and so on. I've said it many times before - the law draws lines all the time. [N.B., Mark didn't pair these two passages as I have, but I don't believe I've changed his meaning.]

I've responded to his entire comment in that post, but in the rapids of my afternoon, I didn't follow all the way through with my thinking on the specific point of age of consent (to which Mark has made reference before, in argument with me). Here's what I wrote:

The age of consent for sex is probably the most effective of your examples, but even that is a line by age and maturity, not by significant difference. States have different laws, and moreover, as Eugene Volokh proved a couple of weeks ago when he opened it to his blog readers as an academic question, it's still a matter under debate. Still, I think the burden is on you to go into more detail as to how it applies.

The simpler, more potent point that I failed at first to spot is not so much that discrimination according to age is discrimination by a single criterion, whereas the lines that Mark would draw for marriage are by "significant differences." Rather, while society agrees that the law can legitimately make distinctions according to age, the distinctions that Mark would like to make for marriage are by "sexual orientation."

That phrase, in essence, means the way in which one prefers to conduct himself or herself sexually, and a central — probably the central — argument for same-sex marriage is that it is illegitimate for the law to discriminate on that basis. If love, commitment, sincere desire, and so on are to be the defining requirements for marriage, what barrier stands between various ways of expressing all of these purported social goods?

Now, I continue to hold that reserving marriage for couples containing people of opposite sex is not discrimination according to orientation, because homosexuals are free to enter into such marriages. Similarly, those SSM advocates who've made much of the tarnished state of the institution should agree, as well, that people inclined to consort with multiple partners are also free to enter into marriage, as currently defined. The particular relationship, not those engaged in it, is the object of privilege, and the simple biological fact is that same-sex and opposite-sex couples are not similiarly situated in that respect.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:56 PM | Comments (70)
Marriage & Family

As I've Long Suspected...

... but painting every room in a house has confirmed, I'm a failed perfectionist.

I set out intending to take the time to do the job flawlessly, but now I'm finding that I just don't care.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:47 PM | Comments (3)
Quips & Asides

Ditto... Ditto... Ditto

Just a few more days (well, five) of the homeowner's equivalent of Hell Week. Gotta go let the floor guy in, paint the front door and the garage, trim hedges so doorways are actually accessible, and so on, and so on.

I should be back to quasinormal next week, but I've also got a lot I'd like to say, in the meantime, if I can manage the time. At any rate, thanks for continuing to stop by and for keeping the page somehow active with your comments.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:40 AM
Diary & Confession

July 12, 2004

History and the Rubicon

Most people who argue on behalf of same-sex marriage do so with laudable motivation. Believing the issue to mirror that of miscegenation, they wish to place themselves on the compassionate side of history. James Trilling illustrates this, in his recent Providence Journal piece, when he offers his vision of a future in which same-sex marriage has proven to have no adverse consequences for American society. Unfortunately, Mr. Trilling's scenario is not a "thought experiment," as he claims, but an exercise in imagination.

This is not to say that it couldn't prove true, but that it is no more certain than any other future that one could plausibly imagine. The relevant question is not the loaded one of whether readers wish to have judged the issue correctly, but whether Trilling's judgment is correct. I would suggest that it is not.

The most significant gap in the basis for his prediction comes with Mr. Trilling's assertion that contraceptives broke "the age-old equation of marriage and procreation." Unless one considers sex and marriage to be the same thing, it isn't enough to note that married couples can, or even do, use birth control. Suppose, for example, decades after the widespread infiltration of contraceptives into the society, the great majority of children were born to married couples and the great majority of married couples had children. Were this the case, one could say that — despite the disconnection of conception from sex — the culture still linked marriage and procreation.

And that is the case. In other words, the cultural presumption that children will be raised by their married biological parents is still sufficiently strong for same-sex marriage to be the alteration that breaks the link. And this realization has implications for society thirty or forty years hence.

The first probable consequence of such a break is embedded within the evidence that it has not yet been made: A large number of couples who give birth to children will not be married. Trilling's promise of God's forbearance notwithstanding, such a future is not one that we should hope ever to consider "normal."

The second probable consequence is evident on the new Massachusetts marriage licenses, which now officially join in matrimony Party A and Party B. During their run, same-sex marriages in San Francisco were between "applicant one" and "applicant two." Mr. Trilling, himself, refers not to his wife, but to his female "life partner." To circumvent the age-old understanding of marriage, the language shifts from that of tradition and family to that of contracts.

As much as Mr. Trilling may be correct to suggest that the civil and religious faces of marriage can be distinctly drawn, the line between them runs through the gray area of culture. Separated from the words "husband" and "wife," with all of the implications and responsibilities that those roles have accumulated over the millennia, the particulars of the agreement come into question. Why must Parties A and B be unrelated? Why not an Applicant Three?

Trilling dismisses the "extreme innovations" of incest and polygamy on the grounds that they aren't on the "political radar." Even limiting ourselves to the narrow screen that Trilling's radar must have, the same was true of same-sex marriage fifteen years ago — let alone thirty or forty. Imagine the reactions of the first interracial spouses or the first couples on the Pill had someone accused them of setting the stage for homosexuals to be married. I suspect that their reactions would have been a bit stronger than a reassurance that such an extreme innovation wasn't on the political radar.

Furthermore, if marriage is merely an agreement between (or among) enumerated parties, why can't they insist that its meaning is particular to their own purposes — to exclude monogamy, for instance. Of course, some people already do live according to loosened agreements. However, they do not substantially change the broader institution, in large part because they do not modify the common language under which they continue to be aberrations.

I won't mimic Mr. Trilling's attempt to draw your minds toward an imaginary future, away from the real questions that we face in the present. I won't presume to insist that, following my advice, "Humankind [will have] taken another small step toward maturity." But if maturity is a quality that we value, ask yourself this: If well-intentioned supporters of same-sex marriage are wrong about its consequences, will we have the fortitude or the wherewithal to make amends, or will we once again look to the past for blame and the future for responsibility?

There is no shame in having to explain to a "new generation," whose approval Mr. Trilling apparently desires, that you strove to preserve the health of the society bequeathed to them, even if time proves that it was never at risk. Better that than to be forced to confess that, in hurrying to be on "the right side of history," you put your children's children on the wrong side of the Rubicon.

I originally submitted this, as either a column or a letter, to the Providence Journal under a pseudonym in the hopes that, even if the folks who run the editorial page have something against me, some response would be made to what was, by newspaper standards, a very long op-ed. Unless the Projo's sleuths figured out my subterfuge, some other factor must be keeping my arguments out of its pages. As for the possibility that I've blown my cover, well, I was a bit uneasy about the dishonesty anyway — but not as uneasy as I am about the one-sided nature of the debate.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:38 AM | Comments (17)
Marriage & Family

July 10, 2004

And into the Weekend

As you may have noticed by the steadiness of the earth beneath your feet, the Big Thing did not happen this week. I'm waiting for further information by which to gauge my anticipation, and I'll pass it along when I hear.

In the meantime, there's still painting to be done, as I chug along, exhausted, and after an abbreviated version of the weekend routine, I'll be heading back to the house. We'd like to (maybe have to) move in toward the end of this coming week, and there's so much to be done.

Bear with me.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:06 AM
Diary & Confession

July 9, 2004

The One and Only Voice Splits

As far as I can tell from coverage to date, Maggie Gallagher has found the one adult child of same-sex parents who feels this way:

Why does she oppose same-sex marriage? "It's not something that a seal of approval should be stamped on: We shouldn't say it is a great and wonderful thing and then you have all these kids who later in life will turn around and realize they've been cheated. The adults choose to have that lifestyle and then have a kid. They are fulfilling their emotional needs -- they want to have a child -- and they are not taking into account how that's going to feel to the child; there's a clear difference between having same-sex parents and a mom and a dad." ...

A few years back, she watched "20/20" interviews with children like her. "They were asked questions like: 'Are you happy? Do you love your parents?' I don't think it's fair to ask them those questions. These are their parents. They aren't going to say they are suffering, because they don't want to make their parents feel bad."

For some reason, while I did the dishes this morning, I recalled that after-school special with Scott Baio, The Truth About Alex. A very similar film came out a few years later about another masculine jock who proved to be homosexual. I wonder, if one did a broad study, how homosexuality would rank against other issues about which the entertainment and education industries sought to indoctrinate my generation. My guess is that the environment would be number 1 by a wide margin. The next two would probably be race and homosexuality, although in what order, I honestly couldn't say.

The more my worldview shifts away from the one with which I emerged into the adult world, the more I see how the various influences on me as a child shaped my understanding of the proper ideas and positions. It would be interesting to find some way of developing a rough picture of what has happened to the politics of my generation as it has aged. It has seemed to me that there's a dramatic split, although leaning toward the conservative side, as the gloss spattered across the world begins to tarnish in the air of real life. In opposition are those who've chosen to layer propaganda on pabulum.

Could the "many worlds" feel of modern society come down to a simple matter of several indoctrinated generations growing up and either coming to believe that what they'd universally been taught was wrong or continuing along the same path of thought? Whatever the case, this is part of why I'm skeptical of claims about the inevitability of same-sex marriage when those who are currently in formation take society's reins. They're still in the machine, and just as importantly, they're still in a land of moderated responsibility.

And here, again, we see an edge of the Big Issue that is too large to describe except in pieces, where various discrete matters come into contact. For one thing, perhaps there is something related in the fact that the socialist systems of more-liberal Western nations serve to moderate the responsibility of adults by softening the consequences of decisions and failure. For another thing, we might have the opportunity to form some inkling of opinion trends in a world with drastically expanded lifetimes and the extended adolescence that would likely follow.

I'm aware that I'm drifting, here, but perhaps I've found a tangle worth sorting out while I paint, today.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:56 AM

July 8, 2004

Wednesday Thursday Morning Check-In: Housing and Employment

So... yesterday morning, I managed to get the ancient TV antenna off the roof, where loose bolts were allowing it to dig a hole in the shingles. Of course, in an example of the past's expediency being an act of scorn for the future, somebody had found it necessary to use an oddly shaped bolt, and worse yet, out of the four possible placements, he chose the only one that was difficult to access. I filled out the morning taking a series of "before" pictures and measuring screenless windows.

Afternoon. It took me several hours to find everything that I needed at Home Depot, where I filled up one of those large dollies with equipment and materials, including a brand new front door to replace one that had, at some point, been covered with green-marble-looking contact paper. In the paint department, as I'd suspected, even though I had sketched a floor plan, measured to the inch, I hadn't finished the calculations necessary to quantify my needs. And in the frustrating way of retail, I found a relatively inexpensive knob and bolt-lock set in a sort of rusted gold color that appealed to me, yet discovered that there was no matching product without the bolt-lock for the back door. And the young man in the window department told me that I had to figure out — somehow — what brand of windows I had measured before he could order my screens.

To the house. Unload the car. And a quick look at the existing door frame. Oops. I'd bought a door that opens to the left, and the architecture necessitates one that opens to the right. After dinner, it was back to Home Depot... where not a single door of the same design was rightly hinged. Ever have that dream...

Then, as if to ensure that a move-in deadline wouldn't be the biggest stressor in my life, I discovered a voicemail from a potential employer. Before going on vacation, she had called me about an entry-level graphic design position, and subject to the obligatory pushing and pulling to see whether I could drive up the wage, or any other aspect of the employment agreement, I had intended to take the job. Understanding that it would require me to work sixty-hour weeks for the foreseeable future, I had intended to take the job.

Well, over the two weeks, recollection of my initial hesitation about the pay apparently led her to conclude that she'd be better off hiring an entry-level person for an entry-level position.

The son of an associate of my brother-in-law's applied for the job, fresh out of college. Perhaps he'll get it and manage to save up some money while living with mom and dad to put him on better footing when he's ready to move out and/or get married. Me, I've got two kids, a dog, and a mortgage, and man, do I feel like I'm blowing things on the career front — and have been since high school.

Well, I know how to paint, at least. Hopefully my progress with the house today will be such that I can find time to blog something other than the minutia of my daily life.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:22 AM | Comments (1)
Diary & Confession

July 7, 2004

See, the Thing Is

Perhaps the most recurrent theme in my nightmares is the inability to get anything done. I'll have to be somewhere, and with all of the misplaced items, distractions, and other hang-ups, it takes about a novella's worth of dream plot to do so much as get my underwear on.

Well, with a newborn, a two-and-a-half year old, and a house to refurbish, I'm living the dream in more ways than one. (Although, let it be noted, I have managed to fully dress myself.) For more reasons than one, thank God for my wife!

Last night, on top of everything, we also had the family version of a teenager's birthday party to attend, so I didn't manage to do my Internet rounds. This morning, owing to a relatively sleepless night, my wife slept in more than usual, so now that she's up, I have to get rolling with fixer-uppin'. But I'm trying. Stick around.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:42 AM
Diary & Confession

July 6, 2004

And So It Begins

Well, we're off to buy a house. Today will be hectic, and many hours for the next couple of weeks will be spent away from a computer, although with plenty of brain-space left for thinking... maybe I'll bring one of those pen contraptions that (I hear) allows one to take notes on this stuff called "paper." I expect to post each day, but I can't make any promises.

However, it looks like this Friday might (or might not) bring the Big Thing to which I've been alluding since February, so that might (or might not) provide at least something to make it worth stopping by here. (Of course, that being the case, there's also incentive for me to have interesting posts up, in addition.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:41 PM
Site-Related Announcements

July 5, 2004

Activism Sans Thought (Among Other Things)

Yeah, what better way to fight AIDS than to further cultural salaciousness by performing in the nude:

Singer Macy Gray has promised to perform naked to raise money for charity.

The outrageous star says she will appear in nothing but a pair of Jimmy Choo heels at her London gig today!

She will reveal all to raise cash for the Elton John Aids Foundation.

Next up: supporting world peace by mauling the drummer on stage.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:06 PM

Murder and Trimester Legerdemain

Astute readers will note that I've moved Andrew Sullivan farther down my blogroll, which I maintain according to the order of the sites that I try to visit each day. Frankly, I feel that the revelation of his drastically different presentation for different audiences granted permission to conclude that time would be better spent reading and addressing other writers. However, before I move on, so to speak, something that Sullivan posted last week has continued to bother me:

But the Church does not always spend enough time absorbing scientific developments - especially when they conflict with established dogma. Case in point: there's an obvious distinction between personhood and life - as Wills points out. Sperm is life, but it is not a person; fertilized eggs are routinely aborted naturally (is nature murderous?); miscarriages are a sad but permanent part of our biology; intuitively the abortion of a two week old fetus does not seem to us as equivalent to the abortion of one at six months; and so on. To my mind, life and personhood are so important as values that considering conception as their mutual origin is the safest moral option. But I wouldn't insist on baptizing or formally burying a miscarried fetus. And I can see perfectly well how others might disagree on when personhood begins; indeed, how the Church itself once disagreed. This makes the issue not one of theological certitude but of moral judgment. And that's why I believe that in the political realm, keeping abortion legal in the first trimester differs from condoning it. It's a balance between women's control of their own bodies, the prudential difficulties of making abortion illegal, the allowance of a free people to make such moral judgments for themselves, and the need to retain respect for human life - even if it is not indisputable that a person is at stake. If I were a public official, that judgment alone would make me ineligible for the sacraments. And that shows how rigid the Church has now become.

One could observe that the "rigidity" of the Church has been a complaint of Sullivan's with respect to his central concern, a factor that justifies speculation about his motivation for pushing the organization out of politics. But what leapt out at me was the parenthetical question: "is nature murderous?" As an excuse to believe what one desires, that might be passable rhetoric, but even a moment's consideration proves it to undermine the very lesson that Sullivan wishes to draw.

The question functions rhetorically because it's a truism. Because of the lack of motive, it is a quality of nature that it is not murderous. Of course, nature kills all the time; in fact, it will get everybody eventually. "Is nature murderous?," thus applied, therefore either absolves or implicates every instance of a human's death at the hands of fellow humans. An earthquake in California could collapse a wall on top of homosexuals; that fact does nothing to justify Islamicists' doing the same. Nature sometimes claims the lives of the pre-born; that fact does nothing to justify secularists' doing the same. If the pre-born are human beings with a right to live, killing them with the motive of convenience is no less murder than any other calculating killing.

With the matter of whether the pre-born are "persons," Sullivan turns his head from truth even more profoundly, albeit more subtly. What could the Church possibly learn about the "personhood" of young humans by "absorbing scientific developments"? It seems to me that honestly doing so would lead to the change in position to which Sullivan alludes. Science has allowed us to trace the development of a person back to the moment at which two distinct cells carrying two people's DNA combine to form a brand new entity, which thereafter proceeds to develop through the human lifecycle, if not prevented from doing so.

Conception is a clear milestone for when a particular human being becomes a particular human being. Yes, an embryo has no brain, no heart, no arms, but it develops them of its own initiative; nobody reaches into the womb to contribute them. If the Church — any church — were to declare personhood to be a subsequent implantation from God, then it would have failed to absorb scientific developments.

All that remains is Sullivan's "intuition" that there's a personhood-related difference between a two-week old and a six-week old. And to be sure, supporters of abortion have nearly reached the point of declaring the mother to grant personhood, saying that an organism is a person when the mother wants it. Unfortunately, that encourages a view of personhood that is not inherently permanent, because a mother can want and then not want a child. Moreover, it brings us back to the question of when what might be called autonomous personhood begins — that time at which the mother can no longer "kill" her child.

In being thus brought back, we return also to the realization that Sullivan slipped his own deadline for murder into the debate: "I believe that in the political realm, keeping abortion legal in the first trimester differs from condoning it." Clearly, as the issue now stands, pro-abortion politicians are not working according to this definition, as their votes perpetuate abortion up to, and often including, partial birth at full term. Is that an evil worthy of "theological certitude" and judgment of ineligibility for the sacraments?

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:22 PM | Comments (11)

The Depth of Political Speech

There's a stealth activist walking the streets of Newport, Rhode Island, as the Newport Daily News explains in the title of an article about him, "Political statement is making Newporters stop an think":

Hey you! Yeah you, walking along Bellevue Avenue!

You're being watched.

Two world leaders are looking right at you. They're both smiling. The one on the right is even waving.

From stop signs, trash cans, newspaper vending boxes and other streetscape fixtures, an image of President Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah has been appearing around town since at least late spring like some international politics version of "Where's Waldo?" ...

The cornerstone of Bush's re-election campaign is to portray him as standing tough against terrorism, considered the biggest threat to the United States today, Giannakos said. The ties between the Bush family and wealthy Saudis, including the royal family, have been well documented, most notably in Michael Moore's new film, "Fahrenheit 9/11." The photograph of Bush and Abdullah appears in the film.

Readers will make their own judgments about the implications of reporter Janine Weisman's citing Moore's movie as a source of "documentation." (I should note that Fahrenheit 9/11 sold out at a small theater as a fund-raiser for the Newport International Film Festival, which I hadn't known to be a political organization.)

I'm tempted to walk around the city taping this picture on top of the other one:

Wonder if I'd get similar media coverage.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:22 PM

July 2, 2004

Standing on Principle in Massachusetts

You've probably seen one or both, but I still wanted to mention pieces by Maggie Gallagher and Jeff Jacoby applauding Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Here's Gallagher:

The advocates tell us the skies have not fallen in Massachusetts; nothing has changed, they assure us. Romney points out that small things have already begun to change, foretelling the bigger, sadder changes to come. First, the marriage licenses change so they no longer read husband and wife but "Party A" and "Party B." The Department of Health insists that birth certificates also change. The line for mother and father becomes "Parent A" and "Parent B." ...

The experience of same-sex couples will become the new norm for family life, because the "unisex" idea that gender has no public significance is the only model that can be construed as "inclusive" of both opposite-sex and same-sex unions. The result is not neutrality but the active promotion of a new unisex ideal, in which the distinctive features of opposite-sex relations will be submerged, marginalized, cast to one side, and redefined as discrimination in order to protect the new court-ordered public moral standard of the equality of same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

Here's Jacoby:

Whatever else might be said about same-sex marriage, elites in Massachusetts are clearly comfortable with it. The public at large may not yet be ready to radically alter society's most basic institution -- even in the Bay State, a majority still says marriage should be defined as the union of a man and a woman. But the attendance at a gay wedding of so many movers and shakers from both sides of the aisle is a good indication of which way the cultural winds are blowing. Less and less is it politically risky to openly support same-sex marriage. Increasingly, it is becoming risky not to.

(There are some Big Ideas lurking in the recesses of my mind related to this, but at the end of my first week as a father of two, just before a long weekend followed by the purchase of a house and a two-week rehabilitation and moving process, and without my midday coffee having had a chance to kick in, I just can't get them to step forward.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:34 PM
Marriage & Family

A Strategy on Schedule

So this gay-audience–focused piece, Andrew Sullivan posts on his own Web site:

One of the staggering features of America, after all, is its vastness and diversity. By diversity, I don't mean the usual pablum of racially obsessed left-wing bores. I mean real diversity. I mean the bizarre notion that South Beach and Tallahassee are not just in the same country but in the same state. I mean the idea that the West Village and West Virginia are both equally American. Maybe it's because I come from somewhere else, but I wasn't in this country for long before I realized that its federal system is not just a curiosity. It's the only thing keeping this fractious and divided country in one ramshackle piece. ...

So let's be federalists for a while. Until public opinion shifts to a deeper understanding of the humanity of gay people, let's show the world by example what that humanity is. Change does not come instantly. And it takes maturity to see that.

Somehow, Sullivan's timing of this mature piece (and his promotion of it) seems conspicuous, given the impending vote on the FMA. He offers various bits of advice that those who do not wish for same-sex marriage to be litigated into national law, but who are hesitant to take explicit steps to stop it, will find encouraging to hear:

Call off the lawsuits. Let Governor Romney enforce that ancient 1913 anti-miscegenation law to prevent out-of-state couples from getting married. Wait until the generational shift increases support for our equality.

Surely he doesn't believe that such advice will really be followed. And so it has gone, from Sullivan and others, with rhetoric assuaging the reasonable among the cause's opponents and litigation continuing apace. In warning of a backlash, he hopes to preempt one, and he obscures how reasonable that backlash would be, given our "diversity":

ttempts to litigate the national legitimacy of Massachusetts marriages will only risk disaster--by giving credence to religious-right fears that gay marriage in one state will mean gay marriage in every state.

One wonders how much Mr. Sullivan actually believes his various predictions — or, given their persistence against his counsel, other advocates for his cause do. Many of them seem to think the matter irrelevant, but among those who concede the legitimacy of the concern, activists' confidence that laws permitting same-sex marriage will quickly prove "their benign impact, their humanizing potential, their socially beneficial effects" seems an open question.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:32 AM | Comments (3)

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "House of the Green Fairies," by Gary Bolstridge.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:45 AM

True or Not True

By way of another great Blogworthies post from Lane Core, I came across some thoughts by Father Shane Tharp that relate to various discussions that have been going on hereabouts:

During the discussion of the Catechism, the topic came up about whether or not other religions are going to go to Heaven. Of course, I reiterated the Church's teaching concerning there being no salvation outside the Church, adding the notes about invincible and inculpable ignorance. This really bothered several people in the class. One woman in particular was just horrified that the Church could teach this. That all of these well-meaning people could be excluded from Heaven just because they don't hold the full picture of faith. And the rest of the class trotted out the same tired arguments, like a God of Love wouldn't send someone to Hell, e.g. That was when what was bothering me finally had a face.

For most folks, faith equals someone's opinion. If the revelation of God amongst Christians of every stripe can be confused into a galamafrey of different creeds, then that's okay as long as you are sincere. But that's the problem. Just because you sincerely believe something doesn't make it true. If I sincerely believe that arsenic is not poisonous, that doesn't mean I will be spared a trip to the emergency room, depending on how much I ingest.

Religion isn't a means of finding the sacred in what we already believe, but of moving what we believe toward what is true. The arsenic analogy can be taken a step further. Even if, in our delusion, we ingest it, we have the opportunity to accept treatment once we've entered into a sort of digestional purgatory.

So too, we may have the opportunity to admit that, even in sincerity, we were wrong. But that doesn't mean that it wouldn't have been better to be right, particularly inasmuch as the examples that we embody influence others who must make the same choice.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:41 AM | Comments (2)

July 1, 2004

Literature... with Pictures; Better than the Best

For an easier-to-read layout, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

With a backhanded compliment to the Spider-Man 2 movie (as the best film in the worst genre), John Podhoretz has kicked off the inevitable discussion. In the post that introduced the topic to the Corner, Jonah Goldberg suggests that reading comics helped to form his love of reading more generally. He subsequently posted an email lamenting that the subject matter of comics has followed our culture down the gutter in the past fifteen years, leaving parents to introduce their children to the classics of a supposedly un-classic medium.

Now, anybody who's ever read my novel — or even asked what it's about — will know that few surpass me in literary pretension. With that being said, I won't hesitate to confess that I'd list some of my boyhood-favorite mini-series and limited plot lines from running comics alongside the best of child and young-adult literature. Many of these comics have proven to have a quarter-century staying power and have been collected into books. Moreover, some of their stories could yield record-breaking movies.

The first that comes to mind is the book version of the first four-issue Wolverine mini-series from the early '80s (which I still have stored away at my parents' house). This series set the standard for the loner superhero — the roadhouse samurai, torn between a wild nature and the draw of discipline.

But the most compelling series involved a number of issues of the regular X-Men comics culminating in 1980: The Dark Phoenix Saga. By the time I discovered it, in the mid-'80s, it was already in paperback form, and I remember climbing up in a tree, where I could see over the apartment buildings to New York City, to the Twin Towers, and wedging myself between some branches just to read the story over and over. The emotions evoked by the last few pages still echo through the years, and I can't help but think there's a lesson for Hollywood in that fact.

In all the back and forth about comic book movies, a central point seems to have been missed. Movie makers, TV writers, and cartoon drawers tend to take merely the characters and general themes of the comics and write new stories using them, a practice that usually disappoints both the avid fans and the newcomers. Imagine if Peter Jackson had just collected the hobbits and friends from Tolkien's work and presumed to pen a new plot.

One would think that comic books, being both literary and visual, would be better suited for translation into movies. Why, then, don't those producers (or whoever it would be) who sniff around the library and who make a 1,000th version of Camelot look to the stories that have helped to make comic books such a phenomenon? Perhaps it's a bit of the lingering conceit, among moviefolk, that they can outdo lowly scribblers. I think that's a mistake, and one that will bring rewards to the first bigwig not to make it.

If done right, a movie version of the Wolverine mini-series could stand against Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and The Last Samurai. In fact, I'll go so far as to make a statement so bold that it will surely draw readers' ire: given proper care and appreciating treatment, the Dark Phoenix series could be transformed into a movie trilogy to rival The Lord of the Rings.

(N.B. — As a movie!)

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:17 PM | Comments (13)

Who's the Objective News Source?

Check out this interactive stunner from the Providence Journal:

The sad thing is that, when I checked the results a little while ago, the combined responses for "Bush" and "Both" were exactly equal to "Hussein." (Although this seems to have improved somewhat already.) The encouraging thing is that many of the written responses fault the paper for even asking the question.

Perhaps better questions would be:

  • Do people's skewed views of moral equivalence implicate the news media?
  • Does "objectivity" mean giving credence to the rants of deposed tyrants?

Well, look at that. The folks at Projo.com have replaced the survey.

Probably a good idea.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:05 AM | Comments (14)
News Media

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:18 AM

The Common Knowledge Mudslide

The fight over the war in Iraq was — has been — so prolonged and so heated and so rife with accusations of all-out lies that even supporters of the effort can periodically be surprised to learn that a particular item is still in play. Although I'm a bit slow to note it, one example came to light the other day.

Apparently, it's still possible that not only are President Bush's defenders correct to point out that he was careful in his claims about Ba'athists' search for African uranium, but that perhaps even the most specific — much derided — claims of inquiries in Niger were correct. Of course, I could always be surprised in the other direction, but I have to admit that I'm pretty comfortable with how history will judge the war that I've spent so many words to encourage and defend.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:13 AM
Middle East