August 31, 2004

Fanatics' Fingers

Two bits of information that came to my ears as I continued attempting to prepare for my seventh grade Catholic school class's first day, next week, struck me as symbolic. Hopefully they aren't yet representative.

My awareness of the first tidbit is light on details. Apparently, anybody who volunteers to serve as a Eucharistic minister must undergo a Criminal Offense Record Investigation (CORI), which is a state-run background check for people — ostensibly — who deal with children. For those who don't know, a Eucharistic minister is a layperson who stands at the front of the church (or an aisle therein or elsewhere) and hands out the Eucharist to parishioners. That's it.

Now, I don't know whether this is a state policy or a diocesan policy, and I'm not saying that sexual predators ought to be able to take any post they desire in a church. However, unless this is a case of the Church's setting its own policies well beyond the law's requirements, the state is clearly overstepping its boundaries into religious affairs.* Furthermore, I'm not implying a secular conspiracy, but CORI forms have a blank space in which to write the position sought, and we ought all to become a little bit uncomfortable when the government begins compiling data on everybody who serves in such purely religious capacities.

The second tidbit is more concrete and, in my view, objectionable. The school's new principal has been going through the building in a thorough sweep of reorganization and redecoration, so when I noticed the absence of a picture, of Jesus looking over a valley, that often attracted my attention when I taught in the computer room, I asked the new computer teacher where it had gone. Apparently, it wasn't the impulse of fresh surroundings that had pulled the picture down, but rather a Title 1 grant.

Contrary to many of the stereotypes of Catholic schools, our student body includes children from such families as federal funds are meant to assist — completely in the spirit of the stated purpose of Title 1:

The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments.

Is it definitional to "fairness" that a room be free of religious imagery? That would seem manifestly unfair to students from communities that consider religion intrinsic to proper education. If the purpose of a grant is to provide, for example, adequate computers for use by students who otherwise would have to make do with the 1995 donations of working-class parishioners, how is it otherwise than discriminatory to expand on that purpose to ensure that the walls pay homage to anybody except explicitly religious figures? (Incidentally, don't even atheists concede that Jesus was probably an historical figure?)

Certainly, the public has a right to direct its shared funds to shared goals and interests. But it is a perversion when those interests are conceived to reach beyond a tangible, shared objective in order to enforce the worldview of a particular segment of society — dictating by stealth that a central aspect of a community's life is cannot underlie their children's education. Ink would fly among all three branches of our government were any one governing body to offer grants with the provision that no figures representative of racial, gender, or ethnic identity contributed to the educational setting. How turned around we must be for religion — among the primary and most explicit areas in which our government is required to take no coercive interest — to be the one aspect of life that provokes government leverage for extraction.

* In an idealized, abstract world, I'd give states more leeway in deciding their own boundaries between Church and State, but it is simply unacceptable for infringement of the latter on the former to be the only allowable prerogative.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:07 PM | Comments (12)


I will post entries this afternoon. Promise.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:17 AM
Site-Related Announcements

August 30, 2004

And Back to Blogging

Apparently, I accepted my new job about twenty-four hours too soon, because I wound up having to go to a professional development assembly this morning. The first speaker was a Jewish child psychologist who told a story about his childhood in Israel and the Yom Kippur (in 1973, I think) when members of the military were being pulled out of synagogue to go fight for the nation's survival. Although it involves an intriguing overlap of stereotypes, I couldn't even begin to guess the unstated reactions of the New England Catholic school teachers in attendance (besides, "Boy, it's hot in here!").

I then spent a few hours thanking God that the teacher for whom I'm filling in is so organized. Pretty much all I have to do planning-wise is to match her schedule notes with various books, worksheets, and so on. (And read the materials and, oh yeah, teach the children.)

Once the "school day" ended, I still had a full day's worth of editing to do. That's going to be my schedule for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for most of the school year, with writing (including blogging) slipped in where possible.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:57 PM
Diary & Confession

Back to Life

Except among those who are wealthy enough to make of life a whim, pianos are a sign of stability and long intentions. Young singles or young couples who are likely to move every year or so as circumstances require are well advised to avoid having to lug the things around — searching for specially licensed movers and such. Among older families, whom time has worn, the piano sits in a corner of the living room, furniture rather than an instrument, and often the scratches of children long grown and disrepair begin to show.

Well, after a decade of separation, my piano has found its way into my home again. Considering the likelihood that, having purchased our house, we'll stay here a while, my parents thought it worth the expense to forward. Three movers hauled it in, strained exertion after a five-hour drive, and now the gap in the living room has been filled. There's something about a home — or any building — without a piano. Maybe it's a lack of ballast.

Our two-and-a-half year old has already begun the habit of practicing (I suppose it could be called) for about a half-hour each day, although she gathers the minutes from between play and meals and television shows. Her rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" isn't quite harmonious, but in her case, it's the voice that endears. For melody, I taught her how to hit one note at a time; she doesn't seem concerned about which one or what order. But music has entered her life as a thing of stability, of a long view, even if only in the background.

Also this weekend, I took a last-minute opening at the school attached to my church, holding the seat of the seventh grade teacher. Young as she is, she'll be spending the better part of the next year battling illness. Keeping that as a reminder will surely aide in perseverance while battling any children's reluctance to learn. Hopefully, I won't find my prayers for her recovery tainted by self-interest, as facilitating escape.

Nonetheless, even with circumstances' dark tint, it's a hopeful thought that, for the first time, I'll be able to support my family. Call it sexist, if you must, but there's something about a man who can't do so (or couldn't, if required) that isn't unlike a house without a piano. Many fine and admirable homes lack pianos. But I'm glad that mine is no longer one.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:56 AM | Comments (3)
Diary & Confession

August 29, 2004

Weren't There Two Towers?

Honestly, I might have missed it, but I don't recall seeing a similar introduction for a piece about the Democrats' convention as to Scott MacKay's piece about the Republican one:

Forrester Adams went to Ground Zero yesterday afternoon for the first time. He left shaken, as does almost everyone who views the ghastly concrete scar in lower Manhattan and remembers the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

"At first I felt quiet and somber and all," said Adams, of Columbia, S.C., as he thought about the horrors that claimed the lives of 3,000 [people] when hijacked planes flew into the World Trade Center towers. "Then I really started feeling ticked off, defiant.

"I hope they build it back bigger than it was before," said Adams. "I feel we need to make a statement. I think that is so important, to show that these people can't break our spirit."

Adams is voting for President Bush.

Minutes later, Susan Brennan of Stony Brook, N.Y., on nearby Long Island, walked away from Ground Zero. She saw the same barren construction site, the same cross of rusted steel girders, experienced the same eerie silence in the middle of one of the world's noiseiest cities. She remembered the televised images of the twin towers engulfed in smoke and flame.

Brennan is voting for John Kerry.

"I feel much less safe now than after 9/11 ," said Brennan, adding she had purposely stayed away from the scene until yesterday. "We are just creating more terrorists every day with this war in Iraq. Bush is a madman . . . he is just so belligerent."

On the eve of the Republican National Convention, the long shadow of the Sept. 11 attacks hangs over the confab and the 2004 presidential election. As go the people walking away from the site in yesterday's scorching New York heat, so goes the nation's voters.

One would think that long shadow would reach the liberal, indecisive, and relatively dovish John Kerry, as well.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:40 AM | Comments (9)

August 28, 2004

The Mad Villain Rips Off His Mask

It's starting to seem as if having gone so far out on a credibility limb in support of John Kerry has given news folks a taste of honesty, and they like it. I mean, this post from Ramesh Ponnuru is simply jaw-dropping:

Doug Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, sent out a press release on the latest partial-birth ruling. Here's an email he got in response from Todd Eastham, the North American news editor for Reuters: "What's your plan for parenting & educating all the unwanted children you people want to bring into the world? Who will pay for policing our streets & maintaining the prisons needed to contain them when you, their parents & the system fail them? Oh, sorry. All that money has been earmarked to pay off the Bush deficit. Give me a frigging break, will you?"

Yes, yes, it's Reuters, and we all know what that means, but Mr. Eastham has just rendered nearly worthless any reportage that his company might offer on matters pertaining to abortion. And I'm surely not alone in believing that all he has done is to express what many of his peers wish professional ethics permitted them to say.

Personally, I'm thrilled to have the obvious laid out so candidly, and it's fascinating to watch. Still, waiting for the public to catch on can be frustrating; meanwhile, the scornfully presented misinformation continues.

As Hugh Hewitt puts it, with reference to a separate incident:

But poor, embarrassed Jim Boyd has performed a service, even in his humiliation. His exposure as a blustery, bullying and ultimately bittter hack is another warning sign in a month of such warnings to old media. The rules have changed. The monopoly is broken. You can't ignore the truth or the people who publicize it, and if you slander them, they have the tools of both rebuttal and exposure. As I wrote last week, it takes a considerable amount more talent, learning and drive to succeed at the highest level of the law than it does to be a time-serving fast food outlet for cliches of the left at a largely ignored editorial page of a second tier paper. Boyd mixed it up with the wrong guys, and even if his friends won't tell him the truth, he must already know that his paper saw what he did and gave the Powerline men another column as a result.

I've learned not to expect major blogosphere coverage of news mistakes and/or bias related to matters of abortion. One might call it a bias about bias.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:29 PM | Comments (3)
News Media

August 27, 2004

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Spitting Distance," by Janette van de Geest Van Gruisen.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:56 PM

A Horrific Catalyst for Change

Whatever their immediate reaction might be, abortion activists ought to have, at the very least, extremely mixed feelings about federal judge Richard Casey's striking down of the partial-birth abortion ban:

Before anyone gets ready to picket Judge Casey's chambers, take a deep breath. Judge Casey is an honorable and humble man who understands his place in the legal cosmos. "While Congress and lower courts may disagree with the Supreme Court's constitutional decisions," he concludes, "that does not free them from their constitutional duty to obey the Supreme Court's rulings." In other words, chalk another one up to the Supreme Court. Whether he ultimately read their decisions properly or not, Judge Casey was not going to stretch their law to fit his personal convictions.

So Casey's ruling — that a morally abhorrent and gruesome method of abortion is protected by the constitution, our country's most sacred legal document — demonstrates how much ground has been lost since the Supreme Court first engrafted a right to abortion into the constitution in Roe v. Wade. And with as many as three or four current justices possibly retiring in the next presidential term, it shows how much longer the slide can be with the wrong decision in November.

As Shannen Coffin suggests, a deep breath is in order, but one during which to form a more accurate assessment of the situation and redirect the rage. Even Coffin's description of Casey's description of the procedure makes for nauseating reading, and abortion activists are tying all abortion to it, both legally and, with the emotional weapon that they're handing the other side, strategically.

Perhaps one could go further and suggest that they're exposing to attack their entire approach to construing the Constitution. "We can't even ban this?" the question will become. "Then something is wrong either with the Constitution or with the method by which it is interpreted." Oh yes, this is going back to the Supreme Court, either now or in the near future, and that gang will have either to tiptoe through a minefield of its own making in order to contradict Judge Casey's understanding of what precedent requires, or it will have to begin dismantling the precedent.

Just an extra note, here, to shake my head and gag at the idea that some people defend this procedure. How monstrous do you have to be? (And, yes, that extends to other procedures.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:13 PM | Comments (57)

August 26, 2004

Define Fault and Abuse...

An exchange in the comments to this post brought to mind a disconnect between theoretical discussion and real experience. The following dialogue is culled from several comments:

Mike S.: I'm not saying divorce should be disallowed, I'm arguing that our current laws make it too easy. What would you say about a waiting period? Say, 2 years? What about requiring both partners to agree to the divorce?

Mark Miller: A very bad idea. Requiring both partners to agree gives too much power over the outcome to one person. Maybe I could accept that in the case of a no-fault divorce.

Mike: Why do you not think that no-fault divorce gives too much power over the outcome to one person? Say the husband suddenly decides he doesn't want to be tied down, and want to go date other women. Our current laws effectively allow him to unilaterally end the marriage, which has the effect of saying that his personal desires are more important than his wife's, and than the interests of keeping the marriage together.

Mark: Say the husband is philandering and abusing the wife and children but doesn't want to end the marriage because it will be costly and who doesn't want to have their cake and eat it too. In that case, his personal desires should not trump those of the suffering wife/children and ultimately - society. That is a simple (and common) example why you cannot require both people to sign off on a divorce.

Mike: I'd say you've described a 'fault' divorce, not a 'no-fault' one.

Mark thereafter noted his initial qualification that "maybe" he could accept the two-party sign-off in the case of "no-fault" divorce. Still, the "maybe" — standing in contrast to his emphasis on the "very bad idea" of giving one party too much power — suggests that it isn't the "outcome" that shouldn't be unilateral, in his view, but just the specific outcome of a continuation of the marriage. Maybe one person shouldn't have the power to end a marriage, but certainly one person shouldn't have the power to maintain it. I suspect that is a common opinion, as unstated and unconsidered as it may often be.

After decades of the status quo, it does seem odd to think that one spouse might even want to stay married to another who wanted out. Therefore, we're inclined to attribute some sort of adverse motive to a hypothetical one who does. I wonder, though, if this mightn't change were the two-person sign-off required. Couldn't Wouldn't having the option, and knowing that he or she would have the option, to veto a divorce make the reluctant party reconsider whether the marriage has some value beyond agreeable cohabitation? Wouldn't, also, the other spouse be affected in the decisions that he or she made leading up to a divorce knowing that it mightn't go through?

So, to the practical reality that the theoretical discussion often neglects: most of the divorces with which I've had personal contact have involved a cheating husband who simply wanted out. In one case, the role was reversed, but it would have undeniably been in the wife's and children's interests for the effort to have been thwarted (as she would have had reason to believe it would be when the thought first entered her mind). We can shine rhetorical spotlights on a giant billboard picturing an abusive husband who won't let his wife and children escape, but it seems to me that we wind up ignoring all those other husbands (and wives) lurking about in the shadows indulging in a different form of abuse — of both their own families and our shared social fabric.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:30 PM | Comments (20)
Marriage & Family

Who's Polarizing Whom?

While waiting my turn for a haircut, about an hour ago, I perused a Time magazine (opportunity for waiting-room chuckles). One of the articles was a typical equivalence piece: Michael Moore on this side, Rush Limbaugh on that side, we're a polarized nation.

Well, the very first item from Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus today hits a related note, and I was so stunned by it — stunned, incredulous, amazed, but subtracting a degree or two of surprise from those words' meanings — that I had to stop reading the column and react:

The New York Choral Society was scheduled to sing at the Republican convention. They were to sing patriotic songs — "From the Halls of Montezuma," "Anchors Aweigh" — in honor of America's armed forces. Nothing too partisan. Nothing partisan at all.

But the Society has backed out, because — well, its members are left-wing, and they can't stomach the idea of appearing at a Republican convention.

Do Republicans and (more specifically) conservatives have to begin fielding their own regional choirs? (Perhaps a religiously affiliated group would have been smarter from the outset.) Our nation is polarized, indeed, but perhaps conservatives wouldn't be excessively partisan to suggest that one side deserves a little bit more of the blame than the other.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:42 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:19 AM

Tolerance in, Tolerance out

Although it's a broad veer from the specifics about which I was writing, and although the person to whom I was responding (Jeremiah Lewis) is by no means a secularist, Ben Bateman's comment to my first post about the Roman Catholic requirement of wheat in the Eucharist raises an interesting area of thought:

You've got a good point on the secularists' urge to redefine and reduce everyone else's traditions: Communion bread can be anything that looks vaguely bread-like. Marriage can be any coupling of two human beings. We can recognize no distinction between adoptive parents and biological parents. Procreation means maximum numbers of babies. Homosexuality must not only be tolerated, but normalized.

Wasn't there a story a few months back where either California or the feds were trying to punish Catholic churches or hospitals for refusing to provide employee benefits that include birth control? And wasn't there a story about the State of New York trying to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions?

There's a common thread here, but I can't quite articulate it properly.

Given the totality of Ben's previous comments, here and elsewhere, I'm somewhat suspicious that he's being facetious in professing an inability to articulate a common thread. In essence, it's that secularism has become a form of religious fundamentalism itself, and in its "neutral" disguise, it is crowding out all theologies that disagree. Others can nominally believe in that God thing... as long as they don't insist on behaving as if He really exists, particularly as long as they don't insist on founding public behavior on that belief.

The particular threat of creeping tolerance lies in the power of what can be seen — without denying their goodness when rightly applied — as the three fronts of a perfect storm:

  1. Political: the ideal of individual rights and freedom.
  2. Moral: the ideal of respecting others' differing moral conclusions, treating them as brethren, and evangelizing through compassion and understanding.
  3. Visceral: the core of the secular faith, which although intellectually developing out of the other two has come into its own enough to abuse its forerunners. In intellectual terms, it permits one to believe that we can intuit all truths, or that truth is whatever we intuit it to be. In emotional terms, it gives license to believe that what feels good — in whatever way it feels good — is right.

As these three fronts have coalesced in modern times, the thinking goes something like this: a person wants to do something and convinces himself that there is no reason that he oughtn't. According to individual freedom, he has a right not to be forcibly restricted by law from doing it, and according to the code of "tolerance," others must respect his decision and not use any social, economic, or even personal means to force him to reconsider, even to the point of disallowing expression of disapproval.

Complexity enters the picture when one realizes that everything involves tradeoffs; one person's individual freedom inherently restricts other people's individual freedoms. Often others' freedoms are expressed as group rights — as in holding that the individual has a right to live in a group or society that adheres to certain principles. As Ben has suggested before (if I may paraphrase a comment that I'm too tired to seek, just now), group rights find their most fundamental form in the central principles to which we must adhere on a national level, involving the validity of our system of government (founding documents included) and some basic agreement about the structures of reasoned debate.

What has happened is that sensibility and emotion (visceral) are twisting and redefining tolerance and good will (moral) in such a way as to demand that the law guard against etiquette's being breeched (political). People who don't feel that others are sufficiently following the moral dogma of respect for differences — which really codes an ideological sameness behind superficial distinctions — are trampling on freedom in order to force compliance. To be fair (and charitable), most of them probably don't realize that they are doing so; they think they're just expanding the universe of niceness, and if we all just respect other people's space (in each other's own reality), then we can all live together and do everything we each want to do... if only those intolerant people will relent on the things that they want to do, which are very mysterious (superstitious, even) and not very gratifying.

Striving to step outside of the inescapable assumptions on which our worldviews are founded, and simplifying the sides into competing claims of rights, what is happening is that the breadth of activities that must be tolerated as individual freedoms for one side keeps expanding, while for the other side, it keeps shrinking. For example, we all should agree that homosexuals have a right not to be persecuted. Recently — and I agree with the result, if not the mechanism — they cemented their right to do what they wish, sexually, in the privacy of their own homes.

Now, however, the definitive expression of homosexuality itself is being broadened to require tolerance for same-sex marriage, to the extent that the public sphere not be permitted to make any distinction between such relationships and opposite-sex relationships. Denial of this tolerance — refusal to redefine the institution of marriage, for example — is pushed under the growing umbrella of "persecution," where it joins, in the partisan's mind, the continued resistance to the inclusion of sexual orientation within hate-crime laws (hate speech in some contexts).

Switch directions. Of course Christians don't have a right to force others, by law, to adhere to their particular religious practices or to persecute them for not doing so. But now they're coming under attack for allowing their religious beliefs to inform the way in which they wield whatever force they carry as members of society — whether in determining who they'll hire or what benefits they'll offer, deciding what projects they'll take on or what services they'll offer (as in hospitals), or judging the application of law to moral issues such as abortion.

As Ben alludes, the California Supreme Court has ruled that Catholic Charities isn't sufficiently religious to qualify for exemption from a state requirement that employers offer contraception if they offer prescription coverage; the Salvation Army of New York faces the loss of millions of dollars in city contracts unless it offers domestic partner benefits; similar stories increasingly pepper the modern landscape. Essentially, the definitive expression of Christianity itself is being constrained from including the right to act publicly according to one's conscience.

The range of life in which a religious person is allowed to act as if what he believes is actually correct is being constantly cut back. So, as the respect due to homosexuals moves from tolerance for their desire, to tolerance for their acts, to public recognition and approval of their relationships, the respect due to Christians is slipping back from tolerance for the public acts informed by their religion, to tolerance for their private-sphere decisions based on religious belief, to tolerance for their profession of belief. You can believe that God frowns on homosexuality, but you aren't allowed to conduct yourself as if that's actually true.

So, in that sense, Ben's expansion on my complaint about some people's treatment of the wheaten bread controversy is entirely appropriate. (It would be unfair to include Jeremiah in what follows, I think.) Catholics are free to believe that Christ is literally present in the Eucharist; they are free to believe that the Holy Spirit has guided the institutional Church in its deliberations about what its religion requires (although, of course, our humanity often gets in the way). But if the Church invalidates a girl's rice Communion (chosen in lieu of the available, and valid, alternative of the wine) because its institutional precedent suggests that Christ mightn't have been literally present in the Eucharistic simulacrum, well, that's just taking this belief thing too far.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:20 AM | Comments (41)

August 25, 2004

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:10 PM

Housable Income

Earlier this month (ages ago, in blog time), Charles Hill brought up the issue of "affordable housing." I've held on to the URL for so long because housing is a major issue in Rhode Island. As every informed citizen of the state knows, we are heading for an affordable housing crisis ("!"). As valid as the applicable numbers and conclusions may be, Charles's first commenter, the Proprietor, raises one of those unspoken angles that issues tend to have under their skirts:

The main thing to realize is that this has *nothing* to do with providing affordable housing. It is a way to bust zoning in exclusive communities so there is a more fertile field for developers to build housing.

Although I shudder to suggest it, in response to the New Jersian commenter, it may be that Rhode Island's system is a bit more corrupt. According to various conversations that I've had, affordable housing rules have been leveraged in attempts to bust the zoning rules even in some of the poorer, most "affordable" towns in the state. It has become a pervasive part of the culture, here, that people must grab all that they can, and that the government is an appropriate method through which to do so... on the sly and with altruistic-sounding rhetoric for cover.

Whatever the political struggles for finding the land, however, it's undeniable that Rhode Island has a problem. And Charles may point the way toward a solution:

At my income level, I couldn't possibly hope to live in a place like Lincolnshire. In a society with some measure of rationality, I would be urged to do one of the following: either improve that income, or go live somewhere I can afford. The town can't legally keep me out — probably wouldn't dream of keeping me out — but there's no justification for forcing a property owner in that town to sell to me, or to rent to me, at a price far below what he wants and can get.

There are two words in the phrase "affordable housing," and thus two sides of the equation. If, for example, Rhode Island could match the average annual wages of its neighbors, Connecticut and Massachusetts (PDF), the affordable housing crisis would disappear overnight. Prices that are exorbitant to the poor are reasonable to the less poor.

This represents a complex subject matter, to be sure. Holding population and available housing steady while everybody's income rose, for example, would surely cause housing costs to rise accordingly. Furthermore, any solution aimed at raising income levels would require a degree of subtlety and a long view often lacking in our government. One typically short-sighted solution is to increase the minimum wage, and Rhode Island's top-five minimum wage (31% greater than the federal minimum wage that most states follow) hasn't managed to increase our average income even above the country's mean line.

It probably isn't a stretch to suggest that the minimum wage is one factor among many keeping businesses out of our state and constraining the types of jobs that are created. Another Providence Journal piece about affordable housing reports:

Of the 20 occupations projected to add the most jobs between 2000 and 2010, only four -- registered nurses, computer support specialists, secondary school teachers and elementary school teachers -- pay enough for a median wage earner to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the state average rent.

A quick look at the list of the fifty fastest-growing occupations in the state reveals that almost all of them are location-specific. In other words, they increase only inasmuch as there is enough money in Rhode Island to make it worth doing more business here. In such cases, a region is the source of revenue, but not necessarily the destination, and with the exception of tourism and higher education, the money in Rhode Island increasingly tends either to circulate within the limited local market or to flow out of state. Emblematically, the two fastest-growing occupations are registered nurses and retail salespeople.

The latter — retail — tells a particularly worrying story when it is considered that the list of declining industries is almost entirely made up of varying forms of manufacturing. Companies are willing to sell in Rhode Island, but not to build here. Returning to the minimum wage, it's one thing to pay 2,481 retail clerks $6.75 an hour when the only other option is to let the state's retail market go untapped. It's another thing to place any other point of the company's operational chain in a state that demands low-level positions to pay $1.6 more per hour than in most states across the nation. Hiring 2,481 workers at that level in Rhode Island (assuming 40-hours and paid vacations) would cost the company an additional $8,256,768 per year.

As I said, this problem has only complex solutions, but it poses questions that people in all states must ask themselves. What are our priorities? Where do we have to compromise our desire to give everybody everything so that we don't make it impossible for more than a minority to get anything? Rhode Island, for one, can no longer afford its distrust of the free market and disbelief in the power and importance of individual responsibility. It certainly can no longer afford to let the recipients of public funds insulate themselves from financial realities as everybody else experiences them.

Here's where the various issues begin to come together. In Rhode Island:

  • The average annual private-sector wage in 2002 was $33,240, or $2,770 per month.
  • An "affordable" monthly housing payment from that amount (one-third) is $914.
  • The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in 2003 was $989.
  • The median monthly homeowner housing cost in 2000 was $1,205.
  • The fastest-growing industry is Elementary and Secondary Schools, with 5,122 new jobs by 2010.
  • The average Rhode Island teacher made $7,108 more than the average teacher for the nation as a whole during the 2002–2003 school year.
  • 5,122 times $7,108 is $36,407,176.
  • Not to mention benefits.
  • $36,407,176 is the amount of extra money that companies would have to pay each year for 10,940 minimum-wage workers in Rhode Island, as opposed to somewhere else.
  • In another state with the national minimum wage of $5.15, those companies will pay 10,940 employees a total of $117,189,280 per year.
  • Minimum wage workers often represent second or third incomes for a given household.
  • Companies don't just hire people at minimum wage.
  • Rhode Island consumers are probably buying the products that those companies make.
Posted by Justin Katz at 4:46 PM | Comments (2)

August 24, 2004

Wheat in a Land of Milk and Honey

It's clear that Jeremiah Lewis and I aren't going to iron out our underlying differences of spiritual understanding discussing — on blogs — the ingredients of the Eucharist at Roman Catholic Mass. Therefore, I'm not going to get into the doctrinal debate with him. I do, however, respect Jeremiah's thought and writing, with which I more often than not agree, so I want to offer something by way of reply to his latest post on the issue.

He still hasn't argued against the tradition of requiring the Eucharist to be made of wheat in the way that Christ argued against the use of qorban to skirt around a Commandment. For all of his Biblical exegesis, Jeremiah manages no more than to suggest that Scripture doesn't provide any direct instruction that Communion must be accomplished with wheat bread. Well, fine. I'm certainly not going to jump into the midst of our differing approaches to the Bible. I will, however, note that one of the contingencies to which I made reference was belief "in the divinely sanctioned necessity of an institutional Church that collects and passes along the wisdom of thousands of years, under the direct guidance of God." The point still stands that the practices of the Church oughtn't be attacked as a proxy for the core beliefs if Christians are to work together in this crumblingly secular world — not to mention saving each other's soul.

If Jeremiah disagrees with the Catholic approach to religion — which is very thorough, very structured, and, yes, sometimes "highly involved and doctrinally complex" — then he ought to address that topic directly. Frankly, should he do so, I'll cede the right to reply to other Catholics who have more knowledge and experience arguing over the degree to which we can rightly presume to know what is and isn't important in the Bible and why and how. I suspect that the broader discussion will revolve around the "having it both ways" approach evident when Jeremiah writes:

This begs the question: does Scripture require us to imitate, to the minutia of each detail, the Communion supper as first celebrated by Jesus and his disciples? Be imitators of Christ: does this mean in every manner and every symbolic and physical action, or does this Scripture point to a life of spiritual obedience, likened to Christ's obedience to God in all things?

Well, do Catholics have to produce "minutia of each detail" to prove the necessity of wheat? Or do they have to let go of Biblical example to get at the real spiritual lesson? And if the latter, how do they determine what symbolism and physical actions spiritual obedience requires?

Even before we could begin hammering away at such questions, though, it seems to me that there's a deeper disagreement — one that may not be possible to resolve through discussion:

Yet Christ's power and redemption is not a physical, chemical process. The bonds of the physical were indeed broken when Christ rose again, defeating death and securing us a place beside the Father. Had Christ ministered and died in Asia, his Last Supper may very well have been a rice cake.

Isn't Christ's power and redemption physical? Did He break the bonds of the physical? Every Gospel but Mark tells of some form of physical contact on Jesus' part after the Resurrection. Indeed, Jesus' physicality was necessary to convince Thomas that He had risen. "Touch me and see," Jesus says in Luke, "because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." He then asks for something to eat. The physical remains important. Does Jeremiah expect himself to be resurrected without some sort of chemical activity?

As for a Christ of the Far East, all I can say is that God surely could have become man in a land of rice. But He didn't, and I see nothing in Scripture that gives Jeremiah license to suggest that the time and place of Christ's coming was as inconsequential as the presence of gluten in the Eucharist.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:15 PM | Comments (8)

Songs You Should Know 08/24/04

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

"Nonchalant" Mr. Chu, Hard Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download from Chu's Next

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:44 PM

The Mysterious Cures

I love this beginning (emphasis added):

At three laboratories here, separated by a taxi ride of no more than 10 or 15 minutes, the world of stem cell research can be captured in all its complexity, promise and diversity.

One of the labs focuses on cells taken from human embryos, another on cells from mice and fish, and a third from stem cells that have mysteriously survived in the adult body long after their original mission is over.

Those are the first two paragraphs of a piece by Gina Kolata in the New York Times. Upon my reading the blockquote that Glenn Reynolds reprinted for his readers, two thoughts came quickly to mind: 1) that the existence of adult stem cell research had finally been acknowledged by the mainstream media, and 2) that Kolata's facts about it disagreed with what I had previously thought to be the case:

One idea, the focus of about half the nation's stem cell research, involves studying stem cells that are naturally present in adults. Researchers have found such cells in a variety of tissues and organs and say they seem to be a part of the body's normal repair mechanism. There are no ethical issues in studying these cells, but the problem is in putting them to work to treat diseases. So far, no one has succeeded. ...

As the two lines of research proceed along parallel paths, researchers say it is far too soon to bet on which, if either, will yield cures first. "It's not either-or," said Dr. Diana Bianchi, chief of the division of medical genetics at Tufts New England Medical Center in Boston.

In line with the version of reality that I'd heard several times elsewhere, Wesley Smith described back in May some reasons why Kolata's assertions just aren't true. I suppose one could argue that Kolata's language implies cures already put into practice and available to the public, in which case she'd be right (technically), but anybody who had read only the her article would certainly be surprised to come across these tidbits:

The FDA has allowed a human trial to proceed that will use bone-marrow stem cells to treat severe heart disease. The experiment will be conducted at Texas Heart Institute in Houston. This approach has already safely improved heart function in 14 patients in Brazil, as reported in the medical journal Circulation ...

Dennis Turner of southern California was the first human patient known to have been treated by his own brain stem cells for Parkinson's. It is now a few years post treatment and his Parkinson's — which by now was expected to have substantially disabled him — has instead gone into substantial remission. Turner has been able to reduce his medications and rarely experiences significant symptoms of his disease.

Reading a bit farther into Kolata's piece, however, one notes that, although she's acknowledged that adult stem cells are found in "a variety of tissues and organs," she muddies the discussion terribly with the researcher whom she introduces as supposedly representing the adult branch of stem cell experimentation, Dr. Diana Bianchi:

But then she discovered that the fetal cells do not disappear when a pregnancy ends. Instead, they remain in a woman's body for decades, perhaps indefinitely. And if a woman's tissues or organs are injured, fetal cells from her baby migrate there, divide and turn into the needed cell type, be it thyroid or liver, intestine or gallbladder, cervix or spleen.

That's not what most people consider to be "adult stem cell research." Indeed, Bianchi isn't even sure that the cells that she's chasing are stem cells. In other words, these three labs hardly capture the stem cell debate "in all its complexity, promise and diversity." And I can't deny that the assertion that they do has the feel of deliberate distortion. So, although that huge swath of Americans who get their information only from mainstream sources might now be aware that such a thing as adult stem cell research exists (the apparent taboo having been broken), their conception of it is entirely wrong.

I wonder how much more difficult that will make it for conservative legislators to convince their constituents that embryonic stem cell research isn't the way to go.

In posting Kolata's piece, Prof. Reynolds writes something that strikes me as odd:

And, since I don't believe that life begins at conception, the embryonic aspect doesn't bother me much either.

Then when does it begin? It's been awhile since I've taken any biology classes, but as far as I know, it's indisputable fact that an individual human being's life begins at conception. I can understand the argument that an embryo isn't sentient or fulfilled or some other sort of life, even if I disagree about the practical difference that the adjective makes, but it's clearly life — self-contained human life — isn't it, professor?

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:02 PM | Comments (4)

Rhode Island's Elite

David Sweeney, a retired lawyer with 30 years of experience negotiating teachers' contracts, has responded to a piece by retired teacher James Hosey, in which Mr. Hosey lamented that teachers' employment packages fall far short of the deals offered to — get this — CEOs. Putting aside the ludicrous comparison of, essentially, the educational workforce with the top, top class of the business world, Mr. Sweeney writes:

I don't know where Mr. Hosey worked, but every Rhode Island contract I know of contained "step increases" over 10 or 12 years. Teachers received an increase in pay for each credit earned toward an advanced degree, in courses paid for by the school districts. The workday consisted of less than seven hours, of which no more than four hours were spent in actually teaching. The work year was, and is, 180 days, and anything over that required additional compensation. Paid sick leave increased every year, and, amazingly, sick days taken by teachers also increased every year. Retirement, as taken by Mr. Hosey, was a combination of age and years worked, which permitted teachers to retire in their 50s and early 60s. ...

Former teachers who enter the real work world from the warm womb of the education industry are consistently shocked by the work demands of employers who must compete to survive. Unfortunately, these same people are teaching our children that everyone is "entitled" to all the benefits of a comfortable life, from annual pay increases to lifetime health care, without regard to individual talent or effort.

Hosey's home district, Cumberland, apparently has a relatively weak union, by Rhode Island standards. Consider these items from the personal experience that Hosey offers as "a point-by-point refutation" of a July 24 piece by Donald Hawthorne:

-- I was a teacher for 30 years; in that time, I never came close to a 12-percent raise.

-- There were no automatic increases in pay; our union had to fight tooth-and-nail for each contract as September approached, and the school committee relied upon Superior Court to order us back to work without one.

-- I never saw a longevity bonus.

One might note that the plea that the union had to "fight tooth-and-nail" for raises sidesteps Hawthorne's point, which had to do with the "just for showing up" nature of the raises that teachers do get every year, whatever show the union puts on. Marc Comtois, who is now the parent of a child in the Warwick, Rhode Island, school system, breaks down the numbers in table format.

As Marc explains, at least in Warwick, the annual raises scheduled within a given contract are deceptive, because each "step" — with advancement occurring each year, without regard to merit — increases annually. So, for example, while a first-time teacher for the 2000–2001 school year was scheduled to go from $30,348 to $33,467 (a very healthy 10% raise) for the next year, that teacher actually went to $34,722 (14.4%), because Step 2 increased. Marc also notes that, unlike Hosey's employer, his town does offer longevity bonuses, in addition to other merit-based increases.

More stunning, however, is Marc's side-by-side comparison of teachers' salaries with private-sector salaries. The disparity is huge, of itself, but compared with the national average, a visual representation makes for an extremely disheartening image for a semi-employed private-sector Rhode Islander such as myself. Note that, for the following graph, I dug up the 2002 data for the private sector (PDF) and the 2002–2003 data for teachers (USA and RI), which actually presents an improvement from Marc's previous-year data.

As Marc gives reason to realize, with his comparison of Rhode Island with its two contiguous states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, this chart isn't anywhere near the whole story. Rhode Island's tax burden and cost of living are high, relative to the rest of the country. As a percentage of income, Rhode Islanders pay 1.4% more in total state, federal, and local taxes than the nation as a whole. As for cost of living, I looked at one tangible expense, annual homeowner costs, for which Rhode Islanders pay 10.75% more than the nation as a whole. (Unfortunately, the latest data that I could find for housing was for 2000, and house prices have skyrocketed since then, doubling or more in some areas.) Here's a very rough picture of all of the above information lumped together:

The colored wedges, in total, represent the average Rhode Island private sector income (wages = $33,240). The white wedge is the actual-dollar amount of money that the average RI teacher has left over after taxes and housing above and beyond what the average private sector Rhode Islander has left over ($21,868 – $8,376 = $13,492).* In short, from this rough, limited picture, it looks as if the average Rhode Island teacher could almost afford to pay one additional family's housing costs, including mortgage, for the entire year and still have Rhode Island's average remainder left over. Here's the comparable pie graph for the nation as a whole.

And even that isn't the whole story. Rhode Island teachers get fantastic benefits, including absolutely free healthcare, on top of the career perk of a 180-day work year. (I don't know what the private sector's average work year is, but I'd be surprised if it weren't at least 220 days.) No wonder our retired teacher, Mr. Hosey, proclaims:

I would put my own head in a noose before I would ever again work in a non-union environment.

Unfortunately, as valuable and noble as the teaching profession may be, public union workers' employment packages have to find their funds somewhere, and in Rhode Island, that means hanging the rest of us.

* For the average teacher's remainder, I did remember to calculate and subtract the relatively higher tax slice, although I treated it as a flat tax.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:16 AM | Comments (3)
Rhode Island

Europe off the Stage and into the Theater

If you missed Victor Davis Hanson's column yesterday, be sure to read it today:

So it is also with some trepidation that we are seeing the inevitable end of the old, and the beginning of a new, transatlantic world, as troops on the ground at last reflect the reality of the past 20 years. And as we begin to leave Europe, as NATO mutters and shuffles in its embarrassing dotage, as cracks in an authoritarian and unworkable EU begin to widen, ever so slowly we here in the United States shall start to witness all over Europe both a new sensibleness — and a new furor.

Gut-check time is approaching. In places like Brussels, Berlin, and Oslo, in the next half-century citizens will slowly decide who wishes and does not wish to be an ally of the United States of America. Some will prefer opportunistic neutrality and thus go the Swedish and Swiss route. Others in their folly may ape French and Spanish bellicosity, and think isolating the U.S., selling weapons to the Middle East, or going on maneuvers with the Chinese might work. Still more may prefer to remain staunch friends like the Poles and Italians, realizing that, for all the leftist slurs about unilateralism, never in the history of civilization has such a powerful country as the United States sought advice and cooperation from weaker friends about the wisdom, efficacy, and consequences of using its vast military.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:02 AM
International Affairs

August 23, 2004

Of Men and Rice

Maybe it's being a convert with so much left to learn, or maybe it's the place in the religious discussion in which I'm called to stand, but it still tends to surprise me when people feel compelled to comment on the narrow doctrinal/ritual practices of other Churches, as Jeremiah Lewis has done here:

Given that [eight-year-old Haley Waldman] does know what Communion means and believes that Christ has saved her, what is the difference between a wheat wafer or a rice wafer? Is one clean and the other not? Is one more holy than the other? The Church has made it about the bread, not the body--exactly as the Pharisees had done with their Corban rules of holy washing, of clean and unclean foods, of daily life, of spiritual life.

When Jesus said "Do this in remembrance of me," somehow I doubt he was thinking "gluten-only bread, please". The Pharisees in the Catholic Church would do well to consider that.

Although Haley's mother is apparently mounting a campaign against the requirement that the Eucharist contain some measure of wheat, I'm not sure what makes this story worth the Associated Press's time to begin with. Perhaps both Jeremiah's conclusion that the recipe ought to be a non-issue and the self-assurance of religious insight by which he allows himself to cluck his tongue about the matter are so pervasive throughout our society, including in the media, that the story is salable.

For lack of time, I'm not going to pursue the thorough research necessary to trace the doctrinal conclusion about wheaten bread through history, but two points are relatively obvious to make. The first is that, even accepting that legitimate arguments could be made against the tradition, Jeremiah hasn't found them. The specific lesson of the passage from Mark 7 that Jeremiah cites has to do with spiritual cleanliness's being an internal quality, not something that can be ingested through a lapse in physical cleanliness. Jesus' other example, corban (or "qorban"), is something set apart for God, so the warning is against human rules that offer loopholes from Commandments. The reality that calling dibs for God, so to speak, isn't a legitimate way to avoid helping one's parents doesn't mean that nothing can be put aside for Him.

On the general matter that human traditions oughtn't supplant divine doctrine, well, the fact that one can teach "as doctrines human precepts" does not mean that all taught doctrines are human precepts. As Jeff Miller put it, those who invoke the Pharisees in attacks against the Church "tend to forget about the opposite of the Pharisees -the Sadducees who followed no rules but whatever suited them." Could a legitimate Mass be celebrated with popcorn and beer?

That leads to the second point: this is a doctrine that the Church takes very seriously. There are a variety of direct reasons for this; there are scriptural foundations, such as Jesus' use of wheat as a representation of the spiritual yield of one person's death (e.g., His); there are related historical ties to the Church, such as St. Ignatius's acceptance of martyrdom on the grounds that he was "the wheat of God." (The author of Pontifications suggests that the answer is as simple as recognizing that Jesus spoke the words "this is my body" over wheaten bread at the Last Supper and links to further discussion on Jimmy Akin's blog.)

Underscoring all of the reasons, however, is the belief in transubstantiation. If one believes that God is literally present in the bread — a God who, as man, declared himself to be the "bread of life" — and if, further, one believes in the divinely sanctioned necessity of an institutional Church that collects and passes along the wisdom of thousands of years, under the direct guidance of God, then one ought to be very reluctant to force or demand changes to satisfy personal difficulties. (Especially when there is a ready accommodation, such as receiving communion through the other species in which it is offered, wine.)

Many people, including (I gather) Jeremiah, don't hold such beliefs, and they are perfectly free not to. Nonetheless, in such cases, it seems to me that attacking the practice is really just a way to avoid discussing the weightier matters that reach our core beliefs about God and our place in relation to Him. Raising those weightier matters exposes, of course, the great many extremely personal conclusions, behaviors, and emotions that grow from our religious faith, so there is an understandable aversion to doing so, especially in the breezy medium of blogs. But in our secularized, deeply corrupted society, aren't we Christians more alike than different? If so, don't we owe each other the respect — the concern for each other's soul — of addressing the beliefs, and not the practices that follow from them?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:37 AM | Comments (9)

August 22, 2004

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

I've got two longish posts that I hope to write before calling it a day (by my extended measure), but in the meantime, be sure to check out this week's edition of Lane Core's weekly Blogworthies feature for plenty of afternoon/evening reading.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:40 PM | Comments (1)
Quick Links

Now We Need an Opposite Experiment

Spain is apparently volunteering to be (another) experiment in liberal government:

Spain's new government is pressing an ambitious social reform agenda that would put the historically conservative Catholic country on par with the most liberal nations in Europe. ...

The agenda appears to have the support of the public. A Gallup poll found more than half of Spaniards support same-sex marriage and think homosexuals should be allowed to adopt children. Two-thirds of the Spanish public support legalizing same-sex marriage, for instance, according to polls. Although the Socialists do not hold a majority in the parliament, most of the proposed laws are widely expected to pass because of support from other left-leaning parties.

I vote that the United States not pass any further liberal reforms until Spain has had a couple of decades to ferment.

A Needed Reminder

I'm reading at Mass tomorrow (or, more accurately, later today, which happens to be our fifth wedding anniversary), and the passage from St. Paul couldn't be more relevant:

Brothers and sisters,
You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children:
"My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;
for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
he scourges every son he acknowledges."
Endure your trials as "discipline";
God treats you as sons.
For what "son" is there whom his father does not discipline?
At the time,
all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.

So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet,
that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.
Posted by Justin Katz at 12:39 AM

August 21, 2004

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from Stakers," by Mark Ellis.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:56 AM

Ganders Taking Ganders, or On Moral Sex

Whether it indicates that a fundamental principle has gone askew or that rhetoric must tilt to match a false conclusion, arguments on behalf of same-sex marriage seem often to mirror the object of their advocacy. The closer the marriage proposal is pushed toward the ideals of traditional marriage, the more the supporting arguments will manage to be just a bit off, and the points of distinction, in the resulting disputes, can be frustratingly difficult even to isolate, let alone resolve. Such is the case with the procreation -> contraception -> homosexuality line of thought that Jon Rowe pursues in the comments to my post on Governor McGreevey.

In his phrasing, however, Rowe may have left an opening by which to reveal the underlying gaps. Start with the last paragraph of the two contiguous comments to which I am responding:

The point that I am trying to make, "procreation" is a really weak place park a justificatory basis for sex. As Andrew Sullivan says, just because this is what sex CAN be about, doesn't mean that this is what sex MUST be about.

If by "park" Rowe means "rely upon exclusively," I happen to agree; in fact, I'd suggest that sex is at its best when it incorporates various justificatory bases. In terms of Catholic morality, in which I'll consolidate a broader ethics for my purposes with this post, sex becomes nearly sacred when it is both unitive and procreative, with the latter quality modified with "open to."

The former quality relates to Rowe's statement that "sex for the purpose of expressing love, cementing relationships, relieving stress, is legit." It would seem, therefore, with the possible exception of the reductive palliative of stress relief, that some common ground exists; indeed, Sullivan relies heavily on Catholic teachings, in this respect. Where the matter complicates for the traditional side, and where those taking Rowe's position insist on a narrow absolutism, is when a particular sexual act is not open to procreation; Rowe writes:

If the natural teleology of sex is procreation, then nothing could be more "unnatural" than contraception (according to this teleology). If we accept contraception as legit. as I think we should, then we necessarily accept that sex wholly cut off from its procreative teleology, i.e., sex for the purpose of expressing love, cementing relationships, relieving stress, is legit.

"Teleology" is one of those words that seem intended to distract one's opposition with a trip to the dictionary. If we understand, however, that "teleology" indicates a type of study, doctrine, or comprehension, then Rowe's use of it would seem to go further than he intends, and if it doesn't go that far, then it undermines his argument.

Catholics (or others) who pay attention to the various skirmishes as our faith evolves, including the determination of where it can evolve, will know that there's some debate about what constitutes openness to procreation. It is probably fair to say that the irreducible essence of the concept is that the sex must involve the two distinct sexual organs' being used in the manner in which they were designed to act as one, within a context — marriage — that emotionally and practically situates the man and woman to become one in the person of a child and unite all together as a family.

Note, though, that being open to procreation is not the same as succeeding at it, and the intra-Catholic debate centers around the degree to which a husband and wife can, by their own efforts, avoid success. Here, Rowe's notion of "procreative teleology" becomes useful, as the understanding of a purpose that sex must not contradict, even if it doesn't always fulfill it. Approaching the concept in this way, however, it becomes obvious that what Rowe has asserted as something that we must "necessarily accept" is, in fact, a question: Is contraceptive sex "wholly cut off from its procreative teleology"?

To say "yes," as Rowe does, is to conflate not only an outlook and an act, but also various methods of contraception, some of which do cause the act to contradict the outlook, and some of which don't. (See here for my description of the substantive difference between "natural family planning" and condom use.) Simply put, moral sex is that for which it isn't possible to separate the unitive and procreative aspects of the act, which is what makes sex that is purely about the restricted, two-person bond between the partners illegitimate. It would also make sex that is purely reproductive illegitimate. And this brings us to Rowe's supposed proof that procreation is inadequate as the exclusive marker of moral sex:

The strange thing is, polygamy and incest are procreative. So if procreation is our guide, those two forms of sex are fine.

It's true that bestiality, like homosexuality, is inherently non-procreative. So is sex with a pre-pubescent child (but not with a post-pubescent 13 or 14 year old: that passes our "procreation" test). But then again, so too is sex with a post-menopausal woman. So too is heterosexual oral & anal sex. So to is getting a tubal ligation or a vasectomy.

The first thing to note is that Rowe has illustrated precisely why contraception, even if accepted as "legit." in some circumstances, doesn't thereby legitimate pursuit of any particular benefit that non-procreative sex might provide. Whatever it might mean that "nothing could be more 'unnatural' than contraception," it remains true that all of the various activities that he lists are inherently contraceptive. By his reasoning, therefore, they would all be "unnatural," and with room to layer particular detriments on top of that quality.

Now, we could argue about the sex lives of grandmothers and never resolve our fundamental differences, but the point that I'm trying to make is that, other than providing those taking his side with a chuckle at turning the table on the traditionalists, Rowe's rhetoric is utterly irrelevant unless he (1) intends to argue that no justificatory basis is adequate to make distinctions about various sex acts or (2) is on his way to explaining why another basis would be a stronger defense to exclude acts that we presumably agree ought to be considered immoral.

If his intention is number 1, then he will quickly be drowned out by expressions of disgust at the possibilities. If it is number 2, then I'd suggest that he's embarked on an impossible quest. The only adequate justificatory basis is one that encompasses the totality of moral sex as traditionally conceived. To borrow and modify an image from commenter Ben Bateman, those seeking to remove the panel of procreation from the wall around marriage so that they can fit through seem conspicuously uninterested in truly explaining why the wall will remain standing, holey as it would be, or where a new wall can be built to preserve the institution.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:25 AM | Comments (6)
Marriage & Family

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:58 AM

August 20, 2004

In a Sea of Snickers

I haven't had much to say about the Swift Boat Veterans and the media reaction to them, because it's in the high-profile blogger domain, and it's so obvious a call that I've nothing to add. See Instapundit for broad coverage; see Michelle Malkin's heavily trackbacked post for her first-hand encounter with the smoking and wheezing media spin machine in action.

As much as I've read on the topic, and as accustomed as we all are in the online world to stunning bias on the part of our better-paid counterparts in the mainstream, however, it's still a surreal experience to come across the coverage about which we're all complaining. Heading back from the post office, I just caught a brief ABC radio news segment related to the Vets, and the entire story — without mentioning what sorts of things the group is saying — was about how it might "backfire" on President Bush. ABC's official analyst George Stephanopoulos — yes, the former Clinton aide — described the dramatic moment at which John Kerry will turn to President Bush during a debate and say, "John McCain has condemned the Swift Boat Veterans' attacks on me. Why won't you?"

To anybody who's keeping track of both sides of this aspect of the campaign, that segment is reminiscent of one of those cliché scenes in a comedy when the con artist doesn't know that everybody else knows what he's up to and keeps going with some ridiculous story. I can't help but wonder how many people laughing behind their hands the newsies can willfully ignore before they find it necessary to try to salvage their credibility.

Can they even stop?

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:23 PM | Comments (3)
News Media

Fester, Fester, Fester

I was just, finally, wrapping up a post that had taken me much longer to work my brain through than I'd expected or intended, but that I was glad to be posting so there would be something substantive at the top of the blog, when my wife's vacuuming blew the wrong circuit in this insanely wired house, and the computer blinked out.

My baseline level of stress is such that I could probably have avoided the whole thing by sticking the computer's plug in my mouth instead of in the outlet, and I'm sure my wife could have done much the same with the vacuum. Now, there would be a technology that would virtually eliminate Americans' dependence on foreign oil.

I've got some things that have to get done. Then I'll try to find the willpower to reconstruct that post... as I work and look for more work and address other demands on my time.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:54 PM
Diary & Confession

August 19, 2004

Gee Whiz

Sorry about the postlessness. I'm writing something about something for somebody, and the entire day just slipped on by (with stops here and there for baby feedings and noise investigations).

Maybe I shouldn't write professionally! It's almost like a teenager getting a job playing videogames.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:38 PM
Diary & Confession

August 18, 2004

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:12 PM

Elite Post-Modernism, Thy Posterboy McGreevey Be

Adjusting the picture of the modern world to incorporate the value given to otherhood and orgasms, one might come to see James McGreevey as the representative of a last minute coup against egalitarian progress. The white, male lawyer turned politician, with a BA from Columbia, a law degree from Georgetown, and a master's degree from Harvard, was nothing if not ambiguous in his coming out announcement. From the full text of his speech (linked by Patrick Sweeney):

Throughout my life, I have grappled with my own identity, who I am. As a young child, I often felt ambivalent about myself, in fact, confused. ...

Yet, from my early days in school, until the present day, I acknowledged some feelings, a certain sense that separated me from others. But because of my resolve, and also thinking that I was doing the right thing, I forced what I thought was an acceptable reality onto myself, a reality which is layered and layered with all the, quote, good things, and all the, quote, right things of typical adolescent and adult behavior.

Yet, at my most reflective, maybe even spiritual level, there were points in my life when I began to question what an acceptable reality really meant for me. Were there realities from which I was running? ...

At a point in every person's life, one has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world, not as we may want to see it or hope to see it, but as it is.

And so my truth is that I am a gay American.

So, when a boy, he was in a state well known to males at that stage: confusion. At "points in" his life — not always, not hounding him at every step, weighing on his every decision, only at his "most reflective, maybe even spiritual" moments — he wondered whether he had run to, I guess, an unacceptable reality. Now, at 47, he has "decided" his "unique truth." At the risk of asking a question with an answer that is supposed to be obvious: by what definition is this man "gay"?

He's offered a number of allusions to the "gay narrative"; he's apparently had the implicated sexual encounters; he's made an assertion. But then again, there are those two wives and a daughter with each. He mentions loving them. His juggling of "truths" doesn't quite come around to an admission of having "lived a lie," as the saying goes. Would anybody (who is not intellectually chained to an agenda) be surprised if this manifestly corrupt lawyer-politician announced a different truth in a few years?

But let's exclude political calculation in order to think more generally. If traditions and community can box a homosexual into living the '70s, '80s, and '90s as a straight, procreative man — one for whom divorce is not apparently beyond question — why couldn't lust and a different community, as well as the differing response to infidelity when committed across "orientations" and the politically convenient "victim class" status, give a heterosexual the license to live as a "gay American" for a time?

This is why, as much as I might agree with most of her conclusions, I have to wonder whether it is accurate for IrishLaw to write, of McGreevey, "at least he's being honest." Now, for my purposes here, I don't wish to enter the field of topics ranging from other homosexuals' experiences to the proper course of action for McGreevey to take with his family (see the addendum below). However, in clicking through IrishLaw's discussion with fellow law students, I came across exactly the statement around which skepticism ought to begin to center. From Chris Geidner:

I do not at all think his adultery can be written off, however, as the same as a heterosexual man cheating on his heterosexual wife with another heterosexual woman. This is not because gay relationships are somehow different, but rather that the reasons -- as many former spouses of gay people could discuss -- why a closeted gay man cheats on his wife are different.

I submit that this asserted truth of sexual politics is pervasively accepted and known in our society. Moreover, it needn't be a consciously cut escape hatch for a midlife affair in order for it to have an effect. In a culture that has endeavored to diminish the inherency of the link between sex and procreation and to erase the stigma of sodomy and homosexual sex, the differing reaction to a particular form of infidelity surely factors into a man's mullings as he struggles with temptation.

That considered, step back and view the fullness of the picture of the modern aristocrat, appropriately tinted in accordance with the power of otherhood and orgasms. Doesn't it look like James McGreevey (if not the actual man, then at least the public perception of him)? Having benefited, imagewise, from his marriages, having fulfilled the instinctual demand to create future generations, having experienced the family-man life, this posterboy for elite post-modernism has opened the way for a subsequent life of renewed bachelorhood — and perhaps evaded public anger at his corruption, to boot.

Obviously, one's judgment of McGreevey's proper course of action from this moment on is jumbled up with one's views on marriage, family, and even life. For Geidner, who uses the "living a lie" language that McGreevey did not, the ideal of honesty that the governor would be teaching his daughters by henceforth living as a gay man is a positive benefit to them, far outstripping any benefits that they might garner by his proximity and fulfillment of a traditional role.

McGreevey, to put it mildly, has complicated the abstract discussion by introducing a second marriage and giving each daughter a different mother. However, it seems to me that the bottom-line, can't-be-trumped reasons to treat marriage as sacrosanct — sickness and health, riches and poverty, and realizations of orientational otherhood notwithstanding — are twofold:

  1. The children's subconscious sense of self. This means ensuring that the children (or, in McGreevey's case, at least his two year old) know that they were and remain the products of two parents equivalently, all bound in a familial love and mutual respect of needs that transcends any worldly conveniences, desires, and even sexual "identities."
  2. The children's understanding of the significance of marriage. Geidner says that it is only through "honesty and trust," including the honesty of admitting one's sexuality, that "a true relationship" can be built, presumably implying that the children will not repeat the mistakes of their father. But, even accepting the standard storyline, there's more to the mistake than the orientational lie: there's the erroneous entry into a lifelong commitment. However much it might be true that the children will learn to privilege honesty and trust, doesn't the necessity of working through confusion and looking "deeply into the mirror of one's soul" before making promises to a spouse and children diminish if failure to do so, or realization of error, is an absolute excuse to void the spiritual contract?

Geidner doesn't so much as entertain the possibility that somebody in McGreevey's position could remain married to his wife without being "a lying, closeted gay husband" (and father). Conveniently, that leaves out the path that I consider to be the moral, if most difficult, one. Namely, whatever one's sexual identity might be, entering into marriage and having children are, themselves, declarations of identity that, for the sake of progeny and public, stand above whatever epiphanies might follow.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:38 AM | Comments (16)

August 17, 2004

If You Don't Deserve It, Give It to Me

About a year ago, Rush Limbaugh suggested on his radio show that what makes a certain segment of the wealthy espouse destructive liberal policies is that, deep down, they don't feel as if they deserve the wealth that they've got. Although, running through a mental list of top-tier actors and pop stars, one mightn't be inclined to argue against their feeling that way, it seemed to me a little too easy of an assessment, the way Rush put it.

Well, if subtlety of thought — or at least of expression of thought — was the deficit that I felt needed to be addressed before I'd accept the claim, Will Wilkinson has contributed the necessary amount, albeit from a different direction:

[John] Rawls' conception of desert leaves us with a picture of society where all the rewards have been spread around essentially by chance. Some folks are conceived under the lucky star of Pitt-like looks, Hawkingesque IQs, Gatesian trust-funds and Brazeltonian baby care. But most poor souls were born under uglier, stupider, meaner stars. Those of us who won the genetic and social lottery will naturally try to rationalize our great good luck. We will turn up our calloused palms and tell of the blood and sweat on our every red cent. Yet from the "perspective of the universe," in which self-serving appeals disappear into the vastness of impartiality, the distribution of rewards in our lotto-world appears entirely arbitrary. If a bag of money falls into your lap, that doesn't mean it's really yours.

Wilkinson goes on to argue that where Rawls went wrong was with his "claim that it is our 'considered judgment' that the consequences of our natural endowments are not deserved, because our natural endowments are not themselves deserved." Our considered judgment, which is ultimately determined by our horse sense (forgive the too-apropos cliché), is just the opposite. Ability and work do create desert. Thus derives our opportunity to play psychoanalyst of philosophers and limelight socialists: What skews them away from a principle that seems so obvious to the rest of us?

There are other routes to the same aversion, of course, than the guilty neurotic's conclusion that filmed dress-up oughtn't an emperor's fortune make. Some folks understandably like the argument that they deserve equivalent income because those who earn extra don't deserve extra. Others like the comfort of espousing socialism disguised as philanthropy. Others just take the ideological fashion without worrying about whether it's correct.

And then, if I may step a bit far out on the plank of speculation, there is the group from which those who devise the fashionable anti-meritocratic logic likely come. These are the people who believe that their merit has been overlooked. In a world in which such broadly accessible qualities as optimism, affability, confidence, and a willingness to exert one's self are the components of (quote/unquote) "merit," surely the very notion of merit must be ill conceived.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:03 PM | Comments (3)

John Kerry Chris Muir Starts a Meme

Now, if Chris Muir's Day by Day cartoon were as widely read and influential as it ought to be, today's strip might be apt to start a pop culture meme.

(Of course, it would also help if more people actually followed politics as closely as bloggers do.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:03 PM | Comments (3)
Bloggers Blogging

Songs You Should Know 08/17/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Farmer Joe" by Victor Lams. This song even has a cartoon video!

"Farmer Joe" Victor Lams, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Robot Love

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:34 PM

Ah, Life!

Lane Core is to be congratulated for breaking into the big time. It's a bit of a change from his tabs on Kerry, but be sure to check out "School buses lined up for demolition derby," if only for a glimpse into the unique culture of Pennsylvania. The summer after my senior year of New Jersey high school, I was, well, not impressed that my girlfriend at the time was in the color guard for her school band in Eastern Penn, color guard not exactly being the vocation of cool girls at my school. But dutiful as I was, I went to see her in a band competition, and I was floored. Girls with flaming batons and such. High school must be a completely different experience in that state.

Speaking of breakthroughs and local culture, and considering that Lane's call for prayers apparently worked, this seems like a good post with which to update you about my travails. After having resolved, over the weekend, to take on a trade, I was sifting through some printouts of want-ads from local electrical companies when I was startled by the unusual sound of my business phone ringing. It was the editor of a local four-color-glossy magazine, at which I had applied for an entry-levelish position, suggesting that it might be more mutually beneficial for me to become a regular house writer.

I'm currently perusing some sample issues and noting ideas for potential pieces, as well as possible areas of focus, that I'll forward to the editor later today. It's too early even to assess my chances, but isn't it just like opportunity to stretch a deadline? Even if this one passes, it's increasingly clear that I'm nearing a tipping point. If only I had a few more months of resources to burn!

As it is, I'm like a bus driver trying to keep the thing running just long enough to withstand a few more hits on the household-expenses derby field.

(Hey, as a writer, it's my job to tie the various aspects of a piece together... I think.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:28 PM | Comments (1)
Diary & Confession

August 16, 2004

The Silence in the Searching

Perhaps I'm betraying a sort of naiveté in admitting it, but I found a short piece by Ramesh Ponnuru, related to stem-cell research, absolutely astonishing. As with the family featured in the episode of Primetime that I described last week, the Kallsen family found their way toward advocacy for embryonic stem-cell research when their children — two girls, in their case — were diagnosed with diabetes. They even went so far as to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with their congressman, Republican Mark Souder. And then:

Souder was "very, very gracious," says Kallsen. But he said that he supported adult-stem-cell research, not research that killed human embryos. The fact that embryonic-stem-cell research involved destroying human embryos came as news to Kallsen and his family. "Basically, it was a learning experience for us. We were not well informed about all of the issues. We're all pro-life and...we had not done enough research on our own to understand that if we were promoting embryonic stem-cell research that's the opposite of pro-life. We were so interested in finding a cure that we weren't looking at how it's done." Kallsen also now believes that adult-stem-cell research is more promising than he had thought at the time of the meeting.

I'm not faulting the Kallsens, but really: think about that. Think about the extent of misunderstanding, or only partial understanding, that must surround this issue if it is possible for those actively pushing for one side, in the year 2004, not to know the alternatives that the other side supports. More than that, imagine the perplexing gap of silence that people must perceive when they don't even know the opposition's reason for opposition!

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:39 PM | Comments (4)

The Enemy Underneath

As a general matter, I'm inclined to agree with Nicholas von Hoffman that one ought to be suspicious of bipartisanship, "because 'bipartisan' really means a put-up job, a behind-the-scenes deal, something in which the fix is in between the two political parties," as he puts it in the New York Observer. However, any consonance is snuffed out with his closing paragraph, which is stunning in its sudden revelation of the declaration toward which all that came before seems to have been built:

Much of the [9/11] commission's writing revolves around misunderstanding Muslims or presuming to understand Muslims on the thinnest of evidence when some effort might have been spent understanding ourselves. Less attention should have been paid to Muslim "extremism," which is hardly an undiscussed topic in the United States, and more devoted to Judeo-Christian extremism. Christianity is a one-god-one-truth-and-we-Christians-own-it type of religion. Leaving aside abstruse arguments over the separation of church and state, a more immediate danger to the peace of the world is an America whose policies are controlled by the intolerant spirit which lurks in this religion and from time to time dominates the civic life of its practitioners. You don't have to be a Muslim to wonder if the highly organized Christian elements in the United States hold the levers of power and drive policy. It sticks out all over this report, which seems to neutral, agnostic eyes as a battle plan by one religion to destroy another. That's all fine and well, but when holy wars are fought, there is hell to pay.

Ah yes, those "neutral, agnostic eyes," when this species of agnosticism clearly stands, if not as atheism, then as a strong faith that everybody else is wrong and oughtn't behave as if they might be right. This is not to say that I believe von Hoffman to have assessed the global culture war correctly. In fact, I'd suggest that his adherence to the dogma asserting Christian intolerance (while Islam is merely misunderstood) taints his analysis.

Chillingly, a correspondent happened to bring von Hoffman to my attention shortly after I'd come across Barbara Nicolosi's comments after researching for a screenplay about the Spanish Civil War:

The divisions in Spain which set up the war were very complex, but the real crux came down to secularism vs. Christianity. Fueled from the social Darwinism of the universities, the intellectuals in Spain went around for a few decades before the war insisting that religion was anti-modern and an enemy of progress. For many of these folks, "Christian" became a hated adjective, synonymous with ignorant. The greatest fury was directed against the moral authority of the Church. How dare the Church constrain anyone in any way with the outrageous suggestion that some things are good and other things are evil?!

In the elections of 1931, the secular side finally obtained some power, and within days, a disgusting and violent attack on the Church was unleashed. Over 100 churches were burned and gutted. Mobs desecrated cemeteries, convents, seminaries and religious schools. Priests, nuns, and anybody displaying religious devotion were assaulted.

Then, the laws started coming. A call was made for "complete separation of Church and State"...which, on the lips of secularists always means stomping all over the citizenship rights of religious people. The Church was forbidden to operate educational institutions. Church property that was not directly connected to the maintenance of the members of a religious institute was confiscated. No fault divorce was legalized. All cemeteries were secularized. (What is it with Spain and cemeteries? So much of the rage of the secularists was directed at cemeteries. They really got off on exhuming dead nuns and priests and desecrating the bodies. Something in the air maybe? Somebody help me...). There was other stuff too, like suppressing the Jesuits and withdrawing clerical wages.

What's next when "intolerance" becomes the marker of lessened humanity, a gap for the crowbar of restriction? I suppose defining "intolerance" is next, then defining it again, and again.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:05 PM | Comments (4)

Lovers of Gray Demand Black and White

Since the American Bar Association's attempt to force its not-so-nuanced worldview on the rest of the country has come up, this would seem worth noting:

In order to permit Catholic and other faith-based health-care providers to remain religious while serving critical public functions, state and federal legislators have often provided "conscience" protection that permits religious-based health-care providers to opt out of programs or treatment that they find objectionable. For example, even though they often treat patients receiving Medicare or Medicaid, religious-based hospitals are permitted by federal law not to provide abortion services or referrals.

It is this core exercise of religious conscience — and the government's accommodation of it — that the ABA finds so objectionable. Citing studies with titles such as "When Religion Compromises Women's Health Care: A Case Study of a Catholic Managed Health Care Organization," the ABA argues that the religious practices of Catholic health-care providers, both individual and institutional, deny needed health services and information to patients, especially women. Its singles out certain Catholic health care-providers, such as Fidelis Care New York, a Catholic health-care system that provides Medicaid services to the residents of 33 New York counties — services that might otherwise not be available were it not for the faith-based outreach. What crime has Fidelis committed that merits the attention of the nation's bar association? It refuses to provide certain "family planning services" to its patients or refer patients for such services — services that contravene the core teachings of the Catholic faith.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:23 AM

Rolling Over Speed Bumps Can Be Addictive

Marty McKeever took the plunge and answered the question, "How will marriage be destroyed, and what part will gay marriage play?" The post was certainly worth Marty's effort to write, and it's worth others' effort to read. However, apart from recommending the essay, something that an opposing commenter, Scott, wrote tied with another aspect of the larger debate that I've been meaning to mention. The following blockquote spans two comments, at the ellipsis, the first part directed at Marty, and the second to another commenter, Jim Price:

If you do not like gay marriage, then don't marry a man. Instruct your kids not to marry the same sex. ...

Grit your teeth all you want Jim, in the end, I win.

Your morals aren't mine, you see, thats your problem. You see the world in black and white only. I'm smart enough to understand gray.

Whether or not you like it, I will be married, to a man and in the end you'll be a George Wallace footnote.

Its harsh but its the truth Jim.

You can type on a message board until your fingers turn blue but I will win, and you know what, heterosexual marriage will survive. I'm sorry you're not smart enough to see through the fundraising doomsday scenarios that you've been fed but keep sending those checks to James Dobson if it makes you truly happy.

You're a speed bump, not a wall.

The personal insults and active belittling of his opposition suggest to me a mindset that won't stop at the equilibrium of "you do your thing, I'll do mine." Indeed, most of Scott's comments to the post at hand include some reference or other (in aggregate) to "the unwashed simpletons in flyover country." The rhetoric may be of mutual liberty, but the language is of the sort that brings into question the worthiness of the other side to possess their share. To the extent that those people continue to have power in one form or another — whether influence or property — in a post–same-sex marriage world, it's easy to imagine Scott and his ilk thinking it not overbearing to impose correction of their errors.

For further exploration of this point, we can turn to no less un-stupid a person than Eugene Volokh:

But in any event, one should acknowledge that the "It doesn't hurt you, so why should you object?" argument omits an important point: The broad array of gay rights proposals would restrict the liberty and equality of those who oppose homosexuality -- and this array is more of a package deal than we might think, since the more proposals the gay rights movement wins on, the easier (generally speaking) it would be for it to win on other proposals.

We might be able to envision a regime of optimal liberty, where the rights of both homosexuals and those who oppose homosexuality are equally respected -- many libertarians, for instance, would do so by distinguishing restrictions on government action from restrictions on nongovernmental action. But even if we can identify a point that we ourselves endorse, that point may as a practical matter be politically unstable, so that if the gay rights movement gets to that point (wherever the point is), it will in practice end up also getting more, and cutting into the liberties of others.

The Marriage Debate blog post that quotes from Volokh's entry also links to his follow-up entries, which branch in different directions. It would seem that there are aspects of grayness quite apart from the dubious accuracy of Scott's assertions about heterosexual marriage's future.

Indeed, the claim of a reasoned complexity of perspective among those who advocate for further normalization of homosexuality is beginning to appear as an easily removed robe. And perhaps those opposing the process can be forgiven for wondering whether the American Bar Association let the cloak slip a little, and prematurely, when it proposed changing its ethics policies in order to ban judges from joining groups that "discriminate" against gays. As the relevant commission leader, Mark Harrison, put it, the object is to "make sure that judges aren't viewed as bigots." What groups would make such a view possible is up in the air. The National Guard? The Boy Scouts? The Catholic Church?

Volokh dubs it "pretty sad" that "[m]aybe we do have, as a practical matter, a choice between a regime that suppresses the liberties of homosexuals and benefits those who don't approve of homosexuality, and a regime that benefits homosexuals and suppresses the liberties of those who don't approve of homosexuality." Sadder still, in my view, is that society's choice between these two paths is appearing more and more likely to be made not on the basis of which tilt is ultimately better for future generations, in the complicated summation of effects, but which group has the power and will to force the wheel and make of the opposition a speed bump — rather than a legitimate marker of a speed limit.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:43 AM | Comments (15)
Marriage & Family

August 14, 2004

The Thickets of the Thides

Let me state right up front — for the record and for any interested conspiracy theorists on the other side — that I remain an independent operator. Of course, I'm aligned with a general political movement and have developing relationships with specific players therein, but that alignment is entirely ideological and not a matter of vested interest.

That said, I imagine I'm not alone, as a hopeful writer, in awaiting with anticipation the day that thousands of words will be spent offering conspiratorial insinuations about my biography. When that time comes, I'll be able to play a pundit version of that Kevin Bacon game: Three Links to Gray Text on a Black Background. Here's how it works: Start with a reasonable and respectable person criticizing a conservative writer — say, Eric Muller continuing his assault on Michelle Malkin:

If you go over to Dave Neiwert's place and listen very carefully, you'll hear a slight "hiss." That's the sound of the last of the air escaping from the hole in the life raft currently supporting Michelle Malkin's book "In Defense of Internment."

So we follow the link and find:

For an excellent and quite thorough examination of Malkin's career after leaving Seattle, be sure to check out Matt Stoller's lengthy exegesis about Malkin and the people who are behind her.

Following the link, we find this tidbit about Malkin's publisher, Regnery:

The publishing house has John Birch society ties, the Birch society of course being the 1950s group so extreme in their right-wing ideology that they thought Eisenhower was a communist stooge.

And — perhaps because Stoller is so thorough, indeed — we find a link to our goal of gray text on a black background:

In the halcyon days, Welch's [John Birch] Society was allied with William Regnery, whose name appears on American Security Council (ASC) incorporation papers. The ASC was a domestic covert operations arm of the military-corporate complex, closely aligned with the JBS, Libery Lobby and other sons of the fascist revolution.

Jumping back into this fight was just about the last thing that I wanted to do, in my capacity as a blogger, but I was procrastinating, and various stops along this trail raised some points worth making. Because I'm wholly unqualified to address revelations about fifty-years-ago forerunners of the fascist allies of the military-corporate complex, I'll leave aside "The Early Days of the John Birch Society: Fascist Templars of the Corporate State" from Alex Constantine's Political Conspiracy Research Bin and continue backwards with Stoller's "exegesis."

What makes Stoller's August 7th blog post so interesting is the example it represents of the impossibility of discussion in the current, polarized climate. Consider:

As you can see from the chart on the left, Townhall is the Heritage's most direct channel to the public, with 25 million visits last year (and an ambitious community building strategy through Meetup, which so far has 27,000 members)., with its extremist rantings defending the Confederate flag, Japanese internment, neo-eugenic pseudo-science, racist behavior, attacks on liberals, and anti-Muslims propaganda, is often fodder for the even more extremist right-leaning community site, the Free Republic.

I guess when one starts with Townhall as "extremist," there isn't anywhere to go except "even more extremist." (Although, I'm very glad to hear that the folks over at Free Republic are sufficiently circumspect to only lean to the right... extremely.) Most of Stoller's list of "rantings" I would be able to address as points that liberals merely fail to understand, wondering aloud whether it is the simple fact that conservatives indulge in "attacks on liberals" that makes them extremists. But even in this short paragraph, we get an item that I am at a complete loss to understand, let alone rebut: "neo-eugenic pseudo-science." Doesn't Stoller know the history of Planned Parenthood? (Yes, I noticed the design of that page.)

The impossibility of common ground arises again and again in Stoller's piece, to such an extent that it's hard to respond without a sardonic grin. Take, for example, some dark advice that Stoller says the Heritage foundation gives to speakers:

As an aside, I should say that it will be very helpful, I'd even say essential, that you treat with respect people and ideas that you disagree with. Treat them as intelligent people whose only failing is intellectual error. When journalists call, be sure that you understand what the other side is liable to say about your position, report it respectfully, and offer them names of experts on the other side.

Stoller sees this as evidence that the automatons on the right "are 'Minnesota Nice' salespeople who are ultimately confident of victory and so care little for immediate personal attacks." Imagine how stunned I was to conclude that various public speaking and career counseling instructors that I've had in my life must have been in on this iniquitous manipulation! Henceforth, with a view toward claiming my pearly wings, I will maintain a "face" of self-confident mockery in public, even as my true nature is closer to self-deprecating good will. In that spirit, we return to Stoller:

To promote her first book, she got interviews from Enter Stage Right, the National Review Online, C-SPAN, , Insight magazine, Right Wing News, and reviews from the American Conservative, VDare, Mark Krikorian, the National Review, Reason, David Limbaugh, James Edwards Jr., and Frank Gaffney at Fox News. Yes, her book was basically reviewed only by partisan sources.

Some might wonder why no oppositely partisan or ostensibly objective reviewers took on the book. Perhaps Stoller would suggest that they knew it was nonsense — et cetera, yadda cetera — but we'd run into a wall of differing interpretation. Either one side propped Malkin up, or the other side stonewalled her. This divergence extrapolates in a passage at which I actually laughed out loud:

There's more. A lot more. David Brock's new book is on the case, as is Dave Johnson at Seeing the Forest. But the key points are simple. Right-wing institutional support, with places to house people to create ideas, outlets to distribute and promote them, and the tactics and relationships to turn these ideas into the mainstream, is breathtaking.

I'd explain the joke, but either you laughed along with me or you'll refuse to accept my premises. Institutional support? Housing people to "create ideas"? Mainstream outlets? Please.

Laugh though I might, this brings me to a more serious point that must be made; Stoller writes something that a repeatedly insightful commenter mirrored on my blog on Wednesday. Here's Stoller:

The important part is to note that Michelle Malkin is being gradually inserted into the mainstream press, through Fox News, the Heritage Foundation, and now USA Today. Muller shows that in the debate in the blogosphere, she essentially concedes that her thesis is untenable. Still, whether she believes her own stuff at this point is irrelevant, because her career and livelihood is entirely tied up in the right-wing superstructure of financial and media support. While real thinkers are able to change their minds (and sometimes do), Malkin doesn't have that luxury, not if she wants to keep her career (one could say she has 'right-wing tenure').

The use of "tenure" is interesting in light of the aforementioned comment from Ben Bateman:

I simply don't care what Eric Muller thinks about the Japanese internment or relocation, for the same two reasons:

First, he cannot freely choose to believe otherwise. He is a law professor. If he agreed with Malkin, he would be hurt professionally.

Second, like the [Cuban] official, he was chosen for his political beliefs. He has had lots of time to become a super-expert on this subject only because he holds a job in academia. (Recall that he wondered how Malkin could have done the necessary research while holding down a job in the private sector.) And the only way to get an academic job is to [espouse] specific political views. So everyone with that level of expertise will hold the same view, which has nothing to do whether that view is correct.

Now that I've reached the serious matter to which I intended all of the above to lead, let me say that I'm not so much concerned about picking a side (although, of course, I'd tend to lean toward Ben's) as I am about highlighting the intellectual and practical mess our society has gotten itself into. (And again, of course, it shouldn't be difficult to guess where I lay the preponderance of the blame, but leave that aside for the time being.)

Stoller declares that, thanks to the blogosphere, "a scurrilous and potentially dangerous book by a well-known author pretty much discredited before it is officially released." Neiwert writes that "Muller and Robinson's critique is devastating and nearly complete." And as I've already quoted, Muller believes Neiwert has effectively sent Malkin's book to Davy Jones's locker.

But in the sense that matters, they're wrong, and they know it. In a comment to his own post responding to my earlier entries to the debate, Muller notes:

JadeGold, you can sneer all you like. But this book is already a top seller, and Michelle is all over TV--not just FOX--and radio speaking about it. More people will learn about the internment from this book than from all of the books that have been written about it, put together. That calls for a response.

Unfortunately, in his method of response, Muller has ensured that he will convince only those who are already inclined to attribute to Malkin the worst motivations and intentions. As for the other side, consider this quip in the midst of an entirely unrelated post by Bryan Preston:

Brinkley wrote the 2004, election season hagiography of not-JFK [John Kerry], Tour of Duty. I haven't read the book, but to pull an Eric Muller and judge by its title and cover, it's about not-JFK's four month stint in Vietnam.

Clearly, between Malkin's book's instant popularity and the inability of its critics to resist exactly the tone, approach, and posture that has been wearing away at the public's assumption of academics' credibility, an opportunity is in the process of being missed for progress in our application of history's lessons to very real modern problems. Neiwert provides a quick example that doesn't require us to dig into the argument itself. He quotes from the flyleaf of the book (emphasis added):

Everything you've been taught about the World War II 'internment camps' is wrong:

-- They were not created primarily because of racism or wartime hysteria

-- They did not target only those of Japanese descent

-- They were not Nazi-style death camps.

Later, toward disproving Malkin's point, Neiwert changes the first bulleted point in a very significant way (emphasis added):

One of Michelle Malkin's major themes -- her chief claim on the flyleaf -- is that racism was an insignificant factor in the decisions that led to the internment.

Readers ranging from neutral to disagreement now have a reason to think Malkin's critics evasive. Elsewhere, Neiwert provides examples of exactly the attitude that ensures that the percentage of people who fall in that range represent (and should represent) a majority:

The reality is that -- as I've argued previously (several times) -- over the past 10 years, there have been many more acts of real terrorism planned and committed on American soil by white fundamentalist Christians than by radical Islamists of Arab extraction. If we're going to commit to racial profiling based on known terrorist threats, then whites, once again, would be the first logical choice. ...

If many Americans had had their way [during Japanese internment], we'd have had little ground for boasting that the conditions in our camps were superior [to the Nazis'].

I daresay that this is precisely the attitude that scholars such as Muller will have to jettison decisively before their fellow citizens will trust the picture that they offer of the past. Forcing discussion toward that end seems to have played a large role in Malkin's decision to write the book. As Ben Bateman put it:

Academia has a serious bias problem on any issue that touches on politics. They refuse to address it or even recognize that it exists. Is it any wonder that people find a non-academician's view of history more interesting and believable than the stale PC melodrama of hysterical white racists tormenting innocent minorities?

The unfortunate reality is that the Japanese internment issue does touch on politics of the day — very important politics. Whether it's too starkly drawn or not, Malkin's book offers academics enough of a splash in which to see the problem reflected, and to address it in a way that assists in the challenge of our era.

Neiwert may be content to curl his lip about "planned and committed" white supremacist terrorism (a construction that ought to inspire skepticism about the nature of the instances that he's piled up in order to make such a claim), but most of the rest of us — outside of the media and outside of the academy — are more concerned with preventing an international network of radical Islamists from again managing to level an entire city block — or worse.

August 13, 2004

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:54 PM

If a Tree Falls with No Coverage...

This part of Gary Aldrich's advice from experience to the swift boat vets is chilling:

The establishment can't stand people like you. Especially not now, not after the candidates have gone through the primary process and are coming down to the wire. There is much campaigning to come, and so much money to be spent. You just cannot have a circumstance where the people are given honest information that would alter the course of an election. It's just not done, you see?

Besides, the mainstream media does not like George Bush, and they will do nothing to help him win re-election. Did you think for a minute that they would rush to cover your press conferences and report the news that the majority of Veterans cannot stand John Kerry? Did you actually believe you would be invited on "Sixty Minutes"? Even now, reporters are out looking for your dirty laundry and trying to poke holes in your stories. After they find out that your stories match, have the ring of truth, and that you're decent folk just trying to do what's right, they will simply close their notebooks and quietly walk away.

That's an image to store away for future usage as the final scene of a book or movie. The notebook closes. It never happened.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:39 PM | Comments (5)
News Media

August 12, 2004

Embryonic Advertisement

To change the layout of this page to one that you may find easier to read, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

I'm not sure my blood pressure could take the viewing habits required of the good folks at the Media Research Center. That's my conclusion, anyway, after a half-hour of uncharacteristic television watching tonight.

Appropriately enough, the segment of ABC's Primetime Thursday that aired directly before Reagan daughter Patti Davis's report on a teenage activist for embryonic stem-cell research was called "The Joy of Selling." ABC ought to have run a disclaimer before Davis's segment admitting that it was an unpaid advertisement, not to be mistaken for reportage.

The segment profiled Tessa Wick, a thirteen year old daughter of Hollywood producers, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age eight. Sadly, somebody is leading Tessa to false hope:

"Nobody can tell you, tell a kid to their face, 'I don't care about you enough to help you,' " she said. "The science did their part, now it's [President Bush's] part to take a chance on it and he hasn't."

In fact, the scientists have not yet accomplished anything definitive, something that stands as a huge silence in the report: viewers would have no sense of how "potentially" (Dr. Gary Small's word) it is that "a stem cell could be developed that produces normal pancreatic cells, and those could be injected into somebody like Tessa who has juvenile diabetes, and in a sense she could grow a new pancreas." Even more resoundingly absent from the report is any mention of the fact that there's an alternative, thus far more promising, way of procuring and using the technology: adult stem cells.

President Bush, it merits mentioning, could represent the entirety of the opposition movement, as far as Primetime makes its viewers aware, so the segment is sort of a bias twofer — support embryonic stem-cell funding, don't vote for Bush. The online text version does acknowledge that private funds can still back the research, although it reads like an afterthought, and I didn't catch the factoid on the televised version. What did come through loud and clear was the mother's response to President Bush's stem cell speech a few years ago (emphasis added):

"We sat in front of the television as a family and sobbed," Fisher said. "Every single one of us, as we watched him talk about taking years off our child's life."

Increasingly, I've noticed a recurring discussion in the comments sections of some of the posts on this blog, about the appropriateness of equivalence between liberals and conservatives. While it is of course true that, for any given person on the Left, one can find an individual on the Right to stand as an antipodal representative, and vice versa, at this point in time, any sense of proportion — and of perception — belies assertions of broad balance. Primetime, if its handling of the stem-cell issue is any indication, is certainly no more "neutral" than Rush Limbaugh, and Rush's biases are headlined, rather than hidden. (Going by this segment, I'd actually place Rush a bit higher on the fair and balanced scale.)

Moreover, watching the flashy, polished presentation of the news shows, one gets a sense of the degree of production behind them. There are crews and professionals working together to make the shows happen. There's money. Power. And when those who wield it decide that they want some policy or other, well friend, let's just say that one shouldn't consider himself informed based solely on the "news" that they provide.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:53 PM | Comments (3)
News Media

Discontinued Superheroes

After reading the post involving the dojo of my younger days, my mother sent me an email titled "Uncanny Ability":

You've always had an uncanny ability to recognize people and places - years later and after many changes.

Hey, maybe I'm a mutant, like the Uncanny X-Men... albeit with a pretty lame power.

Wolverine: Why didn't you try to stop Juggernaut? He ran right by you!

Remember Man: What did you expect me to do? The dude walked through that concrete wall like it was paper.

Wolverine: You've gotta start finding ways to make use of your powers, bub.

Remember Man: I did! On his way out, Juggernaut crushed a man I went to preschool with. He was always a kind of weird looking kid. Big teeth. Bit the class hamster once.

Wolverine: Whatever.

For another seriously flawed superhero, this one currently active in Iraq, be sure to check out Cox & Forkum's latest cartoon.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:46 PM
Quips & Asides

Whispers of News to Come

Lane Core thinks some "BIG News" is on the media horizon. Noting expressions of regret for not having been more critical of the president's WMD case before the war in both the New York Times and the Washington Post, Lane writes:

Yep. I think they know something we don't know, Faithful Reader. And they're not telling us. And they're going to question/impugn/downplay the news whenever it comes out. And they're offering their excuses now, ahead of time.

We'll see. I intend to be deliberately skeptical about any revelations, although I've never written off their possibility as so many of my fellow citizens — even those who supported or still support the war — seem to have done. Nonetheless, it's worth noting that their positioning has left a large number of Americans with reason to react to any news that their country was right to be resolved amid naysayers with excuses why being right isn't always right... or something.

I suspect that most will simply flip their rhetoric and continue along as if it had never changed. Those who've committed themselves in print, though, don't have that option.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:18 PM | Comments (3)
Middle East

Rolled (Taxpayer) Island

It begins to get frustratingly old — irrelevantly old for readers from elsewhere — but I think Rhode Islanders with any sort of platform at all are morally obligated to continue demanding governmental change. In this respect, the Providence Journal's editorial board continues to do what the American press was practically invented to do:

Rhode Island must face reality. It confronts a frightening downward spiral: higher taxes inflicted on the few who remain in Rhode Island, with educated children forced to move out to find jobs, and job creators steering clear in self-defense.

The new RIPEC study is far from the first warning Rhode Island has received. In June, the magazine Bloomberg Wealth Manager rated the Ocean State the worst in the nation -- of 50 states and the District of Columbia -- in punishing wealth. That advertises to those who might otherwise bring wealth (and jobs) to the Ocean State that they should avoid what the magazine called "tax-hell Rhode Island."

Meanwhile, the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy rated Rhode Island fourth from the bottom in creating a climate in which free enterprise can flourish.

It is time for the Ocean State's leaders to respond to this problem by positioning the state so that it can aggressively compete with its neighbors for jobs. Those leaders must stop focusing on rewarding special interests and start worrying about the general interest -- and the taxpayers who keep the whole structure of government going.

In all likelihood, the politicians will not mend their ways until the voters drive them in that direction. The longer it takes, the worse off Rhode Island will be.

I've colored my town red on the map at the top of this post, which I found on Rhode Island's official tourism Web site. Newcomer rabble rouser that I am, I've pondered the necessary procedure to get the town to secede from the state. But running to Massachusetts presents its own considerations; I like Rhode Island; I believe that one ought to work to fix a place rather than abandon it; and the state can only improve from its current political condition.

Still, I hope I don't have to sell the house and move for less voluntary reasons than voting with my family's feet before my fellow citizens wake up from their Democrat daydreams.

(Note: I don't know whether the press was actually invented for this purpose, but it sounds good, doesn't it?)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:03 AM | Comments (2)
Rhode Island

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:16 AM

Thrown to the Mat

The past few days have found me struggling for motivation, even for sense, wading through the detritus of my schedule, which has crumpled under the weight of too many obligations and desires. If life is a series of decisions, the only conclusion to which I can come is that I must be making more than my share of the wrong ones. As I've endured the strain on my knees to walk the dog down a steep nearby street with what is surely one of the prime views in Rhode Island (a secret of a street, quiet and unknown, large houses with broad balconies), thanking God for the gift of its proximity but begging for some direction in my aimlessness, I've realized that the closest that I've come to a sense of calling is with activities that I never manage to pursue.

Such are the strains of life; I've resolved to be content to keep my passions in sight, tinkering with them from time to time, until I've got the necessities under control. Still, I can't shake the feeling that what I'm meant to conclude is that there is no path but toward my sensed vocation. I don't know. The barriers are many, and many are those who pursue it with the passion of the damned, not the patience of the called. But long paths can still lead home, I suppose, and my secret is that our home is uphill from that street of million-dollar houses, and if we ever manage to rise above the tree line, at least some of their view will be ours.

Tonight, after I'd let the dog loose in the backyard, I went into the living room, where my wife was decompressing from her long day of watching over our too-active children by watching one of those makeover shows, TLC's What Not to Wear. The episode starred a woman from the Olympic judo team, whom the fashion consultants surprised at her dojo. "Wow," I remarked to my wife. "All judo dojos must look alike."

I took judo classes for a few years when I was a boy (early double-digits, I'd guess), and the dojo on TV matched the one in my memory. The big bright room and small windows leading to night. The big window into the office in the far corner. The hallway to the bathrooms on the other side of the same wall. The large Japanese flag on the opposite end of the room-length beige mat. But the woman, whom I assumed to be an instructor, did not look like the Olympian daughter of my sensei, and in fact, her father wasn't even oriental.

My sensei had two daughters. My most vivid recollection of the younger involves at least one time when we were paired with each other and she wanted to try some new moves — which seemed consistently to wind up with me lying on top of her and between her legs. My memories of the older sister, the Olympian, involve the embarrassing sympathy with a rag doll that lingered as I switched, much relieved, to partner with somebody else. Now, as a twentysomething writer, it occurs to me to wonder whether the circumstances of the latter memories mightn't have somehow been a result of the former. At any rate, the experience is ripe to be woven into tales. The warrior's two daughters and a somewhat bumbling boy poet.

As tonight progressed, I passed through the living room again at the end of the show, when the madeover subject stuns her friends with her metamorphosis, and I myself was stunned at the setting for the event. The Iron Horse restaurant in Westwood, New Jersey, right around the corner from my childhood dojo.

I determined to find a timely lesson in the coincidence, and an allegory for my current situation came quickly to mind. A while after I'd stopped taking judo classes, I was rushing somewhere on my bicycle at night. (Probably doing something I oughtn't have been, although I don't remember much except that I was hurrying for a reason.) It was autumn, and as I flew into a turn at the bottom of a steep hill around the corner from my apartment, I skidded in a pile of leaves and flew from my seat. I hit the pavement in a roll, tucking in my head as I'd practiced at the dojo, hopped to my feet, waved to a witness, and rode away. The skill returned to me, you see, after long disuse, and very possibly saved my life — at least my limbs; perhaps some other semidormant ability will help me through my current skid.

I turned to Google to see if I could confirm that Celita Schultz's televised dojo had been mine and to see whether she'd bought it from my sensei or something. Ms. Schultz's featured spot on the front page of the Kokushi Dojo's Web site quickly confirmed that my memory had been accurate, and I took a moment to smile at the discovery that the sensei's younger daughter, Liliko, has also been to the Olympics (in 1996). But then stories of being flipped by girls and flying from bicycles lost their profundity.

In the upper left-hand corner of the Web page is a picture of a boy with an afro and a trophy. The caption: "Kokushi Student Hero: September 11th Hijacked Jet." Jeremy Glick. You may recall the name as that of one of the passengers who defeated whatever plan the hijackers of Flight 93 had. In the series of headshots of the men to whom Todd Beamer said "let's roll," Glick is the one kissing a baby. His daughter.

I'd thought it neat randomly to spot on TV a room in which I'd spent many memorable hours. Small world. Small indeed, and not so much neat as awe-inspiring when one realizes the subsequent heroism of somebody with whom I very likely shared that room at one point or another.

Callings will come when they come; we may not know the hour or the form. In the meantime, we can only attend to life and do our best to choose wisely, to love well, and to remember those who've shown us what it means to fulfill a purpose for which we didn't even know we were preparing.

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

August 11, 2004

A Matter of Focus

I intend this post merely to offer a quick reply, without expectation of further discussion, to Eric Muller's response to my post about Michelle Malkin's exchange with him. Mostly the point worth making is that we continue to speak with different emphases in ways that complicate dialogue. Writes Muller:

I'll say little about Justin's speculations and assumptions about my politics, my tone ("breathless aggression," "untempered condescension," etc.), my approach to history, and the appropriateness of my shouldering the respresentation of my cohort of "so-called scholars" on The Academic Left.

Rereading my post, I don't see a single instance of speculation about Muller's politics or approach to history. Given my interests and area of most competence, my emphasis is on the way in which the various parties approach their debate and the likely effect that those approaches will have on the more immediate public discussion. In essence, I'm lamenting, in accord with Glenn Reynolds, that the historical argument is "hijack[ing] the discussion of what to do today" and hoping to redirect what's already been said.

The first step toward doing so is to make the participants cognizant not only of their relative locations along the spectrum of understanding, but also of how the public will perceive them. Tone, in short, is not something about which a reader offers "speculations and assumptions," but something about which he testifies. Indeed, the sentence after the one from which Muller draws his parenthetical quotations explicitly disconnects how something reads from the author's frame of mind while writing it.

As I suggested at the close of my initial post, Malkin's turf along society's path toward assessment and reapplication of its past inherently makes her genre of writing more action than review. She has determined that the internment of Japanese people in America plays centrally in a cultural aversion to the sort of measures that the War on Terror necessitates — in a phrase, ethnic profiling. To overcome that aversion, she has to challenge a popular perception of history's lessons fostered, in large part, by scholars (who are, yes, predominantly Left-leaning).

To be sure, I'm at a disadvantage in that I haven't read Malkin's book, and I intend to do so when possible. (Funds and time remain tight.) It may be, therefore, that I'm not being balanced in my criticism, but with a view toward the book's effect, it seems to me that Muller has helped to ensure that those who lean toward Malkin's position will be repelled from, rather than drawn toward, a thorough understanding of history and its implications. They are less concerned about the past than the present; they have less time for reiteration of the cautions that the past has rightly instilled than for the overcaution that has wrongly accompanied them.

Suggesting, as Muller does, that "Michelle could defend narrowly-tailored profiling measures without taking on the additional burden of defending the wholesale eviction and detention of an entire ethnic group from the West Coast during World War II" evinces (surprise, surprise) a rather academic application of historical argument to political debate. Similarly, insisting that Malkin must be judged primarily as an historian because she devoted the bulk of her book — which genre and purpose require to be something less than an academic tome — to the historical accounts that she's questioning is to ignore the setting of the debate.

As I understand Michelle's intention, it was to spur the realization that the received wisdom in this area can be challenged — in turn, that the sense, in our collective gut, of what can and cannot be justified under current circumstances can be questioned. We're a long way from being a society in which In Defense of Internment could plausibly be put forward as stealth advocacy for gathering up American Muslims. And Mullen's dark insinuations that Malkin must be doing so are sure to evoke the impression that laymen, rightly or wrongly, have that scholars might withhold the truth about history because they believe that the rest of us will take it as an excuse to repeat its worst parts.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:42 PM | Comments (18)

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:55 AM

Malkin v. the Academe

In response to some sparring between Michelle Malkin and a couple of academics, Lance McCord writes the following:

[Eric] Muller wrote the way that he did because he's a blogger, and a scholar. As a blogger, he's writing what's happening. What was happening in this case was a guy who knows an awful lot about the Japanese-American internment reading a book on that subject, and thinking while he's reading. As a scholar, he's likely more interested best understanding the subject than in winning some ideological point.

Leave aside contrary evidence as to Muller's inclination toward point scoring. Although I've done no controlled studies of the matter, I've a strong suspicion that the great majority of American citizens — particularly those who take an interest in academics' fare — have quite a different impression about scholars' ideological motivation. The existence of a market for Malkin's book about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, which sparked the bickering, ought to be evidence enough that this is so. And frankly, neither McCord's assumption of transcendent interests nor Muller's method of debate is likely to do anything but further the impression.

Consider the outright exhortative tone into which Muller lapses during his first spate of complaints about the book on the Volokh Conspiracy:

When you think of the Japanese American internment, what do you picture? People living in the desolate high desert, in tarpaper barracks, under military guard, right?

Do you know how that happened? Do you know how it happened that Japanese Americans ended up spending years in desert camps under military guard, unable to leave without clearance?

One hears either a breathless aggression in response to verboten dissent or an untempered condescension, or both. Whether or not these qualities of his writing grew from his actual state of mind — and subsequent posts on his own blog suggest that they might — Muller's tone can only remind the public why it has been gradually losing esteem for men and women "of learning." Consider, for example, his emphasis on the speed with which Malkin researched and wrote her book (italics Muller's):

I can't imagine how Michelle--or, indeed, anyone--could have done the primary research necessary to understand the record, let alone "correct" it in the manner the book attempts to do, in five or six years, let alone in one. Especially while doing anything at all in addition to researching the book (such as writing a nationally syndicated newspaper column). To tell the story correctly, a person would need to sift through thousands and thousands of pages of archival material from all over the country and then piece bits together into a coherent story.

What Muller has done, here, is to disallow every stage through which a society interprets its history and applies it to the present except the most exhaustive — and therefore the most exclusive — stage, the one on which he concentrates. I don't think it presumptuous to suggest that there might be a degree of turf-protecting in Muller's approach, and there may be some jealousy at Malkin's likely sales figures. Such reactions are misplaced, and in failing to respect the different roles that people can take, they contribute to general distrust of academics.

Nobody can deny that so-called scholars, who lean overwhelmingly to the Left, have influenced the public perception of the episode of American history at question, and that the perception, in turn, has influenced current policy. Commentary is therefore mandated across the spectrum. Although he quotes a paragraph from Malkin's book saying something different, Mullen harps particularly on the notion that Malkin intends to "correct the record." Perhaps that phrase carries differing connotations in the history biz, but one needn’t rewrite the entirety of something to correct it; pointing to an omission can suffice.

On the other end, nobody will mistake Malkin for an historian. As far as I can tell, it is clear within the book — let alone within the broader context of Malkin's career — that she is a political writer. Coming from political commentary, her emphasis will be on the areas of the complete picture that most affect current policy. And frankly, she will find a lot of public sympathy for her sense that those are precisely the areas in which the "historical narrative" has been most skewed.

Unless they wish to further alienate a populace that already harbors suspicions that professionals who study the past are selective and politically motivated in their work, those experts who believe Malkin's summary to be incorrect and who fear its implications for current policy are going to have to treat her more seriously. If she is so easily dismissed, they should have no trouble incorporating her contrary findings into the pictures that they advance. Forcing the "experts" to do so is, I suspect, a key motivation behind Malkin's book; her genre of writing is more action than review, after all.

If you've not yet hit the end of your interest in this exchange, Mullen responds here, and I address his post here.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:36 AM | Comments (36)

August 10, 2004

Preserving the Tyranny Reserves

I'm a little slow to note it, but Carol Andrew Morse's piece about the "gated community" approach to foreign policy that the Democrats revealed at their convention is worth a read:

Perhaps the plan was to make the Presidential nominee appear strong by allowing him to be the one to articulate a plan for the war on terrorism beyond America's borders. If that was the plan, John Kerry failed to deliver. Like [Hillary] Clinton, Kerry talked of adding troops. He went further, acknowledging that he would use force in response to an attack, and saying that the elements of so-called "soft power" would be deployed outside of the fortress walls. ...

In this vision of a world divided, the keepers of Fortress America regard meaningful democracy as an absolute necessity for themselves. They understand that their democracy is at the root of their prosperity. At the same time, they dismiss democracy as an unnecessary luxury for those living outside of the fortress, cutting the outsiders off from the prosperity that democracy provides. They believe that the individuals outside the fortress should be satisfied with mere stability -- and like it.

The vision that Andrew describes brings to mind an image of the future that Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray suggested in their much-vilified tome, The Bell Curve. The authors warned of a world in which an intellectual elite, insulated in standing and potential through policies that refused to honestly address factors (such as IQ) affecting economic status, had retreated to gated communities, while everybody else was effectively shuffled into cities for the sake of efficiently handling them as wards of the state (handing out healthcare services, for example). Because the foreseen underclass would consist largely of minorities, reaction to the book illustrates how a statement meant to expose true "institutional racism" can be attacked viciously as racist.

Andrew brings this related topic into his piece, as well, when he quotes from John Edwards's acceptance speech:

"I have heard some discussions and debates about where, and in front of what audiences we should talk about race, equality, and civil rights. Well, I have an answer to that question. Everywhere."

Compare that with another item from the Jay Nordlinger Impromptus to which I linked in the previous post:

Back to something a bit more serious: As you know, I keep hoping that presidents, and candidates, will talk to black Americans as they do to all other Americans. I think I once said, "I'd give anything if an official or candidate went before a black group and talked about missile defense." Well, I see in a New York Times report, on the president's recent speech to a convocation of black journalists, that "Mr. Bush, who delivered a version of his campaign stump speech and did little to tailor his remarks to the group . . ."


I've been accused, recently, of having a problem with difference, and I guess in some respects, I have to confess to being guilty of the charge. Race shouldn't be a determinantal difference; accepting differences ought to mean considering them irrelevant where they are, in fact, irrelevant. Whether it results in domestic welfare menageries or foreign tyranny reserves, too much "respect" for difference can raise up bars that the object of appreciation might prefer removed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:54 PM

Composure in a President

In yesterday's Impromptus, Jay Nordlinger mentioned (one of) the latest indications of John Kerry's thorough dishonesty (bracketed text is Nordlinger's):

As you know, John Kerry did something low — another thing low — in mocking President Bush for his behavior in that Florida schoolroom: "Had I been reading to children, and had my top aide whispered into my ear [that] America was under attack, I would have told those kids very politely and nicely that the president of the United States had something he needed to attend to."

Uh-huh. The White House is taking pleasure in circulating Kerry's words from June 8, on the Larry King show: "And as I came in [to a meeting in Senator Daschle's office], Barbara Boxer and Harry Reid were standing there, and we watched the second plane come in to the building. And we shortly thereafter sat down at the table and then we just realized nobody could think, and then boom, right behind us, we saw the cloud of explosion at the Pentagon."

Nobody could think, huh, for all that time? Between the second World Trade Center plane and the Pentagon? Yeah, that's rough-and-ready Kerry.

Let me adopt a bit of Nordlinger's tone and ask a question: can't you just hear the differing explanations were Bush their guy? I sure can:

Running out of the room would have done nothing except to alarm the children and possibly, through the media representatives in attendance, set a tone of panic for one of the most frightening days in American history. The President stayed put, figuring that finishing the event was more productive than standing in a back room while security personnel assessed the risk of moving him and while his assistants gathered together information about what was going on — from accurate descriptions of what had happened to preliminary reports about the early warning signs on the planes to intelligence community notes about the likely breadth of the attack.

Under pressure, he kept his cool and showed more concern about the immediate requirements and considerations for his behavior than about some hostile movie that a partisan filmmaker might unleash just before the next election. That's the sort of composure we want in a President.

One can debate whether this is an accurate description of Bush's thought processes — on its own merits as well as in light of his movements throughout the rest of the day. (I'd say it is accurate, with the necessary caveats about the messiness of real life.) But can't you just hear the sincerity in the voices of those making exactly the same argument — probably embellished — had it been President Gore in that classroom?

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

Songs You Should Know 08/10/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Train (A Vague Hunger)" by Rosin Coven. This song is from the band's new CD, Menagerie. I still hope to write a review in the near future, but suffice, for now, to say that I'm simply amazed that people of my general age range write such musically compelling pieces. If you've a taste for darkly artsy songs, be sure to have a listen and take a look.

"Train (A Vague Hunger)" Rosin Coven, Arthouse Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:13 AM

Permission to Be Subverted

Attorney Jim Geoly posted something on the Marriage Debate blog that struck me as both true and curious about the Washington state judge's recent ruling that, if it withstands an appeal, will bring same-sex marriage to a second state:

These people are building a very cynical federalism case against the federal DOMA: that the "states" should have the right to decide the issue. They will point to Quill/Glucksberg upholding the states' right to decide the physician assisted suicide issue. The irony is that, within each state, they are hijacking the democratic process and relying on activist judges to impose SSM under state constitutions that were never intended to guarantee this "right." They are overturning the will of the people of states like Mass. and WA, and then using that result disingenuously to argue that "the people" of Mass. or WA have opted for SSM, and should be allowed to do so. Very tricky stuff.

I agree in substance and in reaction to what Geoly is saying, but what I find curious is that it's just being noted now; I guess there's a tendency to forget how deeply one has dug into an issue. And if one has paid attention as advocates for same-sex marriage have hashed out their arguments over the years, it has been clear what their rhetoric vis-à-vis the courts would be. Here's Jonathan Rauch in the midst of a series of essay exchanges on National Review Online in August 2001:

In Vermont, state judges effectively ordered up a civil-unions program. In Hawaii, judges ordered same-sex marriage (the voters overruled them). Though I don't know enough about either state's constitution to have a good legal opinion, my knees jerk in the direction of thinking that both sets of judges overreached. So, Arkes asks, how about a U.S. constitutional amendment preventing state judges from foisting gay marriage on a state? Would I support that?

No, because I believe in federalism. I can't very well oppose, on federalist grounds, stripping away states' power to pass same-sex marriage while also advocating stripping away state courts' power to interpret state constitutions. I may not have liked what Vermont's judges did, but the question is whether Vermont should be allowed to have a system in which the judges could do it. If the answer is no, then people outside Vermont could wind up deciding how many chambers the state legislature should have, whether state judges are elected or appointed, how often the board of prisons should meet — you name it. ...

Unless some federal prerogative is impinged upon (and none was in the Vermont civil-unions case), reining in Vermont's judges is the business of Vermont's voters. So I think the feds should stay out. (I'm surprised to hear myself patiently explaining all this to conservatives who are supposedly proponents of federalism. Oh, well.)

First, I should note that this passage was written before Goodridge left the more federalist-friendly turf of "civil unions" behind for the field of marriage. However, Rauch repeated the principle parenthetically in a February 2004 email to Nick Schulz, saying, "Activist state judges are the states' business, so long as no state can impose its own decision on others."

Second, as Geoly suggests, these un-reined-in judges aren't without their likely effect on the federal system. How many times must the process repeat — must judges behave in this fashion — before one can begin to see theirs as a concerted effort? By asking that, I don't mean to imply the convenient answer of "two," but if Rauch can get away with jumping from a limited, specific restriction on state judges all the way to warnings about dictated schedules for prison boards, I think mine is a legitimate question. If judges begin to act as a sort of federal ruling class, do "states' rights" translate into a barrier from working together to restrain them?

(For the sake of my specific point, with this post, I'm leaving aside my belief that Rauch begins to run afoul of Article IV, Section 4, of the Constitution, which "guarantee[s] to every State... a Republican Form of Government.")

Not surprisingly, for his part, Andrew Sullivan dismisses this area of thought with a simple wave of his hand. Here he is in December 2002:

As to equal protection, you could indeed argue that granting a very basic civil right to a majority and denying it to a minority is an obvious case of inequality. Perhaps one day in the distant future, SCOTUS will see this. I certainly hope so. But is it likely now? Or immediately? Or even soon? One should recall that it's still constitutional in some states to single out gays in the privacy of their own homes and arrest them for sexual acts that, when performed by hetersoexuals, are entirely legal. (With any luck, SCOTUS is going to end that blatant injustice soon. And Kurtz, to his great credit, supports such a move.) But it's a huge leap from there to the Court's mandating gay marriage across the country on the grounds of equal protection. I don't know many scholars or legal observers who expect SCOTUS to take such a drastic meaure any time in the distant future. Of course, it's possible (whereas using Full Faith and Credit is almost certainly impossible). But it's extremely unlikely. Remember it took well over a century for the Court to rule on inter-racial marriages in this way. The relevant question is whether it is so likely in the short term that we have to take the drastic step of amending the Constitution of the United States itself to prevent such a thing from happening. That's where Kurtz and I disagree. I believe individual states should be able to decide for themselves. I believe that state courts - where marriage questions rightly belong - should also rule on a state-by-state basis.

So, Sullivan believes that marriage questions rightly belong in state courts, and Rauch believes that states ought to be empowered to have judiciaries that can usurp legislative prerogative. Presumably, in either case, should it ever so happen that the courts appear intent on coordinating their efforts, state to state, it will fall to the people of each state, through the generally arduous task of constitutional amendment, to stem the tide — all the while facing the prospect of Supreme Court negation of their efforts.

That would seem to represent an imbalance of dexterity. Why not give the people of each state a head start through passage of a higher legal statement than judges can reach, one that by its nature requires the involvement of direct representatives throughout the country in order to pass?

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:33 AM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

August 9, 2004

Reason Overruled

Moral culpability is not entirely lashed to a measurement of distance, and finding excuses not to look along the line of likely outcomes of a given decision, far from absolving one of responsibility, is itself an immoral act. That, in a nutshell, is my response to a point in the comment section of this post. After I'd suggested that knowing homosexual couples is irrelevant "to whether same-sex marriage is intelligent or dangerous public policy," liberal periodic commenter Angie wrote:

I believe that people who are arguing against SSM do not know any gay couples. If you socialized regularly with gay couples--benefits, dinner parties, workplace--you would not be too popular if they knew you were writing hundreds of thousands of words on the computer daily about why THEY should not get married while you yourself are married and enjoying the benefits of that. And besides that, you'd have a face and a personality to add to the subject matter. Not just a logical analysis. Similar to how I believe most pro-life advocates either cannot bear children or they have a loving partner who will support them emotionally and financially should an accidental pregnancy occur. Just another way to think about these issues which leaves out the legal/logic/ethic speak and brings real humans into the picture.

Reread this sentence:

If you socialized regularly with gay couples--benefits, dinner parties, workplace--you would not be too popular if they knew you were writing hundreds of thousands of words on the computer daily about why THEY should not get married while you yourself are married and enjoying the benefits of that.

I have no doubt that this is true. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if confronted with evidence that those hundreds of thousands of words have contributed, directly and indirectly, to my current state of semi-employment. But unless Angie is offering an enciphered explanation for her taking the wrong position, the reality of interpersonal influence is irrelevant both to the substance of the issue and to the moral responsibility to take the right position. It is a sign of the apathetic turpitude of our times that precisely her formulation likely underlies the tacit responses to this sort of matter across our society. One would think that liberals, of all people, would applaud a principled stand against the demands of social pressure.

Furthermore, it's simply to state the factual to note that the activists and their friends in the media have ensured that the same-sex marriage cause will not lack for sympathetic faces and personalities, piled on top of decades of cultural-elite effort to normalize homosexuality generally. And that's entirely apart from the people who've contacted me personally over the past few years, as well as those whom, yes, I do know. I can only ascribe it to a baseline spiritual desperation, in our society, that so many have brushed off the wisdom that broad decisions can be skewed if made while embroiled, or by those who are embroiled. Whether the topic is homosexuality, abortion, or any other matter with emotional weight, it remains true that we ought not — cannot — leave out the "legal/logic/ethic speak" that becomes more difficult as we approach the adverse consequences of choosing the correct path.

Look, reason tells me that human life begins at conception and that, for the sake of society, for the sake of humanity, we must hold to the moral principle that human life is uniquely and individually valuable. Destitution, much less inconvenience, is not sufficient justification for taking another's life — no matter what rhetoric we might employ to depreciate that life. Similarly does reason tell me that marriage is central to the health of our society as well as — and this is important — the well-being of those most dependent upon our social foundation. Reason also suggests that same-sex marriage, especially within our modern context and considering the mechanisms through which it is being thrust into the law and the culture, will further the corrosion of the institution.

If any group that must be factored into these decisions lacks for the sympathy that flows from "a face and a personality" it is those who have yet to be born. (Consider the enthusiasm with which pro-lifers have met increasingly detailed sonogram pictures.) It is easy to respond to the pull of loved ones' desires; it is somewhat less easy to hear the pleas of the countless people who will inherit whatever society we manage to bequeath. To blind one's self to the latter through deliberate focus on the former compounds moral travesty upon moral error.

August 7, 2004

A Different World Behind the Same Eyes... and Others'

I was blessed, yesterday, to slip into a much-needed reminder of the human reality in which disagreements must be resolved. The experience through which it came is probably one that many people will find familiar, but for all I know, it'll represent one more reason for readers to think me odd. (Truth often merits a bit of both reactions, anyway.)

As part of the process of liquidating my CD collection, I was listening to Billy Joel's "An Innocent Man," and I recalled that it had been my favorite song during my fifteenth summer (when I was fourteen years old). Those were tumultuous times for me, and I had come to see a piano camp in Bennington, Vermont, at which I was currently spending my fourth summer, as a place of refuge from the increasingly confusing and, well, disappointing months passing in New Jersey. That year, 1989, I spent eight weeks at the camp — the entirety of its season — and when my parents came to pick me up, the owners' eldest daughter informed us that I was forbidden to return.

Mostly because the rejection fell as the first major crack in an avalanche that would sweep me through the rest of my teens and beyond, the sting lingered for several years, and the reasons given, I continue to believe, were unjustly construed. Still, I have to confess that there were multiple reasons of which the counselors were not aware that would have amply justified the same decision. Perhaps my secret behavior lingered in an aura around me that my judges sensed and on which basis they ruled.

Rather than doling out details, many of which remain solely in my possession, it will suffice for me to suggest that, while perhaps not ironic, it is telling that "An Innocent Man" resonated with me in a personal way. Although that autumn found me still "innocent" (in the innuendoed sense), I had pursued my original birthright of sin that summer as if chasing an early inheritance.

The charm of that Old Bennington mansion had partly been that, within its walls, I had managed to define myself as I wanted to be — as I thought I really was, truly — and at fourteen years old, I stained that vision by behaving in the addled fashion of a young man who believes his better days to be a dream at constant risk of being whisked away. Prophecy self fulfilled. The boy I could be found himself tripped and beaten and rolled into the bushes by the boy I actually really was, truly.

So, fifteen years later, perhaps to the day of my last day, listening to my favorite song from that time, I suddenly could remember the feel of that life. By that, I don't mean some analytical synopsis of my frame of mind, but rather the underlying hue of my emotions, the aggregate effect of the unstated assumptions behind various reactions, thoughts, and beliefs. Have you had this experience? It's not unlike managing to bring to mind a smell that isn't actually there and finding that with it has come the hint of flavor that leaks through to the taste buds and the associations that the odor once had, as if you could close your eyes and reopen them to find not only that the source was there before you, but that you were again the person that you had once been.

Not surprisingly, the feel of being that well-tanned and grasping kid, the shapes of things as he saw them, is quite starkly different from my experience of now. This, I submit, approaches the empathy with which we ought to attempt to engage those with whom we disagree. The world feels differently to them. That grasping and fleetingly cocksure kid watching the familiar silo near Albany (with giant, winking, female eyes painted on it) slide by the car window during the Eighties' final June would not have listened to me had I advised him. Had I told him that treating others as more than passing characters in life's drama would enable him to be who he wanted to be, my words would have been nearly unintelligible to him — scarcely sounds with substance.

Maybe, though, if we can find a way to feel the worlds of those with whom we disagree, we can find our way back to the world as we believe it to be — with company.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:58 AM

August 6, 2004

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "My First and Absolutely Last Summer on Cape Cod," by Stephen S. Hale.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:48 AM

Gratitude and Prospects

With the process of putting CDs up for auction finished, I spent much of this afternoon (it's still Thursday to me) catching up with the responses to my plea for help. Of course, I expected Glenn Reynolds's greatly appreciated link, as well as an unsolicited one from Bill Quick for which I am similarly appreciative, to generate quite a bit of traffic, but I'm happy to admit that I'd tempered my expectations a bit too much.

No, I've had no job offers, yet. The closest that I've come involved one reader who actually called his company's publishing office about openings and, although there were none, managed at least to acquire the name and contact information of a recruiter. (Surely the lack of offers is only on account of the procedures through which even insta-hires must go.) Nonetheless, with all of the leads and solid advice that I received (not to mention donations amounting to more than a day's pay), the two days of correspondence have certainly energized me and given me several directions and methods to pursue.

Clayton Cramer, for one, sent a possibility that's sufficiently intriguing to pass along:

Announcement Number: FO-2004-0028
Vacancy Description: Intelligence Analyst, GS-0132-13 / 14 (EX)
Open Period: 07/12/2004 - 08/09/2004
Series/Grade: GS-0132-13/14
Salary: $62,905.00 TO $96,637.00
Promotion Potential: GS-14
Hiring Agency: DOJ/FBI
Duty Locations: MANY vacancies Continental United States Throughout the US

With the deadline looming, I'm still debating whether to apply, but it seems to me that the leap from a certain type of blogging to intelligence analysis isn't all that far. Indeed, the geopolitically concerned branches of the blogosphere might be a profitable area from which intelligence agencies could farm talent.

Of course, there's all variations of talent to be found among bloggers. If, for example, anybody's looking for an electrical engineer, Donald Crankshaw is available... as am I, for jobs related to publishing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:28 AM | Comments (2)
Diary & Confession

A Vaccine for Inhibition

Although the interior link leads to paid-registration content, Michelle Malkin's summary in a post about vaccinating children caught my eye:

On a related note, I was quite interested in this story about a scheme being considered in Britain to mandate vaccination of children against future drug addiction. The vaccines are currently under development; they are expected to become available in two years, at which point they could be required.

This scheme has the too-sweet smell of an idea that is sure to have unintended consequences — a seemingly good-hearted "initiative" that winds up having the opposite effect than intended. As a man with what might be characterized as a moderately addictive personality, I can attest that the threat of addiction can be a significant disincentive to drug use.

When crack hit the scene in the '80s, it was certainly well understood among my young peers that part of its danger was the associated Russian roulette of instant addiction. The shadow of that prospect always lingered around the drug and, I'm sure, bled into gut feelings about other drugs, particularly generic cocaine. Except for marijuana, one had the sense that experimentation with drugs was potentially life changing and permanent before it even became a question of deliberate habituation. What is the likely effect when that daunting impression is no longer a reality?

I suspect that experimentation will increase, and that physical addiction's conjoined twin, emotional addiction, will prove to be the tougher monster to defeat. What cure will be available when a nation of adolescent druggies thinks it can stop any time it wants?

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:40 AM | Comments (3)

August 5, 2004

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:34 PM

33 Ways to Help

Surely nobody will be surprised that I've decided that it's necessary to break the barrier to auctioning off the 200 or so CDs at the top of my pile. If you see anything you like, please bid.

Traffic, Shootout at the Fantasy Factory
T.Rex, The Slider
U2, Pop
Various Artists (including Jimmy Buffett), Chameleon Caravan Tour Sampler CD 1993
Various Artists, Rebel Rousers! Best of Southern Rock
Soundtrack, Reservoir Dogs
Various Artists, 70's Greatest Rock Hits Volume 2: The South Rules
Various Artists, 70s Greatest Rock Hits Volume 10: Hitchin' a Ride
Various Artists, Slow Jams Volume 1: 60s
Various Artists (2CD), The Atlantic Group Spring Breakers '93 promo
Various Artists, A Winter's Solstice IV
The Allman Brothers Band, A Decade of Hits 1969-1979
India Arie, Acoustic Soul
The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night
The Beatles, Beatles for Sale
The Beatles, Help!
The Beatles, White Album
The Black Crowes, Shake Your Money Maker
Blues Traveler, Travelers & Thieves (+ bonus CD)
David Bowie, ChangesBowie (+ bonus CD)
Jimmy Buffett, Havana Daydreamin'
Jimmy Buffett, Songs You Know By Heart
Nick Cave, Let Love In
Creed, Weathered
Crowded House, Recurring Dream, The Very Best of
The Doors, The Doors
Peter Gabriel, Shaking the Tree, Sixteen Golden Greates
Jeffrey Gaines, Jeffrey Gaines
Grant Lee Buffalo, Fuzzy
George Harrison, Best of Dark Horse, 1976-1989
Don Henley, Actual Miles, Henley's Greatest Hits
Bruce Hornsby, Hot House
Jethro Tull, Aqualung

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:57 PM
Sales & Fundraising

August 4, 2004

No Longer Sophomoric (?)

I just realized that today marks exactly two years since I began this blog. As with so much in life, depending on perspective, it's simultaneously difficult to believe that I've been at it for so long and odd to think that there was a time when I wasn't.

It's also difficult to believe that the regime change/WMD debate was murky even then, what with all that recent-history revision going on.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:54 PM | Comments (1)
Bloggers Blogging

Desperate Times, Desperate Blogging

To change the page layout to one that might be easier to read, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

The newborn, as much attention as she requires, has become part of each day's normality; the new house is slowly shaping up, not the least in that one can now walk in straight lines across the basement and the garage; and the two-and-a-half year old has rebounded from all of these huge changes with, if anything, more cheerfulness and, far from regression, advancement in development. So, that leaves just one hole (which has introduced me to a biological marker of stress, recurring nausea): our very low income.

During the week that my wife and I actually signed the papers to buy our house, I was apparently overly optimistic about my immediate prospects for interviews and employment. A more-accurate view wouldn't have affected our real estate decisions; circumstances had opened a brief window in which it made sense to buy, and our previous rent was not so much lower than our current mortgage as to make the purchase significantly more daring than simply staying put. Still, it's August, and I have to admit that the next page of the calendar could flip with crushing weight.

It is therefore with a sharper sense of immediacy than has characterized my previous appeals that I ask for help now. I'm much better endowed with abilities than I am with resources or connections, and my need to convert the former into either of the latter is rapidly approaching desperation.

I'd be more than happy if that conversion were to come by way of donations to this blog (click the PayPal button in the left-hand column). Better still would be donations disguised as purchases of my Just Thinking book, A Whispering Through the Branches (my novel), or both. As helpful and rewarding as any such income would be, however, what I'm looking for above all is work.

As my résumé (PDF) shows, most of my more-advanced experience is in the general area of publishing. Obviously, I write. Professionally, I edit. And through freelance and self-initiated projects, I've built up a portfolio related to graphic design, typesetting, and other activities on the production end of the process. All of my various abilities and interests coalesced in two editions (so far) of The Redwood Review, for which I did all of the work — from concept through fundraising and production to distribution.

Before I returned to college in the late '90s, I established selling fish off a truck as my most promising career option without further credentials. I'd prefer to find a job that helps me to justify the lost years and accumulated debt of higher education, but I'm perfectly willing to consider those expenses as investments in personal growth and take a path toward other careers. If it's back to scales and shells, so be it; hard work is no stranger, and late nights pursuing extracurricular interests are as familiar as the gurgle of my coffee machine. Still, I'd like to put the knowledge gained through all those late-nights already spent to productive use — earning me more time to spend with, and supporting, my family.

So please, if you're able to offer me any assistance — from guidance to contributions to employment — please don't hesitate to do so. I can be reached by email, at, by phone, at (401) 835-7156, or by mail, at P.O. Box 751, Portsmouth, RI, 02871.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:48 PM | Comments (5)
Diary & Confession

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:04 PM

Building-in Intangible Wisdom

Although I strongly suspect that it represents one of those cultural instances in which the difficulty of expressing a human truth indicates how central a truth it is (leaving it susceptible to exactly the sort of corrosive intellectual trap that has become so popular among intellectuals in the last century-plus), I've been trying to frame my thoughts sufficiently to address a line of argument that Gabriel Rosenberg has been pursuing recently:

I find the prohibition against SSM extremely unjust because of its discrimination on the basis of sex. This is apart from the positive reasons I support SSM as simply good public policy, but the injustice I see drives me to push for SSM more than other mere policy changes I advocate. It is also why I see this as more than a mere policy disagreement to be decided by the legislature. In my next post (whenever that may be) I will look at arguments some make for why the discrimination is justified. In this post, however, I want to deal with those arguments that seek to avoid justifying the discrimination by claiming it just isn't discrimination (as least not based on sex)...

Overall, what bothers me about Gabriel's methodology is that it deconstructs the idea under observation (traditional marriage, in this case), discarding each individual component as insufficient to justify exclusion of a conflicting demand, without giving adequate weight to the thing as a whole. But what has inspired me to raise the topic here somewhat prematurely is the following passage from Jeff Miller's post on the Vatican's recent document, "On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World":

The following paragraph is what will get the most attention by the media.
A second tendency emerges in the wake of the first. In order to avoid the domination of one sex or the other, their differences tend to be denied, viewed as mere effects of historical and cultural conditioning. In this perspective, physical difference, termed sex, is minimized, while the purely cultural element, termed gender, is emphasized to the maximum and held to be primary. The obscuring of the difference or duality of the sexes has enormous consequences on a variety of levels. This theory of the human person, intended to promote prospects for equality of women through liberation from biological determinism, has in reality inspired ideologies which, for example, call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality.

In fact that is one of the paragraphs that Todd of Catholic Sensibility cries out against it saying:

Ah! Feminism is the root of the Gay Rights Movement. This is incisive reporting that would put the NCR to shame.

I would guess the NCR he is referring to the National Catholic Register and not the National Catholic Reporter. But Cardinal Ratzinger is exactly right here when he equates the interchangeability of the sexes that modern feminism proclaims as inspiring other ideologies. If men and women are not different except for the mechanics of reproduction, then homosexual sex and same-sex marriage can not be seen as different from heterosexual sex and marriage. The moral teachings of the Church are like an orchestra that requires all parts to support each other. To remove one teaching is to introduce a dissonance that weakens the rest.

As hinted above, I think Jeff's notion of orchestral erudition extrapolates to society — humanity — more broadly (which is what one would expect if the Church's teachings are Truth). Tear out one societal premise, no matter how intellectually sound the arguments for doing so may seem in an intellectual context, and others are apt to go awry. This is one reason that, no matter how much it may irk rebellious adolescents, the statement "it has always been this way" ought to present a very high burden to change.

Now, I don't know Todd's position on same-sex marriage, and Gabriel's thinking hardly hinges on the degree to which Todd's reaction to the Vatican's statement is justified. However, I think that reaction has probably been pretty common in such exchanges, particularly among those who, unlike Todd, aren't Catholic or, especially, religious themselves. And thus does change occur in our messy progression toward collapse: a tradition-based argument for tweaking our conception of a particular modification — the more equitable treatment of women, in this case — is dismissed through mere assertion of sense. Then, somebody offers a plausible argument, from a progressive point of view, for why that sense might be incorrect — requires enunciated justification, at least — and the subject of the original warning moves from something that won't happen to something that should happen.

In some respects, this is the mechanism of the "slippery slope." Declarations that E will not be a consequence of D, and can therefore be discarded in consideration of D, transform into belief that D requires E.

In the case of same-sex marriage, when proponents argue that F will not be a consequence of E, they mean such things as polygamy, incest, and bestiality, but I think Gabriel has brought into the light a more deeply destructive F. In the comments to a now-buried post on this blog, he wrote:

If androgeny is akin to the argument that no particular relgion is more true than any other, then I do support the government taking the androgenous position. That does not imply I believe or think others should believe we are androgenous, just as I do not believe that all religions are equally true. Just as I think we should be free to determine for ourselves what is true in theology, I think we should be able to determine what the essence of gender is. ...

Should the government respect established gender norms. I do not believe so, because I think that we should each be free to establish for ourselves what gender means to us.

I apologize for what you consider parlor tricks, but I'm doing my best to explain why I can think gender is very real and important, and yet not want it to be a factor in determining the validity of a marriage. That is my primary concern here. I'm trying to make it clear that I am not arguing that gender is insignificant or unreal, and I'm not sure that is understood. ...

By the way, I'm not offering suggestions to God. I fully understand the God made us with gender differences. I do not wish it to be any other way, and I thank God for making me who I am. That does not imply, though, that I think those differences ought to be used to prohibit marriage.

I still intend to make an attempt to explain my bottom line for gender norms and differences, but for now, note what has occurred in Gabriel's argument: although he wishes to avoid the practical and public-opinion burdens of advocating androgyny, he will admit that he doesn't believe it the government's place to dictate gender roles even to the degree of acknowledging differences between them within the family. Just as, however, governmental neutrality toward religion has been transforming into government enforcement of public non-religion, complete governmental neutrality toward gender will transform into enforcement of public "non-discrimination." In fact, that "just as" might be somewhat understated, because government recognition of marriage gives the institution a public force that religion lacks.

Some among America's religious citizens, myself included, have begun to wonder whether the Founders of our country oughtn't have been a bit more specific in describing what "neutrality toward religion" should mean. That common slogan: "freedom of, not freedom from." If our government and our society had institutionalized recognition of the importance of some form of religious practice within citizens' lives, it would have been roughly analogous to marriage, for gender. For example, part of "the separation of church and state" is that people do not register their relationships with God for any sort of government benefits; marriage is just such a registration of a relationship with another person.

Marriage, in one of its aspects, is society's way of acknowledging that, yes, there are important, undeniable differences between the genders and that those differences are of particular importance in the context of family, and particularly to the well-being of families' children. Individual citizens and individual families are free to define the essence of their various roles as their personalities and beliefs require, but society privileges a certain framework for thinking about those roles. A wife and mother can do everything that she believes is traditionally allocated to husbands and fathers, but she will still be a "wife" and a "mother." In this way, all of those qualities that human beings are supremely unqualified to judge and generally unable to change are still aligned with the roles that millennia of evolving tradition have honed.

Removing society's ability to reinforce this alignment through government recognition of marriage will, first, undermine general comfort in acknowledging that gender is a significant contributor to personality. Second, it may very well turn around to government enforcement of public androgyny such that, not only will citizens be allowed and even encouraged to see "the essence of gender" as a nullity, but they will be required to act as if that is the case no matter what they believe.

I've simply run out of time to further consider and clarify the substance of this post, but if any specific point or intellectual transition isn't clear, please let me know, and I'll try to address the inadequacy.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:46 AM | Comments (11)
Marriage & Family

August 3, 2004


I had one of those days during which just about every project I started I made worse (not always directly my fault). Some of them, I managed to finish anyway; some are back on track; one wouldn't be practical to recover. (Twenty-five year old garage door openers can cost almost as much to fix as to replace.)

Above all, I'm exhausted from sleeping too little. So, I'm off to walk the dog, take a shower, and hit the sack. I can postpone the email pile until tomorrow, I guess.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:27 PM | Comments (5)
Diary & Confession

Doonesbury Hatred

Garry Trudeau must be going through bad times, indeed, when newspapers are having to sacrifice readers in order to run Doonesbury:

I am amazed that you continue to print Garry Trudeau and his Doonesbury daily diatribe on the comics page. These vitriolic ramblings are no more comic than an obituary. Please cancel my subscription until such time as the cartoon is, preferably, removed from the paper altogether, or at least moved to the editorial page, where it might more appropriately belong.



Posted by Justin Katz at 3:12 PM | Comments (6)
News Media

Songs You Should Know 08/03/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "The Greatest Imagination" by me. Although I post it only because I'm up in the rotation (which I hope to expand once I've got my life under control), this song, recorded only as a rough demo, might be among my best-written. (Here's a JPEG of the lyric page from my demo CD.) Its first draft was penned on a napkin at a strip club near Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Something about the easily discerned false promises of a strip club sparked a few of my better lyrics during those college-dropout years. And while writing this song, I learned a lesson about life beyond the strobe lights; sitting at a corner table, scribbling away, I began to attract the attention of the strippers, who came over asking to see what had distracted me from their bare chests. I offered to show them... for $20 (the going price of a lap dance).

"The Greatest Imagination" Justin Katz, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:00 AM

A Professional Dupe?

In yesterday's regular update of my blogroll, I moved Andrew Sullivan even farther down. Here's a crystallization of the reason:

It's a legitimate position, but it essentially means that, whatever the Democrats say, they can never get the benefit of the doubt in this war. I think that's blinkered. 9/11 changed a lot. It didn't change the far left, who saw it as another reason to hate America. But it changed America, and the Democrats seem to me to be absorbing this fact. If you believe in this war as strongly as I do, then it seems to me it has to be a bipartisan affair at some point, just as the Cold War was for many years. Why should we simply dismiss out of hand a candidate's declaration that he will fight it just as forcefully as Bush? why aren't we open to a real debate about tactics and strategy? Isn't that the strength of a democracy, rather than a dictatorship? Why this sneering at what appears to be an accommodation by the Democratic party to the perilous reality we live in? Why not a celebration? This is a defeat of the left, after all. Edwards said: "We are at war." You cannot be clearer than that. I appreciate skepticism applied to this, given Kerry's record. But he's also a patriot and I hope he sees the dangers we face. And this war is not - and never should be - a device to win permanent Republican dominance in American politics. It's a war to defend the American constitution and Western freedom. I'm happy to welcome anyone to that cause. Why aren't so many Republicans?

This barely pretends to be analysis. As if the moderate phase of Kerry's campaign began just after 9/11. As if the Democrat primaries didn't stand as the final eruption of the mounting liberal fantasy that 9/11 changed nothing and that acting as if it had was a form of neofascism (one likely to keep them out of power). As if Kerry's long-term record and general suspicion of Democrats' national security inclinations were the only reasons to be skeptical of easily negated admissions that "we are at war" — forgetting the Deaniacs and the prominence of Michael Moore and the coziness with precisely those Western leaders most likely to be in bed with our enemies.

Perhaps the only remaining justification for reading Andrew Sullivan at all is the perfect example he provides of what is wrong with political discourse in modern times. For reasons that we all know, but that aren't included in Sullivan's "analysis," he's discarded all factors except the very narrow range within which he can kinda-sorta square the Kerry/war circle. Then — and this is the master deception of our age, visible in Sullivan's rhetorical sword because he's whacked the damn thing so hard on the wall of reason so many times — he twists the whole construction around to phrase it in terms of tolerance and a big hugging welcome that those meanies on the right withhold for political purposes.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:21 AM | Comments (10)
Bloggers Blogging

August 2, 2004

Protecting Us from People Like Themselves

In a piece from the latest print edition of National Review, David Frum quotes from John Edwards's "Two Americas" speech:

One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America that will do anything to leave its children a better life, another America that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life. One America — middle-class America — whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America — narrow-interest America — whose every wish is Washington's command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a president.

It's a close contest, but that last line may be the most audacious of the batch. Considering the combined wealth of the Democrats' presidential ticket and the efforts of well-endowed financiers (most visibly, George Soros), the matter of which party is more for sale is, at the very least, up for debate. Not up for debate is which party is more apt to claim the mantle of working class heroes and to give lip service to that greatest of hypocrites' ideologies, socialism, and on that count, Lane Core is losing his patience:

I've had it up to here, and further, with filthy rich politicians bewailing how little the federal government does to help the underprivileged. By which they mean that they haven't yet taxed us enough to keep the money running through their fat, grubby hands so they can buy votes from special interest groups.

In a nutshell: to hell with filthy rich politicians who demand that ordinary Americans should be required — by threat of confiscation and/or imprisonment — to allow the politicians to be generous with our (tax) money though they continue to live fabulous lives of luxurious comfort.

The obscene rhetoric of the phony class warriors must play with somebody; often, it seems to be those with the least at stake in policies that stroke the egos of the wealthy at the expense of the livelihoods of the poor.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:33 PM | Comments (9)

Genocide and Political Nausea

As have many of us who read and write about current events online, I've been disappointed with the sluggish rate at which mainstream entities have taken up the Sudan issue. Now that the topic of Darfur has made it to the U.S. Congress and the major media, my mood is shifting more toward disgust.

What kicked the shift off, this morning, was this odd letter to the Providence Journal from Bruce Gillard of West Kingston, RI:

Bush ignores Sudan genocide

Recent news reports from Darfur, in Sudan, have described the genocide that is going on there. My heart aches as I watch our country once again turn its back on genocide in Africa.

Every day, 1,000 more lives are lost, 75 percent of them children under 5. If we don't act, the death toll could reach a million within the next few months.

President Bush refuses to call the atrocities "genocide," but he is beginning to face a real challenge in Congress, where members of both parties are speaking up. We can only hope they succeed.

Apart from the conflict between Gillard's assertion that the United States is "once again turn[ing] its back on genocide in Africa" and his admission that Congress is taking action, this characterization of the way the matter is playing out jarred against my understanding. "Refuses"? Poking around, I found one possible source of what amounts to nauseating spin:

John F. Kerry yesterday told a national gathering of black leaders and voters that President Bush was ignoring ''genocide" in Sudan and the AIDS pandemic, which Kerry called ''the greatest moral crisis of our time."

Not surprisingly, some media reports seem similarly to be reporting according to a given framework. After Congress passed its resolution calling for more determination to end the atrocities, CNN, for example, presented Secretary of State Colin Powell's call for action as if in opposition to the President's unduly nuanced position but subsequently quoted Powell's explanation of why usage of a particular term requires care as evidence thereof:

"There is a legal definition of genocide which includes specific intent to destroy an entire group," Powell told reporters at the United Nations Thursday. Once he receives more reports from the region, "we will make a judgment in due course," he added.

As I understand international standards, "genocide" also gives cover for outside nations to take more direct and forceful action, which means that the term itself is a card for leaders to play in the course of diplomacy. Personally, I lean toward throwing such cards down when the lives of hundreds of thousands of people are teetering, but the ignorance of or demurral from noting the realities of international relations among media sources is distasteful. Somewhat worse is John Kerry's taking advantage of the restrictions that President Bush's job place on him.

White House Scott McClellan hints at the administration's predicament while fielding related questions from the press. He had to give a typically evasive answer to the "genocide" aspect of the question, but he advised, "look at the actions that we are taking." After all, it was the United States that brought the issue to the U.N. Security Council in the first place. It has been the United States that, facing opposition, has stood as the most aggressive voice on that council. And in its resolution, one of Congress's commendations of the administration is for appointing John Danforth, previously "Envoy for Peace in Sudan," as United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

In truth, coupled with an act, introduced earlier in the week, authorizing specific actions and granting specific resources, Congress's resolution sets up the administration to wrangle on the international stage. Being the milder voice in the American government, the Executive has room to parry and thrust as diplomacy requires. Such positioning is how these things work.

To some extent, Kerry and the media can assist by playing the same "bad cop" role as Congress, but it seems to me that they've gone too far. The tone and context of the rhetoric give one the sense that attacking the President is more important than assisting the him in attacking the Janjaweed. To the extent that sense is correct, the contempt indicated for the suffering people of Sudan ought to spark some reflection among those exuding it.

I've no doubt that such folks as Mr. Gillard are culpable for nothing more than allowing an over-heated political atmosphere to seep into truly humanitarian concerns. But that, too, ought to spark some reflection... among us all.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:40 AM | Comments (7)
International Affairs

The Closet with an Open Door

From the Providence Journal:

The teens came from as far away as Maryland and from nearby Pawtucket, numbering more than 2,700, wearing T-shirts, body art and baseball caps and looking very much a cross section of American youth.

But many of these teens are different. They define themselves, not by their tattoos or nose rings, but by daring, they say, to do what is considered in many high schools to be unequivocally uncool: Being openly...

You know, the adjective that I've left off the end of that quotation certainly isn't the one that those who define our popular culture would lead you to expect. But then, such expectations have been drastically disconnected from actual experience for many years, at least in the Northeast, and at least since I was in high school in the late '80s and early '90s — and even throughout my time in elementary school. The quality that those kids are compelled to diminish in their young public lives is — of course — being religious:

[Philip "P.J." Shea, 18, of Pawtucket,] plans to keep this most recent card locked in a safe in his bedroom. "I made a promise to myself that I would stay a virgin until I'm married," Shea said.

Some of his high school friends don't get it. Shea doesn't care. What's important is that most of the boys under that tent understood the need to fight the temptations of alcohol, pornography, premarital sex and all the other "lies the devil whispers," as Righteous B put it.

Welcome to Steubenville East, a two-day Catholic youth conference at LaSalette Shrine.

Toward the end of the conference, a priest asked anybody considering entering the priesthood or religious life to step forward. He then asked the crowd not to single them out when they returned to their schools so that they wouldn't be discouraged. I know that, when I was that age, I wouldn't have been afraid to mock them, nor would I have expected any consequences for doing so, through either social pressure or disciplinary action. Little would I have known that believers have a source of support of which the approval of peers is but a faint echo:

A stocky teen with a surfer's air, [Geoff] Edwards said he has been religious since he was a child. He said some people tease him about being religious. "But it's nothing compared to the suffering that Jesus Christ went through."

Actually, it's probably more true that a tacit understanding would have been my motivation.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:40 AM