October 31, 2004

How and Why Catholics Should Vote

NRO has afforded me the privilege of sharing with its readers my answers to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' guiding questions for Catholic voters.

Even as a relatively long opinion column, my piece is obviously not complete; it's just an overview. Each question alone requires — deserves — not just an essay, but an entire extended discussion (such as St. Blogs has from time to time on various topics). To be honest, some of that effort will have to be expended reorganizing the questions. They seem organized according to political categories, which cut across the essentials of faith and practicality that must be addressed.

Well, let's get the conversation started. We've got two days...

(More realistically: two years.)

Some discussion has begun at Amy Welborn's blog.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:09 PM | Comments (5)

October 30, 2004

Getting America Thinking About Same-Sex Marriage

In response to my October 14 post addressing Noah Millman's divorce versus same-sex marriage argument, I received a response from an anonymous reader that I thought worth sharing, not the least because it illustrates that people out there are thoroughly thinking this issue through — even, surprisingly — those without blogs:

Millman takes up on the issue of homosexual marriage along the lines of Andrew Sullivan, to wit if one isn't willing to work to end unilateral divorce one is a hypocrite for opposing homosexual marriage (and presumably for opposing polygamy, polyandry, group marriage, marriage of children to adults, incestous marriage, interspecies marriage, etc.).

My analogy for this (feel free to use it if you wish without attribution) is simple: assume that half of your house is on fire, and the rest of it isn't burning yet. Is spraying gasoline on the part not yet in flames a good idea?

Yes, the 60's/70's era experiment with unilateral divorce has been a disaster. The evidence was there as early as, oh, 1978 or so. However it in no way follows that legalizing homosexual marriage, and polygamy, and polyandry, and incestous marriages, and 40 year old 'chicken hawks' marrying their 14 year old toy-boy-du-jour, etc. is going to mitigate the damage done.

That damage is real and it is quantifiable. Study after study after study over the last century or so has shown that boys who grow up without a father in the home will find an adult male role model. It's arguably wired in to the brain. That's why in the old days, when a man died leaving children behind, especially young children, any and all decent men rallied 'round to help the widow with the children and especially with the boy(s). Uncles were expected to pitch in, as were co-religionists, lodge / fraternal order members, and so forth. Because it was common knowledge that absent at least one, and preferably many, positive male influences, the boy would likely "take up with a bad crowd" or otherwise "go bad". It was simply accepted that a woman could not raise a boy to manhood without men helping her; call it primitive, call it tribalistic if you will, but it was known and furthermore was true as we can see to our sorrow nowadays.

Some amount of the crime in inner cities is a direct result of lack of decent men in the lives of boys as they grow up. That's quantifiable, within some error bounds. Reduce divorce and the number of cars stolen, the number of armed robberies committed, the number of deaths from druge overdoses and turf wars, etc. will decline to some degree, over a generation, because there will be fewer shiftless young men who do not have the impulse control to keep from sticking up a stop 'n rob, spending the money on crack and shooting some other shiftless young man for the heck of it.

It is known via countless studies that sexual molestation of children is higher in stepfamilies. Fathers with stepdaughters do not have the same bond as they do with daughters. What can we expect to happen in polygamous marriages? Nothing good, I warrant. Children who are sexually molested are damaged emotionally, some for the rest of their lives. This can also be quantified, although it is more difficult. Given the lawsuit in Utah that is ongoing, which cites Lawrence to justify polygamy, and given the language of Goodridge, there is no way to stop the poly's from their goal once homosexual marriage is imposed. There is one more thing: polygamy tends in time to produce a notable excess of young men who have no chance at marriage. The Mormons were fortunate indeed to have that bad cultural artifact taken away from them after only a couple of generations or so; in time, it might have destroyed them either from within due to societal breakdown, or from without if they attempted to send their excess young men out on expansionist efforts. I suspect that more than a few of the Islamic jihads of the first 1000 years or so were due to young men deciding to raid for brides. China is facing this in the next 20 years thanks to their one-child policy. We don't need this here.

We stand on a precipice. Any society requires a certain, not always knowable, percentage of decent, honest, people to function. If too many people within a society become emotionally and/or intellectually damaged to the extent that they cannot function above the level of a small time street thug, it become impossible for that society to continue to carry on in the same way. The evidence is clear: once homosexual marriage is forced upon us, other deviations will demand and get their 'rights' as well. This will lead inexorably to an increase in sexual molestation, emotionally stunting childhoods in bizarre families, and a general decline in the competence and (dare I say it?) morality of the society. At some point in the not very distant future, it will become ever more difficult to raise a normal human being to be a productive adult, be they power-company lineman, mother, teacher or neurosurgeon, or anything in between. Then the lights will start to go out...literally, in some places, because of an excess of incompetent drones whose only skills are varying forms of social parasitism.

Millman takes a very short term view. The house is on fire, yes, and needs something sprayed on it, but not the tanker full of gasoline he (and Sullivan, and others) advocate.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:14 PM | Comments (30)
Marriage & Family

On the Local Ballot

Marc Comtois has posted thoughtful explanations of his intended votes. Firstly, I have to say that I'm glad to be in a different district. Marc's choice for U.S. Congress is incumbent Democrat Jim Langevin or Republican challenger Chuck Barton. In a state that no national Republican strategist counts on for numbers, I simply couldn't pull the lever for Barton, and here's why:

On social issues, Barton differs from most conservative Republicans.

"I am very moderately pro-choice," he said. "My belief is that (abortion) is a very difficult, personal issue that the government should stay out of." And Barton, an Episcopalian, said that he would "probably" not vote for Bush's proposed constitutional amendment that marriage be exclusively between a man and a woman. "I'm not going to fall in line with all national Republican stances," he said.

In contrast, Langevin is on the National Advisory Board of Democrats for Life. In the state government, Rs are needed just to derive any benefit from the friction of a two-party system — not so at the federal level.

Marc also goes through the spending bills on the ballot, and I have to admit that he's done his homework better than I have. Still, I consider my vote little more than a protest gesture, and moreover, I think if we're going to get Rhode Island government under control, people are going to have to learn that we can't allow our representatives to spend on everything but the basics and then go back to the till crying about how essential the basics are. To be honest, it strikes me as a con.

We need money for roads? Put up toll booths so people can see their income draining. Let people truly face the prospect of having to go forty miles out of their way because there's no money left to fix a bridge. Funding requests on my ballot get NOs down the line. Rhode Island is so deep in the blue that there will be plenty of opportunities to vote for infrastructure investments before we've managed to bring some parity (and sanity) to the statehouse.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:28 PM
Rhode Island

Well, I Am a Capitalist

As you may have noticed, I've gone ahead and signed up with BlogAds. In the various blog rankings, Dust in the Light has been climbing steadily, and while the post-election season will probably bring a general blogosphere dip in traffic (although I think folks are overguessing it), my individual activities are starting to look promising for keeping the numbers up.

If you've something to hawk to the audience of a Catholic conservative artist writer New Englander type, please consider taking out an ad. If you fall on the consumer end of the spectrum, please take a look at what the sponsors have to offer; I do intend to be responsibly discerning with respect to the ads that I accept.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:56 PM
Sales & Fundraising

October 29, 2004

al Qaeda's Campaign Consultants Must Be Furious

You'll have to take me at my word that I don't think it matters one way or another, but I'm not convinced that this is bin Laden. The nose is a little different (although the tape's blurry), but more strikingly, he looks too, well, bin Ladenesque. The guy's been in hiding for years, knowing that the United States is after him, knowing that we pulled Saddam from his rat hole, and he takes the precaution of what... growing his beard a bit and losing some weight? I'm not defending any heavily vested opinions, here, but al Qaeda's had an awfully long time to dig up a look-alike.

Whether it's bin Laden or not, though, al Qaeda's got a mixed message to resolve. After all, we Americans — quaking at the thrice-uttered "guilty" — are still absorbing this:

The magnitude and ferocity of what is coming your way will make you forget all about September 11th. ... After decades of American tyranny and oppression, now it's your turn to die. Allah willing, the streets of America will run red with blood, matching drop for drop the blood of America's victims," the man, calling himself "Azzam the American," says on the tape.

And now the head guy himself (or a reasonable facsimile) comes out of hiding with what sounds almost like an apology:

It never occurred to us that he, the commander in chief of the country, would leave 50,000 citizens in the two towers to face those horrors alone, because he thought listening to a child discussing her goats was more important. ...

I want to talk to you about the reasons behind these events. And yet I — and I'll be honest with you, that the moment that we took the decision — let me say to you that God only knows that we never thought about attacking the towers.

So are Americans all "guilty, guilty, guilty" and doomed to a bloody "magnitude and ferocity," or did 9/11 take more lives than intended because Bush forgot his superhero cape back at the ranch?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:02 PM | Comments (1)
Middle East

Losing the Tangible in the Impossible

If you have an issue (so to speak) with the layout of this page, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

As one might expect from a thinker uber alles, Ramesh Ponnuru takes a circumspect approach to Andrew Sullivan's reasons for coming out for Kerry. He disagrees with Sullivan, to be sure, suggesting that a better way to spur Democrats toward adopting the War on Terror as their own would be to defeat them, this year, and hope that they put up a more palatable candidate next time around. But then he adds a paragraph on behalf of single-issue voters:

A number of critics have raised the question whether Sullivan is being a "one-issue voter," who is letting his strong opposition to the FMA determine his positions on other issues. He denies it. Perhaps the same-sex marriage debate has colored his view of Bush and Kerry: Can any of us really say with 100 percent confidence why we believe all the things we do? To be Breyer-like for a moment: I can't say with 100 percent confidence that I wouldn't cut Kerry more slack in other areas if he were pro-life.

I'll frankly confess that I've had isolated moments when the ebbs and flows of the political year have made me wonder whether I could support President Bush if he were more Arnold Schwarzenegger than Mel Gibson. But in the final analysis, Ponnuru's appeal to the natural tendency to struggle in our own measuring of issues overlooks four decisive points in the case of Sullivan and Kerry.

First is the naked transparency of the whole thing. Andrew Sullivan is — or was — a formidable political analyst. How is it, then, that he can swallow the huge pill of Kerry's campaign-year rhetoric about strength in the War on Terror, despite all historical evidence to the contrary, and still know to wink at Kerry's campaign-year rhetoric about his same-sex marriage position's being "the same as" President Bush's?

We need only look to Sullivan's record for illustration of how he swallows the "reporting for duty" nonsense. Allow me to quote an "outrageous argument" from March 1 that, based purely on his sudden anti-Bush (and anti-Mel) turn, I predicted that Sullivan would make:

A lot of the initial gutsy moves required to kick off the War on Terror have already been made. Once in office, Kerry wouldn't pull back on that progress, and what we need now is a President who will refocus international cooperation toward the group effort of the more-subtle work that lays ahead.

Before March was over, I'd traced that argument on Sullivan's part here and here. Now, here's a bit of Sullivan's recent New Republic piece:

Bush's comparative advantage--the ability to pull the trigger when others might balk--will be largely irrelevant. That doesn't mean it hasn't come in handy. Without Bush, Saddam would still be in power. But just because the president was suited to fight the war for the last four years doesn't mean he is suited to succeed at the more complicated and nuanced tasks of the next four.

My second point in response to Ponnuru relates to the first: if President Bush had changed his tune to support, say, abortion on demand, while Kerry was less so, I'm confident that both Ramesh and I would more honestly incorporate that consideration in our expressed reasoning. It isn't difficult to imagine making the argument that, as necessary as the War on Terror might be, it is more important that Western society be worth saving. It is the degree to which Sullivan has endeavored to make the War on Terror issue a plus for Kerry, rather than an unfortunate side effect that grates. Which relates to:

Third, Sullivan was never ambivalent about the War on Terror, or even about the Battle of Iraq. Indeed, the TNR piece is evidence that he still is not. But that's what makes the underlying single-issue-voter mentality that some perceive so objectionable. If one believes that the entire WoT argument on Kerry's behalf is contrived — and poorly, at that — then Sullivan is palpably risking catastrophic failure on a matter of life and death for the sake of the mere prospect of an obstacle in his rush for same-sex marriage.

For the final point, I'll return to Ponnuru's hypothetical shift in Kerry's platform. The fact of the matter is that the Democrats generally, and Kerry specifically, incorporate both the pro-abortion and anti-war perspectives. One can argue that this reality is merely a result of circumstances and how each party has coalesced, or one can sense that there's an underlying worldview that merges the two stands. I lean toward the latter. It is impossible to imagine one's reaction to a pro-life/anti-war Democrat presidential candidate, because it is impossible to imagine a pro-life Democrat of any sort becoming a presidential candidate. There is something that ties its devotion to abortion with the party's approach to foreign affairs.

For his part, Sullivan has a career invested in falling in a midway niche — as a conservatively inclined libertine. In that context, most of those who've been critical of Sullivan have been so not because he's a "single-issue voter," but because they feel that they've seen which aspect of his personality, when push comes to shove, rules over the other. When he finds he must lie down with one of two groups that he finds undesirable, which does he choose?

We all know now. And so dramatically was it revealed that one wonders whether it was ever a struggle, really. Conservatives certainly ought to be suspicious of Sullivan's attempts to drag an issue of remaining agreement with him as he wriggles away.

Well, I see Mr. Sullivan has kudized me with his first-ever (direct) link to Dust in the Light. I won't reply at length, because we seem to be largely in agreement except where agreement is impossible. Writes Sullivan, "This notion that writers somehow exist in a purely rational world outside of human emotion, passion, sensibility and bias is a silly one." Exactly.

"Well, the great thing about a blog is that if you really care that much, you can see all the evidence splayed out in front of you." Yup, and as it happens, I've read Sullivan's writing on same-sex marriage (and related topics) from the past fifteen years carefully and with a reasonable degree of thoroughness. He may disagree with my conclusion, but I hold it honestly and derived it fairly. In fact, when I finished reading his book Love Undetectable — which I continue to recommend highly to anybody interested in him or issues around homosexuality — I questioned whether the thesis with which I'd begun wasn't uncharitable and wrong.

Going back through his blog archives, however, renewed my conviction, perhaps for the very reason that Sullivan now notes:

And the point of a blog like this is not to persuade everyone I'm right; but simply to show how one person can grapple with a variety of factors - personal, intellectual, historical, political - in coming to a simple conclusion.

Leaving aside the question of the Daily Dish's "point," Sullivan's plea skirts an important distinction. The piece in support of Kerry wasn't on the blog; it was on TNR. And my central complaint is that many of those who "really care that much" about his formative grappling see underlying agendas that aren't clearly acknowledged, either on the blog or in more polished pieces.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:29 PM | Comments (18)

Without an Excuse

I do not know why, but for some reason, I'm suddenly optimistic about things. Full of trust and faith. Even though the mortgage payment due on the first of December — i.e., the poised hatchet — arrived in the mail today, it doesn't worry me. Something good is coming.

(Famous last words?)

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:16 PM
Diary & Confession

The State of a New Blog

Much pondering has finally piled up behind my inertial walls, and I've decided to go ahead and start a group blog for Rhode Island conservatives (actually, anybody who agrees that Rhode Island is too partisan and/or has to begin toning down its liberalism). The blog is currently in production, and I've already got one other writer signed on.

The plan is to offer broadly relevant commentary, but from a Rhode Island perspective. Each blogger will be able to choose his or her own content (within reason), but for my part, the local emphasis may give me a context in which to scratch my multimedia itch and to explore arts and tradition in my neck of the woods. (Not to worry, though — Dust in the Light shouldn't suffer in its own, unique mission.) Once things start rolling, I'll make some effort to promote it, and hopefully it'll eventually manage to provide not only a social/political benefit for Rhode Island, but also a financial/professional benefit for the writers.

The first order of business is to name the thing, and for this, I'm open to suggestions. As one (not very strict) guide, I plan to use the State Seal, which is the word "hope" over an anchor and some wave-like squiggles, as a focal point of the design. Currently on the table: Out of the Blue, Alternative Hope, RI Alternative, AltRI, Hope's Anchor, Anchoring Hope, Anchoring RI. Anything catch your eye or spark a different idea?

Finally, any Rhode Islanders who are interested in writing for the blog should feel free email me (use the link in the left-hand column). I'll want some samples; if you've already got a blog, send along a link. A brief description of your views, location, and occupation would be helpful, too.

Well, wouldn't you know it. There's already a blog called Out of the Blue — and it's based in Rhode Island! (The blog is actually a rediscovery; I think I've even interacted with its writer over on Michael Williams's blog. But it must have slipped my mind.) Guess I'll scratch that title off the list.

Oh well. But congrats to Larry for his recent marriage, though!

I find myself partial to "Raising Hope," which seems appropriate on many levels.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:45 AM | Comments (6)
Rhode Island

Decisions to Be Made

As if homespun political clashes aren't enough to fear after the election, Chuck Colson implores us to remember the stakes of choosing the right leader:

I have come to the sobering conclusion that we are in greater danger of a nuclear strike today than we were during the Cold War.

That being the case, can we really wait until an attack to go after the terrorists who perpetrate it? Or do we have to, instead, rethink the whole spirit of Just War arguments, accepting that preemption is the only humane and just solution in an age of terror to accomplish what the Just War doctrine proposes? Today we are dealing with an irrational enemy who knows it cannot conquer us, but will do everything in its power to destabilize us. Can we wait until the attacks—perhaps killing tens of thousands—or should we seek them out and destroy them before they have a chance to destroy us?

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:05 AM | Comments (2)
International Affairs

Lock the Doors November 3

I agree with Lane Core; despite all hopes and prayers to the contrary, I'm not confident that a Democrat/Leftist hoard that has stoked its own flames to the heights that they've currently reached will be in a mood to wait out another presidential term when they lose:

Physical violence and outrageous lies: those are not the tactics of people who are confident they're going to win. Nor are they, I think, the tactics of people who are concerned that it's going to be a close race. They are the tactics of people who are pretty sure they're going to lose.

And they are not, most importantly, the tactics of people who drop such tactics and go back to work or school when they have lost.

There's only a split-second hair's breadth of delusion between aiming a car at a politician and doing so without swerving at the last minute. It may be that electoral defeat will deflate the passions, but I tend to doubt it. Violence is more likely. Wild political attacks and unsubstantiated attempts to impeach President Bush would seem a safe bet. With so many people having hammered references to Nazis and the end of civilization into desperate, immediate rallying cries, they couldn't all just throw up their hands and go back to a low simmer.

It seems to me this represents another warning against voting for Kerry in the hopes of changing the Democrats and their supporters. A victory will vindicate the anything-goes campaign strategy and will add a juicy reward for the years-long hatred high of the liberal rank and file. As seems usually to be the case, appeasement is not a long-term solution.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:01 AM | Comments (17)

Heir to Nixon and Carter

Be sure to check out Rhode Islander Carroll Andrew Morse's TCS response to Sullivan and Hitchens:

Sullivan and Hitchens are correct in their assertion that winning the Presidency will give John Kerry and the Democratic Party a renewed seriousness about dealing with the security of the United States. But they are mistaken in assuming that a renewed seriousness will automatically translate into the pursuit of victory over terrorism. The office of Presidency did not make Richard Nixon or Jimmy Carter, leaders honestly concerned about the security of the United States, serious about winning the primary global conflict of their era. John Kerry is the heir to that tradition.

Hitchens may be another matter, but I still think Sullivan's argument is getting much more serious treatment than it deserves.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:38 AM | Comments (2)

October 28, 2004

Under Le Microscope

Following the previous post, a link to Cox & Forkum's cartoon today seems appropriate.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:11 PM
International Affairs

Separation of Church and State... with Bars

Michael Berry of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, thinks the American Catholic Church should just shut up about politics:

Anyone not convinced that we need to reinstitute civics classes in our schools should read your Oct. 12 front-page article "Conservative Catholics push for Bush."

A basic understanding of our Constitution should make one cringe at "an alliance of bishops intent on throwing the weight of the Roman Catholic Church into the election," or on reading that the Bush campaign has spent four years "cultivating" Catholic leaders and "hiring a corps of paid staff members."

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, of Colorado, who all but said that a vote for John Kerry is a sin, could be a poster boy for an effort to repeal tax-exempt status for churches.

Berry does us the service of offering an object lesson in how a Constitutional amendment intended to protect religious freedom transforms into manacles with which to restrict it. Of course, I haven't any knowledge of Berry's other opinions about matters of the day, but there are a few particulars about which I could speculate that surely aren't wild guesses. The media and United Nations conspiring to influence our election? Well, that's an important protection against tyranny. Another Supreme Court justice suggests that it's a good thing that our judiciary is increasingly taking note of legal happenings in other nations? Well, global community and all that.

The bishops take pains to explain how their faith ought to apply to something as crucial for believers as their vote in government elections? Slap those boys down! Can't have morality preached from the pulpit! The American way is, after all, to restrict the political application of religion to cynical references for rubes and vague feelings about the righteousness of giving handouts to the poor and environmentalists.

Continues Mr. Berry:

A more widespread understanding of the principle of separation of church and state is needed.

Amen, brother. I'm even starting to agree about tax exemption, which seems only to corrupt our thinking about what is and isn't appropriate for religious organizations to do.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:06 PM | Comments (6)

Stepping Over the Major Storyline While Russia Plots

One problem that arises when those whom a society allocates as professional watchers become relentlessly partisan is that entire storylines can be missed. Crucially important storylines pop up as incidents, here and there, and are allowed to slip away; without sustained attention, and not having the resources to become international reporters themselves, regular folks just lose the thread.

Well, by now you've surely heard about this:

Russian special forces troops moved many of Saddam Hussein's weapons and related goods out of Iraq and into Syria in the weeks before the March 2003 U.S. military operation, The Washington Times has learned.

The idea of Russia's having a hand in cleansing Iraq before the war brought to mind my musing — at about the same time that Russian boots were quietly collecting sand in Iraq — that it would make for a good fiction plot to imagine the end of the Cold War as a ruse, to allow the Communists to work behind the scenes to undermine the capitalist West. In looking for that post, however, I also came across another, from April 2003, wherein I quoted a Telegraph piece by David Harrison as follows:

Top secret documents obtained by The Telegraph in Baghdad show that Russia provided Saddam Hussein's regime with wide-ranging assistance in the months leading up to the war, including intelligence on private conversations between Tony Blair and other Western leaders.

Moscow also provided Saddam with lists of assassins available for "hits" in the West and details of arms deals to neighbouring countries. The two countries also signed agreements to share intelligence, help each other to "obtain" visas for agents to go to other countries and to exchange information on the activities of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qa'eda leader.

In retrospect, however, the espionage angle of that report mightn't be the most important. Instead, consider this:

Another document, dated March 12, 2002, appears to confirm that Saddam had developed, or was developing nuclear weapons. The Russians warned Baghdad that if it refused to comply with the United Nations then that would give the United States "a cause to destroy any nuclear weapons".

A quick Google search of the only direct quotation from the March 12 document gives the impression that most of those news organizations and bloggers who chose to mention it highlighted the information-cooperation angle in the context of U.S./Russia relations, essentially tacking the mention of nuclear weapons onto reports as something that seemed only of potential interest.

Note something else about the mere three pages of Google results: the only major media coverage, apart from the Telegraph, came from the New York Post and Fox News. For some perspective of how insignificant that coverage is, search for "Abu Ghraib."

Unraveling these threads becomes all the more significant if we add in James Robbins's suggestion that much the same dynamic has been at play in the search for WMDs:

So between the al Qaqaa explosives, the dual-use equipment, the Tuwaitha nuclear material, the missing chemical weapons, and the Syrian connection, it sounds like the WMD rationale is much stronger than most critics give it credit for. One can only imagine what Saddam would have done given the chance to put them all together.

Speaking of putting things together, the thesis that begs to be tested is just how tangential the various threads to this story really are. How huge of a storyline has been permitted to submerge, here, I don't know. But somehow I suspect it would be better to find out sooner than later.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:16 AM
International Affairs

"W" Is for "Ward Off"

A couple of weekends ago, my wife, daughters, and I met with her brother's family, including two more children who never knew the 1900s, as well as two of my sister-in-law's friends to traverse a jack-o'-lantern trail in Newport. As we crossed the street to the entrance, whom should I spot heading our way but Patrick Kennedy. Almost to himself, he said, "Oh, little ones"; the utterance was followed by a momentary blank look, as if his brain was loading the script for dealing with toddlers.

In that moment, I looked toward my wife, and her expression asked, "You don't have to say anything, do you?" I smiled.

But when I turned back toward my district's representative in the United States Congress, he was gone. Apparently, he'd spotted my sister-in-law's friend's W. hat and decided it prudent to veer away.

In today's Impromptus, Jay Nordlinger shares some notes from his emailbox regarding political buttons, and while some allude to dirty looks, nobody has mentioned political accoutrements' use as congressman-bane. For some wry bloggers, of course, that might be a reason not to wear any.

Just to highlight one of Mr. Nordlinger's shared emails (brackets his):

"Jay, I live in the East Bay suburbs of San Francisco — Walnut Creek, to be exact. The Kerry-Edwards clipboard patrol is often soliciting donations at the local supermarket. I ignore them, except this one time. A very young, very pretty college-coed type asked as I passed by, 'Will you help defeat Bush with a donation?' I replied, 'No thanks, but I am glad to see some younger citizens getting involved in politics.' Since I'm over 50, I felt it was an okay remark, without condescension. Her reply was quick and chilling: 'Bush's concentration camps will be filled with the Jews, then the blacks!' Her eyes had become dark flint and her expression was pure malevolence. For only the third time in my life, I was left utterly speechless. [The letter-writer does not say what the other two times were.] I shook my head and walked slowly to the car. What in G*d's name had been poured into that young lady's head? Did she even know what she was saying?

"I'm voting (for Bush) like my life depends on it, and sending the NRA another donation."

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:46 AM

And Yet You Keep Reaching for the Hand

I've got Mr. Mom duty on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the time being, and either today or yesterday (sorry... blur), my heading-toward-three year old and I were watching Sesame Street. Thereon, Ernie wanted to play "the opposite game," but Burt protested that, every time he actually agreed to play a game with his roommate, said roommate called it quits and walked away.

Well, wonder of wonders, after Ernie had goaded Burt into declaring "Okay, I'll play!" by interrupting with the opposite of everything he said, the instigator was stumped. "Play?" said Ernie. "Gee, I can't think of an opposite for 'play.' Guess the game is over."

That's a clichéd interaction, in comedy, but it came to mind, today, after my wife relieved me of Mr. Mom duties, and I zipped through my Internet rounds. "I've got a new game," said Andrew Sullivan. "I'll make a ridiculous, translucent argument for my John Kerry vote, and the rest of you can treat it as if it isn't the nakedly contrived product of nearly a year of self-spin."

Perhaps the best line from a responding Burt came from John Hawkins — who, realizing that some people still take Sullivan seriously, offered readers a considered rebuttal:

[Putting John Kerry in office to fight terrorism is] like taking a gazelle, putting it into a cage where the only food is small animals, and expecting it to turn into a carnivore because meat is the only thing it has to eat.

Lileks is good, too, of course, with his rant being broadly applicable to a great deal of Democrat spin:

And let us shed a tear for those who believed it was necessary after 9/11 to knock off Saddam and establish a beachhead in the region 'twixt Iran and Syria, but later ran away shrieking like freshly skinned rabbits because it had somehow, by some odd turn of events, turned into a partisan affair. What scared them off? Who knows? Just happened, I guess. Somewhere between the brutal Afghan winter, the interminable quagmire of the operational pause en route to Baghdad — all 72 hours of it — and the devastating supposition that the turkey Bush presented on Thanksgiving may not have been the actual fowl consumed by the troops, we realized that the war was all failure and lies and failed lies about lying failures, and we can’t do anything and the Plan was wrong and Mission Accomplished, yeah right. Oh, and We Support the Troops.
Posted by Justin Katz at 12:24 AM | Comments (1)

October 27, 2004

... Then They Came for the Urinals

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry at an email that Mike Adams shares today:

Based on the facilities that we have in (deleted), our recommendation and request is that both gendered bathrooms on the second floor of (deleted) be made gender-neutral. By this we mean that people of all genders be able to use either of the multi-stalled restrooms on the second floor. The urinals that are currently in one of these bathrooms will be shut down.

I'm also not sure whether to despair or hope. It's sad that the question can even be asked with a straight face (no pun intended), but don't you find it at least conceivable that some not insignificant number of men who are disinclined to join the battle over marriage — for whatever reason — would decide that the "tolerance" movement has just gone too far the day they walk in what used to be a men's room and discover cardboard barricades on all of the urinals?

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:02 PM | Comments (12)

October 26, 2004

I've About Had It with the Deliberate Deafness

Here's Andrew Sullivan on Bush's recent comments in support of civil unions:

Who knows what to make of George W. Bush's statement today that he now favors civil unions for gay couples--although his party platform is against them. For what it's worth, I tend to think this is his real position, rather than a belated realization that his extremism on this matter has cost him many votes. But if it is his real position, why didn't he say so before? And how can he support the FMA which specifically bars the "incidents of marriage" for gay couples? President speak in forked tongue.

You know, I'm really beginning to rethink my belief that Andrew Sullivan is a conniving activist; he may very well have convinced himself right into delusion. That part about "a belated realization that his extremism on this matter has cost him many votes" is almost too much to take. Sullivan has personally done everything he possibly could, over the past couple of years, to paint everything having to do with preserving traditional marriage in Fundamentalist Red, and now he has the gall — the gall — continue behaving as if there is no dispute about what the FMA will do, let alone as if he isn't on the wrong side of the analysis.

In fact, I was inclined to allocate some blame to Sullivan's historically obscuring rhetoric for the fact that Michael Totten, writing on Instapundit, would declare Bush's statement a flip-flop. Totten subsequently updated with a link to Eugene Volokh's explanation of why he's wrong, but it is only through the deliberate avoidance of the discussion by folks such as Sullivan that people wouldn't at least know that another side exists. Here's one version, from February, of my explanation about why "incidents of marriage" won't prevent the creation of civil unions (see also here, here, here, and multiple other posts on this blog for more):

So, a legislature could pass a law giving a $10,000 down-payment gift to married couples. It could pass another law giving a $10,000 down-payment gift to civil-unioned couples. Yet, the judiciary could not introduce that same policy arbitrarily, and if it somehow found a right to $10,000 written into the constitution, it's extremely difficult to see why it would be limited to married people, or civil unions, or groups of people, or what have you.

In this example, the FMA would restrict both the legislature and the judiciary from expanding that $10,000 marital perk to others on the basis of its being a marital perk. In the amendment's language, the fact that married couples are currently entitled to the money, of itself, cannot be construed to require that other couples or groups are similarly entitled. But a legislature, by its nature, isn't limited to discerning what the law requires or restricted from setting up parallel perks; a judiciary, by its nature, is.

These arguments have been around for years. I know: I've been one of the people making them for that long. If you haven't heard them — particularly if you've paid as much attention to the issue as Andrew Sullivan has — it's because you haven't been listening.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:03 PM | Comments (7)
Marriage & Family

So Anyway

I think I'm ready for winter. Something about the chill in the air as I walked the dog bit pleasantly. Maybe I'm just in the mood for it to be a few months from now. When I used to spend my Sundays on a mountain in the Catskills powerwashing wood and styrofoam boxes out of which I'd spent part of the week selling fish to suburbanites, I imagined a drug that would leave me functional but completely unconscious until the spring thaw.

One year, just after the insane holiday season of a Tristate Area fish huckster, I left for Sunday's work so sick that it took me about twenty-five miles just to decide on a place to turn around and head back toward my bed. The boxes waited patiently.

That same year — whether the same week or not, I don't recall — I found myself alone on the mountain, everybody else having gone to a wedding or something. My equipment kept freezing together. The zipper on my raincoat became a gnarled rope of ice. Sweat. Sting. Snot. At last, all was clean, and it was time to load everything on my boss's truck. As I used a long, cold hook to drag my dozenth wooden box (of fifty-something) to the truck, the box caught in the heavy snow, and the hook's handle broke off. I fell forward to my knees.

I remember, at that moment, thinking that it would be bliss to snap — smash a few boxes and storm down the dirt road to my car and fly from the place. Maybe keep going until I cooled off... or thawed. But in that split second, another option came to mind: laugh. Laugh at the image of this pitiful man, on the cusp of his twenties, stomping around in the snow, all alone on a mountain, taking out his frustration on some rickety crates that he'd spent the day cleaning and repairing.

Breathe, laugh, have a smoke while looking out at the fantastic view, and then finish the job. The boxes mightn't fit right, because the lids were all frozen at angles and snow had caked on their corners. It would probably be dark and absolutely silent by the time I finished. But the job would be done. Life would go on, and I wouldn't leave the day having a mess to clean up at some future date — either with the boxes or with my boss.

So maybe wishing away the months is part of my problem. One can rage off the mountain, or one can get done what must get done and walk down.

The little things aren't worth the rage. Wouldn't you say, Michele?

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:44 AM | Comments (1)

October 25, 2004

Who Are You to Judge?

Ry's parents have always encouraged her in her relationships with men, provided they approved of her choice. When she was 16, she fell in love with her first boyfriend but was unsure of where to take things. Several months into the relationship, there were a couple of weeks, her parents recall, when she mooned around the house, talking around and about the relationship, seeming stressed out, uncertain, in need of counsel. ''Finally, my dad said, 'You should just go have sex with him,''' Ry recalled.

Okay, I did change one detail.

(via Marriage Debate blog)

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:13 PM | Comments (10)
Marriage & Family

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Randian

Now, I'm not declaring that any views ought to be banned from the opinion pages, or even that any particular attitude of expression ought to be banned. I'm not denying that providers of argumentation ought to challenge their readers, sometimes even offering them the other side in unvarnished form. After all, once upon a time, the Providence Journal published a strongly worded piece of mine that its targets would surely find offensive. Still, I find myself wondering what the thought processes were that landed Harry Binswanger's assault on the Ten Commandments within that same paper's pages.

That said, excerpts can't capture the permeating turns of phrase designed to cast scorn toward the religious, and I'd prefer to take on Binswanger's ideas, such as they are. Read the full piece to judge for yourself whether it deserved publication. Here's the essence of the rhetorical case:

In sum, the first set of commandments orders you to bow, fawn, grovel and obey. This is impossible to reconcile with the American concept of a self-reliant, self-owning individual.

The middle commandment, "Honor thy father and mother," is manifestly unjust. Justice demands that you honor those who deserve honor, who have earned it by their choices and actions. ...

The second set of commandments is unobjectionable but common to virtually every organized society -- the commandments against murder, theft, perjury and the like. But what is objectionable is the notion that there is no rational, earthly basis for refraining from criminal behavior, that it is only the not-to-be-questioned decree of a supernatural Punisher that makes acts like theft and murder wrong.

The basic philosophy of the Ten Commandments is the polar opposite of the philosophy underlying the American ideal of a free society. Freedom requires: a metaphysics of the natural -- not the supernatural; of free will -- not determinism; of the primary reality of the individual -- not the tribe or the family; an epistemology of individual thought, applying strict logic, based on individual perception of reality -- not obedience and dogma; an ethics of rational self-interest, to achieve chosen values, for the purpose of individual happiness on this earth -- not fearful, dutiful appeasement of "a jealous God" who issues "commandments."

Rather than the Ten Commandments, the actual grounding for American values is that captured by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged: "If I were to speak your kind of language, I would say that man's only moral commandment is: Thou shalt think. But a 'moral commandment' is a contradiction in terms. The moral is the chosen, not the forced; the understood, not the obeyed. The moral is the rational, and reason accepts no commandments."

I like that last line. Apart from the circularity — rationality is sufficient to derive morality, because morality is rationality — how perfect a blind assertion of radical libertarians' central flaw!

The moral is the rational, and reason accepts no commandments.

Thou shalt follow no commandments! Presumably, that includes such "commandments" by which rationality and reason are defined. In that case, what could it possibly mean to apply "strict logic" in a world that bends to "the primary reality of the individual"? Petitio principii? Sorry, bub, not in my reality. Justice demands that I honor my mother and father because they've earned it? Well (the impulse-driven rationalization might go), they'd deserve honor if they'd just stop trying to rope me into helping them with irrational appeals to my status as their "son."

With a nod toward Binswanger's offense at the suggestion that his ideology is inadequate to construct a moral society, let's accept that murder and theft are wrong by definition. "Refraining from criminal behavior" is entirely rational in an "earthly" way; the question is, what behavior ought to be criminal? Sure, it's easy to see that murder is wrong, but what is murder and what is licit killing?

Preborn, or even pre-rational, humans can't express their desire to live, or even their awareness that they are alive. May they be killed? Some might argue that the elderly and disabled drain resources in order to maintain lives that they illogically consider worth preservation. Fair to say "no"? Maybe it isn't theft to commandeer the property of those who devote their resources to imposing on others' freedoms by asserting religious morality in the public sphere; maybe it's "justice."

As I've said of Binswanger before, in tangential context, the option he favors is essentially "unlimited minority rule." Such people have striven to layer abstruse concepts to disguise the conclusion toward which their ideology leads. But a "metaphysics of the natural" becomes an epistemology of determinism dictated by the powerful in the form of chosen values serving a rational self-interest that follows a strict logic that the rest of us are too dense to comprehend. In short:

Let me do whatever I want. To do otherwise would be unacceptably irrational, because there's no rational reason to restrict me.

And thou shalt not be irrational.

October 23, 2004

Equivalence Between Certainty and Judgment

I realize I'm being a little unfair to David Morrison by not emphasizing his subsequent comments about the death penalty. However, the following paragraph, from a post decrying the uneven religiosity of political candidates, struck me as pretty typical of this sort of equivalence:

Kerry: I believe abortion is wrong but I will press a pro-abortion agenda as President. Bush: As a society we have obligations to our poorest citizens and our senior citizens but I am not going to oppose a federal law that forbids the Medicare program from negotiating with drug companies for more affordable drug prices.

The Kerry line is clear: abortion is wrong, but not only won't I fight against it, I'll fight for it. The Bush line, on the other hand, dives into the mire of healthcare policy. Allow me to rephrase it in accordance with my considered conclusion about that particular matter:

As a society we have obligations to our poorest citizens and our senior citizens, so I am not going to oppose a federal law that forbids the Medicare program from making the pharmaceutical industry an all-or-nothing business and/or driving the prices so low that companies will exit the market.

As I understand, the law to which David refers still allows regional subdivisions of Medicare to negotiate as desired — just not as a single, government-created behemoth in the market.

Catholics, in particular, seem to have an underlying desire to see their moral sense as transcending politics, and one relatively simple way to enable that self-impression is to split the difference between any two parties or candidates. Unfortunately for that strategy, it will sometimes happen that one side is overwhelmingly preferable to the other. When that's the case, we might find it easier to insist on the existence of substantial disagreement, rather than wonder whether isolated incidents of conflict mean we've misjudged specific issues.

An inclination to equate clear and dire contradictions with intricate policy judgments ought to give us reason for pause.

I didn't delve into the death penalty aspect, here, because it raises far more difficult questions, having to do with differences between various branches of Christianity as well as uncomfortable comparisons of magnitude and guilt with respect to death. Still, although I move further from support for the practice the more I consider it, some form of legalized death penalty still seems to me a matter of judgment — far more so than abortion, at any rate.

After all, when the second criminal rebukes the other that they had been "condemned justly, for the sentence [they] received corresponds to [their] crimes," Jesus did not contradict him.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:38 PM | Comments (3)

High Delivery

Another beautiful game from Ferry Halim at Orisinal. Use the fan to blow the balloon to collect flowers in the wine bottle.

Yes, the balloon does end up somewhere. (The destination is part of what makes it beautiful.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:27 PM
Quick Links

October 22, 2004

Turning on the Lights

A reader email reminded me that readership has been growing at an increasing rate, yet I've been offering site-related notes less frequently. So: any new readers who find the layout of the blog difficult to read or distracting should try clicking "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column. That ought to improve the view.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:43 PM
Site-Related Announcements

Finding the Untapped Market

As the readership of this blog marches steadily toward the professed circulation numbers of some lower-middle-market newspapers, I've begun to muse about those publications' exorbitant advertising rates. Even halving their price, just a few ads per week would buy down my desperate need to find more-profitable ways to spend my time. Craig Henry recently posted some interesting thoughts about the market for blogs:

Most people are not regular blog readers. The people who are reading represent the early adopters, the committed partisans, the info-junkies. They are, alas, only a small sliver of the news audience and electorate.

The rate at which blog readership expands will depend more on the actions of current readers than on those of bloggers. As those readers put their personal credibility behind blog content, they increase the blog-audience in ways the best-written post cannot.

One problem, I've concluded, is that the "small sliver" is made even smaller in context. If I were to start a weekly newsmagazine, for example, I wouldn't initially shoot for the global audience; I'd build local support and then seek to jump to other markets. In contrast, the standard blogger seems to build his or her audience nationally first, which means that bloggers are operating — in a way that's relevant to advertisers — on a different scale. A thousandish daily readers would be a sizable audience if they were all from Rhode Island. Dispersed around the world — as cool as that may sound — your cumulative weight is quite a bit less.

In my case, I happen to believe that there's a market in Rhode Island for the type of alternative content that bloggers offer, even without honing it tremendously around "Rhode Island issues." Just having sympathetic local perspective on national issues can be a powerful comfort. Particularly considering personal experience, and that described in the periodic emails that I receive from my fellow citizens, of feeling isolated in this midnight-blue state, the audience will certainly be receptive. The difficulty is in reaching it.

I've been trying to brainstorm creative, cost-efficient advertising methods. The standard ad placements are too expensive, and frankly, I'm not sure how effective they are anyway. Advertising on other blogs, on the other hand, reaches the diluted audience that I'm hoping to focus regionally. I've been considering getting stickers or t-shirts or something similar and handing them out. I'm open to suggestions, if anybody's got them.

(Of course, it'd be helpful if I could find the time [meaning "money"] to spruce up the rest of Timshel Arts. Such goals as artists and bloggers have seem unpleasantly circular: one needs money to set aside the time to take actions that will bring in money that will increase one's time. I guess the silver lining is that things can build organically when once good fortune strikes.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:59 AM | Comments (4)
Bloggers Blogging

What You Do in the Privacy of Your Own Shrine...

I've been meaning to link to a post by David Morrison about public displays of religion:

What strikes me about this controversy is the way that the folks on the side of hiding or banning the expression of religious faith appear to have assumed that human life or the human person can be split in this fashion. A person of deep and sincere faith cannot fully live their public life as though their faith does not inform their opinions or actions and a human community cannot long survive when, collectively, it abandons the very beliefs which many if not most of its members hold.

Very often, lately, it has seemed as if the demand made of religious citizens is that, while they may come to conclusions based on their faith, they must devise some other, non-faith-based routes to the same conclusions before they can give them voice. Certainly, if something is true, one ought to be able to approach its truth in a variety of ways, and no matter the certainty that religious faith might bring, bolstering one's confidence with additional reasoning is always worthwhile.

But one gets the sense that secularists are succeeding in pushing the standard for opinions founded in faith beyond a simple preference for additional arguments. It is as if, in their view, the religious aspect must be overcome — as something that, a priori, raises suspicion about the conclusion. Nevermind that there are multiple sociological, even biological, arguments for the protection of the unborn, for example. If they lead to the same policy position as do a person's religious views, then they are somehow invalid. It is "forcing your faith on others." Back to David:

Another problem with this approach is that it effectively makes millions of Americans who live with faith feel substantially disenfranchised from a public life in which they are supposed to be represented. Their reaction to this feeling of disenfranchisement is often a withdrawal from supporting the public life and a subsequent weakening of the overall society in which we all, whether we live with faith or not and no matter what faith we share, have a stake.

There is, to be sure, another way to react.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:30 AM

Speaking of Partisans

Hey, when Ann Coulter is right, she's right. I laughed:

Among his other pointless carping about the war in Iraq, Kerry keeps claiming the military is overextended. His supporters claim Bush has a secret plan to bring back the draft. Whatever happened to all those gays who wanted to join the military? We haven't heard a peep out of them lately. How about rounding up a "Coalition of the Fabulous," Sen. Kerry? And what does his good pal Mary Cheney tell him about that?

I wondered:

The Party of Ideas is now equating Halliburton with Enron. The only surprise is that Edwards didn't throw in Watergate and Abscam just for good measure.

As even the New York Times admitted the day after the vice presidential debate, "[T]here is no evidence Mr. Cheney has pulled strings on Halliburton's behalf" and "The independent General Accountability Office concluded that Halliburton was the only company that could have provided the services the Army needed at the outset of the war."

I cried:

On the basis of their own insane, violent behavior toward Republicans, Democrats demand to be put in the White House – so the violence will stop. At this rate, it's only a matter of time before the Kerry campaign announces that anti-Bush insurgents control most of the Bush-Cheney 2004 headquarters, and that the sooner the U.S. pulls out of those quagmires the better.
Posted by Justin Katz at 8:10 AM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

If Only the West Wanted the West to Win

I first became aware of Cliff May when he was the Republican on a show that pitted hyperpartisans against each other. The hyperpartisan Democrat — some former politician or other — ran out of arguments against the point that May was making and resorted to the weasel's undermining strategy of complimenting his opponent on how well he "does his job." The implication being, of course, that May's arguments didn't count, that they couldn't be sincerely offered, because his job was to spin, and he was spinning.

So, yes, there are such considerations to be made when reading a piece that he recently wrote about the confirmed case for war in Iraq, including the insistence that we can't yet discount the possibility of WMDs:

For another, because no one — including opponents of the war — knew that Saddam no longer had WMD stockpiles.

And Gen. Michael DeLong, former Deputy Commander of the US Central Command, is among those who still do not believe it. "There was WMD in Iraq before and during the war," he says. "You have multiple-source intelligence. Also, from other Arab leaders -- as Tommy Franks [the general who led the U.S. operation to liberate Iraq] says in his book -- King Abdullah said Saddam has WMD. President Mubarek of Egypt said ... Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. Other leaders who have chosen not to be named said the same thing. We had technical intelligence that saw the same thing."

What happened to those weapons? General DeLong recalls: "Two days before March 19, 2003, we saw quite a number of vehicles going into Syria. We could not go after them because we said we'd give Saddam 48 hours. A lot of (Iraqi) leaders went into Syria, and a lot of WMD went into Syria. We've gotten indications some went into Lebanon, and probably some went into Iran. ...We've done calculations that you could probably bury 16 Eiffel Towers or Empire State Buildings and never find them in the desert."

Still, the question isn't whether May has ulterior motives for writing such a column; it's whether he makes any valid points. It has become a cliché to refer to "experiencing history in the making," but I don't think I've ever felt the truth of the phrase more than in the post-war argument over WMDs. Don't ever forget how quickly the storyline became that none existed. For a variety of reasons, analysis of the world as-is isn't often performed with an emphasis on exhausting all possible explanations, as well as others that might negate them.

At the very least, history will vindicate George W. Bush's decision, I'm confident. And it's hardly a stretch to hold that history may prove that we were wrong to declare ourselves wrong about some of its justifications.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:04 AM | Comments (1)
International Affairs

October 21, 2004

Trying, I'm Trying

I've got much to blog about, both links and musings, but I just can't get myself to it. First, I restarted the morning job search; then I started doing the editing from which I was distracted last night. In between it all, I've clicked the mouse around the Internet expecting... something. Not sure what. The upswing of a blessing in disguise, I guess.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:13 PM
Diary & Confession

October 20, 2004

The Day I've Had

Sorry for the lack of posts, today. Just as I was preparing to get under way with my evening work, the phone rang, and a huge wall fell on me. A brick one, interwoven from my faith to my household economics. Regarding the economics, things might be tight for a while. Regarding the faith, well, I'm glad I've managed to develop it as much as I have in the few years since my conversion.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:27 PM | Comments (2)
Diary & Confession

October 19, 2004

I'll Have to Remember This Line

Lileks recently dipped into the deeper discoursive pool of faith, wrapping up with a line about religion that I've committed to memory:

It's almost a spiritual version of George Carlin's law: anyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac.

The rhetorical application is made all the more delicious, of course, by the fact that it derives from George Carlin, of all people.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:53 PM | Comments (2)

Don't Bring It Up

Why is it that those who place "tolerance" toward the top of their personality résumés seem so often not to understand what the quality actually entails? Being tolerant of another person — interacting with that person so as not to cause offense — means understanding his views and considering them in how and when one approaches sensitive topics. It isn't toleration, for one thing, to tell somebody whom you've hurt by poking a sore spot that you ought to be able to poke because he oughtn't consider the spot to be sore.

Another Jonah Goldberg emailer (a group that's beginning to become a candidate for its own NRO-moderated blog) offers the latest instance of what has been a common example, lately:

I think a better example would be if Cheney's daughter happened to be a convert to Islam or Judaism, and the Bush administration was pursuing laws that somehow limited the rights of religious expression. (I know we're playing with some way out there hypotheticals right now, but bear with me.) If Kerry pointed out that Jews/Muslims were human beings with the right to express their religious affiliation and pointed to Cheney's daughter as an example of that, would that be shameful? There's nothing wrong with being a member of a religion, and there's nothing wrong with being gay. The difference in opinion on this issue stems from whether people think being gay is shameful, embarrassing, or unfortunate in the first place.

Before addressing the point, we must clear up a couple of slips or sleights (whichever they happen to be). Note, first, the equation of supporting the codification of the status quo (traditional marriage) with pursuing laws that would do something that is not currently done (further infringement on religious liberty). This conflation is characteristic of the arguments of those who advocate for same-sex marriage: they act as if it wouldn't be a change, speaking as if the Federal Marriage Amendment would remove a right that homosexuals have historically enjoyed.

Note, second, that the emailer lists two specific religions in his analogy but names the affront as against "religious expression" generally. The difference may seem minimal, but the emotional tug of the thing changes if we correct for this problem: suppose John Kerry were a Muslim, Atheist, or even a Protestant and his daughter were notable for being a Roman Catholic. What would be the reaction if, asked about school choice in a debate, President Bush brought up her name in a response suggesting that Kerry favors anti-Catholic discrimination by excluding religious schools from voucher programs, insinuating that he and the daughter were united against Kerry? Or up the emotional ante: what if the moderator had asked about fuel efficiency, and President Bush had mentioned John Edwards's son, who died in a car accident, as a presumed supporter of large, solid automobiles? (Goldberg gives some other examples toward the end of a recent column.)

Getting back to tolerance, it seems to me that a person who is compassionate with respect to differences would avoid the arsenal of logical leaps, anachronisms in cultural reality, and (especially) fundamentalist insistence that all arguments must be approached as if that person's view were undeniably correct. Now, I don't know how the Cheney family handled Mary's coming out. I don't know what their Thanksgiving dinner discussions involve. Nonetheless, I can say that Jonah's emailer shows utter contempt for the other side and its ability to think in something other than black and white when he writes:

There's nothing wrong with being a member of a religion, and there's nothing wrong with being gay.

Is there no religion for which membership would be something wrong? More precisely, is there no approach to religion that could be wrong? Even just a sensitive topic within a family? Apparently, a great many part-time spokesmen for gay rights believe there to be something wrong with subscribing to a religion that believes homosexual impulses ought to be resisted and treated as an urge to sin. And apparently, that particular something is so wrong that to so much as leave the possibility open indicates hypocrisy, at best, and bigotry, at worst.

There's nothing wrong with having feelings of attraction toward people of one's own sex, and there's nothing wrong with wanting to define one's own view as objective reality. The difference of opinion on the former count stems from whether people think the attraction is contrary to what is evident in the way in which God formed us. The difference of opinion on the latter count stems from whether people are even willing to admit that that's what they're doing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:51 PM

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

It's of dubious sagacity to take anything Andrew Sullivan writes as being more sincere than an activist's rhetoric. However, something that he wrote about the name-drop heard 'round the world raises an interesting point:

In many speeches on marriage rights, I cite Mary Cheney. Why? Because it exposes the rank hypocrisy of people like president Bush and Dick and Lynne Cheney who don't believe gays are anti-family demons but want to win the votes of people who do. I'm not outing any gay person. I'm outing the double standards of straight ones.

Note the false dilemma: one must either support same-sex marriage, or one must believe that "gays are anti-family demons." With a single logical fallacy, Sullivan sweeps away any possibility that a person can have principled reasons for taking the President's position on the issue. Swept away, too, must be any comprehensible description of the Christian "respect for the person" approach.

There's simply no use engaging such people as Sullivan in discussion — which, I increasingly suspect, is sort of the point of what they're doing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:01 AM | Comments (17)

October 18, 2004

Career Options: Terrorist or Puppy-Loving Philanthropist

Dennis Prager makes well a point that bears making and remaking:

[The Democrats] say this: There are far more terrorists in Iraq since the invasion, and, therefore, the invasion was a mistake.

Yet, in order to believe that the greater number of terrorists in Iraq means the invasion was a mistake, you have to believe one or both of the following -- that were it not for the invasion, the terrorists who are in Iraq would have been engaged in some peaceful work in some other country, or that they are newly minted terrorists who were perhaps selling shoes prior to the war in Iraq.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:56 PM | Comments (1)
Middle East

Everybody Knows That You're Not 'Bout Choices

Someday (perhaps upon retirement), I'd like to put together a collection of positions that everybody knows are distorted for political reasons. John Kerry's position on same-sex marriage, for one thing. Jeff Miller recently found further evidence of another one:

"It would have eviscerated a woman's right to choose in the State of Florida,'' Silver said.

So what exactly was being done to eviscerate a woman's right?

The law requires abortionists in the state to inform women about the age and development of their unborn child and provide them with a state-published pamphlet suggesting abortion alternatives.

Oh my! Forcing mothers to know the age of the child which is about to be killed is just so tacky on the part of the government. We are all just suppose to play along in the deception that there is something other than a child in the womb. When it comes to knowledge about pregnancy - Mums the word. Especially since they don't want Mom to be the word. And then the evil government was also forcing women to know about alternatives to abortion and that they could be entitled to government benefits if they have their child. Knowledge is a dangerous thing and keeping women ignorant is a major part of the pro-abortion movement.

When signing up to support a woman's "right to choose," be sure to read the fine print — keeping an eye out for the "on the basis of select information" clause.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:50 PM | Comments (1)

Why Do They Stay?

That's the question that crosses my mind when I read such letters as that which Mr. Benjamin Morton of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, sent to the Providence Journal to offer his fellow citizens a refresher on a certain brand of history, popular among elite academics. I've italicized a couple of choice sentiments:

Imagine historians in a world where Hitler had won World War II excusing him for the slaughter of millions by extolling his vision of gaining new territory for a superior race. The genocide of Native Americans claimed far more people than the Holocaust, but this is easily written off by the morally certain culture that carried out the atrocities.

Contrary to Bowden's rosy picture, the United States has not ended war but, rather, made it more violent and prevalent. It did not end slavery until after much of the rest of the world did so. And it is still immersed in religious fundamentalism as groups bomb abortion clinics and try to bring back prayer in public schools.

Bowden's outright racism toward Native Americans and Muslims deserves the violent response now brewing across the Muslim world. This racism is not the answer to terrorism -- it is the cause. When I read words like his I fear for our world, just as much as when I hear a tape from Osama bin Laden.

Bowden's whitewashing of America's cruelty and his incitement to violence will bring both upon us.

Speaking of OBL, didn't one of his tapes say something about people's reaction to a strong horse and to a weak horse?

By the way, remember when it was all the rage for Morton's ilk to say such things as, "Of course terrorism is horrible, but..."? Well, it occurs to me that they never — or rarely, at best — qualify their anti-Americanism in that way, as in, "Of course America has done some good things in the world, but..."

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:26 PM | Comments (1)

Let's Put It This Way

If my blog's traffic statistics matched a hypothetical line-graph of my stress-level trend, I'd be a very happy blogger, indeed. Posts to come... once I've managed to pull my shoulders down below my ears and can rotate my head from side to side again.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:57 PM | Comments (2)
Diary & Confession

October 17, 2004

Self-Interest in God

In yesterday's Corner, Jonah Goldberg posted an email from a Georgetown freshman who characterizes himself as an "agnostic nontheist" (an atheist wishing to cover his bets?) and who makes a hobby of attempting to construct morality without the use of a Supreme Being:

The linchpin is self-interest.

Everyone does, for better or for worse, what they believe is in their own self-interest. However, us being more advanced cerebrally than animals, we've discovered that forming social covenants (i.e. government) that cause us to pledge to respect, in a variety of ways, the self-interest of others, is in all of our self-interests. Because, given the uncertainty of the future, even if we're strong today, we could be weak tomorrow -- or given our biological urge to procreate and pass on our genetic code, our offspring generations from now could be oppressed by those who are stronger in the future, if we do not form a society to protect their freedoms.

And thus, from self-interest, are derived concepts such as Fairness, Equality, Liberty, and Freedom.

In rapid succession, three responses followed. A sophomore at UPenn provides the first instinct of a theist:

Self-interest does not account for any of the most important things in life. Why do soldiers die for their country? Why would anyone die for anything, if self-interest reigned? A parent for a child? A husband for a wife? Sane people will acknowledge that these actions are "good". But they glorify a radical rejection of self-interest for a higher purpose.

Another reader incorporates the reality of self-interest into theism:

For me, the salient point is that God challenges His people to define self-interest in a new way, apart from secular standards of morality. If I act according to self-interest as God defines it, I will inevitably act against self-interest as the secular world defines it.

And yet another speculates about the dangers of an atheist regime:

He identifies precisely why I don't trust atheists: the only reason he will support my freedom is his self-interest, and I have rather less confidence than he does that his perception of his self-interest won't change someday to accommodate enslaving me. I rely for my freedom on those who believe that freedom is God-given, and will not take it away no matter how advantageous they would find the prospect.

These three are all great points, and as one who now, after conversion from my own version of "agnostic nontheism," Orthodox Intellectualism, finds them all correct and persuasive, I still must admit that they are not adequate. Our Georgetown student and many others who share his frame of mind will eventually think to reply as follows:

Human beings realized, at some point, that individual sacrifice was necessary for community perpetuation. It is in each individual's interest to admit that some individuals will have to sacrifice themselves to keep the society going. Therefore, out of self-interest, the members of the society conspired to cultivate an irrational morality — whether an unrooted emphasis on honor or some other higher priority deriving from the Divine — that helps the individuals with the misfortune to be on the front line to see their ultimate rejection of self-interest as actually serving it in a more profound way. (And of course, the powerful and privileged will rig the system to lower their odds, which also grants them leeway to question the irrational morality itself.)

Such a scenario has been easy to espouse, over the past centuries, as science has progressed apace while standing before a backdrop of majority Christianity. A problem arises over time, however, when more and more people figure out the game. And we're currently seeing the effects of this idea's escape from ivory towers.

Show me a laborer who would articulate a morality according to long-term self-interest. Show me a poor man who would respect the abstraction of property rights against his own needs and desires. Show me a soldier who would lay down his life in full awareness that he has merely lost the lottery in a necessary cultural illusion.

It remains in the interest of aggregated individuals, therefore, to cultivate a society that ensures some significant percentage of members who believe there to be more to life than self-interest. Over long histories, with the odds that the ultimate sacrifice will be required, the "more" advisably promises an afterlife payoff. To wit, it is in everybody's interest — even the intellectuals' — to behave as if God exists. Even if the atheists are right, in other words, it behooves them not to promote their view.

Now, accepting this argument, we have a choice to make — a choice that strikes me as purposefully unavoidable, even approached from infinite angles. Some people will look at a theist and say, "You desire meaning and immortality, so you have created God to answer your emotional need; I have understood this, so because I desire God's existence, I do not believe in Him." Some theists might reply that their desire for God is evidence of Him.

Just so, the individual and communal instinct to pursue self-interest, leading us to the imperative of belief in God, stands as evidence of His hand at work in our formation, as well as in the way that we, in turn, form our societies. Personally, I have come to feel that humankind will never discover evidence nor invent argument that demands acceptance of either theism or atheism. Still, God must either exist or not exist, without regard to our belief, and if He does, accepting that reality would be a matter of self-interest in countless respects.

A power failure delayed this posting (requiring that I rewrite it in substantial part), and in the interim, Andrew Stuttaford raised the question of an "altruism gene" that ensures an instinctual morality regardless of its philosophical bases' stability. When such arguments branch into genetics, it has seemed to me that the ground on which theists stand becomes even more firm — although again we have the irreducible choice about faith.

Whatever the case, one could argue that our ability to "transcend" instinct is a defining characteristic of humanity. Women are supposed to have a strong instinct to protect their young, including in the womb, after all. Thus, we return to the need for a philosophy — a theology — that preempts our "transcending" the instinct to behave as if we will one day be judged apart from this life.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:32 PM | Comments (4)

October 16, 2004

Beware the Parens

On Marriage Debate Blog, Eve Tushnet often manages to offer pithy, context-creating commentary when introducing links. For example, introducing a short Newsweek piece about children with homosexual parents:

[Stuff not mentioned: Criticism of existing studies of same-sex parenting; whether kids do best with a mom and dad; what thoughts these particular kids have about the mom & dad idea. There's also a cameo by creepy, bullying Christian teens, woo-hoo. --Eve]

Is it me, or does it seem that bracketed text often offers the gems? This is in marked contrast to those insidious parenthetical interjections, an example of which Dirk Johnson and Adam Piore offer in their Newsweek piece:

For kids of gays, the vast majority of them heterosexual (research shows that kids of gays are not more likely to be gay themselves), it can mean being caught between two worlds and feeling at odds with both.

That parens-slip manages to promote an idea that, at best, needs clarification. It is a flaw of the piece, as a whole, that it doesn't differentiate between children who live with homosexual couples and those who happen to have a biological parent who is gay. (The pictures are all of children with parent & partner.) If the "research" is of the second group, then although I haven't read up on it, I wouldn't be surprised if the statement were true; indeed, it might be possible to use that as evidence that homosexuality is not genetically determined.

If the research is of the first group — children living in homosexual households — then, although there's no decisive information, the statement is more wrong than right. One study, which is relatively old admittedly (1986), found that 23.5% of children of homosexual households were gay themselves; that's much higher than the general population. That finding is in line with multiple studies suggesting that, as Newsweek puts it, "sons and daughters of gays tend not to be as rigid about traditional sex roles."

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

This Is the Way the World Ends: Not with a Bang, with a Coo

One of my students complained, yesterday, when I informed him that, if he wanted back the remote control car that I had just taken away in the final minutes of the day, he would have to walk down the stairs with the class and then back up with me. Apparently, he had to walk home, and this extra bit of exercise would be just a bit too much, making him "collapse halfway home." Two relevant flashbacks:

  • The feel of jeans almost literally frozen to my legs after the two-mile bike ride to the junior high school in the dead of winter
  • The day my mother had to leave work to bring me dry clothes because the same bike ride ended with me saturated, just about requiring the janitor to follow me around with a mop

In a fantastic rant, Michele Catalano pinpoints the moment when Western Civilization decided to smother itself to death:

You know when the world went to hell? When Coca Cola decided to teach the world to sing. The second that commercial came out, a death knell sounded across the playgrounds and schoolyards of America. Parents everywhere, suckered in by the feel-good lyrics and hand-holding sappiness of the commercial felt an awakening of sorts. All those who missed the hippie train of the 60's were going to jump on the Free to be You and Me train of the 70's, and ride it hard.

Ride it hard, but with fifteen layers of padding.

In a confluence of thought and scenery, as I put this post together, I just happened to catch a bit of the lyrics of "Apple a Day" from David Wilcox's excellent CD Into the Mystery (of which I have an autographed copy):

When you get there life is easy
Winning every game you play

But every day is just the same
Nothing lost and nothing gained
Same old re-run on some child-proof stage
So they say: Vacation in Eden
Bring an apple a day

(Dust in the Light, where angry rants lay down with Christian folk-rock.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:22 AM

Clearing the Book(marks)


I just noticed that I've currently got about two dozen items that I've bookmarked with intent to blog. Moreover, my net increase has been about four or five a day — that's over and above what I actually manage to comment on.

To quickly get two links off my browser window — and to distract y'all until I can write more substantially — I herewith recommend the short film Fellowship 9/11. If you've got fifteen free minutes, today, this parody of Michael Moore is an hilarious way to spend them. (Even just the quick snippets parodying his previous movies make the download worthwhile.)

Via Mark Shea, whose family could use a Christian fellowship of prayers just now.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:49 AM | Comments (1)
Quick Links

We Hold These Truths to Be Wishes

In a reflection upon the ten-year anniversary of The Bell Curve, John Derbyshire runs afoul of the principles of our nation, I'd say, when he writes:

We Americans are averse to inquiring too deeply into human abilities, for fear that what we might find would contradict the founding principles of our nation, principles we naturally hold dear. In that sense, the human sciences are in their very nature un-American. Science doesn't care what you wish. You may wish that the sky were a crystal dome, or the earth hollow, or the living species unchanging through all time; science calmly, patiently, and irrefutably tells you that none of these things is the case.

I suppose certain points could be raised as evidence on that argument's behalf, although they'd be recent and superficial for the most part. It's indisputable, for example, that a certain feelgoodism has swept the land, but as is evident in our capitalism, Americans tend to consider success — at whatever — to be its own proof of human abilities. Many Americans like to believe, as Derb suggests, that "anybody can be anything," but in its purer form, the declaration is results-driven, and never divorced from effort. Work hard enough, the promise goes, and (perhaps more importantly) find your own path to an end, and you can achieve success in reasonable proximity to an ideal.

Tiger Woodses are a special breed, to be sure, but making them the disproof of the anything that anybody can be takes a narrow view of what we mean by "anything." The American dogma — and yes, it involves idealism — requires that one find a strategy for playing golf that fits one's unique talents and expend enough effort in practice to allow that unique approach to become decisive. The odds improve greatly, obviously, the broader "anything" becomes, whether clubhouse champ is adequate or, taking a different tack, starting/funding/running/covering a professional golf tournament counts as having "made it" in golf.

The distinction is foundational. I reply to Derb that the fact that human beings are differently abled is in no way contradictory to "the founding principles of our nation." Note what those principles state:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...

The equal endowment is the rights. We are self-evidently equal, even as we are self-evidently not equally capable of any given task. Human abilities — endowments of brain, brawn, or bucks — are not the measures of value or of importance. This is why, beyond his odd hint that America's self-evident truth is just a wish about which science doesn't care, the contradiction that Derb cites does not exist:

Personally I believe that the contradiction between core American ideals and the results now pouring in from the human and biological sciences is resolvable, and that a properly scientific approach to the human sciences, and a widespread popular understanding of them such as Herrnstein and Murray attempted to promote via their book, would strengthen and improve our society, not weaken it.

The "contradiction" is not "resolvable" in exactly the same sense that the "contradiction" between science and religion is not "resolvable." These problems are not resolvable because they are not problems. In the American vision, which has, admittedly, blurred in recent decades, human equality supercedes anything that science could possibly tell us, just as God incorporates material reality and is felt mostly in the Why that science cannot touch.

It is a shame that the American intelligentsia smeared Herrnstein and Murray's book before their message could sink into the national psyche to help form a strategy for addressing disparities that may arise in the future. But the basic truth of the matter is that, while science can help us to identify and solve problems, the conviction that they are, indeed, problems must come from elsewhere.

Science, therefore, is only "un-American" to the extent that it presumes to tell us what equality means, not in a narrow context, but as a measurement of value. The reason that The Bell Curve met with such a heated reception was that the book's opponents believed its yardstick to offer a measurement of just that, value, rather than simply of intelligence. To their everlasting credit, the authors took the different approach of beginning with the American principle that all men are created equal and then looking to their research for ways to avoid Americans' forgetting it.

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

Is Asexuality a Choice?

Well, it has always been a possibility that the singles movement would push for the various benefits offered their married acquaintances, but this certainly advances the progression a stage or two:

"If asexuality is indeed a form of sexual orientation, perhaps it will not be long before the issue of 'A' pride starts attracting more attention," New Scientist says.

Activists have already started campaigning to promote awareness and acceptance of asexuality, it reports.

The Asexual Visibility and Education Network has an online store that sell items promoting awareness and acceptance on asexuality.

Among the items is a T-shirt with the slogan, "Asexuality: it's not just for amoebas anymore."

Only in a stunningly corrupted culture could those who are less inclined toward the sin of the age feel the need to campaign for acceptance. In the fashion of our day, some among these folks will surely decide that the law has no basis to discriminate against them in the various ways that it encourages people to pair up.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:11 AM | Comments (10)
Marriage & Family

The King and the Duke Ride Again

The reference in this post's title is, of course, to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The impression of Kerry as the King and Edwards as the Duke only grows stronger with each passing week — a couple of old-pro con men taking advantage of the young and a frightened minority as they endeavor to fleece rich and poor alike out of their money. You've surely seen it, but the hefty rotten vegetable that Charles Krauthammer tossed onto the stage today is worth another look:

This is John Edwards on Monday at a rally in Newton, Iowa: "If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."

In my 25 years in Washington, I have never seen a more loathsome display of demagoguery. Hope is good. False hope is bad. Deliberately, for personal gain, raising false hope in the catastrophically afflicted is despicable.

Even if you're inclined to overlook any number of outrageous comments from the Democrats, don't we have, here, some indication of what sort of leaders — what sort of diplomats, what sort of executives — this pair would be once in office?

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:04 AM

October 15, 2004

Sometimes I Feel Like I Missed a Few Decades

Yes, I've noticed the increased interest in flu shots over the past few years. Yes, I know we're all supposed to be all a-panic over the vaccine shortage. But reading Michelle Malkin's personal experiences trying to secure a shot for her 11-month-old son made me wonder whether I've missed some significant turn of events.

Throughout this millennium, when somebody's asked me a question about flu shots, my unwavering reply has been: "Huh?" Flu shots? Shots for the flu? Don't we combat the flu with axioms — as in "feed a cold, starve the flu"? Michelle writes that the "shortage of the flu vaccine may lead to more deaths than the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." Really?

That's an honest question. Back when I was a kid, was the nation suffering one flu 9/11 per year? I beg of you not to read anything more than a statement of fact in the following: I can name three people with whom my life has intersected who died on September 11, 2001. About a dozen who were close. I couldn't name a single person whom I've known who has died of the flu, or who has had a loved one die of it. That doesn't mean that nobody has, but the flu has never in my lifetime been an illness that carried with it the stench of death.

So, the question: am I being negligent as a father for not dropping everything to head to the pediatrician's office? Or do I get another year or two before not fighting over the rationed supplies marks me as an irresponsible parent stuck in an ignorantly blissful past when the flu was just an illness that made you glad that you had indoor plumbing and cable TV?

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:09 PM | Comments (7)

October 14, 2004

A Marriage Solution for an Isolated World

Right at the outset, let me say that I respect Noah Millman's thinking and writing. When I manage to read his blog, I find him always thoughtful and usually correct. Still, a recent post of his, arguing that "the fight to prohibit the redefinition of marriage as a unisex institution is deeply hypocritical," falls in the category of rhetoric that many conservatives find sufficiently persuasive to let a difficult practical decision loiter unto irrelevance.

To speak bluntly, Noah's is a dangerous, destructive argument to put forward without heavy disclaimers that some restrictions may apply — that the issue is beyond its reach when spilled from intellectual isolation into a society in which those who respect neither side of the intraconservative debate really do wish to institute their undermining policy. Consider, for example, the ease with which he slips by the entire same-sex marriage fight:

The only states that have even talked about redefining marriage this way have been forced to do so by the courts. The solution to that problem is to punish the courts - systematically, by reducing their power, and not in an ad-hoc fashion by exempting this or that law from review or amending the Constitution every time they rule in a way the people dislike. Believe me, they'll get the message; they sure did in the 1930s.

If you're a supporter of the Federal Marriage Amendment and you didn't just slap your head in astonishment that you missed such a straightforward answer, then count me among your company. We face a judiciary with nigh irresistible momentum toward implementing a liberal cultural regimen as the law, and Noah's solution is not to stand firm on a specific issue about which a significant majority is in agreement in the hopes of bending back the culture.

Rather, his solution is to maneuver through procedural abstractions that are at least two steps removed from any specific matter that has the emotional power to raise the average American's ire. Not only would he leech the public will for action, but he'd attract another politically imposing group to the other side, because the attack would be more directly against their interests: lawyers. Restricting the judiciary on huge cultural questions is one thing; directly assaulting the power of the courthouse is another.

While writing about divorce, Noah mentions that "we're talking about changing a culture, not building a machine." His phrasing is so true, and so relevant, that it's jarring that he does not apply the principle to the ostensible topic of his post. In the process of cultural change, the first step is to arrest an insidious trend; only then can we overlay a beneficial one. Failing to work in that direction risks wasted effort, wasted ammunition, and broadcast strategies. Reducing the judiciary's power, as a cause of its own, would trigger red flags among any number of groups that find the political landscape such that they can't outright support same-sex marriage, or that haven't realized the judicial implications of resistence to same-sex marriage.

And the redirected action would very likely be for naught. The component of his suggestion by which he would fortify marriage — tightening divorce laws — would only further motivate the juristic incubi. Citizens who wish to leave open the option of divorce for themselves and citizens who wish not to have a previous marital decision come under retrospective scrutiny are not the only parties with an interest in maintaining a culture in which divorce is easy and in which that ease requires further contractual protections. Add children into the mix, and the number of forms and legal challenges only increases. Divorce is practically an industry unto itself.

If we believe in the undeclared intentions of the judiciary, generally speaking, to redefine marriage, as well as the difficulty of depleting the power of that branch of government, is it rational to trust that the judiciary would leave tightened divorce laws alone? Couldn't quick divorce suddenly become yet another invisible-ink right in the Constitution? I would suggest that the distinct matters of activists judges and protecting marriage coalesce such that those who oppose the former ought to, first, throw their weight behind those who support the latter, not the other way around.

The same-sex marriage issue pits traditional conservatives against a radical movement that simply does not accept basic premises of governance, culture, or even of rationality that one might suppose to be common ground. Therefore, if we address each battle without reference to the fundamental differences (as Noah has done in separating judicial activism and SSM as issues), then that radical movement — which readily subordinates all to its driving intellectual and emotional needs — will roll right over those who stand against it in any particular.

Noah's prescription, in other words, fits neither the circumstances nor the opposition. Nowhere is this impression more bolstered than in his closing "open question" to Andrew Sullivan. In response to a Sullivan post about an evangelical's call to shift emphasis to divorce, Noah writes:

So here's my question: are you *predicting* that an attack on no-fault divorce is coming ("divorce is next" is how you title this item) and hence warning straights, in effect, "first they came for the gays"? Or are you mocking the Christian Right for *ignoring* divorce and focusing only on sins their flocks would not commit ("Why not combine . . . amendments 'defending' marriage with bands on no-fault divorce? Well, you know the answer.")? Are you attacking your opponents for *not* really caring about marriage, or warning us that they *do* really care?

Consider, by way of indirect evidence, a bit of another post from Sullivan, from January:

So how does Derbyshire propose to "tighten access" to marriage, as currently conceived? He offers nothing. Would he crack down on Las Vegas marriage laws? Would he lobby for a constitutional amendment banning no-fault divorce? Would he require waiting periods before marriage is legal? No word yet. Methinks he's blowing smoke. When those in favor of traditional marriage start proposing measures that would infringe on heterosexual abuse of marital privileges, I'll take them seriously. Until then ...

The answer to Noah's either/or questions is: "Yes." Sullivan is mocking a group he sees as hypocrites. When they cease their hypocrisy, he will take them seriously... seriously enough to warn others what a bunch of oppressive, out-of-touch kooks they are. To my experience, most of those who actually advocate against same-sex marriage are not hypocrites, inasmuch as they would gladly put divorce laws on the table for reassessment. And Noah would surely agree that they are not kooks.

The topical sequence in which cultural change must be pursued and what can be accomplished at each stage are legitimate matters for debate. However, to pick up Noah's Biblical imagery, presuming a beam in the collective eye of heterosexuals, in order to characterize SSM supporters as having only a mote, tars even the most intellectually and personally consistent advocates for traditional marriage with the indiscretions of other heterosexuals — who, again to my experience, are exponentially more likely to support same-sex marriage anyway. Disparaging supporters of the FMA in this way is merely a method of obviating a somewhat cold, certainly difficult assessment of the choices that we actually face.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:50 PM | Comments (20)
Marriage & Family

October 13, 2004

Re: The Debates

Sorry, folks. I take some comfort in a belief that my blog persona isn't such that readers consider commentary on events like these debates obligatory, but I still should confess that I've turned the television off. I watched the first half, but then my daughter distracted me, and when I returned fifteen minutes later, I just couldn't pick up the thread.

In part, I'm just plain busy; Wednesdays have bad nights for me. More importantly, though, the candidates have slipped into predictable mode. Kerry can't hide behind false hawkishness in a domestic debate. I guess it became an option not to watch when Kerry's answers began giving me flashbacks of Clinton's SOTUs.

Frankly, I hit the off button feeling optimistic. Political business as usual will benefit the President, I'd say, whether or not the average viewer can clear his or her head from all the cha-ching-cha-chings underlying Kerry's every word, whether or not they smirk at Kerry's strange insistence that increasing government involvement in healthcare isn't "government healthcare" because the government doesn't force you to take a cheaper program. (It's the magical health insurance program! The government just gives you more choices. Other programs won't do that, you see; mean companies insist that you not have choices because, well, because... did Kerry mention that he's going to cut taxes and increase the minimum wage?)

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:30 PM | Comments (1)

There's the Rub

Even rereading it in a blog post from 2002, I didn't think to mention the following perspective from Richard Dawkins, because it seemed relatively commonplace:

The word atheism sounds negative; let me call it rationalism. It is a rational view of the world where you stand up proudly, in your humanity, you look life straight in the face, you look the universe straight in the face, you do your level best to understand it, to understand why you exist, what the universe is about, you recognise that when you die that's it, and therefore life is very, very precious and you devote your life to making the world a better place, to leading a good life so when you die you can say to yourself I have led a good life. Now, that seems to me to be a worthwhile goal to put in place of the medieval superstition which is religion.

My response to such suggestions has generally been that it may be workable for a couple of generations — generations adequately inculcated with a subconscious sense of traditional morality. But over time, the cultural consciousness would increasingly realize that the concepts of a "better place" and a "good life" are ultimately malleable. Somehow the potential for countless moments of selfish indulgence is supposed to be a reasonable sacrifice for a single — final — moment of arbitrary contentment?

Now, I'm thinking that it may be too generous an appraisal to give such a moral foundation "a couple of generations" of viability. My reassessment comes in reaction to a Corner discussion (starting here that Mark Steyn sparked with his now-infamous column about facing grisly death defiantly. Wrote John Derbyshire:

Philip Larkin, who was an atheist, said: "...Being brave / Lets no one off the grave. / Death is no different whined at than withstood." In an age like this, when most people in the Western world don't any longer believe in life after death, that has strong appeal. Why not go out whining and pleading? What difference does it make, when all's said and done? My guess is that a majority of Westerners feel that way in their hearts; and a HUGE majority of those who are paid to form our opinions -- teachers, media folk -- do.

My guess is that Derb is correct that this is a common feeling, although perhaps not a majority one. It manifests, too, in the quiet desperation to maintain a semblance of youth and to chase centuries-long life as race dogs chase a mechanical bunny. But look at what we've got side by side: the philosophical position that one must live one's life with reference to its final moments, and the practical realization that, if life's all, then those final moments are to be cheaply traded for a meager chance to extend it.

When Nick Berg had his life torn from him in Iraq, I gave some thought to what I might do — at least what I'd plan to do — were I to find myself sitting before a camera, with Bronze Age madmen chanting behind me. Steyn suggests offering disinformation. I've decided that I'd declare as much of the Nicene Creed as I could push through my lips, and I suspect the effort wouldn't leave much capacity to pat myself on the back for having lived a "good life."

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:12 PM | Comments (5)

October 12, 2004

That Was No Woman...

In a post about the same-sex marriage fight Down Under, Diogenes offers a great illustration of one aspect of the argument against the innovation:

Say Mr. So-and-so has a maniacal desire to have carnal relations with Zelda. I point out to him, "You can only have lawful carnal relations with Zelda in the context of marriage. As it happens, Zelda is already my wife, and you are not permitted to marry her. I suggest you work to broaden your appetites."
Posted by Justin Katz at 10:46 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

The Unstated Stakes

Jay Nordlinger reminds us of the stakes of this election:

This is how it could happen next month. Americans may vote for this tough-minded, articulate hawk we see in the debates — the guy who looks uncannily like Senator Kerry, the longtime senator from Massachusetts. And then, when he's in, that whole crowd will be in: Charlie Rangel, the Deaniacs, MoveOn.org, Michael Moore, Bill Maher, all of them. It'll be their victory.


Yikes is right.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:40 PM | Comments (5)

Reformulating a Party via Guilt Trip

Jonah Goldberg posted an email earlier today posing a question that, as Jonah mentions, one hears often from homosexuals with some conservative leanings on particular issues:

What's a gay conservative to do? See, I agree with republicans on things like low taxes, free market reform, privatization, smaller government, foreign policy, and the war on terror. Unfortunately. the party caters to a constituency that pretty much defines me as an abomination and takes every effort to cast the "homosexual agenda" as anti-family and anti-american. In election years, this rhetoric becomes even more hateful, and now there's an entire constitutional amendment trying to keep me in my place.

Upon taking a moment to notice that the emailer is pretty much defining religious/social conservatives as hateful and bigotted, it becomes clear that he wishes to play the guilted compassion card in such a way as to marginalize an opposing, but larger and more historical, Republican constituency. It's not an argument from principle; it's an argument from emotional pressure. Granted, that's an approach that has accumulated undue force in modern times, but how does one respond to the following except with a wry "boo hoo":

They make it crystal clear they don't care about my vote under any circumstances. It's like the republicans labor under the illusion that we will all eventually go away and not have to be dealt with.

That's an intriguing construction. The first sentence is flatly untrue; Republicans would welcome "the gay vote" — as long as it is based on shared principles rather than capitulation to demands that the party simply cannot afford politically. Then, contrasting with the woe-is-me appeal, the second sentence offers a veiled warning. That implicit refusal to compromise isn't the only thing that's veiled; note what also lies behind the gay rhetoric:

On the other hand, I disagree with almost every "non-social" policy (I agree on abortion, death penalty, gay rights, and school vouchers with the democrats; pretty much whatever the religous wing of the republicans is for, i oppose) on the democratic platform.

The parenthetical at first caught my attention because it made me muse at the complete social platform with which the "gay thing" seems so often aligned. But there seems to be a deeper current, here. The complaint is of gay conservatives' political homelessness, and the plea is to treat homosexuals as people — as people who matter enough to address. However — if I may disassociate a word from a cliché — the homosexuality appears to be a wedge to open the way for an entire worldview that is wholly incompatible with the religious conservative perspective. Since the orientation is taken as immutable, it follows that the opposing perspective must go.

This factor plays in multiple directions, but it very often seems that sexual matters have this effect. Encouraging a narrowly linear way of thinking that accords with strong urges, they allow fundamental shifts to pass as a matter of course, the gathering earthquake unnoticed beneath the rocking of the bed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:27 PM | Comments (6)

Songs You Should Know 10/12/04

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

"Little Man" You, Alternative Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:25 PM

Separation of This Church and State

Along the lines of Spain's recent discoveries of what it means for a Catholic nation to elect socialists, some reports from within our own shores ought to make their way onto folks' watch lists. The first comes from WorldNetDaily, which does, to be fair, tend to pounce a bit too hard on such stories:

Bob Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, says if it becomes law the legislation could be used to "muzzle public discussion of homosexuality and even someday silence pastors."

Knight commented, "It's a very dangerous bill, because it adds 'sexual orientation' to hate-crimes law, and it greatly expands federal jurisdiction. ...

Wrote Knight in a WorldNetDaily column: "Homosexual activists have redefined any opposition to homosexuality as 'hate speech.' Laws already criminalize speech that incites violence. It's easy to imagine a scenario in which any incident involving a homosexual can be blamed on people who have publicly opposed homosexual activism."

The source and subject matter of that item suggest that, apart from overall opposition to hate-crime laws, it's just something on which to keep an occasional eye. In contrast, the source for the second item, Bill Quick, is not usually one to stoke Christians' fears:

During the next few weeks, multicultural trainer Afeefa Syeed will bring third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from a Muslim academy in Herndon, Va., to nearby public schools to share the practices and beliefs of their holiest month, Ramadan.

Syeed and the children will present the call to prayer in Arabic, display prayer rugs and offer tastes of dates. In countless other classrooms across the country, similar efforts will be made to educate students about the time of fasting and spiritual reflection for adherents of the world's second-largest religion.

Ramadan, which likely will begin Oct. 15, depending on the sighting of the new moon, is making more appearances in public school classrooms, thanks to a series of new teacher training initiatives, an increased fascination with Islam and the assurance that schools, if careful, can educate impressionable children about religion without crossing a constitutional line.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:31 AM | Comments (2)

October 11, 2004

More Chordal Changes on Iraq

Mark Shea points to a comment discussion on Amy Welborn's blog wherein a formerly staunch supporter of the war, Rod Dreher, admits the following:

I am deeply concerned over the conduct of the war, and the prospect that family members of mine might die for the illusion that Iraq can be democratic. This is not an abstract threat. I'm looking at the possibility that my brother in law, a National Guard officer who never, ever imagined he'd be ordered to go fight in the Middle East (because who on earth could have invented such a prospect?), might have to leave his wife and three kids ... and never come home. If I still believed that this was a cause worth shedding American blood for, that'd be one thing. But now I'm thinking that our men are dying for an unwinnable war. You cannot force liberal democracy on people who don't want it.

I long ago stopped following the internal debate about the war among Catholics for the simple reason that the heat that it created became unbearable. Even so, Rod's turnabout is a bit surprising. So surprising is it, in fact, that my first impulse is to wonder what the real cause might be: The direct threat to family, and the pressure that goes with that? The stress of being the lone voice on an editorial page that is generally hostile to his opinions? Still, the urge to wonder must remain just that, because I don't know Rod, and I won't guess at his motivations — conscious and subconscious.

Whatever the case, I thought I'd post my comment-box response on my own blog, because with school starting up again tomorrow, I have no idea when I'll manage to flesh it out more:

In a different way from Rod, I've taken an extended break from the internecine battles of the Catholic regions of the blogosphere. Unlike Rod, I don't offer my opinions for a living (yet). So (I say with tongue in cheek), I can only conclude that nobody with whom I sparred in my ostensible hubris a while back has been praying for me — that I'd put down the Kool-Aid (ugh, when will that meme die?) — because I'm still inclined to take up the same side. (Even if Rod Dreher is now on the other.)

I'm going to take this statement for a walk, tonight, to see whether I can wear it down to what's bugging me, but there's something in Rod's comment above that just doesn't sit right:

In retrospect, I wish I had paid more attention to the conservatives (hat tip: Al) who argued that getting mixed up in Iraq was bad for America because there was no way to impose our values on that Arab Islamic culture. ... Even though we didn't ultimately find WMDs, I still wouldn't have soured on the war if there were more evidence that the Bush team had had a more reasonable plan for winning the peace.

And throw this in, too:

One thing that I dislike about the president is how he never seems to be able to admit that he was mistaken about anything.

So what's the retrospective demand? That the President have had a reasonable, enumerated plan to do the impossible, and that he should admit that he didn't have one (or had the wrong one) and install another? The general spin has perhaps gotten a bit too wobbly for essences to be clear.

Sometimes plans have to be fluid, and under certain circumstances, it can be advisable for the leader of the effort not to lay out the steps in any particular direction too succinctly. It will also often be advisable merely to tweek the underlying plan without announcing that a mistake has been made. This will prove particularly true during an election season against a desperate opposing party for which no potential point of attack is apparently off the table (whether it be talking down the economy or distorting the war and belittling the allies).

Look, I don't have a window into the administration's thinking, but it seems to me that one can do as Rod has apparently done and conclude that "getting mixed up in Iraq was bad for America" — even though Rod acknowledges elsewhere that sanctions wouldn't have lasted, and Saddam was prepared to throw his WMD machinery into gear at first opportunity — and the administration won't admit that the plan that it didn't have isn't working in every specific. Or one can trust that not "getting mixed up in Iraq" was not an option that had many more years of viability and that the administration has attempted to take a reasonably fluid approach to accomplishing something that seems near impossible.

In line with all of the above, I would ask of those who aren't reflexively anti-war and/or anti-Bush what they could possibly be measuring against to suggest that the administration's approach is a failure. I don't see how one can simultaneously assess the goal to be too difficult to tackle and declare a particular strategy a failure (after less than two years).

(Sorry to write while thinking, as it were, but I'm beginning to feel as if I missed the Fox News report that Allah had engulfed Baghdad in an impenetrable fog or something.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:51 PM | Comments (7)
Middle East

Shades of Headlines

An interesting juxtaposition of headlines is up on the Providence Journal's main page:

Gee, what do you suppose the storyline is meant to be? Reading the articles, themselves, one mightn't find an answer. In the first one, AP writer Jennifer Loven does open by decrying "no sign that the biting rhetoric [Bush] has aimed at Democratic challenger John Kerry in recent days is as aggressive as it's going to get." (Huh?) Still, a perusal of the included Bush quotes hardly amounts to evidence. Kerry's statements "don't pass the credibility test"; he "can run but he cannot hide" from his legislative record; he's "liberal." Perhaps the most foreboding quotation is this:

"There's a lot more in (Kerry's) record that the American people are going to hear and know about by the time it's all over," said Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser.

Nasty! Turning to AP writer Mary Dalrymple's piece about Kerry's devotion to the middle class (the members of which he's able to spot from a distance), the contrast in rhetorical heat is palpable:

"The president makes his choices," Kerry said. "The president's chosen the oil companies and the power companies. He's chosen the drug companies over you."...

"Here I am in the state of New Mexico. George Bush is still in the state of denial," Kerry told the supportive crowd Sunday. "New Mexico has five electoral votes. The state of denial has none. I like my chances."

Dalrymple doesn't mention whether there are signs that the biting rhetoric Kerry has aimed at George Bush in recent days, weeks, months, and years is as aggressive as it's going to get. Maybe we're just supposed to know that it's not.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:01 PM | Comments (1)
News Media

Death Returns from Holiday

Christopher Reeve, pictured at right recently and in high school, has died. For many of my generation, Reeve's was the true face of Superman. In my case, that meant that Superman looked a bit like my father (particularly when the former was disguised as Clark Kent).

I recall an evening in the early '80s when my parents were without outfits for a costume party. As a solution, my father cut the Superman symbol out of one of my comic books and held it in his palm. Whenever anybody asked what his costume was, he showed them the symbol and put his finger to his lips: "Shhh!" Such anecdotes accumulated over the years to make my family feel a connection to the actor, although none of us ever met him.

So, I was easily able to comply when Reeve asked a 2002 audience at the University of Rhode Island to "think of loved ones and what might even happen to you in the future and go with your conscience." At that venue, he was promoting the cause that characterized the last years of his life: research and funding to help people in his predicament, including through the use of embryonic stem cells. Even with the complicating emotions, one must conclude that it's an immoral cause. Still, the impulse for Reeve and others to pursue it is entirely understandable — completely human.

More than in the Superman movies, Reeve most succeeded in reaching me with his performance as the title character in a small, Williamstown, Massachusetts, production of Death Takes a Holiday. In that movie/play, Death becomes a man to find out why human beings hate and fear him so. To him, death is just a part of life; moreover, it is a necessary one — a job that somebody must do.

That Christopher Reeve managed to find meaning and purpose after his crippling accident is to be applauded. Even when life is limited to those of its aspects that require a body only minimally, it is precious. It was not his ability to pretend he could fly that brought Reeve into the national spotlight in recent years, after all. Yet, that the meaning that Reeve ultimately found played a role in the process of our society convincing itself that human life — simply by its essential nature — needn't be held as sacred is to be lamented.

Rest in peace, Mr. Reeve. My prayers go with you, in the hopes that you can walk again — with God.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:05 AM | Comments (4)

October 10, 2004

Out with the Old... and the New

Patrick Sweeney — you know, the NYC Catholic radio-show hostnotes that policies inimical to their faith aren't the only reason Socialist-voting Spanish Catholics might begin to wonder whether they made a deal with the Devil:

Now in power, the Socialists/secularists are paving the way for dhimmitude (i.e. subjection of a Catholic nation to Islam). UK Guardian: Funding for Church to be slashed by Spanish
The Spanish government sparked a furious row yesterday after it emerged that it had drawn up a timetable to halve state funding of the Roman Catholic Church and to ban crucifixes from public buildings.

Some of that money, apparently, will be serving as an indirect reward for the terrorists who helped to put the Socialists in power, financing teaching and promotion of Islam. I can't tell how distant a prediction this represents, but it would seem likely to be only a matter of time until the secularists realize that they, too, have made a deal with the Devil.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:25 PM
International Affairs

Too Much of a Good Thing

Michelle Malkin has a couple of posts on pharmaceuticals that are worth your time to read. In the first, she explains the negotiating approach taken by the Veterans Administration, which John Kerry wants to emulate for Medicare. In essence, the VA makes its purchases all-or-nothing in each submarket of medicine; companies compete for particular slots and become, effectively, the sole providers in their therapeutic classes. The problem with extending this, as Malkin puts it, is as follows:

The picture changes when we're talking about Medicare--a program that covers virtually all 40 million elderly people in the U.S. Medicare is a huge program. No other payer in the U.S. is even close in terms of size. Suppose there were only one Medicare formulary. If a drug company's product were to be excluded from that formulary, it would be a huge blow to the company. There's no question that drug companies would fight desperately to get their products included. It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Medicare market to drug companies. How low would prices go? 20 cents per statin tablet? 10 cents? 5 cents?

As attractive as this might sound, the effect that it produces relates to Malkin's second post:

Why on earth does the U.S. get virtually all of its flu vaccine supply from just two manufacturers? Because only a handful of companies make vaccines for the U.S. market. And why is that? Because federal bulk purchase of vaccines at government-controlled prices has made the U.S. vaccine market a market that few drug companies want to be in.

If there were a single economic principle that I wish more people understood enough to respect in the face of immediate self-interest — especially on the topic of healthcare — this would probably be it: The benefits of collective bargaining and unified administration only outweigh the costs as long as the group is reasonably small compared with the total market. The federal government can administer healthcare for its own employees with relatively little cost or disruption, but Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) is dreaming to suggest that the system can just be expanded to cover everybody.

Langevin can talk about health insurance providers' shouldering their "fair share of the burden," but having to take a more free, creative, and mature approach to medical policy is one of the burdens of being the United States of America. Socialist healthcare in smaller nations is inadvisable for its own reasons, but the practice avoids being globally catastrophic only because of U.S. resistance to it. The smaller nations are akin to the VA or to the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, only on the larger scale of the worldwide market.

Medical care is an easy issue on which politicians can stretch their demagoguery legs, but it would be an historic mistake for too many citizens to be taken in by it. Those of us who fear that the lure will prove too powerful can only argue against it and pray that deadly experience is not the only teacher that Americans will follow. The entire world would suffer for our lunge after a mirage.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:03 PM

October 9, 2004

The Changing Tone

I don't recall ever daring to offer a timeframe for the reconstruction of Iraq, in part because I expected five years to be an absolute minimum for clearing debris and diehards both, and that's too long a time to make guesses on such things. Moreover, such reconstruction isn't likely to be an orderly trend; sometimes it's going to feel as if things are going smoothly, then some chaos will seep in, requiring further measures. Well, we're about a year-and-a-half out from the war, and the most disheartening reality is the changed tone of some of those who supported it.

To be sure, when National Review publishes a gloomy cover asking "What Went Wrong?," a moment to consider what I might have missed is in order. As one would expect, the piece by Rich Lowry from which the cover's question is drawn is much more even and nowhere near an assault on the Bush administration, which the cover leaves open as a possibility. Let me say that again: the nature of the piece itself is what one would expect from an intelligent, fair, and conservative writer like Lowry. But the opinion world has become a surreal place, and even if that were not the case, the piece's presentation practically invited predictable commentary from the likes of Andrew Sullivan.

For his part, if nothing else, Mr. Sullivan provides the opportunity to solidify one's vague unease into the feeling that the recent past has already been successfully rewritten:

Thanks for all your emails about why the Bush war-plan did not even try to secure many of the Saddam weapons sites that might have contained WMDs and actually did contain ammunition that was subsequently looted. I'm sorry to say no one has a persuasive answer. One option is that the military was so intent on decapitating the regime that they ignored these real potential threats, regarding them as less of a priority. But wasn't the entire point of the invasion to prevent loose nukes, chems and bios from getting to terrorists? Another option is that there were simply too few troops to do all that needed to be done. But that ignores the fact that these weapons sites were left unguarded for weeks, while the borders were essentially open.

Sullivan implies a conclusion of incompetence on the administration's part. (How could an administration that supports the FMA properly run a war, after all?) Incompetence, however, requires that the action that retrospect suggests would have been better ought to have been clear under the circumstances of the day. To remind myself of those circumstances, I first perused some of my archives from the weeks surrounding the main thrust of the war.

One incident, although limited in scope, did much to return me to my frame of mind at the time. Remember that guy who ran out to the U.N. inspectors with a notebook? The inspectors ignored him, and Saddam's people took him away. It may be that reasonable people now will be less inclined to believe that the notebook held any information of value, but when the incident happened, we were still able to believe that it could have been anything. Moreover, as Roger Simon mentioned last month, the inspectors' reaction to the desperate Adnan Abdul Karim Enad sent a puzzling chill down many an American back:

This marked the beginning of my disaffection with the United Nations, of my wondering which side they were really on. My confusion, and ultimately disgust, only increased when the revelations of Oil-for-Food appeared.

Knowing what we now know, one wonders if the U.N.'s lack of interest had something to do with their being able to believe that the notebook could have contained information about just about anything. The underlying threat of unknowns also applied to Saddam's possible strategies. Remember this?

Shahristani said he believed Saddam planned to make his last stand in Baghdad in the event of a US-led attack and use the capital's four million residents as human shields.

"There has even been discussion within his circle to set up what they call a chemical belt around Baghdad using his chemical weapons to entrap the residents of Baghdad inside," he said.

Shahrastani quoted his informants as saying Saddam was banking on 50,000 to 100,000 soldiers to defend the city, but the scientist doubted they would fight to the last man.

Would avoidance of WMD-complicated urban warfare justify leaving some weapons sites unsecured, in Sullivan's view? How about the psychological strategic gain that the nature of the win garnered — and without which the post-attack phase of the war mightn't even have been as positive as it's been? For a taste of the gain, we need turn to none other than Andrew Sullivan and his writing at that time:

Three weeks. Under 100 American casualties, half of which came from accidents. No use of tactical WMD. Extraordinarily targeted bombing; exceptionally light force; oil wells intact; Israel secure; Turks kept at bay. War is terrible, of course. It may flare up again for a while. There's still a chance of last-minute atrocities. And every civilian casualty is a tragedy. But it's beginning to look as if this was an amazing military campaign, something of which the American and British people - and their governments - can be deeply, deeply proud.


This is an amazing victory, a victory over a monster who gassed civilians, jailed children, sent millions into fruitless wars, harbored poisonous weapons to threaten free peoples, tortured thousands, and made alliances with every two-bit opportunist on the planet. It's a victory over those who marched in the millions to stop this liberation, over the endless media cynics, over the hate-America crowd, and the armchair generals. It's a victory for the two countries in the world that have always made freedom possible and who have now brought it to another corner of the world made dark by terror. It's a victory for the extraordinary servicemen and women who performed this task with such skill, cool, courage and restraint. It's a victory for optimism over pessimism, the righting of past wrongs, the assertion of universal truths against postmodern excuses, and of political leadership over appeasement. Celebrate it. Don't let the whiners take this away from you or from the people of Iraq.

Or his criticism of the naysayers of the day:

THE COMING SPIN: You can see it now. Chaos. Looting. Disorder. Losing the peace. It's not that there won't be some truth to these stories; and real cause for concern. The pent-up fury, frustration and sheer anger of three decades is a powerful thing, probably impossible to stop immediately without too much force. And the last thing we want is fire-power directed toward the celebrating masses. The trouble is that they could become the narrative of the story, especially among the usual media suspects, and erode the impact and power of April 9. By Sunday, or sooner, you-know-who will probably have a front-page "news analysis" that will describe the joy of liberation being transformed into the nightmare of a Hobbesian quicksand of ever-looming cliches.

And how about some admonishment of the New York Times's opinionistas:

We liberated it with astonishing precision and with an amazing lack of damage to critical infrastructure. The fact that there's chaos in the interlude between Saddam's thuggery and a new government is a simple fact of human life. Tom[ Friedman]'s absolutely right about the need to invest time, money and care in rebuilding Iraq. But part of the impetus in America for such a task must come from genuine pride in what we have achieved; and a deeper understanding of its moral significance.

One wonders what happened to the necessity of genuine pride in moral significance that Sullivan finds it conscionable to even consider voting for somebody who would say that our "amazing military campaign" was really "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." One can only hope — and pray... often — that 2005 will find the administration embarking on its second term and the world of political opinions returning to equilibrium.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:16 PM | Comments (1)

Weaponswise, Everything New Is Old Again

Adding Marc Comtois to my mental tally of bloggers who've noted the Duelfer report, I thought how much of an absence my own failure to do so must seem. The fact of the matter is that the whole thing just feels, well, old. In fact, rereading my piece on Tech Central Station — from January — I'm actually a bit surprised at how well it still stands up, including the political conclusion:

Whatever story emerges with time, only the constant misinterpretation of comments and redirection of emphasis -- the public's own failure of intelligence -- prevent the broad realization that we already know as much as we ever needed. Angry columnists and candidates may mock the President's explicit reference to "programs," but the existence of those programs is indeed the salient factor. We couldn't -- and still can't -- know the extent to which they were applied in Iraq… or elsewhere.

Patrick Sweeney adds a layer to the report's significance:

Hell will have frozen over before the Vatican realizes what a threat to the world the United Nations has been, is now, and could be.

Unaccountable bureaucrats, secrecy, and money changing hands: this is not bringing about the Kingdom of God but bringing about the culture of death.

Of course, it's not just the Vatican that invests undeserved faith in the U.N.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:12 AM
Middle East

The Randomness of Life

To be honest, I hadn't expected much more from today's professional development gathering for Catholic-school teachers in the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, than a welcome break from actually dealing with the kids. As a lover of fog, I enjoyed the drive up to Bishop Feehan high school, during which — don't tell my wife — I managed to make some rough notes for a piece suggesting that our culture has sunk so far into philosophical mire that dark subversives are having to rediscover Good so that there can be such a thing as Evil.

With such thoughts in mind, I sat in the auditorium with the ladies from my school and let my thoughts wander. We all participated in a relatively long prayer, the teacher of the year received his recognition, and the scheduled speaker, when he started, immediately elicited a sigh of relief: he would be humorous and interesting. One could tell, throughout the day, that the audience was truly engaged; I highly recommend considering him for any presentations on technology and education.

Alan November explained to that large group of underpaid teachers — most of whom must make do with what technology they can manage to find and connect in classrooms that, if they're like mine, have a single electrical outlet each — that they simply had to adjust to the new methods of learning that students will force them to address, and that many of the basics require little advanced knowledge. The first step, for example, is to teach the kids how to research on the Internet, simply extending notions of credibility and source validation from print to virtual.

When Mr. November mentioned blogs, I thought it might be worthwhile to chat with him. I've long thought that blogging is only one of many technological innovations that will tend to teach children the very skills that they'll need when they're older — the communication, the confidence, the networking, and the daring to pursue each. And when a name came up that I certainly didn't expect to hear positively uttered in a Catholic school auditorium, a name that I recalled typing in an early entry of Dust in the Light, it struck me how revolutionary and pervasive the concepts and beneifts of blogging are.

November told the story of Kate Stafford, who at the age of sixteen developed a Web site to explore the topic of a particular professor's book. In the process, she convinced two students from Russia to help her with the page, which became a 2000 finalist for an Oracle ThinkQuest award. After she'd admitted that she hadn't submitted her project to any teachers (so as not to lose "social capital"), Ms. Stafford apparently told Alan November that her goal was to get into Harvard, which she has since managed to do.

She certainly picked the right subject matter — and the right side of the debate — to achieve the Ivy League nod. The Web site deals with the work of, and has attracted a compliment from, Oxford's Richard Dawkins. The name rang a bell, as that of the man who wrote this:

Sexual abuse is disgusting, but it's not as harmful as the grievous mental harm of bringing children up Catholic in the first place.

The teachable moment, here, I suppose, is that the underlying skills and necessity for critical thinking haven't changed much at all. Despite bells and whistles, sources must be considered, and the Internet offers a chance to consider such sources as Dawkins in greater detail, and from more angles, than has ever before been possible. Catholic children, in particular, could stand to develop such skills.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:03 AM | Comments (1)

Speaking Truth to Conformity

Hats off to the editorial board of the Providence Journal. If only I could subscribe to just the section under these editors' control:

Actually, sanctions were already crumbling, because Saddam was bribing public officials and business people in various countries (especially France, China and Russia), as well as people in the United Nations -- which increasingly seems as much a festival of economic corruption as of hypocrisy. The U.N. "food-for-oil" program was an extraordinarily corrupt enterprise, which Saddam was manipulating, to, among other things, get back to making and stockpiling WMD. Not coincidentally, Security Council members France, China and Russia -- Saddam's major bribees in his partly successful efforts to get around the sanctions -- voted against U.S.-led efforts to get the United Nations to sign off on an invasion to enforce U.N. resolutions.
Posted by Justin Katz at 12:56 AM | Comments (1)
News Media

Jumping Continentals

Commenting to a post about same-sex marriage that's just about to fall off my main index, Jon Rowe suggested that:

Europe, in attempting to keep up with US economic might, has been moving in the direction of greater market-friendliness every since the Thacher revolution -- which spread throughout most of the other Western European nations -- and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Culturally, I think Europe is wonderful. I spent a summer in Rome in 2001. What a wonderful city. And Italy epitomizes the affluent Eurpean nation with a low birth rate. That place was jumpin -- a truly vibrant culture -- the exact opposite of "dead."

Much of the subsequent discussion questioned what constitutes "a truly vibrant culture." Personally, I can envision many ways in which a country that is either rapidly burying itself or reacting to acute fatalism would seem extremely vibrant to an outsider. Hyperbole: You've got twenty-four hours to live; will you be lethargic?

On the first paragraph, however, nobody noted that part of "market-friendliness" requires social policies that get people to work and ensure that there are people to work. (And again, both childlessness and a diminished work schedule would seem likely to increase perceived vibrancy, according to some definitions.) On that count, a piece to which Glenn Reynolds linked seems relevant:

Only by working longer and moving towards the US social model can Europe hope to attain its Lisbon goals, according to Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, Dutch Minister of Economy, speaking at an event in Brussels on 7 October.

Modernising the European social model is a matter of urgency if Europe wants to maintain its model of choice in the long term and close the productivity gap with the US, believes the minister.

'I will argue that the updated European social model should differ distinctly from the current one' explained Mr Brinkhorst. 'It will inevitably resemble the US model more than is the case today. But it will still be a European model, reflecting European preferences for social inclusion and environment. The main conditions for achieving this are enhancing growth and employability,' he said.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:52 AM
International Affairs

October 8, 2004

Three Points on the Debate

Well, the President was obviously much better today than he was in the last debate. What difference it'll make, I'm not inclined to guess. The folks on Fox News seemed to lean toward calling another tie. For my part, I continue to believe picking a winner on some sort of scoring scale misses the point. The question that I wish the pro pundits would begin to ask and answer is how much of the nonsense and maneuvering, obligatory and not, citizens are apt to see through.

Right at the beginning of the debate, I told my wife to look for a single question having to do with Senator Kerry's record. The President brought it up, to be sure, and there were a couple of questions that put Kerry on the (somewhat) defensive, but his record in government was apparently not an issue of concern.

The most egregious decision by the moderator — ABC's Charlie Gibson — was that final question: "Name three mistakes that you have made." It meant that John Kerry had the last word of the questioning phase specifically to talk about "three things" that the President had done wrong. What an opportunity! (I wonder if realizing how that looked inspired Gibson to ask Senator Kerry to offer his closing statement first.)

Depending on viewers' take on the whole debate, however, perhaps the question wasn't such a gift to Kerry. Even making every effort to correct for my partisanship, I have to say that Kerry's negativity seemed relentless throughout. Surely, some commentators will say that the dynamic that I'm noticing is that Kerry kept Bush on the defensive. But there were times when the questions were explicitly tailored for a positive answer — a "what will you do" — and rather than offer his position and then contrast it with the President's, he went on the attack and tagged some talk about "a plan" (again with the "plans") at the end of his response. We'll just have to wait and see how well that plays with the American people.

By the way, just so's I can confirm what I thought my ears picked up: did John Kerry say that Americans have a right to have other Americans fund the murder of their preborn children?

Just a thought: if 2005 finds Republicans controlling the government again, Senator Chuck Hagel ought to suffer hugely. (Yes, I mean politically.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:09 PM | Comments (3)

Nowhere Left to Go

One hears of liberals' promising to leave the country should George Bush win, as did Alec Baldwin before the 2000 election, if I'm not mistaken. In all honesty, I half joked the opposite during that election season. It isn't a promise, joking or not, that I've made this time around, however, should John Kerry win.

The difference isn't that John Kerry is any more palatable a candidate. (Although, he may very well be more sane than Al Gore, and he'd probably be more constrained in the damage that he could do.) Rather, I think liberals' and conservatives' differing circumstances with respect to expatriating have become much clearer since the closing months of 2001.

One assumes, when liberals threaten to flit away, that they would go to some other modernized country: Canada, for example, or any of the Western European nations. Such a move would almost certainly involve a transition to life under a government that's already more in line with the person's politics.

But where would conservatives go? The same emigration would be, for them, akin to escaping trade school for a liberal arts school, Rand for Marx, the oven for the open flame. Perhaps a couple countries in Eastern Europe would do, ideologically, but they'd entail lowered economic expectations.

That consideration might actually fall in the "benefits" column. A struggling nation would be one in which conservative policies could make a readily tangible difference for the better; conservatives are, in the main, inclined to enjoy building their communities up. Liberals prefer "progressing," which in their usage means "tearing down" (e.g., the old order, the status quo, or the existing paradigm).

Of course, conservatives are also inclined to preserve, and it mightn't be too alarmist to suggest that, if America's conservatism cannot be preserved, less developed nations cannot be built up.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:43 AM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

October 7, 2004

The (Ratings) Bounce

Lane Core asks someone to explain the origin of the support that supposedly has Kerry in a statistical tie with President Bush:

Let's see now. The Catholic vote went for Gore in 2000 (Kyrie eleison) and Catholics polled for Kerry a few months ago. But Catholics now poll for Bush. And the Gender Gap is narrowing, if not quite disappearing. (And don't forget the "battleground" states that are already being abandoned by the Kerry campaign as losses, nor the "blue" states that are being hotly contested by the Bush campaign.)

So, tell me, somebody: how can the race be so close? What group(s) have shifted seismically towards Kerry to offset the shift towards Bush in two very large voting blocs?

Personally, I've been hard-pressed to resist a cynical smile with each bit of polling data. Before the debates began, one was apt to hear — from parents who've followed politics for decades, from Fox News, from blogs — how the media would be anxious for Kerry to close the widening gap, so as to make the race exciting and, therefore, closely followed, with all the media revenue that political photo-finishes attract.

What groups have "shifted seismically towards Kerry"? I can't say for sure, but I wonder if the polls' samples have been taken from among the MSM's phantom readers.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:37 PM | Comments (4)
News Media

The Ins and Outs of Information Technology

I stayed up later than I probably should have, last night, so as to post some items that'd been building up in my bookmarks. In the meantime, my Web host was trying to figure out what the problem with my Into the Ether feed could be (see the sidebar). The host concluded that the solution was to switch my servers, a process that wouldn't take long and wouldn't cause any downtime.

Well, when I woke up, Into the Ether was back up and running, but the posts for which I'd sacrificed sleep were gone. Such are the difficulties of information technology; I'm very happy with my host, although I wish somebody would have said, "Don't post anything new." The beauty of information technology, however, is the probability that something as simple as text can be recovered from somewhere, and luckily, my browser caches the "Your entry has been saved" pages for each entry that I post. So I didn't have to "recover" my content the really old fashioned way... by rewriting from my mental cache.

(However, I should note that there appears to have been a period during which comments were lost, too. If yours was among them, I apologize; please feel free to re-post.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:01 AM
Site-Related Announcements

A Loss for the Nation and the Neighborhood

One day in the future, when they tell their children about the father/grandfather whom they'd lost so long ago, the sons of Sgt. Christopher Potts should have reason to point to the world in which they live and say, "He helped to make these good outcomes possible." Sgt. Potts was killed, on Monday, in Iraq.

Although nothing but like loss can compare with the days through which the Potts family is now living, the war touches us all. Their house is in my neighborhood — on one of my dog-walking routes. As a citizen I can only offer them my condolences and gratitude. As a passer-by in the night, I will not fail to offer them my prayers.

God bring you into his embrace, Sgt. Potts. Although you leave an ugly world behind, it is a world that you undoubtedly helped to improve.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:53 AM

Inviting the Enemy to Supper

Within the past couple of weeks, a priest mentioned to me, in group conversation, that Catholics oughtn't find their decision in the next presidential election to be a simple matter. I've been meaning to bring up in private the easy confidence of my voting intentions, but the opportunity hasn't arisen. Perhaps, though, I need only point to Spain:

I know many Spanish Catholics who voted for the Socialist candidate Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in last March's elections, driven by opposition to conservative Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Though Zapatero is a leftist, many Spanish Catholics felt his emphasis on peaceful resolution of conflict, and his strong social concern, were closer to the Catholic spirit than Aznar's more bellicose style. A Spanish Opus Dei member told me that even Opus Dei voters probably went 60-40 for Zapatero.

The first few months of Zapatero's reign, however, may be giving some of his Catholic supporters pause.

Reporter John Allen lists various issues, other than the war, that have subsequently fallen against the Catholic policy platform. Although perhaps not as extreme, American Catholics currently face a similar decision. If only one could assume that Catholic voters in the U.S. picked up, while being catechized, the distinction between truth and convenient rhetoric.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:51 AM
International Affairs

The Life You Save May Be...

Earl of the many blogs has been cross-posting an appeal to assist with some legal research intended to help preserve Terri Schiavo's life.

Remember her? She's the disabled woman in Florida whose husband is so intent on starving her to death that he's pushing the state's judiciary to go toe to toe with Governor Jeb Bush.

Frankly, I'm ashamed to have gone so long without mentioning the case. Even in the face of travesty, it's difficult for enough people to stay on top of any given issue for long enough to thwart those who have a permanent, non-negotiable interest in pursuing the immoral option. That's no excuse, of course. Until somebody tells Mr. Schiavo and the Florida judiciary that enough is enough — their countrymen have deemed them wrong — the moral side of the battle must maintain its strength.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:50 AM | Comments (1)

Blogs Moving Forward and Falling Away

For any newish readers — or long-time ones, for that matter — I thought it worthwhile to mention that Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are essentially fourteen-to-sixteen hour workdays for me. On Mondays, I'm relatively fresh; on Fridays, I have the leeway to push some work into the weekend. In short, Wednesdays aren't likely to see but so much writing from me. The other days of the week, however, should be better than they've been, because switching to teaching three grades of English rather than three grades of math has cut my planning time tremendously. However much I get to, the blog will forge on.

Unfortunately, the same may not be true of Marty McKeever's Vigilance Matters blog, if a post saying "good-bye" to blogging is to be believed. Of course, one can't help but notice that Marty's blogged since his farewell, and that Jim Price offered, in the comments section of the not-final entry, to host him for free. We'll see.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:48 AM | Comments (2)
Bloggers Blogging

October 6, 2004

Self-Righteous Hatred

Last week, Providence Journal blogger Sheila Lennon linked to a piece by novelist E.L. Doctorow that struck me as among the most despicable bits of commentary that I'd yet read in this election season. However, my time is limited, and I decided that it was too limited to spend much of it worrying about every instance of a member of the cultural élite trying to get in on the completely repercussion-free bandwagon of declared moral superiority to the President and his drooling followers.

Well, the equation between the importance of commenting and the brevity of life began to shift when I received Doctorow's rant as an email forwarded by a friend and fellow local writer. Although the act will not very likely be repercussion-free, I simply couldn't shrug off my responsibility to reply, and I did so as follows:

To all,

I hesitate to reply to such things because, more often than not, the risk is of lost opportunity and (worse) of lost friendship. Still, on this one, I can't let it slide by without comment. As it happens, I thought to mention Doctorow's piece on my blog when the Providence Journal first put the novelist's words online, but neither time nor constitution allowed. Please, everybody, remove the following paragraph from all of Doctorow's flowing prose and consider its message:

"He does not feel for the families of the dead, he does not feel for the thirty five million of us who live in poverty, he does not feel for the forty percent who cannot afford health insurance, he does not feel for the miners whose lungs are turning black or for the working people he has deprived of he chance to work overtime at time-and-a-half to pay their bills — it is amazing for how many people in this country this President does not feel."

What a purely despicable thing to write. Is it among author/editor/professor Doctorow's talents to see into another man's soul? Is it in yours? If anything, I'm politically to George W. Bush's right; am I even worse in not being able to feel for the "million of us [ha!] who live in poverty"? Is it amazing for how many people in this country I do not feel? Am I spitting on the graves of the dead by intending to vote contrary to Rhode Island's laughable conformity and at least get W. on our state's tally?

You'll conduct yourselves toward me and toward the President however you're inclined. If you choose to follow the self-righteous chants of such as our friend E.L., then there's little that I can say to persuade you to see those of my inclinations as people rather than heartless warmongers and -profiteers. But were it not for the last-minute good graces of God, followed by 80-hour weeks of variegated work, my family — wife, husband, toddler, baby, and dog in a just-bought fixer-upper — would have lost all this month, and for MY children's sake, I'm voting for President Bush, not the truly horrid Anyone-But candidate.

I urge you to do the same. If you wish to discuss policies and principles, you'll find an eager disputant in me. But please do not further the fear mongering rampage of the Left. Please, also, those of you who know me, give my words the benefit of whatever good will I've managed to procure with you, and please know that I would greatly lament my opinions' making me beyond the bounds of conceivable friendship.

With deepest sincerity and hope,

Justin Katz

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:07 PM | Comments (3)

Song You Should Know 10/05/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Didn't Know It Rhymed" by Dan Lipton.

"Didn't Know It Rhymed" Dan Lipton, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:15 AM

Umm... Doesn't "Scrutiny" Mean "Attention"? Well, Bring It On!

One's daily schedule will affect analysis of such things, but I have to say that the whole Rathergate episode has made the media bias game a little less fun. As with liberalism, there's still much power to be overwhelmed and dissipated, but hounding the old media is beginning to feel like chasing the gnarled old grouch out of town after the grownups have finally all acknowledged that he's been playing tricks on the neighborhood kids.

However, some of the characteristic differences between old media and new — characteristic at least for the moment — make for interesting consideration. The following paragraph from a piece by Joseph D'Hippolito provides an example (free registration required):

Consider [Chicago Tribune managing editor James] O'Shea's remarks in another Editor & Publisher article about how bloggers create what he called "information anarchy." "You have to look at who these people are," he said. "We have to put some scrutiny on the bloggers."

Perhaps it is only because we are in the game for our own reasons, but most bloggers aren't as fearful of "scrutiny" as — for example — professional journalists might be. Hey, scrutiny means traffic, which is our currency. And since it is in our nature to lay everything important out in our writing, that which such scrutiny will uncover is very likely to be precisely that which we are advertising.

All in all, it seems to me a superior model that encourages the sort of broad review that established players can find threatening.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:06 AM | Comments (1)
News Media

October 5, 2004

Good Debate, Bad Commentary

You know, there were moments during the VP debate when I thought to do the live-blogging thing, but, well, the exchanges moved along. Moreover, I'm more of a big-picture guy, and I didn't want to miss something important while commenting about something interesting but ultimately inconsequential.

Both candidates behaved as would be expected; both have the strengths and weakness that one would expect. Therefore, it's difficult to know how those who haven't followed the whole shebang so closely will react. The after-debate commentary — which, from what little I've watched — confirms that the debate didn't throw any curves into the politics of the campaign: the commentators were able to layer their own spin.

What all this means in practical terms, I'm not sure. Some of the folks on Fox News just said that the debate means almost nothing. If it means anything, and if it does anything, perhaps it managed to help catch some voters who are just beginning to tune in up in their understanding of the dynamics of the race. They either agree with the administration's approaches, or they don't. They either began to smirk after John Edwards's twentieth usage of the phrase "we have a plan," or they didn't.

On the moderator, I agree with Michael Graham that Gwen Ifill — despite some stutters, some questions too catered to her own interests, and a couple of flubs (e.g., giving Edwards an extra round of response on one exchange) — really showed how the questions should be structured in a debate: putting each participant on the defensive.

Nonetheless, I can't help but wonder why Brit Hume isn't mediating one of these things. Wouldn't that be simply [pause] fair and balanced?

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:59 PM | Comments (1)

More Stunning — the Message or the Man?

An all-too-typical column enumerating the iniquities of the Bush administration and lamenting the fact that John Kerry hasn't already been crowned to cheers of "Long live the somebody else!" didn't strike me as worth mention. Until, that is, I read the stunning ending:

Americans will tolerate much hypocrisy. But they're less forgiving when the hypocrisy involves money. John Kerry needs to change his vocabulary: to go beyond saying that Bush has "misled" the country or "mismanaged" Iraq.

Bush is cheating America and cheating on America. That's more akin to treason than mere lying.

Blogosphere readers will surely not be surprised to realize that the charge of being unpatriotic is apparently only offensive if spoken while facing left. What does raise questions, however, is the short author bio printed after the piece:

John R. MacArthur, a monthly contributor, is publisher of Harper's Magazine.

Funny, Harper's doesn't often seem to be treated as a full-tilt liberal publication in the mainstream media. I guess the lonely Rhode Island conservative can take comfort in the possibility that, with the doors open to this sort of writing, the Providence Journal will begin publishing an Ann Coulter column once per month. (Personally, I'd be satisfied — natch — with a Justin Katz column once every six.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:29 PM
News Media

October 4, 2004

In the Back Rooms of the Blog

Many of the minutes that I've managed to wrench from my schedule to spend on the blog have gone toward responding to interesting comments to previous posts. I mention this to suggest that you, too, might find the discussions interesting. But for lost mental coin tosses, some of my comments therein would have become posts of their own, and many readers' comments are more than worth a read and consideration.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:44 PM
Bloggers Blogging

While I Juggle

I've much about which I'd like to blog, but little time to blog it. All I can do, for now, is promise that I'll try my hardest to stop in and post entries throughout the evening.

In the meantime, be sure to take a look at my career-milestone piece on National Review Online, about the American Bar Association's (apparent) anti-religious maneuvering.

Drat! I'd wondered why my weekend Web stats according to Site Meter looked so pitiful. I guess when the Into the Ether miniblog on my sidebar is down, everything below (and even some stuff above) takes a long time to load. That means that the Site Meter button probably never loaded for some people, therefore not counting them.

This — for all you who are new to the ins and outs of the blogosphere — is why free statistics that are based on an image placed on the page aren't the best measure of traffic, even for comparing blogs that use the same system. Some blogs, I've noticed, put the stat button everywhere — in comment boxes, in trackback boxes, and so on — to inflate their numbers.

I've moved the button up. We'll see what happens.

October 3, 2004

The Larger Meaning of Meaninglessness

Much of my strolling time, in college, was spent pondering similarities that I intuited to exist between seemingly unrelated disciplines. Some were obvious — English and music or psychiatry, for example. Others seemed tantalizingly close, but running on either side of the wall between the languages that had been constructed to talk about each — music and physics, for example. Speculative fields will bear certain similarities when the speculators are all human, but what does one conclude when the line where ostensibly objective fields begin to cross into speculation looks very similar to the line where subjective fields converge, internally, into structures?

To answer such questions (without the shortcut of declaring all human works indecipherably flawed), one must reconstruct all of reality, and I began to suspect that, even in achieving that impossible feat, one would still be left with irresolvable questions. The impossibilities beyond what is impossible. However, as I've since discovered, one who works in the other direction — beginning with the Why and applying it to the What — faces a task that is both more fulfilling and more conducive to a logical approach.

Often, I've simultaneously discovered, those who claim to do the former really do the latter, but couch their faith-dependent logic in terms implying objectivity. Theirs is a powerful strategy, and truth be told, it's taken me quite a while not to feel disoriented when I — as one who takes the theistic side of arguments — prove to be arguing from a position of less irrationality. Luckily, certain commentary has helped me to move beyond the disorientation.

In a more sane world, for example, the man who wrote the following would have his name rewritten in pencil on the rolls of scientists. In our world, Arne Jernelov is a professor and an environmental scientist for the United Nations.

Most religions embrace and promote certain notions about the meaning of life, offering the faithful reasons why we and all other organisms exist. Indeed, perhaps the fundamental definition of religious faith is the belief that life serves a (divine) purpose. Science, however, has always given a resounding "no" to the question "Does life have a higher meaning?"

The answer to that question, among scientists, ought to be, "Not my department." Try as he might (with unbidden parenthetical assumptions), Jernelov cannot disguise the degree to which he is correct that the "fundamental definition of religious faith" is tied up with the belief in purpose. Using an objective definition, that would include those who are resounding in their rejection of meaning.

Of course, Jernelov's piece is about a larger meaning that even fundamentalist atheists can embrace:

How do Schneider and Sagan reconcile the contradiction between what appears true of life -- that it organizes matter into increasingly complex creatures and structures -- and the notion that disorder should increase and order should be lost? Equally important, how can science see any meaning of life in the reconciliation of that apparent contradiction?

The bottom line is that the second law of thermodynamics rules and that the existence of life helps increase entropy. In other words, life promotes disorder. Some might think that this could be true only if the logical end of evolution and intelligent life were to be a nuclear explosion that pulverized Earth. But that is not what Schneider and Sagan mean. Instead, they make a distinction between matter and energy and say that matter organized in structures disseminates energy gradients faster than randomly distributed matter.

Entropy, the looming end of forever that quirky office workers quip serves as the ultimate perspective, is the meaning of life. Nothingness. The end of meaning is the ultimate meaning. Why do I get the sense that highfalutin scientists are only now catching up with collegiate stoners?

The serious point to be made, here, is that evangelists for atheism, masquerading as objective scholars, continue to confuse Mechanism for Meaning. Even if entropy is the deliberate end point of reality (or reality is the deliberate forerunner of entropy), the why is not answered. Moreover, for those who believe there to be more in Heaven and Earth than, well, Earth (or material reality), even proof that the distant future holds "an ultimate state of inert uniformity" would barely tell half the story. The less interesting, emotion-affecting half, at that.

Without basis to guess at the acumen of the Taipei Times's headline writer, one can only presume so much. Still, whether by incomprehension or a knack for pith, he or she has provided a perfect example of the faith involved in Jernelov's topic. The headline writer manages the accomplishment by taking the next leap of faith, giving the piece a title that is directly contradicted by the content, but in harmony with the spirit, of the essay itself:

Scientists explain the meaning of life (and we don't matter much)

It is only by the general mechanism of intuition that I say this, rather than through some scientific method, but it seems to me that the parenthetical clause once again reveals the article of faith. We don't matter much, ergo there is no God, ergo entropy is the meaning of life.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:10 PM | Comments (23)

Forced to Accept

In response to Lane Core's comment to a post on this blog implying that the people of Massachusetts have been "forced to accept something," Chuck Anziulewicz writes:

All the people in Massachusetts who opposed marriage equality for Gay couples probably say the same thing: "I don't care if they are allowed to marry. I will never accept it."

There's something similar — and probably related — in this to the dynamic whereby freedom of religion is gradually narrowing to include the freedom to believe, in one's heart, that a religion is true, but not necessarily to act as if it really is. In the present context, the question is: What does it mean to be forced to accept something?

Whether or not Chuck would do so, there can be no doubt that many on his side of the same-sex marriage debate would scoff at the suggestion that the government ought to fund Christian missions overseas. The higher among the bricks on the wall separating Church and State often accompany the justification that a member of the public oughtn't be forced to fund a religion at odds with his own — indeed, one that is working to persuade others that his own is false. Why then, is it not being "forced to accept" same-sex marriage when a judiciary decrees that the citizens' shared government must deem same-sex marriages to be identical to opposite-sex marriages?

To be sure, in their heart of hearts, people cannot be forced to accept what they will not accept. But can that lack of acceptance extend to differentiated employment benefits? Adoption? To public school curricula that teach opposite-sex marriage as a preferable structure around which to build a family? The last question has two important implications.

First, Chuck falls to the narrow definitions by which SSM advocates argue that their proposed change will have no adverse effects — if it has any effects at all:

Has "traditional marriage" changed in Massachusetts? Not really. Gay couples have simply been allowed to participate. Does this mean that Straight couples are no longer allowed to marry? That Straight people are being forced to marry persons of the same sex? That married couples are divorcing more often? That families are falling apart? That Straight people are deciding to "turn Gay?" No on all counts. "Traditional marriage" for heterosexual couples will always be the norm, regardless how many Gay couples decide to tie the knot.

Well, if the choice remains forever and ever between traditional marriage and same-sex marriage, then I'd agree that it's probable that the former will always be the norm. The choices, unfortunately, aren't so limited. No marriage could become the norm, as could a view of marriage as a loose emotional contract authored anew for any given individual's preferences.

The second important implication of my above rhetorical question is that Chuck is almost silent the relationship between marriage and child bearing and rearing. In this comment and in a subsequent one, the only reason that he gives for marriage — and public encouragement of it — is "to declare before friends and family that [the spouses] are willing to pledge themselves to each other, ideally for life, and make a solemn commitment to one another's well-being." Indeed, stunningly (yet without apparently realizing it) his preliminary reasoning suggests exactly the perspective that traditionalists fear will be an effect of normalized same-sex marriage (emphasis added):

Straight couples don't need to get married to have sex or to have children.

To the extent that this statement is true, Chuck my friend, it is the problem. Affianced couples aren't just declaring that they will care for each other — "ideally for life" (well, you know, "for life" is something to shoot for, anyway). They are declaring that they desire to blend two families through future generations extending toward forever. They are declaring that they will only beget children with each other, and that those children will be born into households headed by their own parents, who are committed to raising them together.

The danger in same-sex marriage is that — not immediately, but as generations move along — it will further a corrosion whereby society at large is deciding that couples really don't need to be married to have children, that marriage and procreation can be treated as distinctly as marriage and sex unfortunately are already. Such an outcome is simply not acceptable.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:29 AM | Comments (52)
Marriage & Family

October 1, 2004

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from Twice Sorry," by Barbara Moore.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:42 PM

Encouraged Misunderstanding

Is it me, or is the following AP headline (i.e., the only part of the story shown on the Providence Journal's homepage) indicative of the media's desire to make Iraq look like a mess so as to bolster Kerry and hurt Bush?

Over 100 Killed in U.S. Assault in Iraq

SAMARRA, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. and Iraqi forces battled their way into the heart of this Sunni stronghold Friday and moved house to house in search of militants in what appeared to be the first major offensive to regain control of areas lost to insurgents before the January elections.

More than 100 guerrillas were killed and 37 captured, according to an Iraqi official. The military said one American soldier was killed and four were wounded.

Maybe I just haven't seen it, but is it customary to make the enemies' death tally into the headline — particularly without specifying that that's what it is?

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:49 PM | Comments (12)
News Media